Although all seasons are good to see all the attractions of Lisbon and enjoy its romantic and decadent atmosphere, the Portuguese capital dresses up for the Christmas holidays. Just strolling aimlessly through the streets, the traveler will be captivated by the lighting.
And is that, from the month of December several Christmas markets are installed in which adults and children will spend fun times. The city's shop windows are decorated with Christmas decorations and walking through the center with the aroma of roasted chestnuts, coffee and sweets provides a magical feeling.
1. Stroll under Lisbon's illumination
As Christmas approaches, the streets of the Portuguese capital are filled with color and light. Whether on your own or on a guided tour, you will see places like Marques de Pombal Square, Praca do Comercio, Eduardo VII Park or the entire Baixa decorated with beautiful Christmas lighting that seems to accentuate even more the characteristic atmosphere of the city.
If there is a place in Lisbon that stands out for its Christmas lighting, the Vasco da Gama shopping center, on Dom João II Avenue, is probably the one to choose. Its light show is truly spectacular and, without a doubt, you should not miss it if you are in the area.
Moreover, these walks through the illuminated streets of the city will be enlivened by a large number of concerts and shows that are held on those days. Take advantage of one of the many tours of Lisbon to discover all its splendor.
2. Escape to Sintra or Cascais
Nearby Sintra and Cascais are not far behind when it comes to celebrating Christmas. If you can get close to them (or at least one) I suggest you do, even if it's just for a few hours.
There are many organized tours to Sintra, and some of them also pass through Cascais. These tours are focused on the many attractions Sintra has to offer, such as the Quinta da Regaleira or the Pena Palace.
However, if you just want to go and see how they celebrate Christmas, the most practical thing to do is to go on your own. In my article on how to go from Lisbon to Sintra you can see the options. Here is what you can't miss if you do these excursions:
- Reino do Natal (Christmas Kingdom): Sintra's Liberty Park becomes a real Christmas village, with Santa Claus' house included so that children can take pictures with him and convince him that they have been good. Next to this space is a Christmas market that houses an ice rink and a merry-go-round.
- Cascais Christmas Market: this seaside town sets up a Christmas village with food stalls, gifts, ice rink and a large merry-go-round. There is also a huge Christmas tree and a large number of snowmen. To top it all off, Santa Claus himself and his reindeer (the real ones).
3. Discover the Tower of Bethlehem
A must on your trip to Lisbon at Christmas is, of course, the Tower of Belém. A World Heritage Site, it is one of the most iconic monuments of the Portuguese capital.
The work of the architect Francisco de Arruda, it was built by order of King Manuel I to serve as a fort and lighthouse.
With your entrance to the Belém Tower, you will have access to the Governor's and King's Chambers, the chapel and the lower and upper batteries. Best of all, you can enjoy an incredible view of the Tagus River and take some wonderful photos to remember, so don't miss the opportunity to visit this emblem of the Portuguese capital!
4. Visit the Jerónimos Monastery
Another of the most visited monuments that you can not miss on your trip to Lisbon for Christmas is the Jerónimos Monastery. Also a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983, it is a work of the architect Diogo de Boitaca who completed its construction in the sixteenth century and is mostly in the Manueline style.
With the entrance ticket to the Jeronimos Monastery, you can explore the old refectory of the monks and its cloister, which will not leave you indifferent. In addition, here lie the remains of the writer and poet Fernando Pessoa.
Of course, the views of the Tagus are also spectacular from the Jeronimos Monastery. So, do not hesitate, and include this plan in your trip to Lisbon.
5. Tour Lisbon by streetcar
And a very fun plan, also if you go with the little ones of the house at Christmas, is to take a trip on the tourist streetcar. This way you can comfortably get an idea of how Christmas is experienced in each area of the city. Ideally, as soon as you arrive in Lisbon, you get a ticket valid for 24 hours with which you can get on and off whenever you want, having the opportunity to visit the city in a comfortable and flexible way.
The tour goes through the main points of interest of the city as the popular Alfama district where you will have wonderful views of the city from the Mirador de Portas do Sol, the Castle of St. George and the famous Elevador de Santa Justa, Commerce Square, Figueira Square and Pedro IV Square, among many other points of interest. And it has a built-in audio guide that will allow you to know all the details wherever you go.
In addition, with your ticket you will have discounts on leisure, culture and gastronomy, in many attractions and shows and venues in the city.
6. Visit the Plaza del Comercio
If you want to see the biggest Christmas tree (a fir tree) in all of Lisbon just take a walk around Praça do Comércio.
Praca do Comercio is one of the essential stops for anyone traveling to the city. Because of its location, it is usually the start of some of the city tours, as well as several of Lisbon's tourist buses. In addition, the atmosphere that permeates it and its adjacent streets is always magnificent. All this increases even more at Christmas and not only because of its illumination.
If you are lucky, your stay may coincide with the lighting of the Christmas tree decorations in early December. Lisbon organizes a whole spectacle around this moment, culminating in fireworks that light up the whole city and mark the beginning of Christmas.
7. Taste the Bolo Rei and other Christmas sweets
Christmas in Lisbon has the flavor of the typical sweets of these dates. Those with a sweet tooth will enjoy the quality of these products, present in all the cafes and confectioneries of the city and that could perfectly be the protagonists of the best gastronomic tour:
- Bolo Rei: the star of Christmas sweets is the Bolo Rei, similar to the Spanish Roscón de Reyes. One of the main differences is the dough, more similar to that of the panettone than to the sponge cake with orange blossom water typical of the Spanish roscón. On the other hand, the filling is made with a mixture of candied fruits, raisins and nuts.
- Rabanadas ( or Fatias Douradas): these golden slices are practically the same as Spanish torrijas, although many have port wine.
- Sonhos de Natal: "Christmas dreams" are balls of flour, eggs, sugar and butter that are fried before serving. One variety has a pumpkin filling.
8. Discover the Christmas markets in Lisbon
It is not easy to decide which Christmas market in Lisbon is the most worthwhile, as they are all worth strolling among their stalls and huts. In your stay in the city you should not miss the one in Campo Pequeno, the one in Santa Catalina viewpoint or the one in Alvalade, but any of the others that are set up are also very interesting. Here is some information about them to help you decide.
- Campo Pequeno Christmas Market: located in a former bullring, this market brings together every year a large number of artisans and producers of the country. There are almost 100 stalls offering all kinds of products: food, Christmas decorations, jewelry, clothes, wooden toys, etc. The market also has a restaurant area and, for the more daring, a sensational ice skating rink.
- Alvalade Christmas Market: its wooden houses, Santa Claus' house and the general atmosphere of the Alvalade market have made it one of the favorites of Lisboners in recent years. Its stalls sell everything from food to handicrafts and it also has an entertainment area for children.
- Wonderland Lisbon: if you want to feel Christmas like when you were a child, Wonderland will be your must-see destination. In addition to its central location, this market has several attractions for children, as well as a Ferris wheel and a Christmas village. Highlights include merry-go-rounds, a toboggan run, a giant Christmas tree and live entertainment.
- Christmas market at the Santa Catalina viewpoint: although it is not too big, the Santa Catalina market has a quality that makes it highly recommended: the viewpoint that allows you to enjoy the Christmas stalls while enjoying incomparable views of the city. This place, located between the Bairro Alto and Santa Catalina, is focused on local crafts and sweets.
9. Enjoy the Christmas concerts
Those who want to enjoy music in unique settings have in Lisbon Christmas an almost unparalleled proposal, the so-called Natal Concerts. These are organized by the Church and combine musical performances with a tour of the rich ecclesiastical heritage of the Portuguese capital.
Thus, those interested can attend concerts in several churches, mainly of Baroque sacred music and enjoy, at the same time, the architecture and art of these temples, among which are the Church of Grace, the Basilica of Estrela, the Church of Santo Domingo and the Church of San Roque.
10. A different show at the Circo de Natal of Coliseu dos Recreios
If you have gone to Lisbon with children during Christmas (or even before, in November), you will probably not find a better plan for them than attending the Circo de Natal at the Coliseu dos Recreios.
This circus show has been entertaining all audiences for more than 125 years and has become one of the most important symbols of Christmas celebrations in the city.
In addition, the show they perform does not include animals and is designed for everyone to enjoy the performances, regardless of their age.
- Dates: as in other Christmas shows, the dates may vary depending on the year, so it is advisable to check them on their website. It usually takes place from mid-November to December 26, the day after Christmas.
- Address: the performances take place in one of the capital's best-known auditoriums, the Coliseu dos Recreios, at Rua das Portas de Santo Antão 96.
- Prices: although I recommend checking if there have been changes in prices, they usually range from €18 to €25, depending on the seats reserved.
11. Anticipate Christmas at Natalis
Interestingly, the largest Christmas market that takes place in Lisbon, Natalis, usually takes place a few weeks before the holidays begin, around the beginning of December. However, its theme and attractiveness makes it a must-see if you are in the city at that time and you are one of those who consider Christmas as the best time of the year.
This Christmas fair offers all kinds of Christmas-related products. Here you will be able to find all kinds of Christmas delicacies, sweets, mulled wine, liqueurs and, above all, chocolate. In addition, there are also stalls where you can buy handicrafts and all the gifts you need for the holidays.
There is also a large area full of games and attractions for the youngest members of the family. And, as a guest star, Santa Claus himself always makes an appearance. This event, with free admission, takes place at the Feira Internacional de Lisboa fairgrounds. The easiest way to get there is to use the green metro line.
12. Participate (or cheer) in the San Silvestre race
As you can see, visiting Lisbon in December is a marvel. In addition, sports fans have a date marked during the Christmas season: the day of the San Silvestre race. The streets of Lisbon are filled with runners to cover the 10 kilometers of the race. Whether as a participant or as a spectator, do not hesitate to come to the area and be part of the fantastic atmosphere that is created.
Part of the attraction of this race is that its route passes through some of the most interesting corners of the city. Both the start and finish line are located on Avenida da Liberdade, which you are sure to have passed through on your visit to Lisbon's downtown attractions.
The race also has a section for children, the "Mini São Silvestre da Pequenada", which is half the distance of the adult race. Unlike what happens in other cities, the Lisbon San Silvestre does not have a fixed date of celebration, so I recommend you to check when it takes place on its website. There you will also find how to register.
13. Say goodbye to the year in Lisbon celebrating New Year's Eve.
If you have decided to spend New Year's Eve away from home and you have chosen Lisbon, I can assure you that you are going to live an unforgettable night in a magical atmosphere. The main stage of the celebrations to say goodbye to the year is the Praça do Comércio. There you will find the huge clock that counts down to welcome the new year. Of course, in Portugal there is no custom to eat grapes at that time, so if you want to keep the Spanish tradition you should bring your own.
What is customary at the end of the countdown is to toast with champagne. An impressive spectacle of lights and sounds begins at that moment, followed by the launching of fireworks over the Tagus.
The celebration continues during the following hours, with concerts and various parties in many of the bars that characterize the night of Lisbon. During these hours you should pass, at least once, by a ginjinha stand to toast with shots of this liquor.
Book everything in advance
Although Lisbon in winter is in low season, the influx of visitors picks up somewhat at Christmas. For this reason it is best to book accommodation well in advance and do the same with tickets for any show you want to attend.
Take advantage of December 25th and January 1st.
As with all cities, Lisbon is slow to wake up after the two big nights of Christmas. This makes them perfect days to stroll through the streets with a tranquility that you will hardly find at other times.
My advice is to try to take advantage of these days to visit neighborhoods like Belem and see all the charms of Alfama. It is also a good time to go up to the viewpoints and watch the sunset from them without having to share the space with hundreds of tourists.