While 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 by strolling aimlessly through its streets, the traveler will be captivated by the illumination of areas such as Rua Augusta, Avenida da Liberdade or Rua Garret.
Lisbon at Christmas also offers other attractions for its visitors. Starting in December, several Christmas markets are set up in which young and old alike will have a great time. 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
When Christmas approaches, the streets of the Portuguese capital are filled with color and light. If you have traveled to Lisbon in December you will be able to see its most emblematic corners with an illumination that will make you feel like a child again.
Whether on your own or on a guided tour you will see places like the Marques de Pombal Square, Praca do Comercio, Eduardo VII Park or the entire Baixa decorated with a beautiful Christmas lighting that seems to accentuate even more the characteristic atmosphere of the city.
If there is one place in Lisbon that stands out for its Christmas lighting, the Vasco da Gama shopping center on Avenida Dom João II 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.
2. Visit the Commerce Square
If you want to see the biggest Christmas tree (a fir tree) in 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.
3. Discover the Christmas markets in Lisbon
It is not easy to decide which Christmas market in Lisbon is more worthwhile, as they are all worth walking 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 Lisboa: if you want to feel Christmas like when you were a child, the Wonderland will be your must-see destination. In addition to its central location, this market has several attractions for the little ones, 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.
Schedules and other information of interest
- Mercado de Campo Pequeno: usually open between 11:30 and 21:30. The entrance costs around 2 €, but you will get a discount if you buy something inside.
- Alvalade Christmas Market: it is located on Avenida da Igreja, with opening hours from 11:30 to 21:30. There is no entrance fee.
- Wonderland Lisbon Market: it is located in Parque Eduardo VII and the opening hours vary according to the day of the week and the date. Thus, from Monday to Thursday it is open from 12:00 to 21:00, while Saturdays and holidays it is open from 10:00 to 22:00. On December 24 and 31 it is only open from 10:00 to 16:00, while on December 25 and January 1 it opens at 16:00 and closes at 22:00. Admission is free.
- Santa Catalina Christmas Market: admission is free and it is usually open from 11:30 in the morning until 21:00 or 22:00.
4. 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.
5. A different show at the Natal Circus of 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 any changes in prices, they usually range from €18 to €25, depending on the seats reserved.
6. Anticipate Christmas in Natalis
Interestingly, the biggest Christmas market in Lisbon, Natalis, usually takes place a few weeks before the holidays begin, around the beginning of December. However, its theme and appeal makes it a must-visit if you are in the city at that time and are one of those who consider Christmas to be the best time of the year.
This Christmas fair offers all kinds of products related to Christmas. Here you will be able to find any Christmas delicacy, 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 on the grounds of the Feira Internacional de Lisboa. The most convenient way to get there is to use the green metro line.
7. Participate (or encourage) in the San Silvestre race
Sports fans have a date marked during the Christmas season: the day the San Silvestre race is held. 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 de la 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", with 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.
8. Taste 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.
9. Bid farewell 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 will 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 of eating 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 must pass, at least once, by a ginjinha stand to toast with shots of this liquor.
10. Escape to Sintra or Cascais
The nearby Sintra and Cascais are not far behind when it comes to celebrating Christmas. If you can get close to them (or at least to one) I advise you to do so, even if only 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 get to know their way of celebrating 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 not miss if you make 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).
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 in 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.