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10 Things to Do in Lisbon in the winter

Lisbon's romantic, bohemian and somewhat decadent atmosphere in winter makes it a destination on a par with Paris or Rome. In addition, the Portuguese capital offers enough activities for everyone to find something to enjoy.

Joaquín Montaño

Joaquín Montaño

11 min read

10 Things to Do in Lisbon in the winter

Sunset in Lisbon | ©Gloria

Although temperatures are somewhat milder than in other latitudes, the Portuguese capital experiences the winter with far fewer visitors than in high season. For those who prefer to visit Lisbon's attractions in a quieter way, this is a perfect period, especially if you take into account the amount of things to do during those months.

Lisbon is not only decked out for Christmas, with its Christmas markets and illumination, but also offers its inhabitants and visitors some events such as its carnival or the half marathon. No less suggestive is the winter atmosphere of its cafes and streets, with the smell of coffee and roasted chestnuts accompanying pedestrians during their walks.

1. Discover Christmas Markets in Lisbon

Market in Campo de Santa Clara| ©Andrea Mann
Market in Campo de Santa Clara| ©Andrea Mann

As you can read more in depth in my article on Lisbon at Christmas, in the Portuguese capital are installed several markets that will delight young and old. If you are lucky enough to have traveled at this time of the year, you can't miss some of them, such as Campo Pequeno or Alvalade.

  • Christmas Market in the Campo Pequeno Square: the stalls that are installed in this former bullring offer all kinds of products, from food to handicrafts. As a differentiating element, in addition to the shows that are held, is that everything that is sold is national product.
  • Lisbon Wonderland Christmas Market: Eduardo VII Park hosts this different Christmas market every year. Its attractions (Ferris wheel, carousels, an ice rink or a Christmas village) make it perfect if you have gone to Lisbon with children.
  • Alvalade Christmas Market: it is, without a doubt, one of the favorites of Lisboners. Its wooden huts offer everything from food to Christmas decorations, as well as handicrafts and other items. In addition, you can visit the house of Santa Claus himself.
  • Santa Catalina Viewpoint Christmas Market: although its size is not very large, this market is one of the most attractive to visit in Lisbon, as it is located in one of the most spectacular viewpoints of the city.

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2. Take the opportunity to shop with the sales

Taking advantage of the sales| ©Artem Beliaikin
Taking advantage of the sales| ©Artem Beliaikin

The Christmas season, with its illuminated streets in the center, is usually identified with shopping. However, if you have gone to Lisbon in January you will have the opportunity to take advantage of the sales that start right after the holidays.

The best places to find incredible bargains are on Avenida da Liberdade, as this is where you will find many luxury fashion stores with heavily discounted prices during the sales.

Another interesting area if you want to find some bargains is the neighborhood of Chiado, one of the most traditional in the center of Lisbon. It is best to get lost in its streets and enter the stores that catch your attention, with small stops for a drink in its great cafes.

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3. Shamelessly take part in the Lisbon Carnival

Lisbon Carnival| ©Genn
Lisbon Carnival| ©Genn

Admittedly, Lisbon' s carnival does not have the same recognition as that of other European cities. However, many claim that it is not only one of the oldest in Europe, but also the origin of the famous carnivals of Rio. The animation that takes place in the streets of Lisbon is well worth joining the party and enjoying it to the fullest.

If you are in Lisbon in February, the month during which the carnival is celebrated (the dates are not fixed) you must participate in the so-called Carnival of the Villains, whose origin dates back to the thirteenth century. Its highlight is the "entrudo", a large procession of allegorical floats that go through the streets of the city.

Many of the city's neighborhoods organize their own festivities. It is especially the children who dress up, although some adults can also be seen following this custom.

Of course, enjoying the carnival is also one of the best things to do in Lisbon at night. Practically all nightlife venues organize their own activities for the enjoyment of locals and visitors.

4. The spectacle of the Lisbon Half Marathon

The Hieronymites Monastery| ©Minh TRAN
The Hieronymites Monastery| ©Minh TRAN

In the official farewell to winter, in the third week of March, Lisbon hosts one of its most spectacular sporting events. If you are in Lisbon in March, you can join a race that has reached the world record number of participants. It is also a unique opportunity to cross the 25 April bridge on foot and have a unique view of the entire Portuguese capital.

In fact, two different races are held on that day. The first, more official, is the Lisbon Half Marathon, in which the best athletes in the world participate. This race starts at Largo da Portagem and ends next to the Jerónimos Monastery, which you will know if you have done a route through the Belém neighborhood.

The other race, open to all amateurs, is the Mini-Marathon. In this one, 7,200 meters are run and more than a competition, it is a day of conviviality. Of course, there is no shortage of recreational activities during the day that this race takes place.

Book a guided tour of Belem

5. Escape the cold in Lisbon's coffee shops

Bethlehem Cakes| ©André Luís
Bethlehem Cakes| ©André Luís

**Lisbon'**s coffee shops, as well as the confectioneries, are a real institution in the city. Although they are obviously open all year round, few sensations are better than entering them to shelter from the cold or rain on winter afternoons while sipping a great coffee and a sweet.

You only have to take a look at their shop windows to feel tempted to enter one of these coffee shops. Their sweet offer, without forgetting the excellent coffee or, for the coldest ones, the hot chocolate, is almost unbeatable.

You cannot leave the city without tasting one of the most typical sweets of the country and if it is freshly made and still warm, the better the experience. The Belém cake is omnipresent in all the cafés, although few can compare to the one prepared in Pasteis de Belém, next to the Jerónimos Monastery.

Other must-visit cafés are Café Nicola, in Rossio, and A Brasileira, perhaps the most famous in the whole city.

6. Get ready to enjoy Lisbon's winter gastronomy (not forgetting the chestnuts)

Chestnuts| ©andreaseves
Chestnuts| ©andreaseves

Enjoying Portuguese gastronomy, in this case in Lisbon, is one of the best experiences any traveler can have. In winter, in addition, you will find some dishes typical of that season with which you will want to repeat. Here are some of the main ones, but do not hesitate to order some more as you discover them:

  • Caldeirada: this dish is made with fish, seafood or cod. The chosen ingredients are cooked with potatoes, tomato, bell pepper, garlic and onion in a broth with white wine.
  • Cocido a la portuguesa: this winter stew includes meat, potatoes, various vegetables and legumes. If you try it, I assure you that you will forget about the cold for a few hours.
  • Caldo verde: if you like soup, you will love this dish. Its ingredients include chorizo, potatoes, cabbage, onion and beans and it is considered one of the best you can have in winter.
  • Feijoada: beans with carrots are the base of this Portuguese dish. It is usually accompanied with bacon, white rice and chorizo. As you can see, it is quite hearty and appropriate for winter.
  • Chestnuts: if you travel to Lisbon in December or in the following months you will find in many of the corners of the city stalls selling these roasted chestnuts. The smell will accompany you during your walks calling you to buy them.
  • Ginjinha liqueur: one of the most traditional drinks in Lisbon's winter is the ginjinha. This liqueur of sour cherries fermented with sugar, brandy and cinnamon is usually drunk in shots and, traditionally, it was thought to be a great remedy for colds typical of the winter season. There is no better place to try it than in Rossio square, in the tavern A Ginjinha.

You can also book a table with a menu at the Hard Rock Cafe in Lisbon for lunch or dinner with drinks and live music.

7. Take a trip to Sintra and Cabo da Roca without the crowds

The Pena Palace| ©laredawg
The Pena Palace| ©laredawg

There are many excursions you can make from Lisbon, but few are comparable to the excursions to Sintra. In winter, whether you go with an organized tour or on your own, a visit to this town has the advantage that you will not find crowds, not to mention the beauty of the forests and gardens under the winter light.

As I tell you in my article on how to get to Sintra from Lisbon, you will not lack options. Whatever you choose, however, I recommend that you do not miss the main attractions of Sintra, from the Pena Palace to the Quinta de Regaleira, through the Castelo dos Mouros and the convent of Capuchos.

In winter you will find that some of these places, especially the gardens of the palace and the Quinta, as well as the forest in which the convent is located take on an even more mysterious atmosphere than in other seasons. In my opinion, and as long as the rain is kind to you, this is, along with autumn, the best time to visit them.

Also make sure that the excursion includes a stop at Cabo de Roca. This will offer you magnificent views of the Atlantic, whose force breaking against the cliffs is even more spectacular at this time of the year.

Book your excursion to Sintra

8. Chinese culture in the heart of Lisbon: the Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year Lisbon| ©Zhang Liyun
Chinese New Year Lisbon| ©Zhang Liyun

The celebration of the Chinese New Year in Lisbon has been going on for a few years now, but it is finding more and more acceptance in the city. The event, with all its color and beauty, is highly recommended if you are in the Portuguese capital when it is held (there is no fixed date, but it is usually in late January or early February).

One of the main events of this celebration is a big parade along Almirante Reis Avenue, an artery that crosses a district where the largest Chinese community in the city has settled.

Several cultural associations, schools, bands and various entities parade along the avenue, with their members dressed in traditional costumes. During the parade there are demonstrations of martial arts and traditional dances, all accompanied by the typical music of various regions of the Asian country. Obviously, the presence of the dragon is not lacking in this parade either.

In addition to the parade, several stalls are set up in a square selling food, handicrafts and Chinese clothing. When night falls, a big party is held in a nearby park. Hundreds of people come to enjoy various traditional Chinese performances, including a spectacular dragon and lion dance.

9. Avoid the rain with a streetcar ride

Night Tram| ©Lisa Fotios
Night Tram| ©Lisa Fotios

Few images are more representative of Lisbon than its streetcars. For more than a century, this means of transport has been part of the city's physiognomy and today it is used by many of the visitors who come to the city. Although you can ride them all year round, in winter they will allow you to take a little sightseeing tour safe from the rain and cold.

Streetcars, whether modern or antique, are nowadays a tourist attraction in their own right. Undoubtedly, the line most used by visitors is the 28, just the one I recommend you use to tour part of the city. Not only will you avoid bad weather, but it will also help you learn to move around the streets and then be able to walk back.

Streetcar 28, red in color, is mainly used for the most popular tourist routes. Fortunately, in winter you will not find the crowds of the high season, so you can enjoy the journey without stress.

This line goes along the slopes to go through the Graça, Baixa or Estrela neighborhoods and passes near important places such as St. George's Castle, the Sé Cathedral, the Bairro Alto or Chiado.

My advice is to finish the tour at the Graça viewpoint, one of the most spectacular in Lisbon. If you have walked around Alfama you may already know it, but whether you have or not, its views will captivate you. If the weather permits, sit on the terrace of the cafeteria located there to have a drink while you contemplate the city from above.

Book the sightseeing streetcar through Lisbon

10. Discover some of Lisbon's most interesting museums protected from the cold

Calouste Gulbenkian Museum| ©Mark
Calouste Gulbenkian Museum| ©Mark

Although Lisbon's winter weather is not too cold, the rain does make an appearance on many occasions. My advice is to prepare a trip taking into account these circumstances and to visit some of the most interesting museums in the city.

The beauty of the streets of Lisbon makes that many times its museums are left aside. However, some of them are worth a leisurely visit.

  • Calouste Gulbenkian Museum: houses one of the largest private collections in Europe, with works of art ranging from 2,000 BC to contemporary times. Highlights include works by Warhol, Picasso, Dali, Duchamp and Pollock.
  • National Tile Museum: the visit provides a very complete overview of one of the most typical objects present in Portugal, the tiles.
  • Oceanarium: in fact, it is the largest indoor aquarium in Europe. The building, built for Expo 98, is a true work of art and simulates a floating harbor. It is located in the Park of Nations.
  • Fado Museum: if you have enjoyed a dinner with a Fado show, you will already know something about this musical genre. In this museum they explain its history, characteristics and who are its main exponents.

Book tickets for a fado show

Weather in Lisbon in winter

Lisbon Christmas Market| ©F Delventhal
Lisbon Christmas Market| ©F Delventhal

Winter is considered the low season in Lisbon, which has a significant impact on the influx of tourists with the exception of the end of the year and Carnival.

The maximum temperature in December does not usually go above 15ºC, while the minimum is around 9ºC. On the other hand, in that month it gets dark around 17:15 (remember that Portugal has one hour less than Spain).

January is the coldest month of the year. In spite of everything, the cold is not too intense, with maximum temperatures of 15 ºC and an average minimum of about 7ºC, although it is not unusual for some nights to be a little colder.

There is hardly any difference in temperatures in February compared to the previous month. The averages show only one degree difference, above, with those of January.

What to pack for traveling to Lisbon in winter

Preparing Luggage| ©Kindel Media
Preparing Luggage| ©Kindel Media

More than the cold, what you should take into account when traveling to Lisbon in winter is the rain. For this reason, an umbrella should never be missing in your luggage, as well as a good raincoat.

If possible, also bring some waterproof and rubber-soled shoes, but always keep in mind that they should be comfortable so that you do not suffer during the long walks on the slopes of Lisbon.

Don't forget a good coat either, especially if you plan to go out at night. As for scarf and gloves, everything will depend on how cold you are.