Visiting Lisbon in winter gives you the best of both worlds. All the awesome sights in one of Europe’s most popular cities, at a cheaper cost and with fewer people. Sure the weather is chillier than in the summertime, but Lisbon is still one of the warmest and sunniest capitals in Europe at this time of year!
I never thought twice about going to Lisbon during the winter months, but then I do live in Scotland and love travelling Europe in the off-season! However, I fell in love with the city, and with Portugal as a whole, and I want to share with you the reasons to visit Lisbon at this time, and the things to do in Lisbon in winter (spoiler alert, there’s not much difference to summer!).
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Why visit Lisbon in winter?
There are three main reasons to put Lisbon on your bucket list of European winter destinations. Not because there’s snow (there’s not) or amazing Christmas Markets (not that I could find), but because you can expect better weather, cheaper prices, and fewer crowds!
Travelling to Portugal in winter means you can stock up on vitamin D! Lisbon is the sunniest capital city in Europe, and that includes throughout the winter. Temperatures still reach a high of 15/16 degrees Celcius (and even 18 in March and November!) and only go as low as 8/9 degrees.
Sunny but crisp days are some of my favourites to explore in because you won’t overheat but everything still looks amazing! Even if it’s cloudy or raining, the weather will likely change soon and it won’t be too cold.
You’ll still need to bring a coat, but most days I could get away with a leather jacket and scarf, and then something a bit warmer for the nighttime. Wrap up and still enjoy the European delight of dining outside, with the sound of Fado music filtering through the air.
The cost of travel
Travelling in Europe isn’t cheap compared to many other regions of the world, but by choosing to travel during the winter or off-season you can usually save yourself some money. Portugal is already one of the more cost-effective European destinations, and in winter it gets even better.
Flights and accommodation in winter in Lisbon are less what they are in the summer months, and you’re competing with fewer people. Which leads me to my next point…
It’s less crowded
Lisbon has become an extremely popular destination. Concerns about over tourism have been brewing for the past several years, and areas of the city that were populated by locals are now almost exclusively catering for tourists. Airbnb has become a problem as it’s seen to drive locals out, and infrastructure like public transport isn’t keeping up.
While all of this sounds very negative, it’s important that we understand the impact we can have as tourists. Although I expect that winter in Lisbon is also becoming more popular, by choosing to travel in the shoulder and winter seasons we can at least help to relieve some of the pressure on Lisbon in the summer months.
Without resurrecting the dreaded “tourist vs. traveller” debate, most of us like to visit a city and not feel like we’ve walked into Disneyland with thousands of other travellers. When I visited Lisbon in December there were still tourists around of course, especially because it was over the holiday period, but I am certain it was FAR less than there would be if I chose to visit in the European summer months.
So do yourself and Lisbon a favour and visit in winter!
Things to do in Lisbon in winter
All the usual best sights to see
Sometimes when we visit popular destinations in the off-season we’re not able to take advantage of all the sights and activities that we would be able to in summer. For example, visiting somewhere like Iceland in winter is a very different experience to the summer! Luckily with Lisbon however, it’s still possible to do almost, if not all, of the best things to do. Unless you want to lie on a nearby beach and swim in the sea of course!
The top things to do:
- Visit São Jorge Castle: Holding a commanding position above the city, São Jorge Castle is a great place to start your explorations.
- Journey to Belém: There’s the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Torre de Belém and the Jeronimos Monastery, plus the original Pasteis de Nata shop nearby. Just further down the banks of the Tagus River, you’ll also find a monument in tribute to the role that Portugal played in the Age of Discovery.
- Ride the Number 28 tram: These yellow trams are like a symbol of Lisbon the world over, and you can ride one through the steep streets! Just be mindful these are also used as public transport by locals.
- Visit some of Lisbon’s most iconic neighbourhoods: The old district of Alfama has beautifully tiled buildings and cobbled streets, and Bairro Alto has some fantastic nightlife.
- Listen to Fado music: You may be more familiar with Flamenco in neighbouring Spain, but Fado is the traditional music of Portugal. Often just guitars and mandolins with one haunting singer, you’ll likely spot dinner shows advertised as well as be able to hear it in many more traditional restaurants.
- Try Portuguese specialties: Don’t miss the pastel de nata (custard tart), or Bacalhau (cod, cooked in many ways, including codfish cakes), and Ginjinha, a sour cherry liquor.
- Admire the street art: Take an organised tour or simply allow yourself to wander through the centre and historic areas of Lisbon and discover for yourself!
- Take day trips: Lisbon is a great base for exploring more of nearby Portugal, and wintertime is no difference. Sintra, with its beautiful monuments and palace, is a popular day trip destination, but check out even more day trips from Lisbon here.
Walk the hills without the heat
Lisbon is built on hills, remember that when you’re planning any walking routes! Walking is one of the best ways to discover the city (although you can jump on and off trams if you need to!). The benefit of visiting in winter is that you don’t need to walk those hills in 30-degree-plus heat. It’s chillier in winter but you can always take a layer off and you’re unlikely to overheat or feel driven indoors!
Warm up with delicious Portuguese specialties
Should you feel the need to warm yourself up while you’re discovering the things to do in Lisbon in winter you can enjoy some delicious Portuguese fair. In summer we tend to eat lighter, fresher meals, but visiting in the colder months means you can take advantage of delicious hot seafood meals and meat stews.
Caldo Verde also appears on many more menus (a green soup made of kale, onions, potato, garlic, olive oil, and often with local pork sausage).
And although its home is further north, there’s no reason not to warm up with a delicious Port!
New Year in Lisbon
Growing up in New Zealand means I’m used to a warm New Year’s Eve often spent outdoors, and although I’m lucky to now live in Edinburgh where there are huge Hogmanay (New Year) celebrations, for the most part, I find a cold New Year spent indoors a bit uninspiring.
Luckily however, I was in Lisbon for New Year and was able to attend a huge outdoor event Praça do Comércio, the large square in the middle of town, with live music (although some of it in Portuguese that I had never heard of!) and a big fireworks display at midnight. There’s also a display along the river at Belém.
What to wear in Lisbon in winter
As a warmer winter destination in Europe, you don’t need to worry about special clothing for visiting Lisbon in the cooler months. During the day my usual outfit was a pair of jeans, comfortable boots or shoes, a leather jacket and scarf, or if I felt it was a chillier day then a slightly warmer coat. Although not to the level of thick woollen coat I would wear in the UK.
For a Lisbon winter packing list you’ll need:
- Light coat and scarf for the day
- Warmer coat for the night, chillier days, or day trips to places like Sintra
- A hat if you feel the cold especially
- Gloves if you feel the cold especially (I like the touch screen kind)
- Comfortable winter boots or shoes with warmer socks
Where to go from Lisbon
You might be taking a winter city break in Lisbon, or maybe planning to visit as part of a larger Portugal trip. If the latter is the case then you have plenty of options! Head further north to Porto where it may be a little chillier and wetter, or south to the Algarve to enjoy the winter weather that’s even better than Lisbon, without the summer crowds.
Planning your Portugal trip? Check these out:
- 21 Things to Know Before You Visit Lisbon
- 15 Awesome Day Trips from Lisbon
- Exploring the Port Wine Cellars in Porto
- 7 Things to Do in Porto That Don’t Involve Port Wine
Visiting a popular destination like Lisbon outside of the height of the season can often mean a better experience, thanks to less other people, price, and in the case of Portugal, still decent weather. Next time I plan to visit Lisbon again I’ll be going in winter! How about you?
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