December brings rain, cooler temperatures and plenty of festive sparkle to Portugal. Up north in Porto, high temperatures now peak at 57°F (14°C), though they can plummet as low as 45°F (7°C), with 11 days of wet weather to contend with.
Heading on south towards Lisbon, highs now hit 59°F (15°C), lows average at 48°F (9°C), and there are roughly 10 days of rain (about as wet as it gets here). The Algarve is generally sunnier and warmer than elsewhere, with highs of 64°F (18°C), but up to 12 days of rain can be expected. Come prepared with layers, waterproofs, closed shoes, and umbrellas.
Crowds & Costs
With the obvious exception of Christmas and New Year, crowds are very few in December in Portugal. But the vibrant fairs and festas still make this one of the livelier months of winter for locals. You'll have to put up with the fickle weather — conditions can change from bright and sunny to deluge at the drop of a hat - but that needn't put a dampener on exploring as long as you come with the right clothes and attitude.
Come in the first half of the month and you can pick up some good deals, with hotels and guesthouses offering substantial discounts on their summer rack rates (up to 50% in some cases). Flights are overall inexpensive now, too, but bear in mind that some airlines might be running a reduced service.
Where to Go
Portugal's cities such as Lisbon, Porto, and Coimbra have a laid-back appeal of their own during December: smoke wafts from chestnuts roasting at braziers on street corners, Christmas lights bring festive sparkle to the plazas and back alleys of the historic centers, and fairs with crafts, music, sweet treats and ice rinks pop up.
The rest of the country is pretty much deserted, making this a blissfully quiet time for a road trip through a region like the rural Alentejo, which, incidentally, is still seeing a fair bit of sunshine.
Algarve beaches are largely empty (and many seaside hotels and restaurants have shut up for the season), but the coastal trails can be glorious if you manage to pick a crisp, sunny day. If you want to stay overnight, opt for one of the bigger towns such as Faro or Lagos, where you'll find more open and many hotels still doing business.
What to Do
Lisbon and Porto have got their festive groove on, with Christmas fairs and celebrations and an all-round party air enlivening what can otherwise be a drab month. Go now and you'll get most of the museums, galleries and other major sights to yourself (crowds are practically non-existent). December is also a fantastic month for hibernating in the cafes and port-wine lodges.
If the sun is going to shine, it will probably do so in the south, so if you'd rather dodge the rain, head perhaps to the Alentejo, with its delightfully rural farmstays, hills beaded with pretty whitewashed hamlets, and some of the country's best food. Even the popular Unesco World Heritage site of Évora, a medieval delight of rambling alleys and Roman archaeological ruins, falls silent now.
Christmas lights are twinkling, red poinsettia flowers are blooming, the sound of carols is drifting through the mazy alleys of historic centers and nativity scenes are everywhere as Portugal prepares for Natal (Christmas). All are welcome to join in with the festivities.
Natal Christmas is celebrated with midnight Mass on December 24, followed by a traditional family meal of bacalhau (salt cod), eggs and vegetables.
Noite de Ano Novo The party-loving Portuguese really pull out all the stops for New Year's Eve, a high-spirited festa of eating, drinking, dancing, music-making, and fireworks. At midnight, it's a tradition (and luck-bringing) to scoff 12 raisins at the stroke of each hour.