There’s no wrong time to visit Lisbon. It’s one of the sunniest cities in Europe, with its coastal setting, packed cultural calendar and vast array of places to eat, drink and dance ensuring good vibes year-round.
Before diving into each season, here’s a little look at what you can expect. Spring is all about carnival, while Lisbon’s party season kicks off in earnest with June’s street festas (festivals) before prices soar in tandem with the temperatures during July and August. Rooftop bars and music festivals make this one of the most alluring spots in Europe for a summer break. Autumn offers still-warm weather, more comfortable sightseeing and more elbow room on the beaches, while some visitors prefer to get their chill on during the quieter winter months, warmed by roasted chestnuts and vinho quente (hot wine).
Lisbon starts to shrug off the winter chill in late February (or, occasionally, early March) when wildflowers bloom on the hillsides, and party people take to the streets for the city’s version of carnival. While the buzz isn’t on a par with Rio, Lisbon’s fast-growing Brazilian population has energised the carnival party scene, with caipirinha-fuelled blocos (street parties) winding their way through the city streets during the four-day festa.
For the biggest carnival festas, jump on a bus to Torres Vedras. This otherwise unassuming town some 50 kilometres (31 miles) outside Lisbon holds the biggest carnival parties in Portugal. For a truly memorable experience, head across the River Tagus to the small fishing village of Sesimbra, home to a surprisingly large number of samba schools. Brazilian parades here see drumming troupes atop themed floats, flanked by samba dancers who are often shivering slightly in the less-than-tropical temperatures. Ramping up the bizarreness factor, Carnival Monday in Sesimbra sees the entire town overtaken by clowns, in an annual event thought to be the biggest clown party on the planet.
Post-carnival, Lisbon’s sporty types can get excited about one of the city’s biggest running events: the EDP Half Marathon. Held each March, it offers a one-day-only opportunity to run across the Ponte 25 de Abril, making it the only occasion in the year that the suspension bridge is closed to traffic.
Weather-wise, it’s not unusual for beach days to be on the cards in late March and early April, but bring an umbrella because there’s a high chance of stormy downpours ruining the fun.
Prepare for late nights and bucketloads of beer in June – this is the month of the famous Santos Populares (Popular Saints) parties. Colourful flags hang over the cobbled streets of neighbourhoods such as Bairro Alto, Alfama and Mouraria, where crowds descend after dark to dance to pimba (Portuguese pop music). Sustaining the festivities are the first sardines of the summer, cooked on street-side charcoal grills that fill the air with an unmistakable scent. It’s fair to say the vibe is less than saintly.
The most frenzied partying takes place on the night of 12 June, in honour of Saint Anthony. He’s known as the matchmaker saint, and tradition dictates that singles should present little pots of sweet basil to the object of their affections. Single or not, it’s the liveliest night of the year in Lisbon.
Once the city has recovered from its collective hangover, June is an excellent time to visit Lisbon. Warm sunny weather is virtually guaranteed, but Atlantic breezes keep things cool. Also, the huge crowds of July and August have yet to arrive. The words Há Caracóis (‘There are snails’) begin to crop up on chalkboards across the city – gathering to eat snails is a key element of summer socialising in Lisbon.
Lisbon’s music fans start to get excited about the summer live-music events. Highlights include Out Jazz (free Sunday jazz sessions at parks and gardens); July’s giant NOS Alive; and Super Bock Super Rock, which attracts major indie and rock bands and whose location varies (the 2019 edition took place in the beach town of Meco).
Rooftop bars, often closed for winter, start to buzz with beautiful people again. There are new hotspots every year, but some enduringly popular options are Sky Bar on Avenida da Liberdade and Park in Bairro Alto.
A familiar sight in summer is that of surfers clutching their boards on trains bound for Sintra and the Estoril Coast, while salty-haired crowds gather en masse for O Sol da Caparica – a giant surf and music festival held each August in Costa da Caparica, just across the river from Lisbon.
The downside of visiting Lisbon this time of year is the sheer number of visitors. During July and August, you can expect crowds, queues and ramped-up prices for flights and accommodation.
Crowds begin to dissipate at the end of August, and the summer live-music season is wrapped up by an event that puts the party in party politics. Established in 1976, the Festa do Avante! is a giant festival organised by the Portuguese Communist Party and takes place during the first weekend of September. It’s moved home several times and is now held south of the river, in Seixal, where hundreds of thousands of politically minded party people gather for three days of international food, live music, DJ sets and all-night dancing, alongside the political debates.
Fans of street art and counterculture should snap up tickets for September’s Festival Iminente. This event unites big-name street artists and emerging talent alongside DJs, musicians and other creative types at an abandoned restaurant-turned-panoramic viewpoint in the middle of Monsanto Forest Park.
September and October bring quieter beach days, with weather that’s usually still warm enough for swimming, and dramatically reduced hotel room rates. A notable exception is November’s Web Summit. Held in Lisbon each November since 2016, it’s the largest tech conference in the world, and delegates take over the city streets at lively Night Summit networking events.
Winter in Lisbon never gets really cold, but the lack of central heating and double glazing can mean residents start bundling up in warm clothes even inside restaurants, bars and homes. Keep the chill out by swapping sangria for hot spiced wine and feasting on bags of just-roasted chestnuts. Dia de São Martinho (Saint Martin’s Day) is on 11 November, and is celebrated by eating delicious castanhas (chestnuts) and drinking ‘new wine’ made from that year’s harvest. From this point on, you’ll see chestnut sellers on every street corner, with plumes of smoke spiralling around them into the blue sky.
Christmas is a rather sedate affair in Lisbon, but be prepared for major New Year’s festivities. Known as Réveillon, the night of 31 December is cause for raucous celebrations, with parties and fireworks displays held at strategic spots such as Praça do Comércio, a huge public plaza facing the river. When the sun shines, this is a good month to visit outlying attractions such as Sintra, with its rich collection of castles, palaces and monasteries. The streets are packed with day-trippers during warmer months, but visitors can expect shorter queues and more laid-back sightseeing during January and February.
January tends to see blue skies but cool temperatures and a lull in crowds. Lisboetas’ party spirits may be rather flagging during these shorter, chillier days, but never fear – Carnival is just around the corner.