With more than 300 sunny days each year and a mild climate all year round, Portugal is one of the most popular winter-sun destinations in Europe. But a trip to the Iberian Peninsula isn’t just to escape the cold – visitors also come to spend time in its historic cities without the crowds. Here are a few of our favourites.
This former fishing village, now the largest resort in the Algarve, has become a popular holiday destination thanks to its sandy beaches, characterful streets, great nightlife and family-friendly activities. Albufeira’s dining scene is active year round and highs of 17C (63F) mean it’s always warm enough to sit outside. New Year’s Eve is celebrated with an open-air concert and impressive fireworks display.
The Serra da Estrela is Portugal’s highest mountain range and the only place where you can ski, snowboard, or go sledding and snowmobiling. Artificial snow machines in summer mean you can enjoy winter sports here year-round. Explore the area’s characterful villages between time on the slopes or hike the spectacular trails in summer – they can be tricky to navigate during the winter.
The ancient coastal town of Porto is perfect for exploring in winter. As well as historic landmarks, such as the 19th-century Palácio de Bolsa and the baroque São Francisco Church, you can wander its atmospheric cobbled streets which wind past merchant’s homes in the medieval Unesco Ribeira district. Hearty comfort food will keep you warm on a winter’s day. Tuck into Francesinha (ham and steak sandwich with melted cheese on top) or bacalhau (dried salted cod), served many different ways. Wash them down with a glass of local wine.
The size of the town and a large expat community mean that attractions here are open throughout the year. Head to Av Tomás Cabreira for lively themed bars and the casino, or enjoy dinner at an upscale restaurant in the marina complex. There’s plenty to do in the surrounding area, too: visit the historic town of Silves, the ancient capital of the Algarve, or enjoy shopping and strolling along the picturesque waterfront of Portimao.
Vilamoura is one of the more sophisticated resorts in the Algarve, with an award-winning marina of high-end bars, restaurants and boutiques. It’s best known for its six challenging golf courses, including the championship Victoria Golf Course that hosts the annual Portugal Masters tournament. Winter is the perfect time to play. For a spot of culture, visit the Cerro da Vila archaeological museum, which boasts a Roman villa with bathhouses and mosaics dating back to 27BCE.
This spa town in the Leiria area takes its name from the thermal spring that was popular with Queen Dona Leonor in the 15th-century. It later became a popular spa resort in the late 19th- and early 20th-centuries. Today, the thermal spas have fallen into disrepair and it’s become known for creative arts and world-class museums. Explore Portugal’s rich artistic heritage at the Museu da Cerâmica, which houses a collection of ceramics from the 16th- to 20th-century, and Museu José Malhoa, which houses a fine collection of works by the Portuguese naturalist painter.