Over the past few years, Christmas markets have begun popping up all over the world. Originally a German and Central European tradition, they can now be found in Stockholm, Sydney, and everywhere in between.
In Portugal, the Christmas market trend has been slow to catch on. You’ll find a few very small Christmas markets in Lisbon, as well as one or two other parts of the country, but they tend to be rather than small affairs at least in comparison to their Northern European counterparts.
This isn’t to say it’s not worth visiting Portugal at Christmas. It is. Portugal has its own unique Christmas traditions, and they’re fun to experience, but if you’re specifically looking for Christmas markets you’re better off visiting Germany, Austria, France, or the Czech Republic.
Now it can be. Get the book Moving to Portugal Made Simple from Amazon.
Christmas isn’t as big an affair in Portugal as it is in other countries, on the surface at least. The winters here aren’t dramatically cold and dark, and so historically there has never been the need to have a month of glitzy traditions to break up the drabness of winter.
In comparison to Germany, in Portugal Christmas appears to come and go within just a few days (although Christmas does continue until January the 6th). It starts on the eve of the 24th and by the 26th people are back at work again.
Although events do take place in the weeks before Christmas, Portuguese cities aren’t traditionally very Christmasy in the run-up to the big day. During the major recession years, some towns had cut back on costs by not turning on the Christmas lights or getting a tree. It was quite a sad affair, and probably very unusual for those visiting from other parts of the world.
That’s hopefully all changed now, and Portugal is back to its old self. To the outsider it may not feel like a particularly Christmassy-feeling self, but that’s just the seemingly low-key way that Portugal celebrates Christmas.
Below you’ll find a list of Christmas markets across Portugal as well as some recommendations for things to do that are both Christmassy and Portuguese.
Several Christmas markets normally take place across Lisbon and it’s also worth coming to Praça do Comércio to see the city’s main Christmas tree. During December, there’s also a special 3D light show where a movie is projected onto the buildings surrounding the square.
Christmas Market at Campo Pequeo
The Campo Pequeno Christmas Market is usually held during the first few days of December. Here, you’ll find books, toys, food, pottery, jewelry, and a bit of everything.
For more information, visit campopequeno.com
Wonderland Parque Eduardo VII
Wonderland is one of the biggest Christmas markets in Lisbon, with stalls selling handicrafts, an ice-skating rink, a Ferris Wheel, Santa’s house, and a stage that hosts live music and events.
For more information, visit Wonderland’s Facebook page.
Rossio Square Christmas Market
Rossio Square hosts small markets throughout the year, and you can normally expect to find wooden huts selling mulled wine and other Christmas treats during the month of December.
Natalis usually takes place during the first week or so of December at Feira Internacional de Lisboa. Here, you’ll find more than 180 companies and charities selling everything from toys and handicrafts to books and more.
For more information about Natalis, visit natalis.fil.pt
Obidos, a small town about an hour’s drive north of Lisbon, is one place that goes wild for Christmas. Every year, this little town transforms itself into a Christmas village (Obidos Vila Natal). There’s ice skating, an ice slide, a fairground, face painting, and Santa’s house. If you’re visiting Lisbon and want your Christmas market fill, then Obidos is the place to go to.
For more information, visit obidosvilanatal.pt
A Christmas market takes place every year at Rossio square in Viseu. Here you’ll be able to buy Portuguese handicrafts as well as Christmas food and drink.
A popular Christmas market that focuses on artisan Portuguese products like cheeses, olive oils, wines, as well as Portuguese-made arts and crafts. If you’re in Porto and looking for some Christmas gift inspiration, it’s worth visiting.
Note: this market may no longer be in operation.
Christmas Market at Ateneu Comercial do Porto
Although this Christmas market has only been running for a few years, it’s already becoming a December tradition for many locals. Expect handicrafts, baby clothes, clothes for men and women, food and drink, and other stocking fillers.
Vila Vita Christmas Market
Vila Vita, one of the Algarve’s luxury resorts, usually hosts a Christmas Market in their Biergarten. The Christmas Market usually takes place over the 1st or 2nd weekend in December and, in the style of a German Christmas market, usually has Glühwein, German biscuits like Lebkuchen, and other delicious food and drinks. It’s also a great place to come to pick up Christmas gifts for friends and family.
More information can be found on Villa Vita’s website.
Aldeia de Natal, Vila Real de Santo António
Vila Real de Santo António normally hosts a Christmas village at the Praça Marquês de Pombal. Expect an ice rink, a fair with handicrafts and traditional foods, live music, and a visit from Santa himself.
Christmas Market at LiR Galeria Arte
Every year a Christmas market takes place at LiR Galeria Arte in Lagoa, either in November or December. In previous years there have been around 70 stands selling gifts, handicrafts, and food products.
For more information, visit LiR Galeria Arte’s Facebook page.
Vale do Lobo Charity Christmas Market
This usually takes place at the beginning of December in the Vale do Lobo Parque do Golfe complex. Expect stalls selling Christmas trees, books, cakes, jewelry, and other great Christmas gift ideas.
Information is usually available on Vale de Lobo’s website.
Portuguese Christmassy things to do (but mainly eat)
Aside from visiting the Christmas markets, here are some other Portuguese things you can do (or eat) during December.
Stop for a bica (espresso) and a pastel de nata (custard tart)
This is a must regardless of when you visit, but the combination of the custard and cinnamon flavours from the pastel de nata have a very Christmassy feel to them as well.
Stop for a ginjinha
Ginjinha is a Portuguese liquor made from infusing sour cherries with an alcohol such as aguardente (a type of Portuguese alcohol) that’s made in Lisbon and nearby. This isn’t necessarily a Christmas drink but, like the bica and the pastel de nata, the combination of chocolate and cherries certainly feels very Christmas-like.
Grab some roast chestnuts
During winter in Portugal, you’ll see people selling roasted chestnuts in the main towns and cities. This isn’t something that’s usually available the rest of the year so definitely worth trying if you get a chance.
Have a glass of Port wine
You’ll find small ice-skating rinks across the whole of Portugal during December, some permanent and some that are just set up for Christmas. If you have kids, it’s a great way to keep them entertained.
Places that normally have an ice skating rink include:
- Wonderland Lisboa at Parque Eduardo VII in Lisbon
- Allegro Shopping Center in Setúbal
- Almada Fórum in Almada
- Cascais Christmas Village in Marechal Carmona Park
- Ho-Ho-Lândia at Dolce Vita Tejo Shopping Centre in Amadora
- Forum Algarve in Faro
- Aqua Show Park Hotel in Quarteira
- Silves Alegria do Natal, Silves
- Praça D. João I in Porto
- Rotunda da Boavista in Porto
- Palacio do Gelo in Viseu
Try some Bolo Rei or Bolo Rainha
These two Christmas cakes are the Portuguese equivalent of Christstollen, and you’ll find them in every supermarket and bakery during the month of December. These are brioche-like cakes topped with dried fruits (Bolo Rei) or nuts (Bolo Rainha).
Try some lampreia de natal
One of strangest Portuguese foods is the lampreia de natal (Christmas lamprey), a cake made almost entirely of egg yolks and sugar and shaped to look like a lamprey fish. It’s apparently for kids, although a lot of Portuguese adults have a sweet tooth for it as well. You’ll find it in the supermarkets in the weeks leading up to Christmas and often in cafés as well.
Visit a nativity scene
Although nativity scenes are less common in many countries, in Portugal you’ll still find a nativity scene in most towns. Lagoa, in the Algarve, for example, usually has one on the roundabout near Jumbo while Guia, also in the Algarve, has one in the centre of town.
Live nativity scenes are also very popular in Portugal, and you’ll find these throughout Portugal. Places that you’ll usually find them include Lagoa, Penela, and Monsaraz. Priscos, in Braga, actually hosts the largest live nativity scene in Braga.
Have you visited a Christmas market in Portugal? Do you have any tips or recommendations? Share them in the comments below.