When the skies turn grey over northern Europe, where better to escape the freezing temperatures than the picturesque shores and bustling cities of Portugal? With its moderate Mediterranean climate, Portugal basks in balmy temperatures throughout the year, making it a haven for sun-seekers. From the lively capital of Lisbon to the Algarve towns of Carvoeiro, Portimão and Tavira, these are best places to visit for some winter sun in Portugal.
A vibrant cosmopolitan city that combines its rich history with innovative modern design, Lisbon is an excellent place to visit at any time of year. While many visitors choose to travel during summer, there are perks to a winter trip in the capital: weather that’s so mild you don’t need a coat, sun almost every single day and queue-free sightseeing thanks to a reduction in tourist numbers are just some of our favourite reasons to book a trip. Winter is also a great opportunity to see Lisbon like a local, and to mingle with residents going about their lives, uninterrupted by sightseers. If you’re after a beach break, the city is based in an excellent location to enjoy day trips to the beaches of Cascais or the famous Algarve coastline.
While Lisbon is all about history, culture, leisure and dining, the primary attraction in Cascais is relaxation. Located just 30 minutes by car from the capital, the town is a popular spot for a day trip for those staying in Lisbon. Over recent years, it’s developed from a fishing village to an exclusive seaside resort with Michelin star restaurants, fascinating art and history museums, and white sandy beaches. A fashionable playground for the European social elite during summer, Cascais in winter is quieter but equally charming.
Located about 2.5 hours by car from Lisbon, the Algarve is one of the most beautiful areas of Portugal. Sprawled across the south coast of the country, it’s famous for its sweeping sandy beaches, charming seaside resorts and year-round mild weather. In the depths of winter, temperatures rarely dip below 11°C and visitors can look forward to sun on most days. The picturesque town of Lagos is a popular place for those seeking some winter sun in Portugal, where visitors can enjoy everything from surfing and scuba diving to exploring the shops and restaurants on the bustling marina and visiting the Old Town’s 16th century castle.
The gateway to the Algarve for many travellers, Faro can occasionally be overlooked as a transport hub, but there’s far more to it than the airport. The city is surrounded by a series of sandspits, which shelter the town and create around 200km of sandy coastline, split into several beaches. Ilha de Faro (Faro Island) is the closest and most popular beach to Faro, and features a golden sandy stretch on the Atlantic side and calm swimming waters on the lagoon side. It’s full of restaurants, shops and water sports centres, which remain open year-round thanks to the area’s mild winter weather. Just across from Ilha de Faro is Ilha Deserta, a veritable desert island that offers quiet beaches and wetland channels full of wildlife. Catch some rays on the beach or explore the nature trail through the Ria Formosa National Park and come face-to-face with flamingos and other island animals and birds.
Just along the coast from Faro is Olhão, a popular destination due to its proximity to Ilha da Armona, a large beach full of sand dunes. As well as being an excellent suntrap in the Eastern Algarve, Olhão is also home to a bustling waterfront promenade and marina, market halls flanked by pavement cafés, historic churches, charming cobbled streets, and a lagoon where people can enjoy fishing trips or boat cruises to nearby ilhas (isles of Portugal).
One of the least explored areas of the Alagrve, Tavira is a sleepy fishing town with a historic heart, a beautiful harbour and a 14km-long unspoilt beach, Ilha de Tavira. Ideal for couples and families, the quiet town invites visitors to step back in time and enjoy a peaceful break from the coast’s busiest resorts. In winter, it’s easy to spend hours wandering Tavira’s cobbled streets, sampling local Portuguese seafood and exploring the town’s ancient churches and castles. With its blue and white azulejos, the Igreja da Misericórdia is considered one of the finest churches in the area, while the best views of the town can be found from the stone towers of the 13th century Castle of Tavira.
Carvoeiro is a small fishing village-turned-seaside resort that’s a favourite among holidaying families. The town’s small but sheltered beach is bustling during summer but quiet in winter, making this a peaceful place to soak up some winter sun in Portugal. There’s plenty to entertain visitors of all ages throughout Carvoeiro, from restaurants, cafés and bars to water sports centres offering a range of activities such as scuba diving and jet skiing. Enjoy a scenic walk along the cliffs for unbeatable views of the coast and the ocean.
If it’s a winter golfing holiday you’re after, visit Vale do Lobo. While many courses in northern Europe freeze over at this time of year, the courses at this exclusive golfing resort are open throughout the winter. There are two challenging courses to choose from, the Royal and the Ocean, where visitors can enjoy a round of golf accompanied by stunning views. Nearby, there’s a 2km sandy beach flanked by bars, restaurants and ice-cream parlours, for when the sun comes out.
For something a little different, enjoy a winter wine tasting holiday in Porto. Located 2.5 hours north by car from Lisbon, Porto may be cooler than the Algarve but the town is full of medieval charm. Head into the countryside to explore expansive vineyards and visit wineries, or stay in the town centre and relax with a glass of Portuguese wine or port in the comfort of Porto’s many wine bars. As well as wine tasting, visitors can discover the town’s many museums, take a stroll along the Douro River, or explore Ribeira – a UNESCO World Heritage-protected site full of colourful houses, quaint cafés and traditional Rabelo boats.