We’ve scoured Portugal, from the Northern most Gêres all the way to the Algarve. Here are our top 7 Best Trips While Visiting Portugal in December with inside tips and plenty of ideas for you to create your own adventures.
Surf The Endless Summer in Porto
In terms surfing conditions the north, of Portugal is typically a little more advanced during the winter. However, Matosinhos beach is one of the best protected surf spots in Europe. It is an excellent wave for complete beginners and for intermediate surfers looking to improve your surfing. Surfers can be found here all year round. December is actually one of the best times of the year to surf Matosinhos because the summer crowd is gone, bigger swells generate more waves for all, and the sun is still shining. This make the spot magic to surfers where is located one of the best surfcamps in Portugal.
Sample the Portuguese cuisine. If you’re already in Matosinhos to surf you have to visit the Rua Heróis de França. There you will find dozens of authentic fish and seafood restaurants serving the best fruits of our ocean. If you’ve really worked up an appetite, head in to town and try a Francesinha. This sandwich-meat feast is smothered in cheese and a special gravy, Francesinha sauce. “Francesinha” literally means Little French Girl and is the most famous dish specifically from Porto.
We have a lot to say about wine. And while you’re in Porto you absolutely must sample the fine wines on the Ribeira riverside.
There’s no shortage of amazing and affordable wine in Porto. The Douro Valley is a Portuguese wine region around the Douro River, located upstream from Porto. The region has Portugal’s highest wine classification as a Denominação de Origem Controlada (DOC). Porto is the home of Port Wine. A top option is to explore the traditional Port Wine Caves dotted alongside the historic riverside in Porto. There you can take a tour of the caves and taste the Ruby, Tawny and White varieties.
The region is associated primarily with Port wine production but the Douro produces just as much table wine. Many red wines, vinho tinto, come from the Douro Valley and the Alentejo Region in southern Portugal. You can buy a great bottle from the grocers for under €5.
A lesser known and underrated option is Vinho Verde, or Green Wine. Vinho Verde is a Portuguese wine from the historic Minho province, just a stones throw from Porto. Vinho Verde isn’t called Green for the color. It can actually be white, red or rose. It is actually a “young wine”, with wine being released in 3-6 months after the grapes are harvested.
Hike or Ski Serra Da Estrela and Portugal’s Highest Mountain
Serra da Estrela is the highest mountain range in Continental Portugal. It is an absolutely stunning region which is surprisingly overlooked by most visitors to Portugal. Go here if you are after a mountain adventure without big crowds.
Torre is the highest mountain in Mainland Portugal, and worth a visit to the top. If you’re driving up, check the weather in advance. The mountain can be shrouded in clouds, and you don’t want to miss the stunning 360 views. At the top there is also a huge gift shop with very tempting local products. Our favourites are creamy Serra Da Estrela cheese, beautiful wool blankets and sweaters, and the Ginga liqueur.
Manteigas is the central village, complete with tourist information. Book your accommodation in town, or head there to get organised. Here you can also pick up maps of the many Trilhos Verdes Hiking Trails.
Trilhos Verdes trail network includes over a dozen trails through the area. Trail times vary from 1 to 5 hours, from fairly flat and easy to more advanced. Here are some interesting places to help you decide which trail to choose:
- Poço do Inferno – Inferno Well Waterfall
- Vale Glaciário do Zêzere – Zêzere Glacial Valley
- Nave da Mestra – Nave of the Master
- Lagoa da Paixão – Lagoon da Paixao
Ski or Snowboard Estância Ski. The Serra da Estrela Ski Resort in the winter season is open every day between November and April, as long as weather conditions allow. If you are thinking of going, it’s a good idea to check the website to ensure the mountain is open. This ski resort is a great option for those on a budget or those who’ve never skied before. You can imagine the surprise on your friends faces when you tell them you learned to ski in Portugal.
Coastal Camping in Costa Vicentina
Experience the stretch of west coast in the bottom half of Portugal by van. This is a great option for you van people out there. If you haven’t fully committed and bought your own, you can rent a van to travel from one of the many van hire companies that operate out of Lisbon or the Algarve.
DISCLAIMER: There are rumors that the Portuguese Authorities are cracking down on wild camping in the South. This means that if you are wild camping, you could be asked to move along or to pay a fine. So far we’ve heard no stories of people being fined. It is also less likely that you would get fined in December or other winter months. But it would be wise to do some research in advance. And if you are wild camping, BE RESPECTFUL. That means being discrete and cleaning up after yourself. Only take as much parking lot space as you need. Take all trash, including toilet paper, away with you.
As surfers, our top recommendations for both surfing (at an intermediate level) and wild camping are listed below, from North (Lisbon) to South (Sagres).
- São Torpes – Not the most beautiful place, but another great beach break with very easy parking and stunning sunsets. This is a good first stop of you are heading south from Lisbon. The surf is generally not crowded and there should be waves for all. The local surfers here are also friendly.
- Arrifana – World famous for it’s surfing, but not the easiest place to find parking. A few nice cafes and restaurants. Spend a night or two here if you need to plug in.If you happen to be around at the end of November or early December, visit the Sweet Potato Festival in Aljezur. In Aljezur there are also a few good second hand shops, grocery stores, health food shops and a laundry.
- Praia Do Amado – Very easy parking and a big beach break with waves for all. Can attract a crowd in the parking lot, especially on the weekend and with nice weather. But there’s also a small beach cafe and surf school with rentals. Great for those with a dog as there are nice coastal paths.
- Cordoama – A valley tucked neatly into a jagged coast, close to Vila Do Bispo. Easy parking and breathtaking views of the coastline. There are no amenities near the parking, so take everything you need for the night. Beware the stray cats in the parking lot if they are around. They are hungry and sassy.
Visit the famous Big Waves in Nazaré
Nazaré has become world famous only in recent years for it’s gigantic waves. It is now part of the WSL Big Wave Tour which takes place every year between October and March. The exact dates for the competitions are announced based on forecast conditions 4 days before the event will take place. As such, scheduling a holiday to see the Big Wave Competition will have to be a last minute call. That said, the conditions for Nazaré to work for huge waves are great in December. Particularly during big storms or king tides in winter, waves 100 feet high can form just offshore. If you plan a trip at this time you are likely to see big wave surfers from all over the world charging down gigantic wave faces.
While it’s all officially one town, Nazaré is split into two. At the bottom, next to the beach is the main town. On top of the cliffs is the second part, O Sitio. It’s possible to walk from one to the other, either directly on steps up and down the cliff, or you can take the funicular. This option also offers stunning views of the coast. It’s definitely worth it to head up top. This area feels more authentically “Portuguese”, has better prices and options for restaurants and cafes, stunning traditional architecture and access to the headland where you get the best views of the big waves.
Before it was a surfing mecca and holiday destination, Nazaré was a productive fishing village. While tourism is the biggest contributor to the local economy these days the town is one of the best places in Portugal to get a taste of fresh seafood prepared in a traditional way.
Wander the beautiful streets of Lisbon
The first and best piece of advice when visiting Lisbon is to take a rickshaw tour. Spent some time chatting to a few of the guides to find one you like. They have a lot of personality and great locals tips. Apart from your city tour, they should also be able to recommend the most authentic restaurants in town.
Lisbon makes an excellent city break. It is filled with Christmas spirit and there are a lot of activities on offer. Roam around downtown and amaze yourself with the Christmas decorations on the streets. Super romantic. Or cruise through the Alfama district, the oldest and most picturesque neighborhood in Lisbon.
If you’re travelling at this time of the year you’re likely thinking about shopping. If the High Street isn’t your think, Lisbon has some amazing markets.
A trip to Lisbon is not complete without a visit to Feira da Ladra or “Thieves Market,” a big flea market open Tues & Sat which has a little bit of everything. Excellent place for tourists and locals as well. Lot of stuff to choose from such as Portuguese ceramics, jewellery, pictures and electronics. The atmosphere is friendly and fun. Gotta love a flea market on a sunny winter day.
For the hipsters among us, the LX Factory holds a Sunday flea market where the vendors present quirky vintage and local designer clothes, handmade jewellery, and vinyl. LX Factory is a modern art center with various start-up businesses, funky restaurants and work spaces for designers and artists.
Food wise, visit the Time Out Market where they have a great variety of local and international food. There’s something for everyone here. The food hall is large but it gets crowded.
Go listen to some Fado! Fado is the traditional music of Portugal. Great fado singers are amazing to watch, so full of passion and emotion. It’s not uncommon to see both the singers and the audience weeping during a performance. It would make the most sense to listen to Fado in the Alfama district as this area features often in the music. Alfama’s winding cobbled streets are lined with restaurants offering fado alongside dinner, the best that Lisbon’s oldest neighborhood has to offer.
Soak up some sun in Tavira
About an hour east of Faro by train is the stunning coastal town of Tavira. If you’re hoping to get the best weather in December, head to Tavira. Tavira is an ideal town for wandering around. The Rio Gilão river is criss crossed with pedestrian bridges and the waterfront is lined with nice cafes and open squares.
The surrounding area is fairly flat, so one nice option is to rent bikes. Head south and east of the city, along the river, to find great stretches of salt pans. They make salt in the surrounding area and if you’ve never seen this it’s worth visiting. Keep going all the way to Quatro Àguas. From here you can usually take a ferry to the beautiful Ilha de Tavira island. This is one of the best of all the islands that stretch along this south coast of Portugal. Unfortunately ferry times will vary in December. It’s best to ask in town about the best way to reach the island at this time of the season.
There are many, many, excellent restaurants in Tavira. Some of the best require booking in advance. Make sure you read the reviews on Tripadvisor and plan ahead. You’ll want to try more than one. If you’re on the bike cycle out to the fishing village Santa Luzia, 3km southwest of Tavira. Here you can find amazing fish restaurants. The top recommendation is octopus (polvo), one of Portugal’s specialties. If you prefer to buy some fresh local fish or seafood there’s also a great market, mercado municipal, open every morning except Sundays.
Mountain Biking in Monchique
Portugal is well know for it’s enduro, freeride and downhill biking as well as for it’s great waves. But for mountain bikers it’s an amazing destination. Because hiking is not a national sport, you’ll hardly find any walking nature lovers in most mountain regions. Whether you shred regularly, or are looking to try biking in a different country, Monchique has some great options and can be considered the best of the Algarve.
Serra De Monchique is great for all-mountain and enduro riders. Riders can look forward to riding through lush green eucalyptus and pine forest, orange groves and stunning meadows with harvested cork trees. Runs are longer than other Algarve spots because Monchique has the highest peak of the region, the 902 metre high Fóia. Serra de Monchique has trails for every style and skill level: fast and flowy, some with built berms, drops and jumps, particularly around Marmelete. For more experienced riders, it also has more technical trails with small rock gardens, roots, switchbacks and natural drops.
Food and Drink
Local specialties include piri piri chicken, on Fóia, and medronho liqueur, everywhere. Drives through this mountain range are stunning. It’s worth it to drive up to the top of Fóia where you can view the entire south coast of the Algarve. On the way back down you can also find a natural water fountain. The slightly sulphurous waters are said to have healing properties. Don’t be surprised to find a line of people filling up (multiple) water bottles.