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Best time to go to Portugal

Best time to go to Portugal

Portugal has bided its time beautifully in taking a prominent place on the world tourism stage, and is now emerging like the belle of the ball, with a green carpet of walking and cycling trails streaming out behind her. The good news is that there are green galas to be had every month of the year in Portugal, depending on which region you’d like to visit. Take a look at our tips on the best time to go to Portugal, from Sintra in winter to the Azores when it pours back home. So, no matter which season you want to escape, you too can go to the ball. 

Zambujeira do Mar beach, along the Fishermen’s Way in Portugal.

Best time to walk on the Rota Vicentina, in the Algarve and Alentejo 

The Rota Vicentina is a 400km colossal web of natural trails and it comes in two equally perfect packages: the Caminho Histórico or Historical Way and the Trilho dos Pescadores Fishermen’s Trail. Both link Santiago do Cacém in the Alentejo region on the west coast with the dramatic headland of Cabo de São Vicente on the corner of the southern Algarve coast. The spring season is wonderfully warm in this part of Portugal, compared with many parts of Europe, with temperatures averaging around 20C to 21C. However, as it’s coastal it can feel cooler if the wind picks up. The summer can hit temperatures of 34C, so all of our trips only run between the months of February and June, or September to December (with the exception of this cycling holiday in both the Alentejo and Algarve, or this one in the Algarve, both of which run all year). 

Late-season sun-seekers can still be found sunbathing throughout the autumn on the Rota Vicentina, enjoying average daily maximum temperatures ranging from 26C in September to 19C in November. The sea temperatures stay between 19C and 21C in autumn too. 

December is the region’s wettest month with, on average, 96mm of rainfall although temperatures rarely fall below 12C, and so this makes a wonderful Christmas escape for many of our customers especially as you get, on average, five to six hours of sunshine per day in December. Albeit with the odd bit of rainfall.

Best time to walk the Camino Portugues

The Camino Portugues or Portuguese Way’s pilgrims have carved out two separate caminos en route to Santiago over the years, one inland (or Central Way) and the other clinging to the coast, or Coastal Way. All of our Camino Portugues holidays are open between March and October, with peak seasons in July and August, although it also gets pretty hot at this time of year, with daily highs of 25C. You also need to book around four months in advance for travel during the summer months, with hundreds of thousands of Portuguese pilgrims hitting the trails. So you don’t want to find there is no room at the inn. 

Our Camino Portugues tours start in the historic city of Porto and head to the coastal resort of Vila Praia de Âncora, with options to dip in and out of river valleys, hilltop villages and eucalyptus glades, before hitting Spain’s Galician coast. Porto is a fun city with a propensity to party, so you may want to join or avoid the likes of the São João Festival on 23 June every year, which celebrates the city’s patron saint. More hullabaloo than holy, this is a time to eat, drink and be merry. The Burning of the Ribbons (Queima das Fitas do Porto) takes place during the first week of May, a decades-old tradition where students celebrate the end of the academic year with parades and parties.

It’s worth considering doing the Camino Portugues as early as March, as it will be much quieter and, as there are fewer elevations to contend with compared with the Camino Frances, for example, you have less extreme conditions. You still have 12 hours of daylight and, on average, six hours of sunshine, with temperatures as high as 15C in March, going up to 17C in April. Remember to check Easter dates for the year you want to travel, depending on whether you want to embrace it or escape it. 

Two pilgrims crossing the international bridge over the Minho River between Valença in Portugal and Tui in Spain.

Best time to visit the Douro Wine Region and northern Portugal

Although this region features on the Camino Portugues, northern Portugal invites many other worshippers of nature to its shores and vine-covered slopes and, in particular, to imbibe the fruits of the Douro Valley. This Douro Wine Region walking holiday runs between March and October, although serious vin-cationers head there in September and October, which marks the beginning of the grape harvest. It’s also when the trees and vines along the valley take on an array of autumnal shades. If you want to party before or after your walking holiday, the Porto and Douro Wine Festival celebrates music, gastronomy and wine in one big summer celebration. 

Best time to go to Peneda-Gerês National Park

Another area of northern Portugal to explore on foot is Peneda-Gerês, the country’s only national park, with our walking holiday there open for travel between March and October. In autumn, the park’s oak and pine forests are transforming into their annual golden hues. It can get rainy here though, and temperatures drop if you trek to higher elevations, which can be as low as 8C in March but as high as 23C once April and May arrive. The park’s own IUCN red-listed Gerês lily flowers blossom between mid-May and the end of June, although you have to keep your eyes peeled for those, unlike the array of wild daffodils which pop up all over in spring. Summer months bring a minimum average temperature of 18C but can soar up to 30C, with plenty of opportunities to cool down in the park’s rivers and waterfalls. 

The ancient village of Lindoso is right up there as one of the highlights when walking in Portugal’s Peneda Gerês National Park.

Best time to walk in Serra Estrela

The Serra da Estrela (Mountains of the Stars) is mainland Portugal’s highest mountain range, with some strenuous and stupendous trekking to be had between the months of May and October. In winter it transforms into a very popular skiing area. The highest peak is La Torre at 1,993m, and the altitude keeps the mountain region much cooler than the rest of Portugal in summer, with temperatures around 17C. In March, they can be as low as 5C going up to 8C averages in April, but with more risk of rainfall. But it’s the mountains, so it’s always unpredictable of course. By late September and into October, daytime temperatures dip to between 14C and 8C respectively. 

Best time to go to Madeira

Even though you might not associate the middle of the Atlantic with being warm and soothing, Madeira is like a balmy blip emerging from the waves. And the best bit is that this is the case all year around. Which is why we run self-guided walking and cycling holidays there every month of the year. It’s luscious without a rainy season, it’s warm without a scorching season, with average temperatures all year of around 20C on lower elevations around the coast. 

Sea temperatures never dip below the high teens, and as for getting wet on your hikes, June is the driest month, and April is the wettest, with 36mm of rain. It’s not too dry during the Madeira Wine Fest which takes place at the end of the summer, and the same can be said for the Madeira Carnival which takes place in February. And given that this sub-tropical island is also known as the Flower Island, its Flower Festival in May is certainly one to consider adding to your bouquet list. 

Walking pico to pico in Madeira, just one of Portugal’s archipelagos made for adventures.

Best time to go to the Azores

An otherworldly archipelago of four islands, walkers and whales seek out this Atlantic wilderness haven in packs and pods. The weather is good but unpredictable all year round, and so our Azores trips are also open every month of the year, although those mild maritime climate moods may be more favourable in summer months. The warmest months are July, August, September and October, with average daily temperatures of 22C – 24C. The archipelago also benefits from the warmth of the Gulf Stream, so although weather can be unpredictable, and windy, temperatures rarely dip under 14C throughout the year.

If you hope to spot whales while exploring the islands, there are traditional lookout points called vigias scattered across the islands. The best time to see whales on the Azores is March to mid-May for blue whales, but sperm whales are here all year round. 

Portugal at Christmas

Just like the traditional ‘Bolo Rei’ or King’s Cake that is eaten in Portugal for the festive season, our Christmas holidays in Portugal have a wealth of natural ingredients, with everyone giving you a right royal welcome too at this special time of year. If you fancy a bike for Christmas, take your pick between cycling in the north or south of Portugal, the former along the Atlantic coast and the latter from the Alentejo to Algarve.

You will have plenty of silent nights walking the 400km colossal web of natural trails on the Rota Vicentina trail, or ask Santa for Sintra this year, on our walking holiday between the ancient Pena Palace to the coast at Cascais. You also don’t have to wait until the fifth day of Christmas to enjoy one of Portugal’s five gold rings, with our walking holiday wonders on the four islands of the Azores, or its fifth island idyll of Madeira open and ready to celebrate Christmas. The large cities of Lisbon and Porto do Christmas perfectly too, with just enough glitz to get in the mood, but not too much in-your-face commercialism. They also have average daytime highs of 16C in Lisbon and 15C Porto, both dipping enough at night to put a jacket and scarf on, but with plenty of blue skies during the day. So consider topping and tailing your trip with a seasonal city break. 

Ask Santa for Sintra this Christmas.

For other countries that might surprise you with hidden beauty, you may enjoy our blogs on the Via Dinarica in the Balkans, Via Spluga between Austria and Italy and our Winter walking wonderlands. And for more information on Portugal, check out our blogs on the Rota Vicentina and Madeira’s levada trails