Discover the magic of Christmas in Portugal: rent a car and explore unforgettable places!
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In this corner of Europe, where the winter sun beckons tourists, there's a deep-rooted Christmas tradition! During this season, Portugal shines with Christmas lights and decorations. Festivities delight the populace, and traditional pastries decorate bakery windows – the King Cake, "sonhos" (dream pastries), and "azevias" are just a few of these delicacies!
Renting a car and traveling through towns, markets, and nativity scenes that most charm Portugal allows you to experience the customs and traditions of this time. In this article, we present 12 suggestions for you to start planning your Christmas journey.
Tour through the magical Christmas towns in Portugal: 12 must-visit places!
Christmas fills the air in Portuguese cities and towns, where traditions come alive during this season. Before diving into the itinerary we've prepared for you, let's touch on a few Christmas customs in Portugal.
- Traditional Christmas Food - in Portugal, it's customary to have boiled cod with potatoes and Portuguese cabbage on Christmas Eve, and roasted turkey on Christmas Day. However, from north to south, there are variations like boiled octopus, roasted lamb, pig, or goat, accompanied by breadcrumbs and potatoes.
- Christmas desserts - "filhoses", "rabanadas" (French toast), rice pudding, "azevias", "sonhos", "coscorões", King Cake, "aletria", and more. And always on the table are dried fruits (almonds, raisins, figs, pine nuts).
- Religious events - nationwide, on midnight of December 24th, Catholic churches hold the "Missa do Galo" (Rooster's Mass) in honor of Jesus' birth. It's said this mass gets its name because it starts when the rooster crows.
On January 1st, village residents go door-to-door singing "Janeiras." Originally, this tradition was to spread the message of Jesus' birth to those far away and to gather offerings for the "little boy" (Jesus). Now, they collect donations to help the needy.
1- Northern Portugal
Our journey begins in the north, where religious traditions remain deeply rooted. Therefore, Christmas is a time that invites an encounter with the welcoming towns of the north.
What to do in Northern Portugal?
When renting a car, you can freely explore traditional Christmas markets, and festivities, and discover the most beautiful nativity scenes of the northern region.
- Live Nativity of Priscos - a journey back in time in an immersive show, unfolding in real-time with over 800 actors.
- Nativities of Garfe - this Minho village is adorned with nativity scenes made by its residents and placed next to their homes, a tradition that attracts many visitors.
- Dance of the Moors and Christians - On December 25th, watch the traditional Christmas procession in Braga, with performers dramatizing dances and celebrations.
- Caretos of Varge - Enjoy the mystical Caretos of Bragança, who, on December 24th, take to the streets with drums and bells to create chaos in the village. They throw hay and water at residents, steal cow carts, "jingle" girls, but it all ends in a big celebration!
Christmas is in the air in this undefeated city with lights scattered throughout the streets, squares, and gardens, not forgetting the gigantic Christmas tree in front of City Hall. Increasingly popular are Christmas markets and entertainment for children in the "Porto Christmas Village" (an indoor amusement area), which are quickly becoming traditions that animate and warm the city's streets.
What to do in Porto during Christmas?
Christmas concerts; Christmas Palace (at Crystal Palace); Visit Santa Catarina Street and Lello Bookshop;
Tip: If you're visiting the north, the best way to enjoy the trip is to rent a car in Porto and visit all these special places!
3 - Serra da Estrela
A scene straight out of a Christmas movie, with typical stone houses, snow sprinkling the rooftops, and chimneys puffing smoke! In the village streets, you can hear groups singing traditional carols, and feel the scent of traditional treats and wood burning - it's the true Christmas spirit.
It's definitely worth renting a car and exploring the villages of the Serra. We recommend a visit to Sabugal, in the Guarda district, to see the "largest natural nativity in Portugal" created life-sized with natural elements and over 1000 stone figures.
4 - "Nativity Village" Piódão
Without a doubt, this is a must-visit stop on your Christmas itinerary! Prepare to step into a Christmas tale. The stone houses with blue shutters, aligned on the slope of the Serra do Açor, transform this village into a Christmas postcard. It looks like a nativity scene set against a breathtaking natural landscape - it's truly magical!
5 - Penela Nativity
As this journey progresses south, Penela's nativity stands out, making a clear mark in this season's events. It's the largest nativity in Portugal, stretching over 700 square meters, with 150 figures and a 360-degree panoramic view of the entire county.
6- Óbidos Christmas Village
What to do in Óbidos? This village, located in the Leiria district, is the stage for various historical events. Surrounded by the walls of its castle, it transforms into the Portuguese Lapland. Markets, crafts, shows, ice rink, street entertainment with all the characters from the Christmas imagination, shepherds walking their sheep, and of course, Santa Claus is there to greet the children!
7- Nativity Scene of Marinha Grande
If you continue in Leiria, visit Marinha Grande to see one of the largest nativity scenes in the country, made up of more than 2000 pieces, with moving windmills, waterfalls with a river, bridges, lighting, and many other historical and biblical representations.
Tip for a 3-day getaway: visit Serra da Estrela, Piódão, Óbidos, and Marinha Grande. Renting a car is the best solution to explore this region.
8 - Alenquer, Nativity of Portugal
Since 1968, every year in Alenquer, the "Nativity of Portugal" is erected, with lights illuminating the path to the village streets. Here, you'll find another of the best Christmas Villages in the country. Get enchanted with circus shows, a Christmas market, a natural ice rink, and other entertainment for the whole family.
9 - Christmas Kingdom of Sintra
Sintra is in itself a town full of charm, wonders, and mystery, surrounded by its magnificent mountain range! At Christmas, it becomes even more magical with street lights and entertainment, shows, and concerts for all ages.
10- Cascais Christmas Village
What to do in Cascais? Be a part of this Christmas story where real reindeer delight the children, ice skating attracts the adventurous, and the market of regional and handmade products helps find that missing gift! All in a charming village by the sea.
11- Wonderland Lisbon
The country's capital fills with light and magic at Christmas! The street lights are a true spectacle of beauty and color that warms hearts. In the center of Lisbon, the "Wonderland" is usually set up, entertaining the whole family with its ice rink, Big wheel, various entertainments, and of course, Santa's Village.
What to do in Lisbon during Christmas?
There's much to explore in the nooks of beautiful Lisbon:
- Christmas concerts in churches;
- Rossio Christmas Market;
- Campo Pequeno Christmas Market;
- Giant Christmas tree in Terreiro do Paço;
- Christmas trains through the streets of Lisbon;
- Theater plays for the whole family.
Tip for a 3-day family trip: rent a car in Lisbon and follow the route: Alenquer, Cascais, Sintra, and end in Parque Eduardo VII in Lisbon.
12 - Christmas in the South of Portugal
From Alentejo to Algarve, the Christmas spirit continues in the air, streets are illuminated and decorated with nativity scenes and other ornaments. In Alentejo, as in Trás-os-Montes and in Beiras, people gather wood to make the "Christmas Log," a giant bonfire that warms conversations in the main squares of towns or villages while waiting for the Midnight Mass.
What to visit?
- Giant Nativity of Vila Real de Santo António, in the Algarve - the largest nativity scene in the world with moving figures.
- Vila Vita Christmas Food Market, in Lagoa - influenced by the most famous Christmas markets in Europe, in this Christmas Village, you'll find international sweets, various crafts, and fun for the little ones.
Experience the magic of Christmas in Portugal with Drivalia
Have you entered the Christmas spirit? Please take advantage of our suggestions and make your own itinerary through the best Christmas Villages in Portugal and be enchanted by these magical places!
The best way to move around the different villages and Portuguese towns is by car. Besides the comfort, you can explore various hard-to-reach places, without limitations imposed by the lack of transport.
If you arrive by plane in Portugal (Porto or Lisbon), count on Drivalia to rent a car at the airport without complications! We have a fleet of modern vehicles with various models for you to choose the best solution for your Christmas trip.