Well…, you would probably ask yourself the same question if you go to Paris, Amsterdam, Rome or any other international city destination. The thing is, most people who choose to leave their home country this time of the year, do it because they aren’t traditional Christmas family people, or need better weather or both.
We just want to get away from the commercial hassle and spoil ourselves in a nice hotel with a good breakfast where your room gets cleaned up everyday. Preferable in a city that offers a selection of good restaurants and cafes and preferably in a city that doesn’t close down completely.
Or we want to skip the horrible Danish Weather with a holiday in the sun close to the beach and healthy fish and seafood.
When we plan our travel we do a little research about local traditions, what ‘s happening etc – but most often we end up doing nothing but strolling around with frequent pit-stops for drinks and snacks. Not because we don’t want to do things – but we always realize that no matter where you are, Christmas is a family thing with traditions that don’t involve tourists.
So we always end up doing the same things we do when we have a city break any other time during the year. Of course with a seasonal Christmas Touch like visiting a church if there is a seasonal event, going to markets with seasonal offers, tasting the local seasonal dishes etc.
If you haven’t been here before, it’s very easy – this is the time to do all the tourist things. Go to museums, visit monuments, go shopping, ride the tram 28, get lost…
Lisbon is still popular in December, but far from as busy as the high season from June to September which means fewer crowds and lower prices. And if you are from outside Schengen you will benefit from the department stores annual sales: Go Power Shopping!
Personally I am not a Christmas person. So since we haven’t had small kids to spoil with Christmas trees, Reindeers, treats for their Christmas Stocking and HoHoHo’s in a Santa Costume most Christmases we have escaped to parts of the world where Santa couldn’t reach us.
December’s sun, blue sky and sandy beaches shouldn’t go hand-in-hand with Reindeer and Snow covered Christmas trees. But it does! Especially here in Portugal where the horror already starts at the end of September…
Today we live in Europe’s most Christmas crazy country…
How ironic is that?!
So if you are afraid of being Christmas sentimental in a foreign culture, don’t worry.
The city is decked out in festive lights and decorations, all local neighborhoods have their own markets, events, parades and religious activities for all generations to enjoy throughout December
So don’t let Christmas prevent you from recharging your batteries in Lisbon. You will get plenty of it all at affordable prices and without all the household work that plays a big role if you are the one who arranges everything at home.
And to save you from a lot of Christmas-in-Lisbon research I have gathered all our experience in the guide below.
We have markets everywhere. From small wooden shacks that are unpacked every year and serve and snack spots with Portuguese Christmas goodies. They have been around since before mass tourism hit Lisbon – so today you also find a lot of souvenirs of doubtful qualities (like at home LOL).
The three most most popular Christmas markets are::
With a huge variety of attractions, including a Ferris wheel, an ice skating rink, and Santa Claus’ house Wonderland Lisboa in Parque Eduardo VII at Avenida Liberdade Northern end is the largest market in Lisbon.
Rossio Christmas Market in Praça do Rossio in Liberdades’ Southern end is smaller than Wonderland Lisboa. But its variety of stalls selling handmade goods, regional products, and food and drinks give it a more cozy and intimate atmosphere.
Campo Pequeno Christmas Market is located in an old bullring. It’s less touristic and a great place to find traditional Portuguese Christmas gifts and souvenirs and of course food and drinks.
Again – in all December you will find numerous Christmas events scattered all over Lisbon. The biggest and most popular are the ones that return year after year. I personally prefer the local ones you find in the small shops and neighborhoods where locals still live. Like the Christmas cribs, or presépios, families set up their own, in their windows or outside the door and shops show in their windows next to roasts, cakes, vegetables, clothes etc. depending on the shop..
Here are a few of the most popular ones:
Lighting of the Christmas Tree: The first and biggest event in town. With food, drinks, DJs and live bands on Praça do Comércio in the beginning of December the Lightning of The Christmas Tree marks the official start of Christmas.
Music lovers have plenty of things to choose from. Like the Christmas Cribs you will find Christmas Concerts all over town arranged by the churches, music venues and /or culture institutions and the local municipalities.
The traditional New Year’s Eve Fireworks mark the official end of the season. Again you find them all over town and again the ‘official’ on Praça do Comércio the best place to watch the fireworks is from.
I am not Christian – still I love visiting Churches – and preferably during a local ceremony like Easter, Christmas, Wedding etc.
And if you are from a non-western culture I am 100% sure that joining a ceremony like a Christmas midnight mass will be a truly unique experience. Especially since the Portuguese are Catholics where religion is an important part of their family life.
So if churches are on your itinerary why not join the Midnight Mass on 24 December.
Lisbon’s 3 most popular churches are all worth a visit:
Sé de Lisboa in Alfama is one of the oldest cathedrals in Portugal and popular among dedicated worshippers because of its beautiful Christmas decoration.
Basilica da Estrela in Estrela attracts people for its beautiful architecture and Christmas Concerts
Igreja dos Mártires in Chiado attracts a crowd because of its stunning views of the city and important religious artifacts, including the relics of Saint Vincent, the patron saint of Lisbon.
Find them and a few other local favorite churches in our Christ map below (with links).
I don’t know if it’s a tradition – but the years we have lived here in Lisbon there has always been one or more Circus in town.
We have never seen the shows – but when our grandchildren will stay with us we will definitely see one of them. At least to give the kids a non streaming experience.
The only 100% truly local Lisbon tradition I know of, is the ‘Healing of Dolls’ For Christmas at our local Dolls Hospital. I happened to read about this strange tradition on National Geographic. If you’re curious we blogged about it here.
Like in all the countries we have spent time in during Christmas all modern food trends are hidden away together with healthy living.
You eat classic dishes – and like in Denmark, classic means lots of meat, lots of calories, lots of alcohol and lots of everything. It’s all very tasty BUT very filling.
The highlight of the Portuguese Christmas Eve meal is Bacalhau com Todos (Codfish with All), which is a simple yet flavorful dish of codfish, potatoes, cabbage, carrots, eggs, and olive oil. On Christmas day roasted lamb or goat-ling are popular dishes among other classics like Peru assado (Roasted turkey) Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá (Codfish with potatoes, onions, and garlic) and Arroz de Pato (Duck rice).
What is different compared to most of the other countries we have celebrated Christmas in are all the cakes you only get for Christmas. I have NO clue about how many Christmas cakes there are in Lisbon. But a LOT.
I love most of them except for the most traditional & popular of them all Bolo Rei. A crown shaped sweet cake (hence the name: King Cake) made with a rich, sweet dough studded with nuts and candied fruits. Whoever finds the hidden fava bean in their slice will have good luck in the coming year… so watch out!
My personal favorites are: Rabanadas Portuguese/Brazilian version of the French toast – but coated with an extra layer of sugar, cinnamon and deep fried. Another is the tennis ball shaped & sized sweet dough – deep fried and covered in crispy sugar and cinnamon. When served fresh from the oil it’s a dream which must be why they are called Sonhos or Sonhos com Açúcar e Canela. And one more deep fried delicacy: Filhós – a type of Portuguese fritter made from the same kind of dough and dusted with cinnamon and sugar but opposite the other two served with honey or syrup.
These 3 are my favorites – Annette’s are completely different. And so are yours most likely! The only way to find out is getting lost in a cake orgie. And the best venue for that (in my opinion) is Pastellaria Versailles Christmas Cake Sales. A true gem nobody mentions.
Like all other months Lisbon’s City Council publish a super magazine packed with cultural offers of all kinds.
Most of it hasn’t got anything to do with Christmas itself but still the season has an impact on December’s program. So like previous December issues all Christmas Concerts, Movies etc. get a special feature. The magazine are in all our rooms – but if you to get in Christmas mood we have made short cuts to the relevant pages 🙂
Lisbon spends an insane amount of money on Christmas lights: Decorations, sculptures and installations are generously scattered all over downtown and generously supported by all surrounding neighborhoods – including our own Graca. It is as if the whole city competes with each other in doing the most spectacular lights.
The most beautiful Christmas lights are like a pearl on a string from Praça do Comércio on the riverfront where something spectacular kicks off the season and sends people on to the touristic and commercial part down town: Baixa & Chiado perfect for pitstop if you are traveling with kids who need an Christmas snack to recharge before heading Avenida da Liberdade – with its 4 lines on trees all covered in spectacular Lights its Lisbon’s most beautiful streets. The Grand Finale is Parque Eduardo VII at the end of Liberdade. More lights and Lisbon’s biggest food village-amusement-market with warm and cold drinks and snacks. You may find it all very touristic – it is. BUT its main audience are the locals.
Still we enjoy walking around town when the lights are turned on. And even though we make our own Christmas dishes, we enjoy the local vibe in all the restaurants. And every year we also make a list of all the things we want to see and/or experience – but even though its low season we never find the time.
No matter how much you want to do, how many things you want to see, taste and/or experience, Lisbon just has too many thing to offer – among them something very unique compared to most other European countries: The mild Climate… perfect for strolling around and getting lost in Lisbon’s beautiful neighborhoods or walks in the nature that surrounds this amazing city. So we spend a lot of our time during Christmas in the nature around us.
Remember – the best experiences are the ones you discover yourself!
Merry X-Mas and see you in 2024
Thomas (from Annette, Rocco & Chimmi, too)