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The Algarve for Christmas
The Algarve is the beautiful southern coastline of Portugal and the region makes for an enjoyable, alternative Christmas holiday destination. The winter months were typically the low tourist season for Algarve but over the last few years the Christmas holiday season has become more popular, as many of the North African winter sun destination have become unsafe due to political instability or terrorism.
The increase of visitors to the Algarve means that there are more hotels and restaurants open and there is a livelier atmosphere in the larger resort towns. This guide will provide an introduction to a Christmas holiday to the Algarve and will include details of the weather, where to stay, Portuguese customs and general holiday tips.
What’s the weather going in the Algarve to be like at Christmas?
The weather in the Algarve at Christmas is best described as unpredictably but mild. There is an equal chance of a bright sunny day as an overcast cloudy day and there is always the chance of some rain. The maximum day time temperatures are around 16-18C, which is just warm enough for t-shirts but certainly not for sun bathing on the beach.
Day time maximum temperature and night time minimum in centigrade and fahrenheit
Hours of sun per day (yellow) and max temperature (red line)
Number of wet days per month (blue bar) and amount of rain (blue line)
The evenings chill down to 5-10C so always pack a couple of warm jumpers and check that the accommodation has some sort of heating. The Algarve is not a winter sun destination, if you want guaranteed sun and warmth try visiting a more southern destination but these holidays will cost significantly more!
Why visit the Algarve for Christmas?
You may ask the question; if the weather is not going to be sunny or warm and it’s low season why bother visiting the Algarve for Christmas? The reason is that the Algarve offers great value for money, it is a family friendly destination and there is enough going on for a fun Christmas.
Bolo Rei (King Cake) is the traditional Portuguese Christmas cake - and is very sweet!
The Algarve is an ideal destination for families who wish to take extended family (especially the older generations) away for Christmas. The south of Portugal is a very safe location; without the potential risk of terrorism in North Africa or the crime of the Spanish Costas.
Albufeira is a pretty town on the Algarve
Hotels and flights to the Algarve will be significantly less expensive than to the more popular Christmas holiday destinations. Food and drink are exceptional cheap in Portugal and it is often cheaper to eat out at lunch time than to cook at home.
The Algarve is very quiet during the winter months but there is a noticeable increase in visitor numbers over the Christmas period and these visitors tend to be concentrated in certain areas (see the following section). This means that many bars and restaurants in these areas re-open or stay open and there is a social atmosphere.
Where to go in the Algarve for Christmas?
December and January are the low tourist season for the Algarve therefore it is suggested to go to the larger resort towns of Albufeira, Praia da Rocha, Vilamoura or Lagos as the smaller resort may feel very quiet. It is common for many of the bars and restaurants in the smaller resorts to shut during the winter season. Albufeira, Vilamoura and Praia da Rocha have large expat communities while Lagos is a major town with a large permanent population. In our opinion Albufeira is the best choice as it is the larger of the resort towns and there will be more going on.
When to Go?
The cost of flights will always be more expensive closer to Christmas, so flying out earlier and booking well in advance will certainly save money. As the Algarve is in the low season the period, prior to Christmas (before 21st December) and after Christmas (after 3rd January) will be very quiet and flight accommodation will be cheaper. The cooler winter months are great time of year to hire a car and explore the Algarve (Silves, Sagres and Mertola). The Algarve is a great destination for a golfing holiday and outside of the high season green fees massively reduce, the main golfing town is Vilamoura.
What do the Portuguese do for Christmas?
The Portuguese have their main Christmas celebrations on the evening of the 24th of December. All generations of the family gather for a special (late) evening meal of Bacalhau (codfish) and their traditional Christmas cake called the Bolo Rei (King Cake). The meal tends to finish very late and the Christmas gifts are given to each other at midnight (much to the delight of Portuguese children). Christmas day for the Portuguese is a much more low-key day, similar to our boxing day, and all family members are expected to go to church. Christmas is a national holiday for the Portuguese therefore many restaurants and bars will be closed. It is always advisable to pre-book a table for a Christmas meal.
Tips and Advice
Always get a hotel room which has heating or an air conditioning unit which can also warm. The winter nights can have a chill and some sort of heating will be required. This is even more important if you are hiring an apartment or house, which may have no means of heating. The sea will be extremely cold in the winter, and if you plan to go surfing bring a wet suit.