Portugal is a small country, with a large range of weather conditions. The country can be climatically split up into 3 main regions: the north, the south and the islands. However, all coastal regions see a variation of the Mediterranean climate type.
On the whole the north has cooler temperatures than the south and sees significantly more rainfall. As you head east toward the Spanish border, winters become longer and summers hotter as the land as affected by the moderating Atlantic winds.
The climate along the 700km coast line is predominantly influenced by the currents and winds of the Atlantic Ocean, especially so in the northwest of the country where a mild, rainy climate is observed. As a rule, as you head south you will find temperatures and hours of sunshine tend to increase while precipitation declines. As in any coastal destination, the summer highs are tempered by the cooling sea breeze and the winters warmed by the ocean waters.
Northern Portugal is mountainous with central mountains and plateaus that rise over 6,000 ft in some places have a great affect on Portugal’s climate, as well as receiving varying climates themselves; the higher you are the cooler the temperature and the higher the rainfall. They create a barrier to the Atlantic winds, trapping cool air and rain on north side of the mountains. While temperatures near the coast are hot in the summer and mild in the winter, and rainfall follows the dry summer, wet winter pattern of a typical Mediterranean climate, coastal west Portugal sees much higher rainfall than true Mediterranean areas at all times of year. The high rainfall encourages greenery in abundance.
Starting in the very northeast of Portugal you will find yourself in the Cantabrian Mountains, a mountain chain that stretches east - west. In this region you will find Bragança which is a small city 22km from the Spanish border at an elevation of 700m. The climate here is primarily influenced by its altitude and its 200km from the coast. The city and the surrounding region experiences long severe winters and shorter, hot summers. Due to its altitude, snow in the area is a regular occurrence. It often settles for a few days. January sees highs of 6ºC while the peak of summer sees temperatures of around 28ºC. The record high in the city was measured when the mercury topped a sweltering 40°C, which shows the temperature extremes that occur when a city is not moderated by coastal influences.
Winters can often be so severe that the barometer dips to low of -15ºC. Total annual rainfall in the area averages 743 mm, and the area sees, on average of 123 rainy days per year and 20 days of snow. Although normally the area is relatively wet, the year of 2005 did see Portugal suffer a particularly dry year and Bragança suffered water shortages and devastating forest fires in the rural areas.
As you head further south, remaining inland, you will hit the Serra da Estrela which is the highest mountain range in Portugal. Its highest peak has an altitude of 1,993 m and is home to the Vodafone Ski Resort. Snow is frequent and heavy here in the throughout winter.
Moving westward toward the Atlantic coast you will find Porto, Portugal’s second largest city. Porto’s temperature follows a typical Mediterranean trends with an extended, hot summer and a mild winter. Rainfall is low at the peak of summer but quite high at other times.
June to September sees average highs in the 20s with July and August being the warmest months reaching average highs of 25°C. Porto can experience occasional heat waves which see temperatures as high at 40°C; these heat waves generally last 5 to 10 days and humidity is fairly low throughout.
Winter in Porto sees temperatures typically range between 5°C during morning and 16°C during the afternoon, though it is not entirely uncommon for the thermometer to hover just below freezing come night time. On average, the winter months from December to February see average maximums of 13°C to 14°C and an average minimum of 5°C.
The climate of Portugal heats up and dries out as you head further south. This is due partially to increasing proximity to the equator, but more significantly to the affect of the central mountains on northerly winds and to the influences of Africa and the Mediterranean. Higher temperatures are encouraged by weather systems coming over from the Mediterranean and up from Africa; the latter also brings aridity. With northerly winds trapped in the north, the south stays drier and temperatures are left largely un-moderated.
Once you hit Lisbon, the country’s capital, you see a fairly typical Mediterranean climate. Lisbon’s climate is mild, temperate and warm, consisting of sunny spring and summer months in which temperatures frequently reach over 30°C. Winters on the other hand are wet and windy with average temperatures of around 10ºC; the winter season is shorter than the summer season.
Lisbon City skyline, Portugal.
Temperatures begin to drop around autumn, but even throughout the cooler months of October to April, vibrant sunshine is almost a constant feature. However, as a result of its proximity to the sea, the presence of mist and drizzly rain can sometimes make Lisbon feel cooler than its inland neighbours. It is rare for temperatures to fall below freezing and even December and January only see average minimums of 8°C and 9°C.
Southern-most Portugal is the country’s most prized tourist destination: the Algarve. The Algarve is the sunniest, driest, and warmest part of the country. While this region is undoubtedly the hottest in the country, it doesn’t reach the uncomfortable sweltering highs that some parts of south-eastern Spain reach, such as Seville, due to the cooling Atlantic winds. The region receives minimal rain, averaging 500mm annually falling on 50 days of the year.
Here you will find the popular destinations of Lagos, Praia da Luz , Sagres and Faro - the Algarve’s capital. There are many smaller towns which lie close to the Algarve’s famed beaches and are ideal for a less crowded summer getaway.
Idyllic Lagos, Algarve Portugal.
Sagres is the most southern point of both Portugal and Europe. It lies inside the Southwest Alentejo and Costa Vicentina Natural Park and is known to enjoy its very own microclimate. In Sagres there is very little vegetation, the ground is mainly rock with barely any soil. However, if you head north from the town, vegetation becomes more interesting and you will find varieties of wild orchids. Sagres’s microclimate means it sees on average 300 sunny days per year and very mild winters.
As you head immediately north of the cape you will find areas that are more exposed to the winds and high tides of the Atlantic which plays host to quite dangerous offshore currents. Heading further east you will reach the vibrant coastal town of Lagos, which like most of southern Portugal is a popular year round destination. Winter months see the average lows ranging from 9°C to 11°C, with a low rainfall for a Mediterranean climate. The spring and autumn months see temperatures in the mid teens. The months either side of summer (May, September and October) see conditions that resemble summer conditions in the UK. Another attraction of the shoulder seasons is that beaches and accommodation won’t be as busy and the whole experience will be more tranquil.
Summer in Lagos and neighbouring areas can be very hot. It is not uncommon for temperatures to reach in excess of 35°C, but generally they hover around the high 20s and low 30s. Days are somewhat cooled by sea breezes. If you are lucky, the wind will wash over the town and make sitting on the terraces and beaches more comfortable. If you can handle the crowds and love the heat than the peak season months from June to August will be your ideal time to visit.
Azores and Madeira Islands
The Madeira Islands
Madeira is an archipelago that is located in the Atlantic Ocean 860 km off the coast of mainland Portugal. The islands are much closer to Africa than to Europe.
Madeira has a mild climate with a small temperature range. Because of the mountain range in the centre of the island, the north side of the island sees a slightly different climate to the south side. The mountain acts as a rain shield, stopping a lot of rain from drifting to the south from the north. As a result, the southern part of the island sees less precipitation than the north and on the mountains. The south side sees most of its rainfall in the winter months, whereas the north witnesses precipitation throughout the year.
The average high temperature throughout the summer months, June to September, sits around 19°C to 23°C. For the remainder of the year the temperature sits at about 15°C to 18°C, with October to February being the coldest and wettest months. The sufficient rainfall on the island has led to a verdant landscape and Madeira has been labelled the ‘floating garden'.
The Azores are a Portuguese archipelago located about 1,500 km from Portugal’s capital of Lisbon. Azores witnesses a temperate, maritime climate which is characterized by agreeable temperatures with a small range. Due to its location in the North Atlantic the archipelago is in constant contact with the high pressure areas, polar and tropical air masses.
The average annual temperature sits at about 17ºC and varies between 13º and 14º C during the colder months of January and February and 22ºC - 23ºC during the summer months. Obviously as the region is an island and surrounded by water a high level of humidity (77% average/yr.) is therefore observed. Rainfall is well distributed throughout the year though the winter months see slightly more than the summer. The ocean temperature gets down to 15ºC in winter and up to 23ºC in summer. The area is affected by the Gulf Stream, which is a Northern Atlantic current that brings warmer waters up into the region, this consequently warms the surrounding waters. The Gulf Stream affects all of Portugal.
Azores, Portuguese archipelago.