Portugal: Weather Overview
Just because a country is small, doesn't mean it should be forgotten, and this is certainly the case when it comes to Portugal. Often overlooked in favour of some of the larger countries within the huge landmass that is Europe, Portugal is packed with things to see and do, as well as some spectacular coastline to enjoy.
Located at the south-western end of Europe, lapped by the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, and sharing a border with Spain, as well as the Iberian Peninsula, Portugal has its own distinct culture, language, and is full of attractions for all the family, plus a very rich history – Portugal is one of the oldest countries in Europe.
Portugal is one of the warmest countries in Europe, which gives the ideal opportunity to enjoy a break no matter what month of the year. Overall the country is classified as having a Mediterranean climate, however, this does change a little as you head towards the north of the country. The interior portion of land is hotter than the coastal resorts, thanks to ever cooling breezes blowing in from the Atlantic.
We know that the Algarve is a very popular holiday destination during the summer and winter months, and we will explore that a little later on, however, the rest of the country is certainly beautiful, diverse, and full of cities and towns to enjoy. The landscapes across the country are wide-ranging, which lends itself to different weather conditions in various areas. The north of the country is mountainous, which gives a typically cooler vibe to the weather, compared to the further south you travel, and it's not unusual to see snow during the winter months, especially in Serra da Estrela.
The northern part of Portugal is home to the second largest city, Porto, sitting on the Duoro River estuary, and is great for wine tasting and vineyard tours. On top of this, this is probably the most historic region of the country overall, so great for history buffs. The temperatures here are milder than those experienced on the Algarve in the south, and that means this is the ideal destination for those visiting during the summer months, who don't enjoy high heat. For instance, during the peak month of July, Porto experiences an average temperature of around 20°C, which is ideal for exploring the region to its fullest. Rainfall is generally much less during the summer, with an average rainfall level of around 20mm during the summer months.
The aforementioned Serra da Estrela is a great place to visit in this region, and tours regularly leave Porto throughout the year. The landscapes are dramatic and rugged and are a wonderful sight to see during the spring months of April and May when temperatures begin to warm up. There are many different outdoor activities to enjoy here, which we will explore a little more later on.
Peneda-Geres National Park is also located in this region, and this is the only national park in the country. A trip here from Porto is a must, and there are many activities to enjoy, as well as canyoning and checking out the huge Tahiti Waterfalls. You can head off white water canoeing on the Lima and Cavado Rivers, or visit Mata da Albergaria, which is the oldest forest in the country. Bear in mind that in this region it's not unusual to experience a little snow during the winter months in the highest parts of the region, however, spring and summer are mild, and great times to explore, with low rainfall overall.
As you move down towards North Central Portugal you come across Aveiro, which is situated on the coast and offers a cooler holiday resort to those found on the south coast. Coimbra is also situated here and is home to one of the oldest universities in the world. Generally speaking, the further inland you go you will experience more in the way of traditional life, as well as still mild temperatures, especially during the winter months. For instance, Coimbra experiences an average low temperature during December of just 8°C, but can reach a warm 15°C as an average high.
In the southern part of Central Portugal, you will find the capital city, Lisbon. A hugely popular spot to visit, with plenty to see and do, but also because of the very mild weather regardless of the month. Still experiencing a typical Mediterranean climate, Lisbon enjoys long, warm summers, without major spikes in temperature. Summer is a wonderful time to visit the capital and explore, especially because the sun shines in abundance; during the month of May, for instance, Lisbon experiences around 10 hours of sunshine per day on average.
In this part of the country, you will also find beautiful Evora, heading inland. Here you can explore Portuguese history and ruins, including the iconic Roman Temple of Evora, and the Igreja de Sao Francisco. This small and charming town still experiences mild winter temperatures to enjoy, with the average high temperature reaching 14°C during the month of February.
So, why do so many people head to Portugal year upon year? And why is it becoming increasingly popular for those who have never visited before?
It may have a lot to do with the fact that prices are falling for holidays in this part of the world, and whilst Portugal still holds a sophisticated title, thanks to the Algarve and its glittering capital, it is very family-friendly, with many all-inclusive resorts and family fun attractions and activities to enjoy. The beauty of the landscape is certainly another plus point, as well as the countless golf courses to enjoy all over the country – but more than anything, guaranteed gorgeous weather brings visitors back year after year.
Lisbon City skyline, Portugal.
One of the most visited parts of Portugal, especially during the summer months, is the Algarve. In fact, Southern Portugal is best known for the Algarve and its many holiday resorts, such as Albufeira, Praia da Luz, as well as the city of Faro. During the summer months, these resorts are packed with visitors, however, this area is also ideal for winter sun, with mild temperatures during the darker months of the year.
The Algarve is situated on the most southern part of Portugal, with the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the Mediterranean Sea to the east. The close proximity to the water affects the climate to a large degree, and this part of the country is certainly classified as having a Mediterranean climate.
Summer sees picture perfect sunshine conditions, with barely any rain, and even winters are mild, although slightly wetter. The proximity to the equator also helps with keeping temperatures mild all year around, as well as the region lying in the path of incoming weather systems from southern Spain and Africa.
Spring and autumn are fantastic times to visit the region, with many golfers flocking here during these times, with countless top class golf courses to be found all around, including the very popular Amendoeira Golf Course.
We mentioned that the Algarve is a sunny place, and it is actually one of the sunniest in the whole of Europe, with around 300 days of sunshine per day. It's fair to say that the resorts on the east coast, such as Monte Gordo, are much hotter and experience less in the way of rain than those on the west, such as the very popular Praia da Luz. For example, Monte Gordo experiences an average temperature of around 26°C during the peak summer month of August, compared to Praia da Luz's average of 22°C. Despite this slight difference, both resorts offer plentiful sun-seeking fun and are great choices for a family holiday.
Albufeira is another top choice when it comes to where to visit in this region, and here you will find many all-inclusive hotels, which are a great choice for those travelling with children. Check out Eden Resort, or Topazio Hotel and Apartments, if you're looking for affordable accommodation, in a very central location.
This particular resort is ideal for those who enjoy beach time and swimming too, as the average sea temperature is a delightful 21°C during August, and only falls to around 15°C during February, which although a little too chilly for swimming, is ideal for diving or sailing.
The Algarve is known to be a windy region, thanks to the breeze blowing in off the Atlantic, which can make the temperature feel fresher than it actually is – it's for this reason that it is very important to remember sun safety when holidaying in this region. The breeze also makes the area also very popular for water-sports enthusiasts and sailors, however, especially a little out towards the open water.
We know that June to September is peak holiday season in this part of the world, however, July and August see the highest temperatures. Lagos experiences an average high temperature of around 28°C during its hottest month of July, and evening lows only fall to around 20°C, which makes for ideal conditions when it comes to heading out for dinner, or simply walking around, perhaps checking out the beautiful sunset this region is known for.
Rain does tend to increase as winter sets in, however, these downpours are unlikely to be too prolonged. Faro, the main city in the region, experiences around 10mm as an average rainfall level during August, however, this increases to around 100mm during the wettest month of the year in November. Despite this fact, even the wettest month only affects around 9 days of the month on average, to some degree.
This glittering part of Portugal is hugely popular for a very good reason, namely the weather, but also because of the fantastic beaches, wonderful golf courses, shopping, spas, gastronomy, night-life, water-sports, and family resorts which line the coast.
Idyllic Lagos, Algarve Portugal.
It's a certain fact that the northern regions of Portugal are mountainous, and because of that, they are rather spectacular places to visit, with soaring highs and a rugged appearance to the overall scenery. The central mountains and plateaus can easily rise to over 6000ft in some places, and because of this altitude, they have a large effect on the climate in this part of the country but also affecting Portugal as a whole.
Like anywhere in the world, it's quite common for mountainous areas to have their own climate altogether, and this case is no different. Generally speaking, the higher you travel, the cooler the temperatures you will find, and the higher the rainfall too. The high mountains create a barrier to the winds travelling over from the Atlantic Ocean, trapping the cooler air and rain to the northern side of the mountains, and giving the area there a cooler and fresher feel. If you want to experience completely clean air, this is the place to head!
Having said that, however, towards the coast in this region, summer temperatures are hot, but mild in the winter, and to confuse matters entirely, the rainfall pattern is typically the Mediterranean. The coastal regions of west Portugal do see more rainfall than the south regardless of the month of the year, which gives way to a green, lush appearance to the landscape. This is an ideal region for walking and hiking in particular, and this region is home to the popular beach resort of Aveiro, which although not in the northern reaches, is classified as being in this particular section of the country.
This small but beautiful beach resort is ideal for water-sports and swimming during the peak summer months, with an average water temperature of around 20°C during August and an average temperature of around 21°C to match.
You could say that Northern Portugal is a contradiction in many ways – beach resorts and ski resorts in one stretch of the area! Despite that fact, the northern region of the country is the ideal break from hot temperatures in the south.
The Cantabrian Mountains sit at the most north-eastern portion of Portugal, stretching from east to west. Here you will find Braganca, a small, charming city which is at a high elevation level of around 700m. Because of the altitude, you will find the climate to be slightly different, as well as the fact it sits close to the coast. Here you will find long, harsh winters, and short, but hot summers. It's quite common to see snow during the winter months, with an average low temperature during January of 2°C, before rising to a very warm high of 29°C during July. The hottest temperature ever recorded in this region was 40°C, showing that extremes can and do occur from time to time when the cooling influence of the Atlantic doesn't come into play.
Winters in this far northern region can be very severe indeed, and the rainiest month of December sees an average rainfall level of around 120mm, affecting 11 days of the month to some degree or another, with snow a possibility too. Heavy rain is quite common during this time of year.
Serra da Estrela is also located in this region, although slightly further south than the Cantabrian range. This is the highest mountain range in Portugal and is home to the Vodafone Ski Resort. Throughout the winter months it is an almost certainty to see snow, giving ideal conditions for skiing and snowboarding, suiting all ability levels, and plentiful apres ski facilities too.
Portugal's second city is also located in this region, and one of the most visited in the whole country - Porto. Porto is a fantastic place to visit, with much culture and history to enjoy, dating as far back as the ancient Roman Empire. Here you find a typical Mediterranean climate, however much milder than the further south reaches of the country. Summers are warm and winters are mild; for instance, August sees and an average high temperature of around 24°C, with January seeing an average high of 14°C. The winter months are a fantastic time to visit Porto and explore, before perhaps heading a little further north to the ski resorts in the mountains.
Rainfall in this area peaks during December, with an average rainfall level of around 180mm, affecting 17 days out of the whole month, and during the summer months is very low indeed, with August seeing the only 20mm of precipitation, which affects just 7 days to some small degree. Visitors to this region during the shoulder months of spring and autumn will experience mild weather, perfect for exploring the Duoro River area, with plentiful vineyards and walking trails. The city itself has much to explore, including the historic Church of Sao Francisco and Clerigos Church, to name just two examples. Remember to take a jacket with you during the summer evenings, however, as September sees an average low temperature of around 14°C, which although still mild, can feel chilly when you have experienced higher temperatures during the day.
The northern portion of Portugal is often overlooked in favour of its warmer southern neighbour, however, that shouldn't put anyone off enjoying the history and culture in this part of the country. During the summer months, this part of Portugal is winter sport central, and Porto, in particular, is a very popular city to enjoy for shopping, culture, gastronomy, and wine, and a good option for a two-centre break. There is countless accommodation in this area too, such as the Porto Trindade Hotel in Porto itself, offering a top class four star break, or the beautiful Turismo Sao Lazaro Hotel in Braganca.
There are also many golf courses in the north of the country, proving that everything is not only available on the Algarve! The Oporto Golf Club offers ease of access to Porto itself, or the Estela Golf Club as an alternative choice, allowing you to enjoy the mild temperatures this beautiful part of Portugal experiences, especially during the spring and autumn months.
If you classify the northern portion of the country as being fresh and mild, the southern portion is certainly hot and sunny. Basically, the further south you travel, the hotter the temperatures, the less rain you will experience, and the landscapes give way to a true beach vibe, being home to the iconic and very popular Algarve.
The climate in this part of the country is classically Mediterranean, drying up and heating up as you head further towards the equator. The central mountains have a huge effect on the weather in this part of Portugal, trapping the cooler northerly winds and allowing the warmer weather systems from Africa and the rest of the Mediterranean to enter the area, keeping temperatures generally stable throughout the year. Having said this, however, the weather systems which enter the southern part of the country also bring aridity, especially those which arrive from Africa. Basically speaking, the winds are trapped in the northern portion of the country by the mountains, so the south stays drier, and temperatures are left warm, without being too extreme, thanks to a cooling breeze from the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.
This part of the country is also home to the capital city of Lisbon, which certainly experiences a typical Mediterranean climate. Lisbon is one of the mildest cities in Europe, even though it is lapped by the Atlantic Ocean. Summers are warm, occasionally hot, and winters are mild, with more in the way of rain during this time of year. The influences heading over from the Atlantic are greater because of the close proximity of the Gulf Stream, which sits very nearby. Because of this, you won't experience extremes in temperature, and rain is spread out generally equally across the year. The sun always shines in this part of the country, with August experiencing an average of 11 hours of sunshine per day, compared to the still very sunny amount experienced in December, at 5 hours.
Lisbon is a very pleasant place to visiting during the winter months, with an average temperature of around 11°C during January. Rainfall can be more so during this time of year, with an average rainfall level of around 128mm during the wettest month of November, however, summer sees very little in the way of rain, with July experiencing just 4mm on average.
Temperatures begin to drop around autumn, and despite the fact that Lisbon is a sunny city, 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.
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. Whilst 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, with even the wettest month of the year, December, experiencing an average rainfall level of only 117mm overall.
There are many resorts in this region, such as Praia da Luz, Sagres and Faro - the Algarve's capital. There are also many smaller towns which lie close to the Algarve's famed beaches and are ideal for a less crowded summer getaway, especially during the busier summer months of July and August.
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 mainly rocks, with barely any soil. However, if you head north from the town, the 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; for instance, the average temperature during the coldest month of the year, January, is still 13°C.
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. The winter month of December sees the average low reaching just 10°C, with a low rainfall level for a Mediterranean climate, experiencing just 102mm in the same month. 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. Accommodation choices, however, are plentiful throughout the year in this resort, with Tivoli Lagos Hotel and Belmar Spa & Beach Resort two very popular choices.
Summer in Lagos and neighbouring areas, such as Praia da Luz, can be very hot. It is not uncommon for temperatures to reach in excess of 35°C during heatwaves which occasionally occur, 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, when the sun shines in abundance; Praia da Luz experiences a huge 13 hours of sunshine per day during July and August, with an average high temperature of around 25 and 26°C respectively.
Whilst summer holiday beach time is certainly the major pull in this part of the country, it is also known for its spa facilities and golf courses. Certainly, check out the Vale do Lobo Ocean Golf Course, with stunning views whilst you play.
The Azores, Portuguese archipelago.
The Madeira Islands
Madeira is an archipelago that is located in the Atlantic Ocean, around 860 km off the coast of mainland Portugal. The islands are much closer to Africa than to Europe, which lends them to a different type of climate to the one experienced on the mainland.
Madeira has a mild climate with a small temperature range, for instance, the average temperature experienced in July is 16°C, as opposed to 23°C during the hottest month of August. 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 much of the 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, in an even spread. Overall, however, you can expect an average rainfall level of around 108mm of rain during the wettest month of January, which affects around 13 days of the year to some degree, before falling to just 3mm during August, when the weather is at its summer peak.
Whilst summer average high temperatures can reach a very pleasant 25°C during August, for the remainder of the year, the temperature sits at around 16°C to 18°C, with December to February being the coldest months, and October to February being and wettest months. The sufficient rainfall on the island has led to a verdant landscape and Madeira has been labelled the 'floating garden', with spectacular views and a variety of flora and fauna on offer.
The Azores are a Portuguese archipelago located about 1,500 km from Portugal's capital of Lisbon. The Azores witness a temperate, maritime climate which is characterized by agreeable temperatures within a small range. This particular part of Portugal has probably the most stand-alone climate to the other areas, due to its location in the North Atlantic. The archipelago is in constant contact with the high-pressure areas, polar and tropical air masses, and can occasionally be prone to the odd winter storm, as well as effects by hurricanes forming in the Atlantic Ocean, providing windy and wet weather for a time. Checking forecasts is the best way to predict this, however.
The islands are never particularly too hot, which make them an ideal destination for those wanting to enjoy milder temperatures, without having to put up with excessive heat. For instance, the average annual temperature sits at about 17ºC and varies between 13º and 14º C during the colder months of January and February. During the summer months, the temperature sits between 22ºC - 23ºC. 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. Like most of Portugal, the islands are affected by the Gulf Stream, which is a Northern Atlantic current, bringing warmer waters up into the region; this consequently warms the surrounding waters and makes them a great destination for water-sports, swimming, and sailing.
Although the islands in this group are small, they are rich in history and beauty. Angra do Heroismo, a city located on Terceira Island, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, because of its port and seafaring history, and history fans should certainly be exploring this particular region.