Lifestyle & Culture

Liina Edun in Lisbon: Christmas 2020 is on pause, so here are my 2021 must-visits in Portugal

“Home Alone” is on repeat, Mariah’s iconic song is blasting everywhere and lights are up in trees all over the city. It’s officially Christmas season. In Portugal, Christmas is a big holiday typically spent with family. During the pandemic, is it best to stay safe and avoid traveling, but there are still ways to enjoy the holiday spirit while social distancing.

And Christmas might be on pause for 2020, but there are no rules forbidding us to plan for next year. Here are some must-visit recommendations in Portugal for our post-pandemic travels, expats.

Óbidos Christmas Village

The main Christmas event of the year is the Óbidos Christmas Village (Óbidos Vila Natal), about an hour’s drive from Lisbon. Óbidos is a small town of about 3,000 people and is located on a hill, offering gorgeous panoramic views of the village and its medieval architecture. The castle and the golf resort (Praia D’el Rey Golf & Beach Resort) are well known and attract visitors year round.

Every December, Óbidos turns its little village into a place filled with activities for the family, such as ice skating, puppet shows, the Santa Claus caravan, carousels, as well as food stalls and markets selling local products. At night, with the lights and cold crisp air, it feels like a winter wonderland, despite the lack of snow.

This year the government decided it would be best to not have the Christmas village due to the pandemic. However, Óbidos’ social media accounts will regularly post videos and photos to keep everyone entertained. And this is a top destination for your 2021 calendar.

Cascais Christmas Village

The Cascais Christmas Village is a nice alternative to Óbidos. Cascais is a posh town by the ocean, about 30 minutes drive from Lisbon, and is famous for its beautiful beaches, restaurants, and resort vibe. It’s a fun town to visit year round, as aside from the beaches, there are churches, museums, a fort, and a citadel palace.

The Christmas events take place at Parque Marechal Carmona, and they even have real reindeers at the Bosque Encantado botanical gardens. There you will also find a giant Christmas tree, a carousel, Santa’s house, an ice skating rink, magicians, a nativity scene, a Christmas train, and a big snow globe. You can also do some Christmas shopping at the Cascais Christmas markets.

Other options

If you can’t head to Cascais (which might be a possibility due to travel restrictions), you can find many small-scale Christmas markets all over Lisbon. It is important to mention that Portugal is not known for its Christmas markets. If you’re looking for the big renown ones, Germany, Austria, and Paris are your best bet (although those can be a bit overwhelming).

Additionally, during the big recession of 2008, Portugal had to drastically cut costs on a lot of unessential expenses, such as Christmas decorations. Since recovering from that economic crash, you can now see more holiday decor around town, but they still tend to stay on the simple and basic side.

• A popular Christmas market is the Wonderland at Parque Eduardo VII, a large green area lined with trees with a big Portuguese flag in the background, the biggest in Portugal in fact.

Wonderland offers your typical stalls selling food, books, games, local handicrafts, jewelry, and drinks. In between the stalls is the park where people can sit under a teepee type of structure covered in fairy lights, overlooking the city. At the entrance of Wonderland, there is a bright red ferris wheel, an emblematic representation of the holiday season.

Due to the park and the green spaces, it is easier to social distance at Wonderland, while still enjoying the view and holiday energy.

Rossio Square has several small markets throughout the year, and hosts them over Christmas too. While they are not extravagant, you can still shop and eat your way through the square, with mulled wine and other holiday treats at your disposal.

There are other Christmas markets that tend to occur earlier in December, such as Mercado de Natal do Campo Pequeno and Natalis in Parque das Nações.

The Mercado de Natal in Campo Pequeno is a popular one, as it takes place by the beautiful bullring building, and focuses on products from sustainable brands and local Portuguese artisans.

Natalis occurs at the Convention Center in Parque das Nações, with a focus on Christmas delicacies, gifts, workshops, and an “experiment, interactive” area. Those markets are usually already held in late November until the first week of December. However, due to the pandemic, they have been cancelled to minimize the risks of spreading Covid-19.

Before the pandemic, the markets are an annual Christmas/holiday ritual for many locals and expats in Lisbon, and are a fun way to spend some time with the family.

About the author:

A graduate of Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, Calif., Liina Edun has a background in psychology and a career in writing and content management.

Having lived most of her life as an expat, she is currently located in Lisbon. 

See more on Dispatches here about Portugal.

See our Lisbon archive here.

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