There’s definitely a change of season in Portugal; it’s generally chillier at night but so far still in the 20s (Celsius) during the day. I’ll take it. In a couple of months I’ll be in my third Portuguese winter and I know what to expect. If you haven’t experienced Portuguese winter yet and are wondering what to pack, here’s my two cents.
Winter in Coastal Portugal
While there can be snow in the interior, coastal Portugal winter involves a mix of wind, rain, and sun. You can even have all three at once, but bet on dealing with any combination of those three elements.
Even on a warm day, you’ll need a windbreaker of some kind and a pair of sunglasses — not just to block the sun but to protect eyes from wind debris. Since the daytime winter sun can be strong enough to give you a sunburn (seriously!), on certain days it’s worth wearing sunblock that will also act as a moisturizer against skin-drying wind.
Weather and temperatures can be variable throughout the day, so layer your clothes, otherwise it’s too easy to overheat when the sun’s out and you’ll end up shivering in the shade.
Invest in a good rain jacket as part of your outer layer, preferably one with a hood because umbrellas are pretty useless most of the time and completely useless on a windy day. I keep mentioning the wind, but without it Portugal wouldn’t be known for its surfing!
I would also recommend a pair of quality rubber boots with good tread for those slippery calçadas (stone sidewalks), ones that will keep your feet dry — and sand out — when you wear them on the beach. Lastly but not leastly, you’ll need a pair of slippers for indoors.
So, to sum up, here’s the basic1 winter items list:
- windbreaker and/or rain jacket with hood
- slippers (the more coverage, the better)
Depending on where you’re from, Portugal may feel colder or hotter than the sort of winter you’re familiar with. Portuguese houses are built for long, hot summers and winter only lasts a couple of months. We live in a modern apartment with central heating, a wood fireplace, and two sets of glass on all windows, which makes a big difference to the comfort level, but we don’t use our central heating much, if at all. The first winter I turned on the heat a few times, but last winter I don’t think I turned it on once.
Older buildings don’t have central heating or insulation, and most have tile floors that stay cold all year — a problem for people who are used to fully-heated, winterized homes. If there’s one complaint I hear more than any other, it’s the reaction to cold + humidity. By cold I’m talking about above-zero temperatures, but it’s the humidity that’s the culprit. That’s why a rain jacket plus layers is more important than a cold-weather jacket that isn’t waterproof.
A Note On Electricity
Electricity costs in Portugal are a significant part of household expenses — see the (energy regulating authority) ERSE Portal for the current tables of electricity tariffs and the hours for off-peak rates. We monitor our energy usage closely and conserve energy wherever possible, using timers on our washing machine and dishwasher to run them outside peak times.
For a simplified baseline of utility expenses, see the Portugal section of the Numbeo website which provides a cost of living index with prices submitted by users. You can filter by city, too.
I’ll be posting more practical information about living in Portugal in response to related questions I receive by email and message. After two years, I figured it’s time to share the emails with a wider audience — to save my typing fingers!
Winter in Interior Portugal will be another post…
January 24, 2015
Album: Beaches From Ovar to Aveiro [January 2015]
- Personal preference may include gloves or a hat (the wind may steal it!). ↩