Portugal has long been famed for summer getaways. Still, few know that the crowds that oversaturated the streets of Lisbon are halved come October and November. During this time, you’ll feel like you have the national parks to yourself - like the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, and the surf is still great along the Portuguese coast. While most of Europe has settled down into greyer days, Portugal is still filled with an abundance of sunshine. In fact, that seems to be something you never have to worry about - since Portugal has over 300 days of sunshine on average per year. It’s also one of the warmest countries on the continent, with mild temperatures right through autumn.
Tempted yet? If you’re looking on where to go this autumn to still chase that summer feeling - without the peak summer price tag and overcrowdedness that comes with it, we rounded up what makes Portugal the top place to be this autumn. But before you go, check out our top picks for Portugal. Curious? Follow me on Instagram and YouTube for more adventures!
1. Fall Foliage amongst fairytale castles in Sintra
Only half an hour outside of Lisbon is the storybook-like town of Sintra. It’s a romantic gem that sits on the lush pine hills of Serra de Sintra. Sintra knows how to make an impression. Pena Palace and Monserrate Palace are architectural wonders that glint like jewels in your eyes, with dashing red pillars and yellow fortress walls. From up top on Pena Palace, you’ll be able to look out into the foliage that has transformed the surrounding forests into colour mosaics of orange, reds and gold leaves.
The autumnal colours set along these majestic castles and mysterious fortresses make for jaw-dropping views and a unique time to take in such iconic sights. I find Sinta just absolutely too hot and humid to explore during the summer months, but in autumn - I can still wear a t-shirt or a thin long sleeve without breaking a sweat. As romantic poet Lord Byron described Sintra, the town is a glorious Eden - and the glorious autumn season adds to its whimsicality.
2. Porto Wine Festival
Porto is a city that is known for its wine - no introduction is really needed there when such nectar is known worldwide. Porto’s identity is already so intertwined with wine, making it a destination year-round for wine lovers and those who loves to indulge in fantastic food to pair with it.
An event that happens in September to commemorate the fusion of gastronomy and wine is the Douro & Porto Wine Festival. For those who want to go on a sensorial journey on the banks of the Douro River, this festival is an encapsulation of live music, a harvest celebration and of course, the best wine. The Douro & Porto Wine Festival also highlights the wine region, as well as over 100 local wine producers. Start here with a glass and then move on to a bottle, or two of the finest that Portugal has to offer.
3. Sweeping colourful vistas of the Douro Valley
Fancy an escape into nature? Or maybe just more of Portugal’s famous wine?
Then the best place to go may be straight to the heart of it, the Douro Valley. Located in northern Portugal, this Douro Valley is also known as the Douro Wine Region Valley. It’s set above the River Douro which caresses through the valley, running all the way out to Porto.
The autumn flair makes visiting the winery in and around the Douro Valley feel like a love affair - with delicious wine tasting from passionate producers and gentle strolls through the vineyards. Dotted all throughout the valley are viewpoints and sweeping views of the Douro river. From mid-October to early November, this whole area becomes brightly lit up by shedding leaves, making the nature here even more stunning. Top up your trip with a train ride from or to Porto. Trust me when I say the Hogwarts Express got nothing on this train ride views!
4. Bull-running through the Portuguese streets
When Autumn comes to Portugal, it comes quick and fast - making the overbearing heat of the summer months a distant memory. While other countries may be preparing for hibernation and bigger coats, the outdoor celebrations in Portugal are just ramping up autumn. During the first two weeks of October is a special fair, Feira de Outubro, in the city of Vila Franca de Xira which is only 20 minutes north of Lisbon.
With Feira de Outubro, prepare for a rambunctious event that sees the streets of Vila Franca de Xira filled with sand for the running of the bulls. Those attending can watch from the sidelines but still have to be cautious as there has been injuries in previous years. Not for the faint-hearted, along with the bull running are a succession of bullfights. These bullfights are traditional shows, harking back as far as the 17th century. Adding to the pomp and circumstance of the fair, the bullfights take place at the historical Praça de Touros Palha Blanco, a big bullring in a colosseum design.
5. A city-wide Medieval dress-up with locals
In the ruggedly stunning coastal city of Lagos, situated in Portugal’s Algarve, is the annual Festa dos Descobrimentos (Festival of the Discoveries) each October. The festival is a city-wide celebration that honours Portugal’s maritime heritage when the country was at the peak of sea voyages and far-flung discoveries around the world.
To commemorate the Age of Discovery when the Portuguese were the masters of the seven seas, the locals dress up in outfits donned during that time. Strolling through the streets are traditional costumes, of gilded crowns and shimmering frocks. Market squares that will teleport you to a time with its thematic design. You’ll also see tons of horses and Medieval knights riding them! While the festival teleports you back to the 15th century in Portugal, it also addresses poignant issues of slavery, colonisation and the influence that gripped the country during that time.
6. Roasting chestnut, a local’s tradition
Picture this: on an open fire, different pans tossing caramel-golden-looking chestnuts side to side as they crackle in the flame. Then, when they’re all ready and cooled down a bit, they’re delicious to sink your teeth into.
Each year around the end of October, northern Portugal enters harvest season for chestnuts. Villages out in the mountains will be picking their crop just in time for late autumn going into the colder months. One place carries out an even bigger appreciation for chestnuts than the rest - with Feira do Mel e da Castanha da Lous, a special fair for chestnuts. In the town of Lousã in central Portugal, many pair eat their chestnuts with divine honey that’s locally produced as well. Since this combination is so well-loved, the honey and chestnut fair happens annually in Lousã.
Artisans bring out their best chest-nut crafted specialities, from chestnut pastries to chestnuts dipped in honey - all enjoyed in the cosiest of appreciations.
7. Drink traditional Jeropiga
Speaking of chestnuts, a special liquor that’s often drunk with the warmly roasted chesnuts during this cosy autumn season in Portugal is Jeropiga. Jeropiga is traditional Portuguese alcohol that’s been brewed and made from grape juice and adding brandy to musts.
The results? A tad sweeter and more alcoholic spirit - perfect for keeping warm through the darker evenings. One can say it’s a type of wine, but once you try Jeropiga, you’ll be able totell the distinct difference between the two nectars.
8. All Souls Day holiday
A national holiday at the beginning of November throughout all of Portugal is All Souls Day, also known as All Saint’s Day. Known popularly in other countries as Halloween, in Portugal there are some twists to the traditions that honour the dead. While originally it was celebrated by the Catholic Church as a designated day for the Saints who don't have their own feast days (hence All Saint’s Day), the day is also called Pao-por-Deus in Portugal.
Pao-por-Deus ranges from different regions in Portugal. In some regions, children sing as they go door to door, similar to carolling at Christmas. Other regions, children get sweets and chocolates, while traditionally they received chestnuts and even scones!
9. Watch the world’s top surfing competition
Held in one of the best surfing spots in the whole world, the coastal town of Peniche is also home to the world’s top surfing competition, MEO Pro Portugal.
MEO Pro Portugal is where you can go and watch insane waves being dominated by the top surfers from around the world. Professional surfers from Brazil, the US, Australia and South America to name a few of the countries who have won the championship title as they rip through the waves at Supertubos beach in Peniche. If you love watching the sport, definitely get tickets to watch the best of the best in this competition.
10. Film festivals galore
For cinephiles and those who love watching the big screen, autumn is the perfect time to visit Lisbon with multiple film festivals and events happening in the capital. Doclisboa is pushes what documentary film can be - acting as a reflection, inspiration and open debate forum for documentaries. Spanning two weeks, the documentaries that are screened at Doclisboa pushes commentary on various aspect of our society, and if you can get a ticket - the festival makes for a great way to enjoy and learn about up-and-coming directors.
Another big name in film festivals this autumn is LEFFEST, which stands for Lisbon & Estoril Film Festival. Taking place annual in Estoril on the Portuguese riviera, the film festival is packed with screenings, educational programmes, masterclasses and debates. The festival, while focuses on showcasing talents in film, expands and covers the world of art, composers, photographers choreographers and more.
While you're in Lisbon, check out our other recommendations and tips on what to do and see in the Portuguese capital here.
11. The best season for surfing
While Portugal is a country you can surf year-round, during the autumn months - especially in October, the waves are fiercer, bigger, and more frequent for your enjoyment. There are a few towns along the coast to hit up from Ericeria, Nazaré and Peniche whether you’re casually surfing or want to get the full all-in experience from these meccas for surfing.
Did you know that Nazaré has set a number of world records when it comes to huge waves? Nazaré is one of the permanent spots on the World Surf League Big Wave Tour. Adding to these cool towns is the laid-back culture that comes with catching the waves. It’s no wonder that after football, surfing is the country’s second most popular sport.
12. Jazz festival in the Azores
On the island of Terceira in the Azores, Festival International de Jazz de Angra do Heroísmo is an annual jazz festival that spreads the appreciation of the flowing tempo melody of jazz. During the jazz festival, Portuguese musicians from all over the country including the Azores, as well as a plethora of international musicians gather and play.
Set in the Centro Cultural e de Congressos de Angra do Heroísmo, a bullring that has been transformed into a cultural centre - the environment couldn’t be even more beautiful for listening to jazz. That, on top of being hosted in Angra do Heroísmo, a UNESCO World Heritage City of course. During the festival, there are workshops, expositions, and other events that ticket holders can attend on top of the shows.
Planning a trip to Lisbon while you're in Portugal?
If you're in Portugal's capital and planning to spend more time in its historical streets, check out our tailor-made itinerary for the best of 5 days in Lisbon here.