Bored of another grey Christmas?
Lisbon was the talk of the town this summer. There’s the picture-perfect pastel buildings, iconic Portuguese blue and white tiles that decorate every other street and, of course, the charming wine bars. At times it felt like you couldn’t scroll down your Instagram feed without seeing another selfie with that stationary yellow tram.
But if you thought the delights of Lisbon stop once the summer season is over, then you’re hugely mistaken. In fact, research done by online travel agent Opodo has shown that Lisbon is actually the UK’s favourite city to celebrate Christmas in.
From Christmas markets to beautiful illuminations and traditional national dishes to get your nashers round, Lisbon is an atmospheric and alternative winter getaway for those who are a little bored with the festive period here in the UK.
Although it won’t be boiling, the weather in Lisbon is generally around 15 degrees come December, so you’ll be comfortably cosy wrapped up in this season’s Rihanna-inspired puffa coat trend and, if you’ve never been before, it’ll just give you more inspiration to come back and visit in summer.
1. You can wake up on Christmas day in a palace
Over here in humble old England, palaces are generally reserved for, you know, the likes of royalty. You’d be pretty hard pressed to find a spot to lay your head in such a noble abode, and any hopes you had of squirreling your way into Buckingham or Kensington palaces can be forgotten.
In Lisbon, though, there is no such issue. This land of towering sunshine yellow buildings and intricate architecture has plenty of palaces to go round, and so, many of them have been turned into hotels, perfect for spending Christmas day as the Queen you are.
Palácio Belmonte, for example, is the former residence of nobility, dating back to 1449. In classic Portuguese style the rooms are bathed in pastel colours from floor to ceiling and the entire building is decorated with more than 3,800 of those famous blue and white tiles.
It has a white library and a red library, decorated with hand painted tiles dating from the first quarter of the XVIIIth century, plus a music room, a chapel, a ballroom, an exquisite garden, a pool and a terrace.
Those looking to stay can pick between the palace’s nine incredible and unique suites, all of which can be booked on Christmas day with prices starting at €600 (around £532) a night.
2. You can still go to Winter Wonderland
Thought Hyde Park was the only place you could get your Winter Wonderland kicks? Well think again, because Lisbon has its own version, called Wonderland Lisboa. You can go ice skating, ride the ferris wheel, dine in the food court (a chance to try Portuguese festive delicacies) and shop the Christmas market – all with better weather than in London.
You can find Wonderland Lisboa in the public park Parque Eduardo VII, from the 1 December to the 1 January with timings as follows: Mondays to Thursdays from noon to 9pm; Fridays from 2pm to 10pm; Saturdays from 10am to midnight; Sundays from 10am to 10pm; 24 and 31 from 10am to 4pm; 25 from 4pm to 10pm.
3. Belt your heart out to the Lisbon Film Orchestra
Even if the song choices aren’t classically Christmassy, there’s something about a group singalong that just feels so festive, isn’t there?
Head to the beautiful Campo Pequeno events building on the 9 December and watch a mesmerising live orchestra play the soundtracks of famous films and TV shows, including Star Wars and Game of Thrones. Of course, being in Portugal means that you’ll get to know some of the country’s taste in TV, with the song My Life Is Going On from the Spanish series A Casa de Papel also featuring at the concert.
The event promises to be full of celebration, awakening “emotions, memories, experiences, nostalgia and romance, as well as bringing a lot of action and suspense”.
It’s an incredible opportunity to immerse yourself in local culture and a rousing start to an evening out on the town! Tickets start from €9.50 (around £8.42).
4. Get a taste for bolo-rei – Portugal’s traditional Christmas dessert
Literally translating into Kings Day, as a reference to the Three Wise Men in the nativity story, this circular doughy cake is decorated with crystallized and dried fruit and nuts, with a hole in the middle to look like a crown.
It is said that this treat first made its way to Portugal in 1829, when the monarchy’s official bakery opened and created the dessert from a French recipe for Gâteau des Rois.
Bolo-rei is a stable in most households come December, but if you want to try the crème de la crème of this fruity number, get yourself to the original spot that created it, Confeitaria Nacional, which still stands on Praça da Figueira looking as grand as you’d hope.
5. Visit Rossio Square and Terreiro do Paço
Also known as Praça de D. Pedro IV, this square in the heart of Lisbon is home to many of its most beautiful and ornate buildings, which come alive every winter as illuminations are put up in the streets. As well as light installations and a huge, dazzling Christmas tree, you’re just round the corner from some of the oldest bakeries in the city like the aforementioned Confeitaria Nacional and Pastelaria Suíça.
After this, take a 10 minute stroll to Terreiro do Paço, one of the largest squares in Europe, where you’ll find beautiful views of the river and more festive lights.
What to pack
Going on a Christmas getaway calls for one thing, and that’s a super snuggly collection of clothing to get you through. Check out our edit below of what to take with you on your festive break.
Images: Getty / Facebook/ venues