What to Do in Lisbon in December

This blog post was originally posted on December 4, 2018 and was updated on November 6, 2019. 

Lisbon in December is a city of contrasts, from the busy last-minute Christmas shopping to almost-empty streets in the days that follow the holidays.

With national holidays on the 1st and the 8th, and kids off school during the last two weeks of the month, Lisbon in December is all about celebration, shopping for gifts and deals, preparing for Christmas Eve dinner and New Year’s, and enjoying the not-so-cold weather (temperatures rarely drop under 9°C/48°F here!).

If you're visiting Lisbon in December, count on plenty of holiday cheer and festivities filling the streets.

Photo credit: Sandra Henriques Gajjar; Text overlay: Devour Lisbon Food Tours

1. Stroll in the Baixa neighborhood to see the Christmas lights

Christmas is probably the only time of year that some lisboetas don’t mind being stuck in traffic. Days are shorter in December, which means it’s dark by 6 p.m. and the end-of-the-day commute home is made under Christmas lights. The Christmas decorations are lit at the end of November and get turned on every evening until January 6.

Christmas lights and decorations take over the streets from Marquês de Pombal, down Avenida da Liberdade to all the streets in Baixa. The favorite of kids and grownups, though, is the Christmas tree at Praça do Comércio.

We love the Christmas lights in Lisbon in December!
Lisbon in December comes alive at night with Christmas lights. Photo credit: jorgempf

2. Discover the Best Bolo Rei in the City

Bolo Rei (King Cake) is the official cake of Christmas in Portugal. Shaped like a crown, its consistency and flavor is more of a sweet bread than an actual cake. It’s baked with dry fruits, raisins, and some candied fruit. More candied fruit, large chunks of it, and powder sugar go on top.

Traditionally, the person who got the slice with the fava bean had to buy or bake next year’s Bolo Rei. As food laws in the EU have changed over the years, it’s unlikely you’ll find an uncooked fava bean in your cake. However, if you do, keep up your end of the deal next year.

Lisboetas will swear that the best Bolo Rei in town is the one from Confeitaria Nacional. They sell it by the slice so taste it for yourself with a cup of tea or coffee while admiring the original and quite spectacular 1800s interior décor.

SEE ALSO: A Guide to Portuguese Christmas Food & Traditions

Eating a slice of Bolo Rei at Confeitaria Nacional is one of the things to do in Lisbon in December.
Kick off the Christmas spirit with a slice of “Bolo Rei” at Confeitaria Nacional! Photo credit: Sandra Henriques Gajjar

3. Find Original Gifts at Christmas Markets

The Christmas markets tradition in Lisbon isn’t as big as in other European capitals, but it’s been garnering the attention and enthusiasm of locals in recent years. It’s a great alternative to overcrowded shopping malls and brings back life to the old shopping streets of Lisbon. As a bonus, it’s an opportunity to find Lisbon souvenirs that make the perfect Christmas gifts.

The most famous Christmas markets in Lisbon take place in Rossio square (also known as Praça Dom Pedro IV) and in Praça do Município (the City Council square), both in the Baixa neighborhood. A bit further uptown but reachable via Metro (green line), the Mercado de Natal de Alvalade takes over Avenida da Igreja with local small businesses, artisans, food and music during the second and third weeks of December.

Mercado de Natal de Alvalade, Christmas market in Lisbon in December
Mercado de Natal de Alvalade is one of the most popular Christmas markets to visit in Lisbon in December.

4. Explore a Sleepy City on December 25th

On the 24th it’s not unusual to see Lisboetas busy buying last minute gifts or bacalhau (the traditional dish of Christmas Eve). Shops and pastelarias are open until later that day, although if you haven’t pre-ordered your sweets, you’re pretty much stuck with whatever is left.

Then, on Christmas Day, everything almost goes silent. Public offices and most shops, cafés and restaurants are closed all day. Weather permitting, local families go out on leisurely strolls while kids proudly show off their Christmas presents from the evening before.

5. Ring in the New Year with Free Concerts and Fireworks

Advertising for special New Year Eve’s parties in nightclubs, restaurants or hotels starts as early as October. But locals’ favorite place to ring in the New Year still is Praça do Comércio, where the dress code is not a requirement.

Like December 25, January 1 is also a public holiday. Therefore, no matter how late the party ends, most people don’t have to work the next day.

Bring your own bottle of espumante (the Portuguese version of champagne) and don’t forget the 12 raisins: you must eat one for each strike of the clock while making your wishes. According to local tradition, wearing blue underpants also guarantees a prosperous year ahead. Success is, of course, what you make of it, so embrace the moment and the free show of fireworks on both banks of the River Tagus.

Enjoying the New Years Eve fireworks at Praça do Comércio is a must-have experience in Lisbon in December!
Lisboetas ring in the New Year with fireworks and live music at Praça do Comércio. Photo credit: Sandra Henriques Gajjar

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