Portugal may not be large in size but you can expect a range of weather conditions depending on the region you find yourself in. In general, however, Portugal is said to experience a Mediterranean type of climate which is even more so when heading towards the eastern border with Spain and the south of the country towards northern Africa. Despite its variations in climate, Portugal actually boasts some of the warmest temperatures of all European countries and some of its regions make it a top travel destination almost all year-round.
The Climate in Northern Portugal
The northern part of Portugal; where you'll find the districts of Braga, Bragança, Porto, Viana do Castelo, Vila Real, Aveiro, Guarda and Viseu; experiences much cooler temperatures as well as more rainfall than in other parts of the country. Being mountainous with central highlands and rising plateaus of up to 6,000 ft or more, a barrier to the winds of the Atlantic is created and in turn traps cool air and rain on the north side of the mountains. Given these fresher climatic conditions, northern Portugal offers some of the country's most picturesque landscapes with vast green lands as far as the eye can see.
Northwestern Portugal is greatly influenced by the currents of the Atlantic and follows a typical Mediterranean trend whereby winters are mild and wet; and summers are hot and dry. From June to September, temperatures will usually average around the high 20s with low humidity levels. It is also not uncommon for heat waves to pass through the area generally lasting 5 to 10 days at a time with temperatures reaching sweltering levels such as the high 30s. The winter months, from December to February, generally experience high levels of rainfall and it is during this season that temperatures yo-yo greatly as averaging 5ºC to freezing during the night and early morning but increase to 13ºC - 16ºC during the afternoon.
Towards northeastern Portugal, in direction of the Cantabrian Mountains and the Spanish border, very different climatic conditions can be found which are influenced by the higher altitudes of the region and its far distance from the coastline. Winter is generally quite severe in the cities of high altitudes whereby temperatures can dip to a teeth-chattering -15ºC. Snow in these areas is also a regular occurrence and can settle for several weeks at a time. Temperatures, however, are less drastic in the regions of lower altitudes with averages of around 6ºC or slightly lower. Contrary to wintertime, the summer season in northeastern Portugal is short but very hot. Without the advantage of coastal breezes, temperatures soar dramatically with normal highs ranging between 28ºC to the high 30s.
If you head south, remaining inland, you will encounter the highest mountain range in Portugal known as Serra da Estrela Nature Park reaching an altitude of 1,993 m. This is a popular destination mainly during the winter when the park is covered in white snow making it possible to practice various kinds of winter sports.
The Climate in Central Portugal
The climate in central Portugal can be described as much more forgiving than the severe conditions of the north and the sweltering heat of the south. It is in central Portugal that you will find the districts of Castelo Branco, Coimbra, Leiria, Aveiro, Guarda, Santarém, Viseu, Lisbon and Setubal.
The best thing about the weather in central Portugal is that it doesn't really get too hot or too cold despite the occasional exception. Winters bring mild temperatures but are also quite damp, whereas summers run for longer periods and are dry. It is said to be the region that is comfortably hot where spring and summers are sunny and winters are crisp but still warm enough to pack only a thin jumper or light coat. Temperatures in central Portugal rarely go below 10ºC during winter months and can average the mid-20s during the summer months of July-September. The higher north you are in this region, the colder the temperatures will be but if you head south you can enjoy much more pleasant conditions influenced by the warm winds that drive up from the Mediterranean.
The Climate in Southern Portugal
Most famous for its long golden coastline and hot weather, southern Portugal contains some of the most emblematic scenery of the country filled with photogenic seascapes that serve as magnets for tourists from across the world. Particularly loved by the British and expats, the most southern part of Portugal offers a climate perfect for those that enjoy spending long hours soaking up the sun's rays whilst being surrounded by sparkling blue waters, long stretches of sandy beaches and blue skies. The majority of Portugal's best beaches are found in the Algarve region which includes the Faro district. Another region of southern Portugal is the Alentejo which contains districts such as Beja, Évora, Portalegre and Santarém.
Conditions in the south are considerably hot as a result of the increasing proximity to the equator and of influences coming up from Africa and from across the Mediterranean on the east side. With winds trapped among the mountains in northern Portugal, southern Portugal's climate stays relatively dry throughout the year with temperatures almost un-moderated.
During summertime, the longest season, temperatures frequently reach highs of 30ºC but like most coastal regions, are tempered by sea breezes which are highly refreshing and bring relief from the sizzling heat. During winter, the shortest season, winds pick up warmth from the waters of the Atlantic Ocean which have been heated during the hot summer months. As these winds pass through the region, breezes are felt as warm and pleasant, even during evening hours. In terms of hours of sunshine, southern Portugal experiences a definite increase meaning you can get more out of each day of your holiday in this region. It is no wonder this is the most travelled to destination in Portugal!