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What to Expect from Winter in Lisbon

Locals during a Lisbon winter. Alano Oliveira CC0 via Unsplash.com

Think Portugal serves up nothing but warm weather and sunny days? Think again.

When you bring to mind Lisbon in Portugal, the weather you immediately see in your mind is clear blue skies and hot sunny days. And for much of the year, this is very much a reality. However, I regularly see many an under-dressed tourist in the months of January and February, with expectations of an all-year summer. Many friends have also expected to see photographs of us having a barbecue on the beach at Christmas.

The reality is that most people are keeping warm indoors—as long as you have heating that is.

If you're thinking about moving to Portugal, here's what you should expect from the winter months. 

Indoor heating and insulation

Unlike many of its Northern European neighbours, homes in Portugal do not traditionally come with central heating. Despite having cold winters, with the temperatures dropping down to 2 degrees centigrade overnight, the homes are simply not prepared for cold weather.

Instead, houses and apartments (especially if not recently built) are minimally insulated and the best heating you can hope for is installed dual heating/air-conditioning units. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself needing to purchase stand-alone electric or gas heaters, which can often be expensive to run.

Many people we know take hot water bottles to bed. Coming from the UK where central heating and insulation has been standard for many years, it’s hard to imagine doing this. Fortunately, we have the aforementioned units installed in every room. It still takes a little adjustment getting used to, as the “whole home warmth” isn’t quite the same.

It would appear that our good friend Rita is correct when she says that the Portuguese simply deny that winter happens!

Is it really warmer outside in winter?

With temperatures over the winter months reaching between 18 and 20 degrees on a sunny day, it can often be the reality that you’ll be warmer heading outside at the warmest parts of the day. This is especially true if you live in the basement apartment.

In fact, two years in a row now, I’ve been completely taken aback when the chestnut sellers on the street start popping up in October, and I’m still walking around in a t-shirt or hoodie. Come the evening, I would like to think that most apartments are still warmer inside than outside.

Does it rain much in Lisbon?

We first moved to Lisbon in April. We didn’t see a single drop of rain until October that year. Being from a rather rainy country, this was quite a shock to the system.

However, during the months of October to February rain is actually quite common, and quite heavy. It just doesn’t rain for several days on end, and will often be more scattered showers. Having said that, heavy rain certainly happens.  I got caught in a storm yesterday when going to the hairdresser, and I fear I’ve actually forgotten how to cope with intense rain!

Tips and tricks for surviving Lisbon's winters

There are several ways to cope with a Portuguese winter, especially if you are a newbie to the style of building and heating methods used.

1) Get a dehumidifier. Due to the minimal insulation, the humidity from outside is felt inside, too. High humidity levels can make it harder to heat a room. A good quality dehumidifier will help reduce your heating bill and increase your comfort—not to mention ensure that you don’t get condensation on the windows, or mould on the walls.

2) Stock up on blankets and sweaters: You really can’t beat snuggling up with a blanket on a chilly evening. A jumper (sweater) is also a simple way to keep warm all day. Despite growing up in the UK with a centrally heated home, my father didn’t like turning on above 18 degrees centigrade.  I’d be regularly told to “put a jumper on” if I was cold. So, this method is definitely not new to me.

3) Make some soup: I strongly believe the Portuguese favour soup so much because of how warm it makes you during the winter. There’s nothing like a good soup or stew for getting your internal heating running at full blast.

4) Enjoy a cuppa: Being British, I drink tea 365 days a year! However, getting cozy with a good book and cup of tea on a cold day is nothing short of extraordinary, and therefore comes highly recommended.

Tips for visiting Lisbon in winter

Lisbon is one of the milder parts of Portugal, and you still get colder temperatures the further north you go. However, if you’re coming in January or February (the coldest month) be prepared for chilly evenings and wet weather. The flip-flops and the bikinis just won’t cut it.

Overall, despite the need to adjust to the different ways of keeping warm, I still very much enjoy the delights of not having to scrape ice of the car window on the way to work every morning, and in fact, never seeing frost or ice during the winter at all.

There’s nothing better than being prepared for every kind of weather.

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Published in Work Abroad Blogs
Lynsey Clayton

Lynsey Clayton is a freelance writer. She writes about the vegan lifestyle, environmental issues and sustainability. Lynsey lives in Lisbon, Portugal with her husband Martin and little black cat, Kitty.

Website: https://www.monsoonofrandom.com

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