Here in the UK, most people’s Easter celebrations tend not to extend far beyond Easter egg hunts and the subsequent munching of chocolate. Granted, some do of course partake in religious ceremonies or go the trouble of decorating their homes, but our overall efforts pale in comparison to our friends on the continent.
Easter festivities in Portugal are a sight to behold as entire towns and cities are transformed into a sea of colour, music and entertainment. So if you’ve got your eyes on a last minute Easter escape, why not head south for a spot of culture, sea and sun? We’ve highlighted some of Portugal’s best places to visit during this time of year; from the world-class celebrations in the ancient city of Braga to the delights of the sun-drenched Algarve coast.
Check it out for yourself and start plotting your Easter getaway…
Easter celebrations in Braga
Welcome to the ancient city of Braga – ‘the Rome of Portugal’. Portugal’s third largest metropolis is characterised by Baroque-style cathedrals, narrow streets and an eclectic mix of old and contemporary architectural feats. Needless to say, it makes for a rather handsome backdrop to the city’s Semanta Santa (Holy Week) festivities.
The Easter celebrations here rank among the best in the world, with candlelit alters illuminating the city’s atmospheric streets for ten nights – truly a sight to behold! Floral decorations can also be found lining pavements and buildings, whilst a series of processions accompanied by the chiming of church bells across the city make for a fascinating spectacle.
As you explore the city by foot, take advantage of its vibrant café culture and enjoy a refreshment or two in the outdoor cafés – average temperatures in April are a pleasant 15 degrees Celsius. As for must-see sights, don’t miss out on the majestic Bom Jesus do Monte church on the outskirts of the city. A 116 metre long stairway leads you into the heart of the structure which dates back to the late 1300s.
Portugal’s gorgeous capital city overlooks the waterways where the River Tagus meets the Atlantic Ocean. From the charming waterfront, narrow, tram-lined streets climb the hillsides on which the city is built – like a European San Francisco. You can easily spend days on end exploring the nooks and crannies of Lisbon, and with the added bonus of Holy Week celebrations, you’re certainly in for a treat.
Live street performances, art exhibitions and torchlight processions make up the highlight of the Easter weekend. In between festivities, make sure you find time to explore Alfama; the city’s Old Town district. This is where you’ll find the city’s iconic narrow streets and steep alleyways, as well as traditional bath houses which are ideal for a bit of R&R after climbing the city’s hills.
Once you’ve explored the capital, pick up your Lisbon car hire and prepare to discover Portugal’s breath-taking coastline. Before you make your way south, make the short drive east to Cascais; an idyllic fishing village turned surfer paradise which oozes charm by the bucket load. Park the car and stroll around the pedestrianised town centre, where seafood restaurants, cosy bars and small boutiques await.
Just a few miles north of the town you’ll find the popular surfing beach Praia do Guincho; well worth a visit even if you have no intention of dipping your toes in the Atlantic.
As the capital of the stunning Algarve region, Faro makes for a natural stop during your road trip along Portugal’s southern coastline. You may of course choose to fly into the country via the city’s airport, in which case it’s simply a case of hopping behind the wheel of your Faro car hire and kicking off your tour of the Algarve.
Resist the temptation to head off in search of secluded beaches right from the off however, as the city of Faro has plenty up its sleeve for you to enjoy. The Old Town (Cidade Velha) is a must-visit thanks to its picture-postcard courtyards, ancient cathedrals and winding streets.
Down by the waterfront, meanwhile, tourists and locals alike gather to marvel at the sunset before breaking bread at one of the nearby seafood restaurants. Alternatively, head to the nearest beach – Praia de Faro – for an afternoon picnic or late evening stroll, all within a short drive of the city centre.
Tour of the Algarve
Regardless of whether you’re heading east or west out of Faro, you’ll be faced with mile upon mile of spectacular coastal roads fringed by white sand beaches and dramatic cliff drops.
If you decide to take the open road west, venture inland for 20 minutes or so until you reach the city of Loulé. This is the place to be on Easter Sunday as locals gather for the ‘Big Feast’ celebrations, the highlight of which is the colourful procession through the heart of the city. Thousands line the streets in anticipation of the grand finale; a wonderful fireworks display at nightfall.
From there, follow the coast west to the south western tip of the country where the village of Sagres lay surrounded by some of the Algarve’s most bewitching scenery. Look no further than the Cabo de Sao Vicente cliffs for an example of the rugged beauty that awaits you, whilst the area’s countless beaches attract surfers all year round.
All set for your Easter escape? Check out some of these guides for extra inspiration: