Carnival in Portugal – A Celebration of Food, Costumes, and Music

Written By Mihaela Gutu

Carnivals are simply amazing – and they’re for everyone to enjoy. These festivals are known for being a constant explosion of color and rhythm, as well as of food and joy. Luckily for you, explorers of Portugal, this country is no stranger to such festivals.

Contrary to popular belief, carnival has its roots in Europe, specifically in Italy (although we could trace its characteristics as far back as ancient European festivals). Then, it spread to other regions, including Rio, where one can enjoy the world’s largest carnival. However, who said European carnivals aren’t just as good as the famous Rio Carnival? They definitely mustn’t be slept on!

As such, if you’re in Portugal in February and don’t want to miss out on having fun and experiencing Portuguese culture to the core, keep reading!

Sesimbra carnival in Portugal, 2023
Photo by Robert-Razvan Branza

What Is the Carnival Festival in Portugal?

In Portugal, just like in many countries throughout the world, the carnival marks the end of the winter and the start of Lent – the 40-day period of prayer and fasting that starts on Ash Wednesday.

Various cities prepare for their carnival programs, which include parades with bright costumes and fun activities, parties, and shops with local gastronomic delights.

It is worth mentioning that the Portuguese carnival is not religious in nature. As a result, the festival is not an official holiday, meaning that regular activity (work, school) is not suspended. This also means that, in most cases, the main carnival parades are held during the weekend.

When Is Carnival in Portugal in 2024?

In Portugal, the famous Carnival Tuesday is on February 13 this year. Every year, the Carnival date changes according to the Catholic Church’s calendar. It always falls on a Tuesday during the week before Lent.

However, as mentioned before, due to it not being an official holiday, carnivals are usually celebrated on the weekend before Carnival Tuesday, although this depends on each city’s program. That’s why we strongly recommend checking every detail before heading to a particular carnival.

These carnivals last for several days (and even weeks!) and have an entire agenda set up, with different activities, music, and parades scheduled every single day.

Nonetheless, long before February, people start preparing for the festivity of the year. Thousands of participants work on their costumes meticulously, combining them to correspond to the chosen theme. That’s the great thing about the Portuguese carnival – it’s a show aimed at making people laugh, have fun, and celebrate life alongside one another!

Carnival costume at Sesimbra parade in Portugal, 2023
Photo by Robert-Razvan Branza

Weather in Portugal in February

If you’re heading to Portugal in February, you’re probably wondering if you are going to actually enjoy the carnival instead of freezing and hoping to catch some sun rays, right?!

You don’t have to worry – February is quite warm in Portugal, although this depends on what carnival you choose to delight in. Naturally, it will be colder in the north than in the south.

The mean daily maximum temperature in February is 14.5 degrees Celsius, with a record high of 26.9 degrees Celsius.

If we’re lucky enough, the days the main parades will take place will have clear skies. However, rain cannot be completely excluded, as winter in Portugal is very humid. Nonetheless, even if it does rain, we’ll likely still enjoy some sunshine!

Don’t forget to equip yourself with a scarf if you’re heading to a city where the parade can be enjoyed near the shore. It can be quite windy!

Where Is the Best Place to Celebrate Carnival in Portugal?

The thing with the Portuguese carnival is that it takes place all over the country. As such, regardless of the area you choose to explore, if you’re around in February, there’s a very high chance that you’ll come across a carnival.

Of course, you won’t just come across it – the music can be heard from miles away, and it will undoubtedly lure you closer and closer to the heart of the festivity!

While carnival is celebrated across the country, there are a couple of cities that really make an impressive experience out of it. You’ll already find yourself booking your flight to Portugal for February 2025!

The best places to celebrate carnival in Portugal are Torres Vedras, Ovar, Funchal, Loulé, Famalicão, Mealhada, Porto, Macedo de Cavaleiros, Sesimbra, and Lisbon.

Sesimbra isn’t usually mentioned on the list of carnivals that you must see in Portugal, but you simply cannot miss it if you’re there. The street the carnival usually runs on is right next to the shore, making for an authentic experience, especially since you can enjoy the sunset afterward.

Each of the locations mentioned above runs a carnival, but bigger cities like Lisbon and Porto can have several festivities at the same time. In 2024, for example, you have the chance to experience not one, not two, but a total of seven carnival festivals in Lisbon.

Let’s talk a bit about each of them. Included in the description, you’ll also find a link to the official website of each carnival – there, you can find out more information about what the carnival will include, as well as its schedule.

Torres Vedras

Known as the most Portuguese carnival in the country, Carnaval de Torres Vedras has a rich history, first taking place way back in 1923. The festival there lasts for a total of 6 days, and it showcases carnaval specifics such as – floats, cabeçudos and gigantones (giant puppets), matrafonas (men who dress up in women in a hilarious way), and the Zés Pereiras (a group of musicians).

Each carnival figure travels the streets, bringing joy and laughter to everyone there to see them. Like the carnival in Sesimbra, the one in Torres Vedras takes place mostly near the shore.

Ovar

In 2024, the carnival party in Ovar will last for almost a month – from the 20th of January until the 13th of February. This year also marks 72 years of carnival activity in this town, as well as more than 20 unique floats. The word goes that, in 1952, when the carnival was first held, only eight floats could be seen on the streets – imagine its grandiosity this year!

Ovar’s carnival is known for the street it takes place on or, better said, for the atmosphere that makes its way on it shortly after the carnival starts. Multiple concerts and a samba school parade will adorn this year’s festival.

Carnival costume at the Sesimbra parade, Portugal
Photo by Robert-Razvan Branza

Funchal

What better way to celebrate the incredible carnival than on the island of Madeira? For those eccentric enough to trek this island during the carnival, one of their main stops should be the city of Funchal.

On the island, the carnival lasts for two full weeks – it begins on the 7th of February and brings joy until the 18th of February. It culminates with the Cortejo Trapalhão parade, full of color, comedy, and laughter, as well as a healthy amount of satire – everything best noticed in the outfits worn by the entertainers.

Loulé

The Loulé carnival will take place between the 9th and 13th of February on Avenida José da Costa Mealha. Loulé is found in the Algarve region, not far from central Lisbon – meaning you can take a short detour during your adventures to the region’s famous carnival and have some fun!

Much is already known about the upcoming festival – 3 samba schools will show their moves, a total of 9 animation groups will entertain you, as well as 14 incredible floats that you must have your camera ready for!

Furthermore, the cabeçudos and gigantones caricaturing Portuguese and international politicians and celebrities will put up quite an impressive and funny show. Over 600 entertainers are expected to spread joy on the streets of Loule, just imagine the atmosphere!

Carnival costume at the Portuguese carnival parade in Sesimbra, 2023
Photo by Robert-Razvan Branza

Famalicão

The northern region of Porto is home to the carnival of Famalicão, often chosen by locals and adventurers due to its rather calm nature. Although it does have scheduled parades, this carnival isn’t as large as the others but just as impressive nonetheless. It peaks on the night between the 12th and the 13th, when people go out in the street and have the party of their lives!

In 2024, the carnival of Famalicão will take place between the 9th and 13th of February. It’s a short drive from Porto, so if you want to experience a unique, more relaxed carnival, this is the ideal destination for you.

Mealhada

Between Lisbon and Porto sits the Mealhada municipality, another location known for its carnival but especially for bread, wine, water, and piglets (often called the four wonders of this region). Here, the carnival has a more relaxed atmosphere and focuses on showing appreciation for local products.

Of course, there’s no carnival without a parade. Rest assured that wherever you go, you’ll find a samba school displaying its skill in the middle of the street!

Carnival costume, Portugal, Sesimbra, 2023
Photo by Robert-Razvan Branza

Porto

In 2024, there are two main carnival festivities in Porto – on the 3rd of February and on the 11th of February. The first one is Bloco Tá Fixe, an event held in Brazilian style. Make sure you’re at 302 Antonio Carneiro Street at 9 p.m. if you want to be a part of this festivity.

The second carnival is Bloco Carnavrau Porto, which is the more official one, and it is also closer to the agreed carnival dates. At 5 p.m. on the 11th of February, the carnival will kick off at Restaurante Brasileirão.

Macedo de Cavaleiros

The town of Macedo de Cavaleiros offers you the traditional carnival experience, full of ancient festivities and customs. Taking place in Terras de Trás-os-Montes, this particular carnival is recognized by UNESCO as representative of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

In short, if you want to take a deep dive into Portugal’s carnival history, this is where you want to be. The festivities include parades of Careto costumes, pretend marriages, masquerade nights, and parades of matrafonas.

This year, the Macedo de Cavaleiros carnival begins on the 10th of February and lasts until the 13th of February.

Sesimbra Carnival in Portugal, 2023

Sesimbra

In Sesimbra, people can delight in the colorful views provided by the main parades of the carnival on the 11th and 13th of February. Music and dance rule the carnival in Sesimbra. The one-kilometer-long parade showcases samba schools, a variety of costumes, masquerade balls, Cegadas (singers), and Cavalhadas (recreations of medieval tournaments).

Sesimbra is a must-visit during carnival because of its Clown Parade, reported as one of the world’s largest parades involving clowns. Over four thousand attendees and twice as many balloons can be seen during this parade!

This year, the municipality went the extra mile and organized nighttime activities on the shore with several concerts and a DJ who will make sure you have fun until the sun rises!

Lisbon

If you want to see the Lisbon carnival, you have some serious trekking to do. In 2024, you’ll be able to enjoy carnival festivities in the following contexts – Parade of Chapitô, Bloco de Carnaval Baque Virado, Baile do Viva o Samba Lisboa, Colombina Clandestina Block, Carnival Bue Tolo, Carnival of the LU.CA (Teatro Luís de Camões).

Most of these events take place around the same dates as the carnivals in other cities, so there’s quite enough time to see a bit of each. In short, if you visit Lisbon in February, you won’t even have to use travel guides to outline your itinerary. The whole city’s celebrating, and you’ll have fun like never before! Simply breathe in the local atmosphere and let the streets guide you!

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