Weather & Geography
Portugal is mainly characterized by a warm temperate, mediterranean climate with a distinct wet season in winter.
During summer months, Portugal receives refreshing sea breezes, making for very pleasant conditions. Daytime maximum temperatures reach 25°C (78°F), 11 or 12 hours of sunshine can be expected, and there are as many as 29 dry days per month on average. The northern region benefits from the Atlantic cyclones southern and eastern areas are dominated by the subtropical anticyclone that allows temperatures to rise up to 40°C during summer. As in other regions, September and the first part of October form an extension of summer. Daytime average maximum temperatures can still be as high as 26 °C (79 °F), but will have fallen back to about 17 °C (63 °F) by November.
During winter, Portugal experiences a similar temperature pattern to the Spanish coastal towns, i.e. average daytime maxima of about 16°C (61°F). On average 5-6 hours of sunshine can be expected per day. A gradual warming-up process takes place during the spring months, daytime average maximum temperatures reaching up to 22°C (72°F) by May. The Atlantic-facing coast remains wetter than the Mediterranean-facing Spanish coast, with about 18 dry days per month. Daily sunshine hours number about 10 on average.
Not surprisingly, considering its close proximity to northern Africa, Portugal is one of the warmest European countries, while the Azores and Madeira are wetter and hotter respectively off the coast.
Portugal juts out into the Atlantic in the far southwest of Europe otherwise known as the Iberian Peninsula. The only country it shares a border with is neighbouring Spain to the north and the east, with the Atlantic Ocean hugging its 800km (500-mile) coastline to the south and west.
The country also comprises the Portuguese islands of the Azores and Madeira. The Azores lie around 1,100km (700 miles) west of Lisbon, while Madeira sits just north of the Canary Islands to the west of Morocco.
Outside the large urban areas, the countryside is a great deal more rural and sparse than in many other European countries. Portugal is crossed by several rivers which have their origin in Spain. These flow from east to west out into the Atlantic or north to south, the main rivers being the Minho and Douro in the north, and the Tagus and Guadiana in the south.
Portugal possesses a high plain of varying height intersected by deep valleys. The north of the country is rugged, mountainous and dotted with vineyards. The high northern point of the Serra da Estrela proves a popular area for skiing, while Serra de São Mamede further south on the Spanish border is a hiking favourite.
After the stunning slopes of the central regions, the vast plains of the Alentejo region stretch south of Lisbon, with a range of mountains dividing the Alentejo from the Algarve, whose wide sandy beaches and attractive bays run along the south coast. Approximately half the country is used for agriculture.
The capital, Lisbon, sits about two-thirds down the west coast. Porto is also situated on the coast in the northwest of the country. Smaller Faro nestles on the southern end of the country, its airport a busy hub for Algarve sunseekers and swathes of golfers looking for year-round sun. Braga, Coimbra and Setubal are also near the coast and rivers.