The Algarve in Winter – What’s it Really Like?

When we moved to the Algarve I was looking forward to blue skies, sunshine and pool days. That’s pretty much what we got in mid-September when we moved into our apartment with communal pool, just a 15-minute walk from the beach. Little did we know that our beach days were numbered and we’d soon be shivering in our freezing apartment. Wondering what the Algarve in winter is really like? This is our experience.

View of Albufeira from the clifftop

The Algarve in September

Portugal is one of the sunniest places in Europe and the Algarve in particular boasts around 300 days of sunshine a year, with very little rainfall. Until October we were still basking in temperatures into the 20s. After finishing my work for the day, I’d head down to the pool for a swim and a read, feeling great about leaving the drizzly, grey UK weather behind me. Andrew would meet me after he finished school and we’d eat out on the terrace.

Pool and gardens at Hide resort in Vale Do Lobo, Algarve

My parents visited in the October school half-term and we spent most of our time exploring the Algarve, sightseeing in Loule, Lagos and Faro. Our closest beach, Vale do Lobo, was still busy with sun seekers and the restaurants and bars overlooking the sea were relatively busy. Boat trips ran less frequently due to choppy waters, but we still managed to get out to see stunning cliffs and rock formations in the Ponta da Piedade.

Ponta da Piedade rock formations, Algarve

Facing an Algarve winter in a freezing apartment

The Algarve climate changed starkly by the beginning of November, with temperatures dropping to below 10 degrees. All of a sudden it was too cold to venture into the pool and our complex emptied of most residents. That’s when we started to realise just how cold our apartment is. Built like a cave with stone floors and no insulation, we found the temperature plummeted and we had to start using our air conditioning units as heaters. The Algarve in November and December turned out to be way colder than I expected.

Stormy clifftops in Faro, Algarve

As we’ve discovered, the houses here in the south (and in Portugal in general, judging from our 2017 experience in Porto), are built for hot weather. That means Portugal in winter can get pretty nippy. Many homes have fireplaces yet lack the central heating systems we’re used to in the UK. I hate being cold with a passion, so working from home in freezing conditions became miserable.

Living Room of our Hide Apartment in Vale do Lobo, Algarve

We also discovered that the cool weather and poorly-insulated buildings can lead to damp, a problem I think most long-term rentals Algarve must suffer from. We had to start storing our clothes in plastic boxes rather than the wardrobes and keep windows open for ventilation. Andrew has had the same problems at his school, teaching in cold classrooms with electric heaters that make little difference.

Portugal in winter – what can you expect?

Sure, we knew we weren’t going to get the tropical Asian temperatures we’d enjoyed in Chiang Mai, but we had expected the Algarve to be warmer in winter. On a trip to Lisbon in November, our Airbnb host actually remarked on how uncharacteristically cold it had been that year and the coast was even hit by hurricane Leslie, the most severe storm in decades. So, perhaps this is another sign of the world’s changing climate?

Us at a viewpoint overlooking Lisbon in Portugal

The Algarve in December was incredibly quiet too, our local area became a ghost town with restaurants closed for the season and deserted beaches. If you like the peace and quiet, this may be a positive point, but I began to feel isolated living in such an empty area. By the time we hit late December, I was looking forward to escaping back to the UK for a dose of central heating over the holidays and a festive buzz.

Vale do Lobo Beach, Algarve, Portugal

The upside is that we’ve had very little rain in the Algarve. The skies are reliably blue with lots of sunshine, so I go walking every afternoon to warm up and get some sun on my skin. Algarve winter holidays can still be appealing if you’re visiting from somewhere like the UK but if you’re moving here, try to find a modern apartment with good insulation and be prepared to invest in extra heating.

Dealing with the Algarve climate

We arrived back from the UK in January more prepared to deal with the cold Algarve temperature. I brought more jumpers with me, plus a huge furry blanket. We also splashed out on a gas heater, which cost €100. This may sound a lot but running the electric air heaters was getting expensive and they just don’t create a satisfying heat anyway.

View from the Ponta da Piedade in the Algarve, Portugal, over the coast

The gas heater so far has been a life-saver and although I still need a hot water bottle at night, we’ve found it warms the room much more efficiently. February temperatures are starting to top 15 degrees again and outside in the sun you can go without a jumper, which is something you definitely wouldn’t be able to in the UK.

The Algarve in Winter Pinterest Pin

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So far, living in the Algarve in winter certainly hasn’t been the warm experience I’d dreamed of. We’re hoping that temperatures will really rise again in the spring and we’ll have a good few months to enjoy the perks of living here with our pool and the nearby beach.

  • Claire Isabella Danahay
    Posted at 11:18h, 16 February Reply

    Great post. I’m familiar with winter in southern Spain so I can relate. Properties there are definitely not equipped to deal with the cold. Sounds like you may not be there for another winter?

    • Amy
      Posted at 15:43h, 25 February Reply

      Hi Claire, yes, I don’t think we’ll be here for another winter. We’re still deciding what to do next, we’ll keep you posted!

  • Melanie Miles
    Posted at 02:42h, 22 February Reply

    So Sydney is not the only place with this problem! We’re sweltering in 34degrees at the moment but in July and August – brrr. Our house has gaps around the doors and windows, no carpets and no insulation so in winter, it’s not much warmer inside than outside. I really love visiting the UK because it’s all set up for the cold!

    • Amy
      Posted at 15:45h, 25 February Reply

      Hi Melanie, nope, Sydney definitely isn’t the only place with that problem! Interesting to hear that you have the same problem; we’ve just been back to visit the UK and really made the most of the central heating!

  • Gilda Baxter
    Posted at 23:00h, 24 February Reply

    Amy, I hope the warmer weather has arrived for you now😄We have been super lucky and the sun has been shining since we left the UK 2 weeks ago…may it long continue 😄

    • Amy
      Posted at 15:46h, 25 February Reply

      Good news Gilda! Glad you’re enjoying the sunshine 🙂 It’s getting slowly warmer here now, although the apartment can still be nippy!

  • Johanna Bradley
    Posted at 16:42h, 24 April Reply

    I’ve been in winter before so should have known better, but we’ve found that in living here the house has warmed up considerably and we’ll be wiser next year. I certainly did miss central heating, but our former home was on the north east coast of England- not known for tropical temperatures. 🙂 🙂 Heat will be restored at the weekend and we have a Spring Show taking place in Tavira- music and folk dance. Promises to be good.

    • Amy
      Posted at 09:33h, 30 April Reply

      Hi Johanna, thanks for reading and commenting. Do you live in Tavira? That must be a lovely place to live, much more of Portuguese feel than here (we are in Vale Do Lobo, which is where Andrew’s school is based). Yes, I bet living in the North East of England prepared you a bit more for the weather! I wish we’d gotten the gas heater sooner, but it’s great now that it’s really warmed up and I can sit out on the balcony to work again. The weather makes such a difference!

  • The Pontiff
    Posted at 19:04h, 02 February Reply

    Candle under a plant pot in each room is cheap and keeps the rooms warm all night or how ever big the candle you have.

  • Janie Curtis
    Posted at 17:23h, 09 March Reply

    Your honest experience of a winter in Portugal is refreshing to read even though it wasn’t a nice experience it was totally honest. I hate being cold too. Hubby and i are thonking of retiring to the Algarve in a few years time. I love the sun and the laid back style of living. Thank you

    • Amy
      Posted at 16:01h, 25 March Reply

      Hi Janie, we actually just spent a second winter in the Algarve, this time in a more modern apartment. It was much warmer this time inside and it made all the difference! If you’re going, I’d definitely recommend looking for a more modern place to live and testing out some different areas.

  • Daniella
    Posted at 02:11h, 30 July Reply

    Hi, I’m Daniella. I loved this so much, really informative!! I’m 16 years old and live in Canada with my mom (she was in between Portugal & Canada growing up). My mom and I have been talking about moving to the algarve for around 2 years now, and I have talked about it every single day since then. We’re heading out there this august, and I wanted to stay in a flat until my mom was packed & ready to move there (a few months). However, I’m 16 and would be living alone, but I truly want to live there so bad! My mom says its a ghost town during the winter, and you don’t see a single person there. Is this true? And do you think I would be able to stay in a modern flat by myself without getting lonely? I’d love to hear your opinion on this situation!

    • Amy
      Posted at 15:27h, 28 August Reply

      Hi Daniella, thanks for reading and commenting. I hope you’ve had a great trip to Portugal this August – so sorry for the late reply. Yes, it is pretty quiet in the Algarve in winter but there’s still plenty of life around in the main towns/hubs – also plenty of Facebook groups and classes you can join to meet people. If you make the right connections, I’m sure you’ll have a great time. It can be lonely if you keep to yourself but get out there and meet people and you’ll be fine. Good luck! We’re hoping to go back this winter too 🙂

  • Orlando Soares
    Posted at 23:02h, 28 May Reply

    Hi Amy, this is a very informative article, thanks for sharing your experience. What about swimming pools? I am a Brazilian living in the UK and every time I go to Portugal on holidays the water in the swimming pools are freezing! I understand why the sea water in Portugal is cold, the cold Atlantic waters, I get that. What I don’t understand is why the water in the swimming pools are also so cold! Is it just bad luck or is it something to do with the portuguese weather?? Thanks for helping!

    • Amy
      Posted at 12:01h, 04 July Reply

      Yes, the water can be freezing! The pool where we lived started to warm up around March/April, I suppose it depends on how brave you are! By summer the pools are nice and refreshing.

  • Iris
    Posted at 03:38h, 22 October Reply

    Hi Amy, wondering if you could suggest a short-term 2 bedroom rental unit near Lagos in December? We’ll be traveling with our young grandchild and we’re also concerned about the lack of heat.

    • Amy
      Posted at 12:57h, 16 November Reply

      Hi Iris, sorry for the late response. We have most recently (Jan/Feb 2022) stayed in the apartments at Quinta dos Vales, which is outside of Portimao, not quite in Lagos, but that’s as close as we’ve been. They have underfloor heating but since they are all new we didn’t need to use it at all. Hope that helps 🙂

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