Christmas in Portugal: Vila Real de Santo Antonio

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Christmas in Portugal was rather magical for our first couple of years here, helped by the beautiful lights in our local town of Tavira. I talked about them in this post, and it’s really hard to believe I wrote it five whole years ago!

Due to the financial crisis, things have been a little flat in many Algarve towns in recent years, with slashed budgets meaning that last year Tavira only really got a tree. Still, it did better than some towns that got nothing at all.

Christmas in Vila Real de Santo Antonio
Christmas in Vila Real de Santo Antonio

We’re hoping Tavira has the “old” decorations back this year, but we’ve not had a chance to visit after dark (and given that our six month old son screams during dark car journeys, that chance won’t come easy!)

Anyway, we wanted to go somewhere where Christmas cheer was guaranteed, so we headed to the border town of Vila Real de Santo Antonio, which always makes a big effort for Christmas.

The highlight, as ever, was the huge indoor nativity scene, featuring thousands of animated figurines, complete with impressive lighting and water features. This year, there was the addition of “flying” doves over the scene too. It was as enchanting as ever and the aforementioned six-month-old seemed suitably spellbound.

Vila Real Christmas Scene
Vila Real Christmas Scene

As well as the nativity scene, there’s ice skating (on a rather small scale), a Santa’s grotto, and a small craft and food market.

All the typical Portuguese “festival foods” were present and correct: farturas (akin to donuts), smoked octopus and (most importantly for Christmas) freshly roasted chestnuts. Mulled wine was the only thing absent, but we can’t expect to find British drinks on the border of Spain and Portugal!

Portugal Christmas: Chestnuts
Portugal Christmas: Chestnuts

In case you’re not familiar with the place, Vila Real also boasts some decent kitchen and textile shops, so is a good place to grab gifts. However, it’s worth noting that everything starts to wind down quite early for Portugal (8/9PM), which is surprising when summer markets often don’t get started until after that point.

Vila Real Christmas Craft Market
Vila Real Christmas Craft Market

If you’re in the Algarve during the holiday season, I highly recommend a trip to Vila Real de Santo Antonio. It may not quite match Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland, but it’s cheaper, easier, and just as likely to spark that festive feeling.

If you’d like to read more about our five years in Portugal, please check out our book.

Moving to Portugal: How a young couple started a new life in the sun – and how you could do the same

Or find it here on Amazon.COM, for US readers:

Moving to Portugal: How a young couple started a new life in the sun – and how you could do the same

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10 Comments - Write a Comment

  1. Looking forward to being there on Sunday finding different Christmas gifts on our quick weekend trip.

  2. We were there yesterday Ben, the Nativity scene is amazing. (We went last year and it was so wonderful we had to go again this year.) An unbelievable amount of work and so many moving figures, water etc, and a ridiculously low entry fee. The square and the market were enchanting, husband said it’s made him start feeling a bit Christmassy now. I hope you have a wonderful first Christmas with your son, although he probably won’t appreciate it at his age; it’s exciting for the adults though.

  3. When we were in Tavira at the end of November they already had the Christmas tree up in the Square. There were sparkly blue lights along the riverside but no street lights like in years gone by. The Bombeiros were setting up their nativity scene as well, which we love. They put in so much work and the end result is truly spectacular. The lights in the tree opposite the Bombeiros were not on in November, but hopefully they will be on now. Hope you have a lovely Christmas. We will be over for New Year to enjoy the wonderful Tavira fireworks.

  4. Hi Paul,

    Hope you enjoy your Christmas shopping while you are over here 🙂

    Best wishes,

    Lou

  5. Hi Sue,

    It really is amazing, isn’t it? I am so looking forward to taking our little boy there once he is old enough to appreciate it 🙂

    Best wishes,

    Lou

  6. Hi Saz,

    It’s terrible to admit, but we have never seen the Tavira Bombeiros nativity. I will make a point of seeking it out in the next week or so 🙂

    Hope you have a lovely Christmas too.

    Best wishes,

    Lou

  7. We are on our way YEAH!! Leaving for Travira with car and caravan Jan/2015. We’ve never been to Portugal so the plan is to stay a awhile and check it all out. We are both retired, my husband Pat a Limerick City Firefighter for 33 years, myself “Marlow’ an American entrepreneur and Betsy is our Rhodesian Ridgeback …We are keenly interested in meeting English speaking folks from the eastern Algarve. SKYPE patcreagh1
    ’till then adeus

  8. Welcome Pat and Marlow! I do hope you love Tavira. It’s very beautiful at this time of year and wonderfully quiet. There are plenty of English speaking folk around too, so I am sure you will very quickly meet some lovely people 🙂

  9. Hi, love the blog (just found it online and see you’re back in the UK now) we live in cabanas part of the year …can you tell me exactly where the indoor villa real nativity scene is ? I feel so stupid I was here last Xmas with the family and we were so sad there wasn’t anything Xmas like to look at – we go to villa real a lot on the train – I can’t believe I missed it all! During the days we went the outside market and tiny ice rink etc was shut …what times do they normally open ? …any help ref nativity/market info before we relocate for this Xmas would be fab! Thanks so much!!! Helen

  10. Hi Helen,

    If you’re walking away from the riverfront in VRSA with the square on your left, it’s a little further up on the left hand side in a municipal building. It’s not actually that clear where it is so it’s easy to miss!

    Best wishes,

    Ben

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