You’ve probably heard of the Rio de Janeiro carnival, but did you know that the Portuguese took this carnival with them when they established their colonies in Brazil? If anyone knows how to put on an amazing carnival, it’s the Portuguese.
One of the biggest celebrations of the year in the capital of Portugal is the Lisbon Carnival, also known as the Carnival of the Villains. With elaborate parties and parades taking place across the city every year, this is a great way to take part in and absorb the culture.
The carnival that takes place before Easter is certainly one of the best times to visit Lisbon. The streets are filled with parades, music, people having fun and great food. This is a unique experience for all the family.
The smaller towns on the outskirts of Lisbon also hold their own impressive carnivals at this time, and renting a car means you can see the different events Portugal has to offer.
Here’s a guide for what to do at the Lisbon Carnival and how to have an unforgettable experience.
Going back hundreds of years the Lisbon Carnival is an annual event full of fun. It’s the perfect excuse to dress up and take part in the lively atmosphere. There’s music, dancing, parades and a general air of merriment. This is a chance to practise your samba dancing skills and rock with the locals. It’s also the ideal opportunity to sample many different traditional Portuguese foods.
This great costume party is one of Europe’s oldest celebrations. Wherever you go you’ll be made welcome by the locals and invited to join the celebrations.
The Lisbon Carnival takes place every year on Shrove Tuesday, so the date varies. This was originally to signal the end of winter and to welcome the religious period when people give something up for Lent. Today the carnival lasts almost 3 weeks and focuses on fun and celebrations.
Where to go during the Lisbon Carnival?
The crazy parades and entertainment take place throughout the city’s streets and districts and the main parties take place in two locations. The Praça do Comércio comes to life in the city centre and the Barrio Alto, with its square named “Plaza del Carnaval” is packed with thousands of revellers.
The Parque das Naçōes (Park of the Nations) hosts the main parades and costume contests while the Entrudo (the main procession which translates as “entering”) winds through the city streets.
Carnival is all about the preparation and hard work leading up to it. The main theme of the carnival is music, dancing, and wild costumes. Many Portuguese people spend the months leading up to the event preparing their costumes for the carnival. The locals take this spectacular event very seriously, and every detail of their outfits is perfect.
The costumes are adorned with feathers and sequins and are designed in bold vibrant colours. Each carnival group has a theme that their costumes reflect. This is a true performance for lovers of the arts. Those who take part wear full stage makeup or masks and are a sight to behold.
There are also competitions and prizes for the best costumes, which add to the desire to design the grandest, most eye-catching costumes.
As a spectator you’re more than welcome to dress up in any outfit you wish – the bolder the better! This is also a perfect excuse for children to dress up as their favourite superhero or in a beautiful dress.
Typical Portuguese foods to try during the carnival
The carnival is full of food stalls selling tasty snacks. This is your chance to sample the delicious Portuguese cuisine, including:
- Alheira – A Portuguese sausage made from chicken or game mixed with bread and fat. This delicacy is usually deep-fried and served with an egg on top.
- Queijo – The Portuguese certainly love their cheese. Try a slice of Azeitão, a local tasty cheese made near Lisbon.
- Meat sandwich – You’ll be sure to see vendors selling meat sandwiches across the city, including the prego (steak impregnated with garlic), bifana (marinated pork) and leitão (suckling pig) which are all typical Portuguese sandwiches.
- Presunto – A Portuguese-style cured ham similar to Italian prosciutto and Spanish jamon.
- Bacalhau – It’s hard not to visit Lisbon without trying the local fish. Salted cod has been one of Portugal’s staples for years.
What else is there to do in and around Lisbon?
If you decide to stay in Lisbon for a few extra days before or after the carnival you’ll find lots to do. Combine your carnival experience with a visit to some of the great museums and St.George’s Castle, go on a guided tour of the city and explore some of Lisbon’s historical architecture. You can also wind down by taking a walk through the peaceful Monsanto Park which covers 10 square kilometres of forests and open spaces.
Then you can get in your rental car and visit the nearby coastal towns of Costa da Caparica and Cascais for a day at the beach.
The historic town of Sintra is also worth a visit and boasts a 14th century palace and a beautiful pine forest to stroll through on the Serra de Sintra.
If you have children with you on your carnival trip they’ll love a day at Lisbon Zoo. They can spot over 350 species of animals, including lions, elephants and monkeys plus watch the live bird and dolphin shows. There’s even a farm where toddlers can get up close to donkeys, chickens, pigs and many other farm animals.
If you love to party be sure to visit the coastal city of Lisbon during the carnival festivities and join in the celebrations with the locals. You’ll be sure to find great music, good vibes and plenty of festivities throughout the city.
It’s easy to rent a car from Lisbon airport and see all the main attractions that the city has to offer plus take part in the cultural experience of a lifetime.