One of the most memorable times to be visiting Portugal is late winter/early spring when the country explodes into a frenzy of song and dance as the annual carnival season gets underway.
The high point is on Carnival Tuesday, a public holiday on the 25th of February 2020 (and the 16th of February 2021), when many towns and cities across the country come to a complete standstill as lively parades of gaily-coloured floats fill the streets, although many of the festivities get started the previous weekend.
Carnival is celebrated all over Portugal with the biggest and brightest Mardi Gras parades to be found in Ovar, Sesimbra, Torres Vedras (indicated on the map below), Funchal and Loulé watched by hordes of revellers with a great many in fancy attire.
Starting a few days before the festivities get underway, the majority of Portugal’s hotels promote special offers over the Carnival period, with parties and live Brazilian-style entertainment an integral part of the package.
The tradition of carnival began several centuries ago by Catholics in Italy who started holding a wild costume festival the night before the first day of Lent.
Because Catholics are not supposed to eat meat during that period, they called their festival carnevale, which means ‘to put away the meat’.
As time passed, carnivals in Italy grew in popularity, and the practice spread to France, Spain and eventually all the Catholic countries in Europe.
Then, as the French, Spanish and Portuguese began to take control of the Americas and other parts of the world, they took with them their tradition of celebrating carnival.