Today we’re jetting off to the festive streets of Porto, Portugal’s second largest city, for an immersive journey through the vibrant São João Festival. This is not your ordinary travel guide, as we’re going to uncover the hidden gems of this annual extravaganza and help you celebrate it like a true Tripeiro (a nickname for the locals of Porto).
Expect the Unexpected
São João Festival (Festa de São João do Porto), held on the night of June 23rd to the early hours of June 24th, is a midsummer celebration steeped in tradition and brimming with festive fervour. There’s nothing quite like the sight of Porto during this time – a riot of colour, sounds, and flavours that turns the city into a living carnival.
The most curious, and delightful, elements of the festival are the use of inflatable hammers (martelos de São João) and garlic flowers (alho-porro). Yes, you read that right! The streets of Porto fill with people jovially bopping each other on the head with soft hammers and waving pungent garlic flowers in each others’ faces. This quirky tradition is believed to have evolved from an ancient pagan rite involving leek bouquets and soft bread rolls. Over time, these were replaced with the far more novel hammers and garlic flowers we see today.
Unlike its sister celebration, Festa de Santo António in Lisbon, where brides and grooms are the center of attention, São João Festival is all about community spirit, friendly banter, and shared laughter. It’s like one giant neighborhood party!
The Sky’s the Limit
Fireworks? Check! Paper balloons? Double check! The midnight sky of Porto transforms into an enchanted canvas during São João Festival. A breathtaking display of fireworks is a staple of the celebration, illuminating the cityscape with bursts of color and a touch of magic. Paper balloons, carrying wishes and dreams, float up into the night, creating a spectacle that’s equally mesmerizing.
The festivities usually take place in the city center, with the Ribeira district and Avenida dos Aliados being the main hotspots. The party continues until the sun peeks over the horizon. If you’re a night owl, this is your chance to dance the night away!
Where it all takes place
Although you’ll find festivities throughout the city, there are a few neighbourhoods where the São João festival is really focused.
Ribeira is the ultimate destination before midnight strikes. Located by the river, it’s the perfect spot to witness the breathtaking fireworks display that lights up the sky at midnight. The combination of light, music, and the enchanting surroundings create a truly magical atmosphere. Oh, and don’t miss the moment when Ponte D. Luís I, the iconic old bridge in Porto, becomes adorned with a cascading cascade of lights. It’s a sight to behold! Make sure to be there, but keep in mind that thousands of people gather in Ribeira by midnight, so if you want a prime viewing spot, arrive early.
Avenida dos Aliados
As the main avenue of Porto, Avenida dos Aliados also offers some exciting entertainment on São João night. For the past few years, you can enjoy concerts by Portuguese singers right here. If you’re a music lover, this is the place to be on São João!
Make sure to visit Fontaínhas during São João, it’s an absolute must! Here you’ll find those delicious Farturas I mentioned earlier. And if you’re traveling with kids, they’ll be thrilled with the carousels and other fun attractions that pop up in this area for São João. These aren’t just for kids either: later on in the night, you’ll find plenty of joyful adults getting on the rides too.
A Feast for the Senses
No Portuguese festival is complete without a feast, and São João is no exception. Sardines, caldo verde (a traditional Portuguese soup), and febras (pork steaks) form the centerpiece of the festive menu. These are often enjoyed with a glass of Vinho Verde or Super Bock, a local beer.
And then there’s the farturas – delicious Portuguese churros dusted with sugar, a must-have for those with a sweet tooth. For those looking to try traditional Porto cuisine, don’t miss out on Francesinha, a heartening sandwich that’s a local favourite.
Stay at the Heart of the Action
When it comes to accommodation, staying in central Porto gives you a front-row seat to the festivities. The Ribeira district, with its narrow, cobblestone streets and ancient buildings, offers a range of charming boutique hotels. If you prefer more contemporary digs, the hotels around Avenida dos Aliados are a great choice.
This assumes you want to be in the heart of the action, of course. If you’re planning on having an earlier night, and want guaranteed peace and quiet, consider somewhere a little further outside the city centre.Booking.com
Remember, the city is teeming with visitors during this time, so book your stay well in advance.
São João Festival is a testament to Porto’s infectious spirit and the ability to turn a traditional festival into an unforgettable experience. It’s a chance to immerse yourself in the local culture, sample delicious food, and create memories that last a lifetime.