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Santos Populares Festivals in Portugal

Santos Populares, or Popular Saints, are a series of vibrant and traditional street festivals celebrated all throughout Portugal during the month of June. The celebrations pay homage to three prominent Catholic saints:

  • Saint Anthony (Santo António) on June 13th
  • Saint John (São João) on June 24th
  • Saint Peter (São Pedro) on June 29th

The festivities are known for their lively street parties, music, dance, food, and a strong sense of community. The Santos Populares celebrations typically begin in the evening on the eve of each saint’s day and continue into the early hours of the following day, since they each are a public holiday in their respective cities.

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Santo António (Saint Anthony) – June 13th

Santo António is the patron saint of Lisbon, and the festivities in the city are particularly grand. The night of June 12th, known as the “Noite de Santo António” is the official day of festivities; however, there are all sorts of celebrations throughout the whole month of June, all over the city – called ‘Arraiais’

Misericórdia Arraial, Bairro Alto

Known for its active nightlife, Bairro Alto is obviously a staple for the St. Anthony festivities. During the whole month of June, the neighbourhood receives a lot of musical entertainment, with popular music and DJ’s, but also dance groups, Fado concerts (which are the great novelty of the year), handicrafts, and, of course, the classic grilled sardines, among other typical delicacies of the Santo António celebrations.

Vila Aberta Arraial

The famous festivities at Vila Berta, in the Graça neighbourhood, have been going on for over 10 years and, of course, 2023 is no exception – there will be lots of entertainment, food, drinks and music, as usual.

The night of the 12th, will last until morning to the sound of Deixa Rolá and DJ Cota Ruizadas, but on the previous days there will be room for a lot of partying with names like José Malhoa, Miguel Bravo and Fado Vadio.

“A Minha Penha é Linda” Arraial, Penha de França

The council of the Lisbon parish Penha de França organizes their own arraial every year, which gathers the community groups of the area in a solidarity festivity at the ‘Mercado dos Sapadores’, in Penha de França street. All the proceeds go towards the activities of the community associations. In addition to the traditional ‘bifanas’ and grilled sardines, there will be vegan options in all the stalls.

Santos em Santos Arraial

Besides the usual food and drink, this is one of the festivals in Lisbon where there are also some classical fair attractions, such as a giant wheel, merry-go-rounds and various concerts. On the 12th the schedule will be extended until 4am, and ‘pimba’ singer Rosinha will lead the celebrations!

The traditional ‘Santos’ dances – “Marchas Populares” – feature colorful costumes and choreographed routines and are performed in various neighbourhoods – Mouraria, Benfica, Penha de França and São Vicente being the main ones. 

Another highlight of the evening of the 12th is the grand fireworks display over the Tagus River, which illuminate the sky and add a touch of magic to the celebration.

São João (Saint John) – June 24th

Much like Santo António, São João is also celebrated all over the country, but in Porto the festivities are particularly grand and important. During the night of June 23rd, the whole Porto downtown area is closed and the people swarm the streets – ‘martelinho’ and sardines in hand – to party all night long until dawn. Then the day after – June 24th – is a regional public holiday and most shops are closed. 

This year, on the night of the 23rd, the music kicks off at 10pm on three locations:

  • Largo Amor de Perdição (Cordoaria) – the singer Emanuel and the group Cláudia Martins & Minhotos Marotos
  • Palácio de Cristal Gardens – Miguel Araújo, Fogo Fogo and Francisco Menezes
  • Casa da Música – singer David Bruno and, into the night, Moullinex with an open-air DJ set

Then at midnight, all eyes will be on the city sky for the traditional fireworks display by the popular Luís I Bridge, in ‘Ribeira’. You can either see it from the Porto or the Vila Nova de Gaia side. After that, the tradition is to take the streets to eat grilled sardines and ‘bifanas’, drink and dance until dawn and hit people on the head with a ‘martelinho’ (a small plastic hammer). All through the night it’s also tradition to light an air balloon, called “balão de São João”.

Saint John activities in Porto through June

If you can’t be in the city on the night of the 23rd – don’t worry! The program extends through all the parishes of Porto, taking popular artists like Quim Barreiros, Leandro, Augusto Canário and Diapasão, among many others, to all corners of the city starting on June 16. 

In ‘Rotunda da Boavista’, during the whole month of June, you can also get a little taste of a popular fair – with attractions like carousels and many street food stands. You should definitely try a ‘churro’ or ‘fartura’ (both can be a little much)!

The celebrations end on July 1st, when the ‘Sanjoaninas parades are scheduled to take to the streets. Various associations and groups of the city sing and show choreographies, on a route that ends in front of City Hall, in Aliados. 

São Pedro (Saint Peter) – June 29th

Unlike the other Santos Populares, there’s no particular city known for its Saint Peter celebrations. Rather, many different cities – especially in the North of the country – celebrate the date in their own way. The main festivities take place on the night of the 28th, but there are activities throughout the whole month in many of these towns.

But these things are for certain in any of them – entertainment; music; dancing; drinking; food and fireworks. A popular town for experiencing the São Pedro festivities is São Pedro da Afurada in Vila Nova de Gaia. During this festival, the town’s fishermen decorate their boats and hold a procession along the Douro River, since Saint Peter is the patron saint of fishermen. These celebrations start on June 23rd and last until July 3rd and there will be concerts from many popular Portuguese artists, such as David Carreira and C4 Pedro.

Other cities known for their São Pedro festivities include Póvoa de Varzim, Torres Vedras, Espinho, São Pedro do Sul and Ribeira Grande, in Azores. Each location has its own traditions and specific events during the festivities.

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