The picturesque and traditional Santos Populares are the biggest festivities in Portugal, taking place during the entire month of June and marking the beginning of the summer.
This year there’s no smell of sardines in the air but we still want to mark this month that is so important for the Portuguese, especially in the cities of Lisbon and Oporto.
Portugal celebrates 3 saints around this time, which are St. Anthony, St. John and St. Peter.
The intense vibe of Santos Populares is felt and lived especially on the most traditional neighborhoods of Lisbon – Alfama, Graça, Bica, Madragoa and Mouraria – and Oporto – Miragaia, Fontainhas, Ribeira and Massarelos – and sporadically on other points of the country like Sintra and Évora.
This is the time of the year to delight yourself with some delicious grilled sardines on bread, a “bifana” or the typical “caldo verde”, an amazing green cabbage soup with chorizo. And, of course, you should enjoy your meal with a draft beer, the Portuguese “imperial”… or two.
People take the streets, decorated with colorful balloons and arches, to eat, drink and celebrate all night, dancing to popular music in the neighborhood’s festivities, called “arraiais”.
It is also typical for lovers to offer each other a sweet basil pot with some fun and romantic rhyme, which is supposed to bring luck to the relationship.
In Lisbon, the most important night is the 12th of June and the following day, which is St. Anthony’s day and a municipal holiday in the city.
On the 12th at night take place the famous marches down Avenida da Liberdade, a contest where participants from the typical neighborhoods march with the elaborate matching outfits and accessories they spend all year prepping, adding huge choreographies to represent their neighborhood and see which one wins.
On the 13th there’s the St. Anthony’s procession that parades all over the city to bless the poor, the homeless and also the couples, since the saint had this fame of being a matchmaker and patron of the lovers. That is also why on this day Lisbon celebrates the tradition of the “St. Anthony’s weddings”, where around 15 engaged couples are chosen to celebrate their wedding publicly, said to be blessed by the saint, and the city hall pays for their entire wedding.
You can see properties on the traditional Lisbon neighborhoods where you can enjoy the festivities when in town.
In Oporto, the typical “arraiais” are also a must in the traditional areas of the city, being impossible to sleep since the party goes on all night. Some even say that going home before sunrise on St. John’s night – on the 23rd of June – should be considered a crime.
The tradition here is beating with a plastic hammer on other people’s heads, appreciating the fireworks near the river at midnight and releasing beautiful air balloons into the sky. Normally the night ends on the beach to watch the sunrise or even go for a dive in the ocean.
St. Peter is the last one to be celebrated just when the month is ending, on the 29th, being really popular in the areas of Sintra and Évora. The saint, the patron of the fishermen, has several homages in his name across the country, the best way to end up this fun and colorful month of extreme importance for Portuguese people.
If you want to truly know Portuguese traditions and try the most delicious food while having fun all night long, we strongly suggest visiting the country around this time of the year.