By Maggie Deffense & Enrique Díaz
As a consequence of the rich cultural heritage of Portugal, there are plenty of public events in the country, where its main focus can be gastronomy, a rural tradition, religion, or just a fun event to celebrate life.
Visiting Portugal during one of the best Portuguese summer festivals is an excellent way to experience Portugal’s rich culture. Let's explore some of the most remarkable:
Festa de Santo Antonio (Feast Day of Saint Anthony, Lisbon)
Lisbon celebrates its patron saint with newly-wed couples giving thanks and singles praying for a match made in heaven - usually around June 12. This is one of the primo festas in Portugal. Lisbon decorates its streets with Japanese lanterns, while local residents of the oldest parts of the city, the Alfama and Bairro Alto, put long trestle tables in the streets and serve grilled sardines and wine. So many sardines are consumed that the whole city smells like a fishing village. Sweethearts give little pots of marjoram to each other as valentines! Everywhere there’s music and merrymaking!
Festa das Cruzes, Barcelos
The lively Festa das Cruzes is held during the 1st week in Barcelos, Northern Portugal with a procession and stupendous handicraft fair. It’s one of the prettiest towns in Portugal - which definitely has more than its fair share of gorgeous towns and villages. May 3rd is the holy day commemorating a miracle when a poor cobbler saw a miraculous image of the cross engraved on the floor of a chapel 500 years ago. The octagonal-shaped church of Senhor da Cruz was built over this older chapel and is the focus of the festival.
Today, Barcelos is best known for its pottery, especially its brightly-painted clay cock, whose crowing saved a man from the gallows, according to the local legend. It also sports one of the biggest and best weekly markets in Portugal at the enormous Campo da República square. Each Thursday, visitors can browse amongst the market's vast range of handmade Portuguese pottery as well as, fruits, vegetables, cheeses, breads, you name it!
Festa de São João, Porto
The Festa de Sao Joao (John the Baptist) is big in Porto and on June 23-24. There are large street parties with people being hit on the head with harmless plastic hammers, leeks or dried artichokes - go figure! After an evening feasting and drinking outside in little bars and restaurants overlooking the beautiful Douro River you’re treated to one of the most stupendous displays of fireworks I’ve ever seen high high up off of the Dom Luis I bridge and into the Douro River below! Absolutely breathtaking!
Festas d'Agonia, Viana do Castelo
This festival is held in Viana do Castelo at the mouth of the Lima River in the Minho Province at the top of Portugal. The Minho is one of Portugal’s most beautiful provinces if not THE MOST beautiful! Green and lush with hydrangeas and wild roses growing everywhere over the low granite walls that surround the little fields of corn and green wine vines. The Festa includes an impressive parade of floats, displays of local crafts, carnival giants (gigantones), local music, nightly fireworks and lots of drinking.
Many people dress in their colorful national dress - women wearing the traditional red embroidered skirts or black wedding dresses and displaying the family’s wealth in gold earrings and heavy gold chains and medallions around their necks! The agricultural fair which runs all week sells everything from tractors to spindles for spinning flax!
Arraial Pride, Lisboa
The Arraial Pride is Portugal’s main gay pride event, free and open to everybody and has been held since 1996, getting more and more popular every year.
You can expect the usual fun and frivolity of music, food, drink, and a marketplace late into the night. Although it is usually held at the end of June, the exact date and location of the LGBT event change every year. At least in prepandemic times, this event was the bigger single event in Portugal. Unfortunately it was cancel in 2021, but it's again scheduled for 2022.
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