Miguel, an experienced guide and traveler who was born and raised in Porto, explains what São João is all about – and why you shouldn’t miss it!
São João is almost here! It is Porto's most famous festival, already known throughout the world and experienced by more and more tourists and visitors each year. The city gets dressed up and the streets are filled with colour, tradition and joy.
Particularly in the evening and the night from 23 to 24 June, the São João Night, Porto embraces thousands of people in an unparalleled and unforgettable gathering lasting until dawn.
In the Churches and Chapels, and particularly at this time, visitors can tour the altars dedicated to the saint and admire the artistic representations conjured up by renowned national and international artists.
In the streets, the cascatas (cascades), unique in Portugal, call the attention of passers-by to a tradition that involves the representation, in miniature, of scenes from around the city and customs from times gone by. They include houses, paths traced out in sand and moss, clay figurines painted in lively colours of people going about their daily business, working at their professions (many of which have now disappeared) and animals that, these days, are rarely seen inside the city. The most famous of these is the Cascata das Fontaínhas.
The festival program has space for competitive activities too, such as the now traditional regatta of ‘rabelo’ (port wine) boats which runs over a 1.5 km course from Foz do Douro to the Luís I Bridge. There are also activities along the riverside and more competition in the form of the S. João race and the contests for best cascata, shop window, ‘rusga’ (parade) and popular poetry celebrating S. João.
The night of the 23 June is the most jubilant of the year. Crowds of people come out onto the streets to celebrate this patron saint of amours. In the ‘Baixa’ area the streets ring out with the cries of the sellers of the traditional basil plants, carnations, lemon verbena, “leeks” and the modern hammers that are used to dole out friendly whacks on the head to passers-by and which spread like wildfire throughout the city from early on in the day, acting as harbingers of the fun that is coming later on. The S. João bonfires are set alight in the streets, by groups of neighbours and friends who prove their bravery by jumping right over the top of them. At midnight on the 23 June, there are fireworks, or São João’s fire, on the river. The banks of the Douro fill up with thousands of spectators who have come to watch the biggest show of the year, bursting with light, colour and emotion.
The traditional S. João balloons, made out of paper and brightly coloured, are carefully launched into the sky, providing an unparalleled spectacle of hundreds of ascending points of light.
On the Feast night or on the day of S. João, people eat ‘caldo verde’ soup with cornbread, mutton, lamb or grilled sardines, pepper salad and, for dessert, egg and milk custard or S. João cake, deservedly washed down by a delicious Port Wine.
The night of S. João comes to a close at Foz do Douro, with people rowing out towards the sea until the dawn breaks.
Come and have fun with us. Porto awaits you!
It sounds magical! If you’re headed to Porto this summer, feel free to send Miguel a message about your trip plans. You can get in touch with him here: Miguel’s guide profile.