Festa de Sao Joao is the most important festival in Porto and a huge part of the city’s identity. Originally a pagan ritual, it was celebrated at the solstice as a thanks to the sun god for a good harvest. Later, it was christianized as a celebration of St. John the Baptist. Over 600 years later, many pagan traditions are still associated with the occasion and the event makes for one very serious party!!
Rusgas de Sao Joao
The parishes of the city parade in competition where they are judged on costume, props, music, etc.
Things start off quietly enough, with preparations being finalised for the festivities….
Basil is sold in pots, decorated with messages written on flag-like papers
Up on the bridge, fireworks are being set up.
Nobody is quite sure how the tradition of hitting people on the head with elephant garlic (wild leek) began!
Its still for sale…
But someone in the 70’s came up with the plastic squeaky hammer instead!!
No messing with him!!!
Hey! Pick on someone your own size!!
The festivities begin with family and friends sharing a meal either at home or in a restaurant.
Grilled sardines are a must today!!
As darkness falls, the concerts and dancing begin. Thousands take to the streets.
Some prefer to watch from above!
Sao Joao lanterns are lit and let loose into the sky.
At midnight approaches, the crowds make their way through the narrow streets towards Ribeira for the fireworks, (hitting as many heads as possible en route)! Thousands gather on both sides of the river.
That’s the end of the formal activities but the street parties continue for hours.
The 24th is a municipal holiday in Porto.
Things are quieter around Ribeira!
The main event of the day is the annual Regatta of Rabelo Boats on the Douro.
Don’t even think of driving into the city! Many roads will be impassible and you’ll never find a parking space. The Metro is the best option – top up your card in advance to avoid queuing for tickets at 3.00am!
What to wear:
Don’t be tempted to dress up too much!! You’ll be heading home smelling of spilled beer and sardines! And forget heels! There’s quite a bit of walking involved. It gets chilly enough so bring something warm for later.
Many restaurants close in late afternoon for private parties. If you haven’t booked anything in advance then you should eat your main meal around lunchtime and then graze for the rest of the day. There are plenty of street food options available.
Kids really love the hammers – being actually allowed to hit a stranger on the head! So the afternoon is good fun for them. Away from Ribeira, there is plenty of space at the bigger stages if they’re interested in hanging around listening to music etc. They’ll like the street food. I’d be worried about the fireworks though. It was very crowded down at the river, with hordes of people spilling in at the last moment and an even bigger surge in the opposite direction afterwards. There’s certainly enough for them to enjoy early on and then maybe take them home before midnight.