The Festa de São João

The Festa de São João, or the festival of St. John in English, is over six centuries old. It takes place every year in the beautiful city of Porto, where thousands of people take to the streets in a fun and festive atmosphere to celebrate St. John. Discover this typical event from the Porto region.

The Festa de São João The Festa de São João

On the night of 23 June, Porto welcomes nearly 200,000 people to celebrate St. John the Baptist, its patron saint. It’s one of the biggest festivals in Europe.

The Festa de São João has roots in both pagan and Catholic traditions. Originally, in the 14th century, this secular festival was dedicated to the worship of the Sun God, as well as the celebration of the harvests and their abundance. It was not until some years later that the festival was Christianised by the Catholic Church, with festivities dedicated not to the worship of the Sun God, but in honour of St. John, the city’s patron saint.

On 23 June at 6 pm, residents head for the streets and the city begins to come to life. The festivities begin with the traditional meal of grilled sardines, accompanied by “caldo verde”, a typically Portuguese cabbage soup recognisable in the streets.

A host of events are organised. First, festival-goers begin with a 5-kilometre pilgrimage between Liberdade Square and Matosinhos. The Festa de São João has two original customs. The first consists of hitting each other on the head with soft plastic hammers or garlic flowers. The second is to walk along with pots of basil or leeks, which are presented to passers-by to wish them well. For 200 years at this festival, Porto has hosted competitions of “cascatas”, small themed constructions representing the city of Porto.

Participants can also enjoy street concerts, take part in port and wine tastings and watch original performers such as fire-breathers. Finally, for a beautiful end to the festival, fireworks are set off at midnight over the legendary river Douro.