The Sao Joao Festival in Porto, probably the most underrated European party
Summer is here and this June, Northern Portugal – if nobody else – is getting ready for the Sao Joao Festival in Porto, probably the most underrated European party. Join us today as we travel through the beautiful, colorful universe of the street carnival that has become a definition of the life in Porto – strangely enough, not to be acknowledged much by… well, the wide world.
Though lacking in no way in glamour and entertainment, the Porto festival of Saint John the Baptist has not, for some reason, attained the poise and notoriety of the Rio Carnival, for instance.
Celebrated every year on the night of June 23rd, the Sao Joao Festival is a mixture of pagan and religious, being formally dedicated to St. John the Baptist, but inherently celebrating love and the ancient courting rituals. The summer solstice was celebrated with fire by the pagans, so this element is present in the festivities today, albeit in the secular world there is an accent placed on the partying rather than the mystical or religious elements.
Anyway, the history of the festival goes back 6 centuries. We are not sure as to how the festival was celebrated in the early days, but ever since the 19th century, it has been a symbol of Porto city. A more… modern – and a bit bizarre – manifestation of love, widely accepted behaviour during the festival, is hitting people over the head with plastic hammers or “attacking” them with garlands of garlic flowers. So far so good as long as you don’t stumble upon vampires… or humans lacking a sense of humour.
The attraction of the night, beyond the music and the atmosphere, is the huge bonfire and the spectacular fireworks that light up the nocturnal skies sending reflections over the Douro river.
To get to the festival, you can employ a Porto airport transfer anytime.