At a super easy 3 hour drive (or a short flght) from Lisbon, Porto is Portugal s port wine capital. With medieval riverside buildings and bridges and a more urbane commercial city centre, the city is today a lovely mix of culture & history; and a very smart downtown.
Well we were here for the Festa de San Joao. Portugal’ largest, most fun and the silliest festival. A tribute to St John the Baptist and the ‘official’ start to the summer season.
Back in the pagan times, it was a celebration in tribute to the Sun God. So come midsummer’s night (23rd June), the city transforms into this colorfully decorated party (balloons , streamers,music and food; all around). And starts with a feast amongst family and friends. Grilled sardines, grilled peppers and Caldo Verde (green broth) are a tradition. The yumm (yes it does make me salivate even after 16 years of turming vegeratian) smell of the barbeques, permeates the streets, with stalls set up all along the streets in Foz and Ribera.
That’ s where the celebration with live music performances and people dancing and partying in the streets is concentrated (around the ‘old town’ and the streets leading to the D Luis Bridge). For the locals, the highlight of the evening is the fireworks display sharp at midnight, on the D Luis bridge. So wherever you may be, towards midnight make your way towards the river and secure yourself a vantage point.
There s over a 100 steps leading down to the river bank and back up. So if travelling with seniors or small children, grab a spot up by the embankment..
You ll figure you ‘re at the right spot based on the huugggeee crowd that ll already be there..But if you ‘re able to- definitely go down to the river.
For us the highlight was – ‘the Hammers’. Yup, hammers. Plastic ones ( baby rattle sized ones and the full size ‘Thor’ ones) are on sale EVERYWHERE. Souvenier shops, roadside stalls, old ladies selling them on blankets laid down on the streets. You pound a hammer (lightly- unless its my younger one getting back at his older brother) on everyone you see. Everyone s doing it to everyone! Its suppossed to ward off bad luck 😂 .
Whatever the reason behind it, this ‘tradition’ had us going nuts and in total splits-all evening
Oh but the evenng doesnt end with the fireworks. The party s oooonly jjjjust started! Post midnight is when the revelry s out in full force. Terrazza bars set up on the streets, just for the night; music blaring, live acts. Fab street food. IT WAS SOMETHING ELSE.
People dancing in the streets. Young couples, grandparents with their toddlers… There was this senior gent- easily 70 if not older; dancing his heart out. At 5′ nothing, he d pick out the tallest and most gorgeous ladies (think blonde supermodel looks) from the crowd. His spirit was so contagious, no one had the heart to refuse him.
We had started out at about 630 pm ( thinking the celebrations would wind down post midnight) and managed to stretch ourselves till about 3am. But if you re without the kids and want to party all night..start out later and pace yourselves. We could hear the revelry on until 6am. The 2km walk from our apartment to the riverside and back; the ‘party mile’, amidst about a hundred thousand people- we saw only about 4 policemen the entire night. Its only and only a ‘happy time’
We had an apartment on Rua Santa Catarina which was perfect coz we had the shops, bars and restaurants; all practically in our front yard. And the walk to and from the river was perfect to enjoy the festival as well as our following night, out on the town. The night of the festival dont expect to find a taxi or Uber after 6pm! If you ve driven to Porto, you might as well surrender the car for that day and the next. Half the city s a pedestrian zone only.
We slept through the following morning s boat races (also a part of the festival’s traditions) and the dayside revelries, by the river 🙁 .
Definitely pig out on the ‘Francesinha’. Porto s version of the croque monsieur; but one which is an even bigger ‘calorie bomb” than the original.
And the ‘pasteis de nata’ the tartlet version of a creme brulee. Omnipresent only in Portugal; and totally deserving of atleast 1 a day, each day in the country.