We’ve looked at all the national and municipal holidays in Portugal and now it is worth talking about other culturally significant celebrations all throughout the year. While some come from ancient traditions, others are more recent but either way they are all worth celebrating and attending! In this part 2 of our holidays and festivities journey, we will look at some of the most famous ones!
Christmas season is perhaps the festivity that is most adored by Portuguese people.
During this time you will find beautiful lights and Christmas decorations painting the city in joyous beautiful colours, as well as marvellous scenes of Nativity. It is a wonderous time to pay a visit to the amazing Christmas markets that are held all over the country! Let’s take a look at some of them:
Porto: Porto Christmas Village ; Mercado da Alegria ;
Lisbon: - Campo Pequeno Christmas Market ; Wonderland Parque Eduardo VII Market ; Natalis Christmas Fair ; Cascais Christmas Village ; LX Rural Mercado de Natal ; Mercado de Natal de Alvalade ;
Center: Óbidos Vila Natal ; Leiria Natal ; Christmas market of Coimbra ; Perlim (Santa Maria da Feira)
South: Vila Vita Christmas Market (Algarve) ; Mercado de Natal de Vale do Lobo (near Faro) ;
Carnaval or Entrudo (original name in Portugal) comes from ancient Pagan traditions that celebrated the end of Winter and the beginning of Spring. Christianity eventually took in the festivities to which it evolved to what it is known today. In more recent times, many cities in the country have implemented fantastic parades filled with colours, music, dancing, mischief and a lot of funny costumes! There are still those who celebrate the more genuine aspect of Entrudo and who honour the ancient traditions. Here are some of the modern ones: Carnaval de Ovar, Carnaval de Estarreja, Carnaval da Nazaré, Carnaval de Torres Vedras, Carnaval da Madeira, among many many others!
In Lazarim and Podence in Bragança district, you can find the most traditional celebration of Entrudo with the Caretos de Podence costumes.
Semana Santa (“Holy Week”)
Like Christmas, Easter is a great deal in Portugal as well. During the Holy week, there are numerous processions (especially in smaller villages) that start at the local church and go around the city’s streets announcing Jesus Christ’s resurrection. One of the biggest and oldest processions happens in Braga, where locals decorate the streets with flowers in preparation for the procession. Another is in Loulé, called “Festa da Mãe Soberana”, and in Tomar.
International Chocolate Festival (Óbidos)
While there are a lot of food (and sweets!) festivals worth attending in Portugal, the International Chocolate Festival in Óbidos (April) is one of the most popular ones, not only for the delicious chocolate and the beautiful decorations but also because the festival is held in the small town inside the Castle’s borders, which makes it even more attractive. So even if you are not a fan of chocolate, it is always worth a visit for the festival itself.
25 de Abril (Freedom Day)
Although not exactly a festival, it is worth noting that this particular day has an incredible significance to our country’s history. So you might see a lot of people celebrating it on the streets. Sometimes you will see a sort of parade in Lisbon and in Porto honoring the day we conquered freedom from Salazar’s dictatorship.
Feira das Cantarinhas (Bragança)
Of Medieval roots, the Feira das Cantarinhas is one of the oldest craftsmanship fairs in the country.
Queima das Fitas (Coimbra)
Although Queima das Fitas is celebrated in my universities across the country, its origin (and still the most popular one) comes from Coimbra. It’s a whole week (usually the first one of May) dedicated to academic life. During this festive week there’s fantastical and colorful allegorical cars, masses, concerts and many other activities. It's the most anticipated week for a university student. Other cities like Lisbon, Porto, Braga, Setúbal and Faro also celebrate Queima das Fitas.
Festa das Cruzes (Barcelos)
Celebrated during Barcelo’s municipal holiday (May 3rd), Festa das Cruzes (“Festival of Crosses”) features a procession with locals in beautiful traditional costumes carrying flower arches and flower rugs. You can also find an incredible fair with handmade crafts, folklore performances, fireworks, lots of music and many more!
One thing Portugal is known for is the incredible sunny weather, so it comes as no surprise when the busiest time of the year is during the Summer. Not only because of the great influx of tourists we receive during June, July and August (even September), but also because it is when a lot of Portuguese people have their vacations and when the ones abroad come to visit their family and friends. For this reason, you will find that a lot of municipal holidays are during these months.
Festa de Santo António (Lisbon)
If you have visited Lisbon during the Summer, you must definitely have heard of Santo António (patron saint of Lisbon) festival, held on June 13th.
It is one of the highest points of Lisbon’s traditional festivities, in which celebrations involve decorating the streets with lights and streamers, the typical sardinhada, churrascos, caldo verde soup and lots of red wine. The top event is the Marchas Populares in which each neighborhood “compete” against each other in a colourful and gorgeous dancing parade.
Festas de São João (Porto, Braga e Vila do Conde)
Although now a Catholic festivity, its roots stem from Pagan traditions of June’s solstice that celebrated fertility associated with the joy of harvest. Held on June 23 -24 for more that 600 years, it usually starts with music from arraiais filling the streets in the afternoon and ending with sky-lanterns and balloons being released in the sky and the incredible fireworks. Another fun and lighthearted tradition is bashing martelinhos (toy hammers) on each other’s heads.
Arraial Pride (Lisbon)
Arraial Pride, in June, first started in 1996 and it has since evolved into Portugal's largest LGBTQ event. During this event, there is also the world famous Gay Pride Parade (also celebrated in many other cities across the globe), a colourful procession that travels through Lisbon’s streets in celebration of LGBTQ Pride.
Portugal loves their Medieval Fairs and we host some great ones at that! Featuring battle reenactments, authentic food, spices and drinks, gorgeous Middle Age outfits, and lots of animation, you don’t want to miss these amazing magical fairs. Usually held in between July and August, there are many good ones across the country, however we must stand out the most popular ones: Santa Maria da Feira (Aveiro) is considered one of the biggest recreation event in Europe ; Feira Medieval de Óbidos ; Silves ; Castro Marim
It comes as no surprise that most music festivals are done during the Summer. Camping in beautiful riverside locations or even in beaches is a huge part of music festivals in Portugal. The most famous ones are NOS Alive (July) near the Tagus River, Sumor SummerFest (July) in Ericeira, NOS Primavera Sound (June) at Parque da Cidade in Porto, MEO Sudoeste (August) in Zambujeira, Super Bock Super Rock (July) in Meco, Rock in Rio held 2 in 2 years (May-June), and many more!
Festa dos Tabuleiros (Tomar)
Festa dos Tabuleiros (“Festival of Trays”) is the biggest and most important celebration of the city! Because this is a celebration of big magnitude, it is only held 4 in 4 years in July as it takes a long time to prepare for it. Why? Well, all of the city’s streets are decorated with gorgeous flower arrangements and most spectacular of it all is the parade in which the girls take the streets with piles of bread and flower arrangements on their heads, called tabuleiros (hence, the name).
Feira de São Mateus (Viseu)
One of the biggest national fairs in Portugal. It features lots of music, typical food, amusement rides, fireworks, and much much more!
Festival do Marisco (Olhão)
This one’s for the seafood fans! This big gastronomic event, usually in the second week of August, offers the opportunity to try the most delicious seafood dishes along the stunning Rio Formosa. But you can expect a lot more than the great food during this event, as it combines live performances of many national and international musicians!
Feira Nacional do Cavalo (Golegã)
This event has a rich history behind it dating back to Portugal’s second King D. Sancho I.
It is held in November and it’s a showstopping celebration of the Portuguese Lusitano horse and the most prominent horse festival in the country. It also features lots of delicious typical food and wine.
São Martinho is celebrated all over the country on November 11th. In honour of the 4th century Roman soldier who cut his cloak in half to give it to a beggar to keep warm and, as legend has it, that clouds dispersed, the sun came out, and Jesus said to the angels, “Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is not baptized; he has clothed me.”. For this reason, people call this day Summer of Saint Martin as this day actually tends to be warm and sunny. It is also a celebration of harvest and so it is tradition to have the typical Magusto in which we eat roasted chestnuts and drink the first mature wine of the season.
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