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Throughout June, Portugal celebrates Santos Populares, a religious and popular festival which fills the streets with people, colorful decorations, music, events and food. These festas are celebrated all over the country in a explosion of tradition and folklore, and in Lisbon, the locals celebrate Santo Antonio. So to experience the Festas do Santo António like a Lisboeta, our local AnnElisa has put together a guide to the festas with everything you need to know about it, and her top tips so you can celebrate like the locals do. So if you’re lucky enough to be in Portugal this week, here’s how to party like a local in Lisbon!
What is the Santo Antonio Festival?
Santo Antonio is one of Portugal’s most important Patron Saints, so during the day and night between the 12th and 13th of June, we take to the streets to celebrate him! But the celebrations aren’t simply a parade; the city’s most traditional neighborhoods become the main hosts of the festival. In the beginning of June, historical areas such as Alfama, Mouraria, Graça and Bica blossom into an open air festas which last late into the night. The festival is organized into neighborhood events called arraial, where the streets are invaded by food stands serving traditional food and drinks and the space is decorated with colorful garlands and ornaments in honor of Santo Antonio and the city of Lisbon.
Arraial is the Portuguese word we use to describe local celebrations. At an arraial, you’ll find everything you could need to party; think music, wine, beer and good vibes! Oh, and we also like to throw in a lot of grilled sardines. Traditionally, each village and neighborhood has organized its own parade, but since 1932 it became a contest in which Lisbon’s historical districts participate. The event is celebrated every year in Lisbon’s main avenue, Avenida da Liberdade, where an entire year’s work is finally put on show. Every parade is prepared by performers, costume designers, tailors, musicians and of course the people.
Where to experience an arraial?
Follow the music and the smell of grilled sardines! The main spots in the city centre are in Alfama, Bica, Mouraria and Graça but there are hundreds more! Alfama is famed as the area where you can listen to Fado, the traditional local music, but closer to the center is the most colorful and liveliest area to party. Walking up the hill, you’ll find the lovely area of Graça: visit the Arraial of Vila Berta. There’s also Mouraria, a neighbourhood close to Martim Moniz square and metro station which hosts an arraial in Largo da Rosa and one in Largo da Guia. Bica, close to Bairro Alto (the area famed for its nightlife which you can’t miss!) won’t disappoint you with its amazing views and dancing crowds.
When to go?
The best time to visit these areas is in late afternoon and at night, but remember most of the arraiaisclose at midnight, a part from the night of Santo Antonio in which the party seems to never stop! Dress to be comfortable in the heat and ready to dance all night, and take cash (no credit cards, it’s a street festival).
Make sure to try authentic local dishes! At this festival, we eat sardinhas, bifanas, entremeadas, caldo verde, and chouriço. These are the typical treats you can find in the streets of Lisbon during June’s celebrations, and you’ll find them being sold everywhere, especially the sardines. The festival is also known as Lisbon’s Sardine Festival, which gives you an idea of how much we love them! Sardines are a symbol of Lisbon and its festival, so much so that the City-hall launched an illustration contest to find the most creative drawing of sardines every year.
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According to a popular belief, Santo Antonio would be the protector of marriage. So every year, Santo Antonio marriages are organized to permit couples to celebrate their union in a group ceremony with the economical help of the city hall. There is a lot more to know about Santo Antonio, but in my advice the best way to learn it is to participate and experience it! For more info about Lisbon’s best arraiais and events in the month of June, check out the program here.
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