Festivals in Portugal - Festas
Saints, Miracles and Magic - Portugal's rich heritage of local festas, romarias and carnaval
There is probably a festival of some sort going on every day somewhere in Portugal.
Attending a traditional festival (festa) is a great way for any visitor to Portugal to absorb something of Portuguese popular culture and get to know better the local people and their way of life.
Portugal's strong Catholic heritage, allied to the many local pagan customs which were integrated into the average person's religious convictions, has lead to a popular culture rich in a firm belief for many Portuguese in saints, miracles, lucky charms, healing springs, shrines, offerings, magic, cults and superstition.
The cult of Our Lady of Fatima and the locating of the Knights Templar in Tomar show the strength of local support for people on the fringes of orthodox Catholicism. Even today, in the pilgrimage season May-October, thousands of pilgrims line the roads to Fatima, just outside Leiria, to pay their respects to the Virgin, who appeared to three children in May 1917.
Every town and village in Portugal has a patron saint, whose saint's day is celebrated with gusto by the whole community, thus fostering a sense of communal identity and local pride, long lost in many other parts of Europe. The main themes of these festas is a procession of a statue of the patron saint after Mass from the local church, accompanied by fireworks, music, dancing and joyous merrymaking involving copious consumption of wine.
Portugal is not just about traditional festivals - new ones are springing up all the time. Especially film, music and food festivals, often sponsored by local authorities to boost local tourism.
Portugal Festival Calendar
A cake in the shape of a king's crown bolo rei is traditionally eaten during Epiphany (Dia de Reis).
The Festa das Fogaceiras held annually on January 20 in Santa Maria da Feira sees young girls in traditional dress carrying castle-shaped fogaças cakes on their heads to give thanks for good health.
The Fantasporto International Film Festival is one of Portugal's oldest and longest running film festivals.
The Entrudo dos Comprades in Lazarim near Lamego is a lively, masked carnival celebration with fireworks and a male/female face off.
The town of Beja holds a nine-day agricultural festival with music, food and handicrafts.
The Feira de Março in Aveiro from late March to late April is an historic festival now featuring folk and rock concerts.
The Senhor Ecce Homo festival in Braga is an Easter festival with barefoot, torch-bearing, hooded penitents in a spooky procession through the town.
In Porto on Passion Sunday (the second Sunday prior to Easter) there is a procession near the church of Nossa Senhora da Esperanca. Effigies of Judas are burnt around the cathedral on Easter Day.
Festa das Toches is an Easter procession in São Brás de Alportel in the Algarve.
The Festa de Mãe Soberana in Loule is another large Easter festival.
The Fatima romarias (pilgrimage) is held in Fatima to commemorate the anniversary of the apparition of the Virgin Mary.
The lively Festas das Cruzes is held over a week in Barcelos with a procession and handicraft fair.
Faro hosts an international music festival through May/June.
Early May sees the civic festival of Santa Joanna, held in honor of the royal princess Joana, who retired to Aveiro's convent (now a museum) in the 15th century.
The Queima das Fitas is a drink-filled festival in Coimbra when the town's students go mad with parades, fado and the burning of gowns.
At the end of May or early June is the Corpus Christi Vaca das Cordas "bull running" ceremony in Ponte de Lima.
The Corpo de Deus (Corpus Christi) festival with processions is celebrated all over the country.
The Festa de Santo Antonio in Lisbon celebrates the 'saint of love' with newly-wed couples giving thanks and singles praying for a match made in heaven - usually around June 13.
The Festa de Sao Joao (John the Baptist) is big in Porto, Aveiro and Braga on June 23-24. In Porto there are large parties with people being hit on the head with harmless plastic hammers; in Braga expect to see dancing, illuminations, folk dramas, poems to loved ones in pots of basil, music and processions.
In Santarem a 10-day Feira Nacional da Agricultura in the first week of June has horse-racing, bullfights and bull-running in the streets.
Rock in Rio-Lisbon is a huge rock festival, touted as the world's largest music festival, held annually at the Parque the Bela Vista in Lisbon attracting some of the biggest names in popular music.
The Festa de São Gonçalo in Amarante witnesses a large procession with single people exchanging phallic-shaped cakes as love tokens.
Setubal hosts an international film festival - Festroia - in June.
The Festa de Sao Pedro (Saint Peter) is celebrated in Porto on June 29 with music dancing and processions.
Porto hosts a beer festival at the Jardim do Passeio Alegre, Foz do Douro.
Fundao, famous for its cherries, holds a "cherry festival" in June with guided tours to cherry orchards and local restaurants showcasing cherry recipes.
Arraial Pride is Portugal's largest gay pride festival held in June in Lisbon.
The Festa do Colete Encanado held in Vila Franca de Xira has bull-running in the streets similar to the more famous festival in Spain's Pamplona with drunken youth running the bulls through the town's narrow streets.
Estoril's world famous classical music festival runs through July and August and is simultaneous with the town's Handicrafts Fair.
Held every four years in Tomar (during the first week of the month - next in 2007, 2011, 2015, 2019, 2023 etc) the pagan-inspired Festa dos Tabuleiros sees a procession of young girls, dressed in white, balancing large trays of bread and wheat on their heads.
The third weekend of June is time for the Rallye Biker in Faro - one of Europe's biggest biker meets with rock music and a parade of motorbikes through the streets of Faro.
Aveiro celebrates its historic heritage of painted boats - moliceiros - mid-July to mid-August with races and general merrymaking.
The Vilar de Mouros music festival in Caminha hosts top-notch rock bands from around the world at the end of the month.
Barcelos hosts the Festival de Folclore on the last Saturday of the month with traditional singing and dancing.
Sintra hosts its annual Sintra Music Festival in July with events in Sintra, Cascais and Estoril.
The Romaria da Nossa Senhora da Agonía (Our Lady of Sorrows) held in Viana do Castelo around August 20 includes an impressive parade of floats, displays of local crafts, carnival giants (gigantones), local music, nightly fireworks and lots of drinking.
The Festas Gualterianas (St Walter) has been held in Guimaraes on the first weekend of August since 1452.
The Festa Sao Bartolomeu held in Porto (Sunday after August 24) sees a procession of puppets and a healthy plunge in the sea at Foz do Douro.
Lisbon's Ocean Festival celebrates the city's links with the high seas with boat races and numerous special events.
The Week of the Sea Festival in Horta on the island of Faial in the Azores is a 7-day festa of marine sports and traditional whaling boat regattas held in mid-month.
The Rio Formosa Festival in the Cathedral square of Faro is a latter-day, civic seafood and beer festival focused on the need to preserve the area's Rio Formosa lagoon.
The Festa Nossa Senhora da Orada occurs on 14th August in Albufeira when an image of the Virgin Mary and the child Jesus is paraded around town and transported on a boat.
The festival of Our Lady of Seafarers in Cascais sees images of saints carried through the town's streets and then on to fishing boats - also bull running, music, fireworks and lots of food.
The Feira de Sao Mateus in Viseu takes place from mid-August to its climax on September 21 (Dia do Sao Mateus). There are bullfights, fado and folk dancing at this agricultural fair.
The Festas de N.S. dos Remedios takes place in Lamego from the end of August to mid-September.
The Festival Sudoeste is a 4-day rock, indie and electro music festival at Zambujeira do Mar.
The Festa do Nossa Senhora da Boa Viagem at Peniche with land and sea processions.
The Festas do Sao Paio in early September in Aveiro features a traditional boat race on the northern lagoon.
The last Sunday of the month sees Porto's Nossa Senhora do Ó - a procession in honor of the pregnant Virgin beginning at the church of Nossa Senhora da Piedade do Cais.
Ponte de Lima's Feiras Novas (New Fairs) is an ancient 3-day affair dating from 1125 with music, dancing, processions and general merry-making.
Held in on the first Sunday of the month in Tomar the Nossa Senhora de Piedade sees a candle-lit procession of decorated floats.
The festival of Nossa Senhora da Nazre Romaria (September 8) is the biggest festival in Nazare. Expect to see a serious religious procession, bullfights and folk dancing in the evenings.
Leiria hosts a Festival de Gastronomia in early September with food stalls and folk dancing.
Elvas hosts the Festas do Senhor da Piedade and the Feira de Sao Mateus in late September
October 12-13 sees the second large annual pilgrimage to Fatima to celebrate the 'Miracle of the Sun' of 1913.
The Feira de Santa Iria in Faro is the town's largest traditional festa held in the middle of the month.
Lagos celebrates its connection with Portugal's maritime past with the Festa dos Descobrimentos (Festival of the Discoveries) with processions (late October/early November) in period costume through the town's streets.
Late October to early November The National Gastronomic Festival in Santarem. The festival began in 1980 and each day of the event is dedicated to a region and its food culture.
All Soul's Day (All Saints' Day) is a national holiday and celebrated often with processions across the country on November 1.
Golega Ribatejo hosts the Feira de Sao Martinho with bullfighting, horse parades and general bonhomie.
Feira Nacional do Cavalo (National Horse Fair) in Golega.
Independence Day, a public holiday on December 1, is usually celebrated with fireworks and joyous parties.
Dia do Natal (Christmas Day) on December 25 is a family festival with a tradition of burning an Xmas oak log to ensure good fortune.
Vespera de Ano Novo (New Year's Eve) is celebrated nationwide with fireworks, music and, as in Spain, the eating of 12 grapes as the clocks strike midnight. Lisbon's noted party is out near the tower in Belem.
If you know of a festival not listed here, please contact Portugal Visitor with the details.
New Years Day - January 1
Carnaval Tuesday (February or March) - the day before Ash Wednesday
Easter Good Friday (March or April)
Liberty Day - April 25 to celebrate the 1974 revolution
Labor Day - May 1
Corpus Christi (May or June) - the ninth Thursday after Easter
Portugal Day (Camoes/Community Day) - June 10
Assumption - August 15
Republic Day - October 5 commemorates the declaration of the Portuguese republic in 1910
All Saints' Day - November 1
Independence Day - December 1 celebrates the 1640 restoration of independence from Spain
Immaculate Conception - December 8
Christmas Day - December 25