Saint Anthony’s (or “Santo Antonio’s”) festival in Lisbon may just be Europe’s best-kept summer secret… it’s the day when Portugal’s capital city literally turns into one gigantic public party! Imagine a day filled with cheap sangria on tap, pop-up restaurants and bars everywhere you turn, Portueguese music blasting in your ear, plus a bunch of drunk and happy locals, and now you now what this day is like in Lisbon. I say “day” but what I really mean is: this is what the first 2 weeks of June looks like. Yep, 2 weeks of non-stop parties in the cute, old, and charming little district of Alfama, with festivities peaking from the 12th to the 14th. I was lucky enough to be living in Alfama for the duration of this festival and can truly say it was one of the most amazing 2 weeks of my life!!
Right outside my door I could find: CHEAP and delicious grilled sardines ✔️ sangria and beer for just 1.50 euro a pop ✔️ festive decorations and even more festive music with dancing locals ✔️ and one of the most authentic Portueguse experiences I’ve had in my whole month of living in Portugal✔️. The latter is true because it appeared as if NO ONE knows about this crazy day, except for the citizens of Portugal! That being said, if you’re looking for a good time to visit Lisbon, June is your month!! I know I said the first 2 weeks are crazy, but the fun continues into the entire month with even more holidays and festivals!
To paint a better picture of what it’s like to experience St. Anthony’s day festival, this is what you should expect…
TONS of food (mainly grilled sardines!)
To be frank, sardines RUN St. Anthony’s festival. You have not properly honered Santo Antonio unless you’ve consumed at least 5 grilled sardines! They’re smoky, salty, charred and SO delicious, as well as incredibly cheap so go sardine crazy when you’re here!!
Other classic festival eats include bifanas (grilled pork sandwiches), whole-grilled chourizo sausages, fried croquettes, pastel de nata (egg custard pastries- so yummy ?), and a plethora of different fattening and delicious desserts like nutella-filled churros and waffles smothered in chocolate.
Come very hungry!!!
Pop-up bars and cocktail trucks serving cheap alcohol
You can pretty much grab a drink ANYWHERE you please during the festival since almost a hunred locals construct pop-up bars where you can purchase the local classics: sangria, beer, and ginja (fermented morello cherry alcohol- a popular one among the locals!). For a little extra, you can purchase the hard stuff at some cocktail trucks, although these are more scarce.
The drink prices range anywhere from 1-4 euros depending on the type of alcohol and the size. If you rather not spend all your money on drinks, feel free to pick up a 2.50 euro bottle of wine at one of the many nearby convienient stores, which you can drink along with everybody in the open! There’s really no rules when it comes to alcohol at this event.
Don’t forget to pace yourself!!
An overwhelming smell of smoke, frying oil, and sweet, fruity sangria!
Once you smell the smoke, you know you’re about to enter the festival!! The heat, smell, and clouds from the grill can be overwhelming when walking in the narrow and steep streets of Alfama, so find a spot in the one of the flat, open sqaures when you just want to sip on sangria and relax!
Crowds and costumes
Another indicator that you’ve entered the festival? Jam-packed streets of people wearing sardine hats and St. Anthony’s halos! It’s not necessary to dress up- about a third of the crowd does- but it certainly adds to the fun of the festival! If you want to purchase a festive hat or costume, don’t go looking for them before since you can easily find vendors selling these things at the festival for cheap.
Something to keep in mind if you don’t like crowds- the streets are very narrow in Alfama, so again, find a spot in one of the open squares, where a lot of the partying and people-watching takes place, in order to get a breather!
Loud traditional music and lots of dancing!
The music you should expect to hear at St. Anthony’s festival is traditional Fado music, as well as more upbeat Portuegese music. It blares through the streets of Alfama until the wee hours of the morning, so if you’re staying in this district, also expect a late night’s sleep!
If you really want to blend in with the locals, join in on their dance trains and continuous clapping and singing as they parade around the party-squares!
Bright, colorful decorations and make-shift vendor stands
These decorations aren’t just something that the pop-up restuarants and bars do, the whole town of Alfama joins in on the fun! As you walk through the district’s cobblestone streets and colorful appartments, you’ll notice plenty of houses with streamers adorning their windows and doors, as well as other traditional decorations like potted flowers and offerings for Santo Antonio.
Last, but not least- A cultural celebration of old traditions, rather than just plain debauchery!
Amongst all the chaos and entertainment [and drinks?], it’s easy to forget why St. Anthony’s festival is even celebrated in the first place! If you’d like to learn more about why Santo Antonio is celebrated in Lisbon, do as I did, and read up a little here.
It may be just one big Lisbon party to tourists and perhaps the younger Portueguese generations, but there is a lot of tradition, culture, and history that gave birth to this incredible festival! Make sure you do your research before attending as it really does add to your overall experience!
Need help planning your next visit to the next St. Anthony’s festival? Let me know any questions you may have in the comments below!