Porto’s Festival: A Local’s View

Every year on 23rd June, Porto is home to one of Europe’s largest street parties. Revellers flock to the streets to drink, dance, watch the fireworks, listen to music and perhaps most importantly – hit each other with plastic hammers. This festival has been going since the 19th Century (although in those days they used to hit each other with garlic flowers) but it’s still much overlooked by visitors from outside Portugal.

Luis, part of our technical team here at dealchecker and Porto native, went back for the event, girlfriend in tow, and has told us all about his visit – including some great insider tips and tricks to getting the most out of your Festa de São João do Porto.

He started off with a flight from Stansted to Porto on the day before the festival, which we can all do, followed by specialist airport pickup from his mum, which unfortunately isn’t an option you can book online. He made a beeline for a meetup with his friends in the popular Praça de Gomes Teixeira, known as Praça dos Leões to those in the know. It’s also where you will find the University of Porto students enjoying some “downtime”.

Lion statue on the square's fountain

The next day was party day and it started, as is tradition, with a barbecue. Luis barbecued with his Grandfather, which as far as we can make out involved a lot of fire but not much cooking. Nonetheless, the barbecued sardines and cabbage soup were finally ready (we suspect his mum had a hand in this too) and with full bellies they could head out to enjoy the revelry.

barbecue with sardines

The first thing you need to know is that the fireworks are let off from, and on, Dom Luis I Bridge. Insider tip: take the tube over the river to Gaia, get off at the first stop and sit on the hill right there for great views without the crowds. The Porto side of the riverfront has cheap drinks and music, which means it’s packed, whilst the Gaia riverfront is expensive! The fireworks start at midnight and only a newbie tourist would think about heading out before 10pm!

Fireworks being set off along the bridge
Image © Luis

They close the bridge for the fireworks though, so you’ll have to be patient afterwards when you’re heading back to Porto for more partying. Luis walked on the lower section of the bridge rather than waiting for the tube, and gleefully related how you can feel the bridge sway. Apparently it’s meant to do that, you’re not just drunk!

Avenida dos Aliados looking calm and refined by day

Once over the other side it’s time to walk the waterfront until you see the steep cobbled path that’s your quick route to the Avenida dos Aliados, which is where the late-night partying continues. You can see the fireworks from here if you want, but it’s not far and it’s not going anywhere so we say catch the best views first! Once you arrive you will find music stages, dancing, food, alcohol and of course, plenty of head-hitting with plastic hammers. It’s time to settle in and party til the sun rises!

hangover food at its finest

The next day, let Luis be your guide once more. The local dish of Francesinha (literally Little French Girl, which makes no sense at all!) is perfect hangover food. It starts off life as a simple sandwich, which gets filled with barbecued meat – including calves’ tongue – and then topped with cheese and then baked in an oven and topped with a sauce so delicious it’s indescribable. Luis’s favourite can be found in Gaia at Locanda where they have their own wood-fired oven to cook them. It’s a little tricky to find so a taxi is best.

You’ll be in need of some relaxation afterwards, so take a stroll along the riverfront towards the sea. If you’re feeling peckish (how?) then keep a look out for what appears to be a small fisherman’s village hidden along the front, and here you will find restaurants serving fresh seafood.

pretty and sandy beach
Ana Freixieiro

The fun doesn’t end there, though! Keep following the path and you’ll reach Gaia’s beaches (ok, it’s a lot faster to drive or take the tube). Francelos has its own tube stop and is sandy and uncrowded, especially compared to the Porto beaches which have plenty of snazzy developments taking up all the real estate.

If you want to go surfing then head a little further on to Espinho. Luis said he didn’t go surfing, so there aren’t any photos of him in a wetsuit. Not sure we believe him, but since we’ve got so many great tips we’ll let this one slide!

Fancy planning your own trip to this street party? It happens on 23rd June each year and we know just the place to get your travel sorted!

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Tips and advice on getting great value travel - from one of our dealchecker alumni.

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