Portugal is a country with centuries of history and, throughout time, several Portuguese festivities and pilgrimages have appeared, events that celebrate believes and traditions of the Portuguese people. In this article I’m going to talk about popular festivities that attract thousands of tourists and make them want to visit Portugal – discover below the most beautiful ones!
Pilgrimage to Our Lady of Agony (Viana do Castelo)
This is probably the biggest Portuguese pilgrimage and has its origins in the 18th century, when the devotion to Our Lady of Agony first appeared in this region, at Bom Jesus chapel (currently known as Nossa Senhora d’Agonia chapel).
Taking place in August, in the city of Viana do Castelo, North of Portugal, this pilgrimage attracts thousands of tourists every year, from Portugal and abroad. The programme is very rich and varied and lasts four days.
There are several reasons why you should go to this city and this event in particular, but I must point out the Historic-Ethnographic Parade (Cortejo Histórico-Etnográfico), the Stewardship Procession (Desfile da Mordomia) and the monumental fireworks.
The Historic-Ethnographic Parade is a real living museum and is composed by more than 3000 participants that parade through the streets of Viana do Castelo, in a distance of over 2 km. This parade shows the ways and traditions of this city to its inhabitants and especially to those who love the Portuguese festivities and pilgrimages.
The Stewardship Procession is another highlight of this event and makes it one of the most important Portuguese festivities and pilgrimages. More than 400 women from all the parishes of Viana do Castelo wear typical costumes and several gold pieces (necklaces, earrings, rings) and parade through the main streets of the city – definitely an event you don’t want to miss!
Feiras Novas (Ponte de Lima)
Also located in the North of Portugal, Feiras Novas is another pilgrimage that attracts thousands of Portuguese and visitors from other nationalities to Ponte de Lima. This festivity takes place in September and is in honour of Our Lady of Sorrows.
Located in the historic centre of the oldest village in Portugal, this event has the most beautiful scenery. Here, tourists can admire and cross the amazing medieval bridge over Lima river, of which the village was named after.
For the duration of this pilgrimage there are several activities you can’t miss: hear the amazing academic music groups (tunas académicas) and their unique performances, the traditional challenge singing, the folk music concerts from groups from this region and, of course, admire the amazing fireworks that light the skies of this beautiful town.
Our Lady of Remedies Festivities (Lamego)
These festivities take place in the beautiful city of Lamego, in the Upper Douro Wine Region, listed by UNESCO in 2001 as a World Heritage Site.
Being one of the biggest Portuguese pilgrimages, the festivities in honour of Our Lady of Remedies also attract thousands of tourists to the city and to its majestic Sanctuary. Built in 1750, this sanctuary is one of the main locations for these festivities.
In September and throughout the city you can watch some of the highlights of these festivities: the beautiful Triumph Procession (Procissão do Triunfo), sporting and cultural events, concerts and the magnificent fireworks.
Whoever comes to this city will soon realise that there is much more to see than Our Lady of Remedies Festivities: don’t miss the opportunity to admire the amazing landscape surrounding Douro river and to savour the famous Port wine in one of the places where it is really produced.
São João (Braga and Porto)
Considered as one of the biggest popular festivities in Portugal, the festivities in honour of St. John take place in June in some Portuguese cities and attract thousands of tourists every year – Braga and Porto are the two cities that stand out.
In Braga, this popular festivity lasts more than a week and the amazing fireworks of the 23rd to the 24th June are one of the highlights of these celebrations.
With some centuries of history, São João de Braga‘s programme is very rich and has several points of interest, most of them located in the historic centre.
Visit this city and watch the magnificent historic procession, street entertainment, concerts of philharmonic bands (and others), exhibitions and the St. John the Baptist procession with hundreds of participants and procession litters.
The festivities of São João do Porto, the biggest popular festivity in the North of Portugal, attracts thousands of people to the streets of Porto city (but also Vila Nova de Gaia).
With more than five centuries of history, this festivity first marked the beginning of the summer solstice, the time to celebrate abundance and fertility; afterwards, it became a festivity with strong ties to the church.
Nowadays, this festivity presents a vast programme that lasts for a month, with shows all over the city. From the end of May until the end of June, there are several reasons why you can’t miss this event, one of the biggest Portuguese festivities and pilgrimages.
Several music events take place in this period, where I must point out the amazing NOS Primavera Sound, in the city park, and the most recent Porto Blues Fest, in the gardens of Palácio de Cristal. Apart from these renowned events, you can also watch several concerts of folk groups.
However, just like in Braga, this festivity has its high moment on the night of the 23rd to 24th June, when people go to the streets of Porto and gather at the avenue Avenida dos Aliados and Ribeira.
On these days, people use rubber hammers and leek to (gently) hit the heads of other people; it is also a tradition to throw into the sky hot air paper balloons that will light Porto’s night in a beautiful spectacle.
Of course the longest night of the year in Porto wouldn’t be the same if it wasn’t for the wonderful fireworks that takes place in Luiz I Bridge and other strategic points placed in Douro river and throughout the city.
Take this opportunity to discover the amazing historic centre of Porto, listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, and all its monuments – it’s not by chance that this city has been chosen as the Best European Destination for years.
Santo António (Lisbon)
The biggest popular festivity in Lisbon and one of the biggest in the country is celebrated in honour of Saint Anthony, born in the Portuguese capital in the late 12th century and, according to some sources, died in Italy 39 years later.
This festivity, that also takes place in June, has some unique moments that attract thousands of Portuguese and foreigners – one of the most important events is the popular parades.
With over eight decades of history, Lisbon’s popular parades are already a tradition of this festivity and gather people from the different quarters of the capital in a beautiful ceremony. As usual, the parades take place in the 12th June at the beautiful avenue Avenida da Liberdade where hundreds of participants dance and sing.
Another tradition of this festivity is the famous weddings of Saint Anthony (casamentos de Santo António) that also take place in the 12th June and gather several couples for the celebration of matrimony – Saint Anthony is the patron saint of wedding couples.
However, this festivity does not stop at popular parades and at the weddings of Saint Anthony. At this time of the year, people adorn their houses, streets and alleys with globe basil and other decorations and the smell of grilled sardine is in the air.
When you visit Lisbon, make sure you explore the city and try the grilled sardines and caldo verde, the popular Portuguese soup, so typical of this time of the year and so tasty!
Flower Festival (Funchal – Madeira)
Taking place in the spring, this festival shows the country and the world the special relationship between Madeira inhabitants and flowers.
For many years, the island of Madeira has been known as the “flower island” because of the fact that this island gathers the perfect weather conditions for several and varied flowers to blossom here.
On a historical level, the island has been a stopover for ships sailing to the African and American continents. When tourists disembark and roam the streets of Funchal, they are approached by florists selling all sorts of flowers; aside from that, tourists can also admire the beautiful gardens of several houses.
This relationship between Madeira and flowers lives on and attracts more and more tourists every year from all over the world.
This festivity has some moments you can’t miss such as the Children’s Parade (Cortejo Infantil), where hundreds of children dress as flowers and go to the square Praça do Município, where they “build” the Wall of Hope.
However, the Flower Parade is the highlight of this festivity. Constituted by hundreds of dressed-up participants and many floats, this parade spreads the joy and happiness so typical of these moments to all of those who are watching in the streets of Funchal – an event you can’t miss!
You can also take this time of the year and this festivity in particular to admire the beautiful flower carpets and the exhibitions related to this subject.
The Flower Festival is one of the most beautiful Portuguese festivities and pilgrimages and is a living postcard to those who want to visit the island of Madeira, also known as the “Pearl of the Atlantic” and chosen in 2016 as the best island destination in the world.
Sanjoaninas Festivities (Angra do Heroísmo – Terceira Island – Azores)
Sanjoaninas Festivities (Festas Sanjoaninas) are another of the most beautiful Portuguese festivities and pilgrimages and take place in the wonderful city of Angra do Heroísmo, in Terceira Island, Azores.
Much like the Flower Festival, in Madeira, the Sanjoaninas Festivities are also a postcard for those who want to visit the Azores and attract thousands of tourists every year – these festivities occur in June and celebrate St. John.
With a programme that lasts over a week, Sanjoaninas Festivities stand out for several reasons – the highlights go to the concerts, the Feira Taurina de São João (St. John’s Bull Fair) and St. John’s popular parades.
St. John’s Bull Fair is an event that can be appreciated especially by those who love bullfighting – at this fair you can watch, among other things, bullfights with ropes and bull runs in the streets.
However, St. John’s popular parades are the highlight of this festivity and more than 3000 participants contribute to this beautiful spectacle of music, dance and fun.
Take the opportunity to explore the historic centre of Angra do Heroísmo, listed by UNESCO in 1983 as a World Heritage Site. This is definitely a unique city at a beautiful island, one that you must visit!
Other Portuguese festivities and pilgrimages
In Viseu, there is a festivity that stands out – the (Fair) Feira de São Mateus. This fair takes place between August and September and attracts thousands of people; here, people can watch some of their favourite singers and bands perform and admire some beautiful exhibitions.
In Aveiro, attentions turn to the (Fair) Feira de Março that takes place in the Parque de Feiras e Exposições de Aveiro (Park of Fairs and Exhibitions of Aveiro) between March and April. With over five centuries of history, this is one of the oldest Portuguese festivities and pilgrimages and here people can enjoy local gastronomy and memorable concerts.
Finally, my article about Portuguese festivities and pilgrimages wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Senhor de Matosinhos, located in Porto (Leça da Palmeira) and that takes place between May and June. This pilgrimage has as its highlights the monumental fireworks and the beautiful Senhor de Matosinhos procession, but you can also enjoy concerts and the funfair.
Summing up, there are many Portuguese festivities and pilgrimages that stimulate the various regions in the country and attract thousands of visitors every year. What are you waiting for? Visit Portugal!
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