Prepare the leek flower, the plastic hammer, the hot air balloon and put on your shoes as if you were going to run a marathon (because you are!). Preparations for São João in Porto, the longest night in the city, begin weeks before the 23rd of June when Invicta starts to dress up for the festivities: the streets are decorated with colorful flags, basil vases – accompanied by popular quatrains – perfume the city and the São João scenarios are on every corner. Despite being one of the festivities of the "Santos Populares" (Popular Saints), the São João feast is an ancient tradition and, according to some theories, is a derivation of the celebration of the Summer Solstice, symbol of the abundance of harvests and fertility. The launch of hot air balloons, fireworks and bonfires in public places are an allusion to the cult of the sun and fire and water is an element that will accompany our entire journey. In the capital, Lisbon, the most traditional night of Santos Populares is Santo António.
Fontainhas: start at the beginning
São João in Porto is not an exact science, but tradition dictates that the festivities begin in the Fontainhas area, at the end of the day. In Santos Populares, it's important to keep your energy to the maximum, so take the opportunity to have dinner. All the restaurants have roasters at the door, with the typical menu of the day: grilled sardines and peppers, accompanied by corn bread, all washed down with a nice glass of wine, mature or fresh (as long as its full). Make sure you don't run out of energy.
Guindalese: mandatory stop
We dare say that Guindalense Futebol Clube is one of the most emblematic places for the São João night in Porto. Located on the Guindais stairs and surrounded by the Fernandina wall, this recreational association, which is also a restaurant, has fantastic views of the D. Luís I Bridge and the Douro River, and will welcome you with memorable dancing and a friendly atmosphere: a real warm-up for the hours ahead.
Porto Cathedral: fireworks in the Douro
By now, you have already been hit with dozens of hammers on the head, as many flower leeks in the nose, and you must have already made friends along the way, partly due to the São João gear that, originally – mainly the leek –, served as an excuse for the flirt among passersby. But we are in the 21st century and we don't need excuses anymore, so the next step is to find a beautiful place to see the fireworks that, by tradition, start at midnight and are launched from the D. Luís I Bridge and on the Douro River. The Sé area is a good spot for a break and to contemplate one of the highlights of the night, as you prepare to launch your São João air balloon. Don't be shy about asking for help if you have difficulties doing it. There will be no shortage of helping hands!
Allies: the official musical moment
Don't have your plastic hammer yet? Don't worry, there is a seller on every corner… If it's your first time coming to São João in Porto, you must be impressed by the sea of heads walking on the street and that occupy, for example, Avenida dos Aliados waiting for the great concert of the night, another of the highlights of the day. There are thousands and thousands of people, coming from all over Porto district and, in recent years, the party receives many foreign tourists as well. If you have a phobia of crowds, think twice before showing up.
Ribeira, Miragaia and Nevogilde: from party to partyr
The night continues, towards the mouth of the Douro River, between hammering and dancing. Go down to Ribeira, the most popular place in the city, classified as Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 1996. Cross to the Miragaia arches, you will see a stage set up and a very lively atmosphere. It won't be the only one you'll find on the pilgrimage to the beach. In fact, there are dozens scattered throughout the city… Dance and fuel up, because there's still a lot to walk and dance, and the dinner sardines are already digested. Do you prefer a "caldo verde" or a "bifana"?
Foz: all roads lead to the beach
At São João in Porto, all roads lead to the beach. One of the first is Praia das Pastoras, but if you're still full of energy, continue along the seafront to Castelo do Queijo. It's “only” another seven kilometers! Finish on the beach, jumping over a bonfire, another of the traditions of this popular festival, or jump into the Atlantic for a swim. If you've made it this far, you will probably see the day rise on the beach. And don't forget to save your leek and put it behind your door: it will bring you luck all year round! In superstitions, it is better to be safe than sorry and, as our Spanish neighbors say… “que las hay, las hay” so stick to the leek, no matter how much you drink, eat or dance!