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Your guide to Lisbon's Popular Saints Festivities

For the entire month of June, the most popular saint in Lisbon turns the city into an immense and sprawling festivity while he watches, in absolute delight, thousands of sardines being sacrificed in his name

By Time Out Lisbon editors |
Festas de lisboa, arraial, arraiais, santos populares
@Jose Frade

The grills are heating up, the beers are chilling, and we cannot wait to party for a whole month. Join us for our favourite time of the year to be living in Lisbon.

It's the Popular Saints Festival and it lasts all month long with parties in every city neighbourghood, live popular music and tons of sardines. And although it might get a bit overwhelming for outsiders to figure out where to go, you are sure to have fun anywhere you land.

Here is your basic guide with everything you need to know in order to make the most of the most tremendous parties in the most beautiful city.

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Festivities and Sardines: a match made in heaven

Festas de lisboa, arraial, arraiais, santos populares
@Jose Frade

Roll your tongue for this one: Arraial

That’s the generic Portuguese word for the collection of improvised and often rickety stalls, bars, trestle tables and benches decked out under flags and lights, stages for endless live and recorded music, and all the rest. There are dozens of them around the city in June. The most popular night is June 12, but there are arraiais happening almost every night, all month long.

© dreamstime

Want a beer? Ask for an Imperial

Draught lager is the most popular drink on summer nights in Lisbon (the festival is invariably sponsored by a brewer). The only problem is that there are rarely enough places to relieve yourself after drinking it all, due to the crowds. You've been warned.

Fotografia: Ana Luzia

Manjericos all around

Sweet basil (manjerico) is the official plant of the season and it’s sold in a small pot with a little paper flag with a corny love poem written on it. It is delicately scented, but you should never sniff it directly - popular legend says that smelling it will result in the plant dying. Instead, gently ruffle it with your hand and then smell your palm.

Marchas Populares
©José Frade

Get a front seat to the Marchas Populares

On the evening of June 12, Avenida da Liberdade closes to traffic and stands are set up for spectators to watch the “people’s marches”. Costumed groups from each of the city’s neighbourhoods showcase their performances – songs and dance routines are written and choreographed especially for this event. They perform for the audience and, of course, for the members of the jury who decide which neighbourhood is the ultimate winner.

quim barreiros

What's that sound? Pimba, that's what it is

This boom-bang cheesy local pop is the kind of music you will hear the most – along with a few Portuguese classics – at this time of year. Even people who refuse to listen to it at other times will tolerate it in June. It’s good enough for dancing, clapping your hands, doing the conga, etc.

Tasca do Isaías
Fotografia: Arlindo Camacho:

Sardinhas for main course

The fish that is only eaten in months without an ‘r’ in their name is the official dish of the Santos Populares. These sardines are grilled, sprinkled with salt, and served with boiled potatoes and grilled bell peppers.

Festas de Santo António

Santo António gets the popular vote

Even though St. Anthony of Padua is not the city’s official patron (that’s St. Vincent), the festival is held in his honour. June 13, the Saint’s official day, is a municipal holiday, ensuring that the night of June 12 is the year’s biggest bash. Locals party all through the night in arraiais across town.

Fotografia: Ana Luzia

Taxis are nowhere to be found

Forget them. They are almost impossible to find on June 12. Some people cross the entire city on foot to get home – or to get to another arraial.

paredes anti xixi
©André roma

Xixi: your worst enemy

It’s never okay to pee on the street but peeing (xixi, in Portuguese), as mentioned, is both necessary and a bit of a problem during the festivities. Most bars are set up on the street, and restaurants will rarely let you in to use their toilet, so the only option is often to be creative and find a place where no one can see you.

Have fun, while you're in town

Santo António à la Time Out
Joana Freitas
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Entrada Lux
©Luisa Ferreira

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