In Portugal, there is always a special reason for people to go out into the street, singing and dancing. The north of the country is no exception.
Religious celebrations are an excellent opportunity to get in touch with the culture and traditions of the people from Minho. Braga, for example, is worth visiting for the Easter celebrations, a festival experienced with intensity in this city, renewing rituals whose true meaning is union. In Porto, the São João festivities, from the 23rd to the 24th, is known by everyone to be a moment of great fun.
And there are countless other religious celebrations – and pagan festivals intersecting with the religious calendar – occurring mainly in the summer and waiting for you in the region.
From Braga to Viana do Castelo
Visit Braga in the Easter and attend the Holy Week Feasts. During this festive time, the city becomes decorated with motifs alluding to the season and the “Passos” – street altars – are decorated with flowers and lights. Did you know that the Cathedral of Braga is the oldest national monument, over nine hundred years old?
Attend the Ecce Homo or Enterro Procession, on Holy Thursday, led by the Farricocos. Barefooted and cloaked, these men march dressed in purple tunics and holding torches. These are some of the most curious characters in our religious tradition and a reminiscence of the reconciliatory practices of public penitents, performed until the 16th century.
In August you must participate in the Festivities of Senhora da Agonia in the beautiful city of Viana do Castelo. Since the 18th century that fishermen pray for the Virgin to grant them a fair sea, in an admirable procession symbolizing the deep connection of the city with the element that has always forged its history and part of its survival.
For three days (between the 19th and the 22nd) Minho is in a celebration mood, with several pageants, accompanied by music and lovely girls and boys wearing rich and colourful traditional costumes, like a live ethnography and folklore museum.
Follow the thousands of people who participate in this traditional pilgrimage every year. Visit the taverns and restaurants where Portuguese cuisine rules, accompanied by the region’s vinho verde wine. And, on the last night of the celebrations, attend the bright firework display on the centenarian bridge over the river Lima, proclaiming that the festival has ended.
The birthplace of Portugal
In Guimarães, attend the Grande Romaria de S. Torcato on the first Sunday of July. Parades march through the streets of Portugal’s birthplace city, which in 2012 was the European Capital of Culture, representing scenes from the saint’s life.
In the same city, the Gualterianas Festivities, in the summer, provide good entertainment, as is the case of the procession honouring São Gualter.
Holding the hammer of S. João
The 24th June is the day of São João and a good reason to go out in Porto and get to know how popular saints are celebrated in Portugal.
The night of the 23rd to the 24th is filled with fun and joy. The city’s squares, mainly in the historical centre and downtown, are decorated with balloons and coloured paper arches, and are occupied by venders of manjericos, leeks and little hammers of São João – tradition dictates that revellers must salute the passers-by with a gentle tap on the head with a leek or a toy hammer. These squares are turned into areas where people can dance.
Besides dancing – young people usually walk the distance between the Ribeira and the Foz do Douro, stopping by every dancing area and arriving at the city’s beaches at the break of day– the firework display on the Douro is the highlight of the evening.
And, of course, São João is synonyms with caldo verde, roasted sardines, bread and broa de Avintes and red wine, so, in the middle of all this entertainment, whenever you feel hungry, take a break to enjoy some food.
In the Douro, Nossa Senhora dos Remédios, in Lamego, is another good excuse to get to know old pilgrimages and the spirit of revelry. Every year, between the end of August and the middle of September, Lamego becomes a full-time festival, coinciding with the City Festivities and the “Romaria de Portugal”, dedicated to its Patron Saint. Hundreds of thousands of people join these festivities to attend shows, exhibitions, concerts, parades, dances and cultural and sporting events.
In Terras de Bouro, at the entrance of Serra do Gerês, São Bento da Porta Aberta is yet another pilgrimage mingling the sacred and the profane. The Sanctuary is the second most visited in the country, after Fátima, and in August it welcomes thousands of pilgrims and devotees who come to fulfil the most varied promises and pray for new blessings to that who is considered the greatest saint and miracle worker in the north.
Thousands of candles have lit up the districts of Penafiel, Marco de Canaveses and Castelo de Paiva during the Endoenças Procession on Holy Thursday for over 300 years, connecting both banks at the mouth of the Tâmega River. Over 40,000 candles are placed on the river banks, window sills, façades, balconies, and in the medieval streets of Entre-os-Rios. The visual effect is stunning.
The Queima de Judas, in Montalegre, is a satire to Lent abstinence, serving as punishment to the apostle who acted as a scapegoat. This tradition brings thousands of people to this village every year, where primitive dolls are sacrificed, in great animation, in a popular auto-de-fé.
In Santa Maria da Feira, go back in time and learn more about our roots. The Viagem Medieval is the greatest event of medieval historical recreation in the country. This medieval fair remembers the populations that have established themselves in this region over the centuries, and also the way people used to live in Portugal in the past. This fair is one of the highlights in the month of August in Grande Porto.
To close this chapter, we remind you that there are several routes in the north of Portugal taking pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela. These routes are rightfully indicated by yellow arrows, currently resulting in three main roads: Caminho da Costa, Caminho Central and Caminho do Interior. The Caminho de Santiago de Compostela is a spiritual and cultural itinerary of the first order and the oldest secular route of religious pilgrimage in Europe, going back to the 9th century.
This is a journey that started being encouraged for religious reasons, but today it comprises a much wider spectrum. Come and visit the Gothic and Romanesque cathedrals, the monasteries and chapels, the castles and Celtic villages that characterise this unique experience.
As you must have figured out by now, there are manifestations of devotion and religious festivals showing you the best in our tradition. You’ll find it very difficult to pick one! Come and join us in the festivities.
How to get there
There are flights from Bremen, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Karlsruhe, Munich, Dortmund, Zurich, Liverpool, London, Bordeaux, Carcassonne, Dole, La Rochelle, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Nantes, Paris, Rodez, St. Etienne Toulouse, Tours, Barcelona, Madrid, Palma de Mallorca, Valencia, Bologna, Milan, Pisa, Rome, Copenhagen, Brussels, Amsterdam, Eindhoven, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and New York.
The best way to go from the International Airport Francisco Sá Carneiro to the city centre is to take the underground. The trip takes about 30 minutes.