The Festival of San Antonio, Lisbon

Did you know in Lisbon there is a festival of Sardines and for Saint Antonio, well we didn't until we where walking through the Alfama Neighbourhood carrying suitcase late on a June Night.

Every June from the 12th to 14th all of Lisbon comes out into the streets of the Alfama Neighbourhood to celebrate the Patron Saint of Lisbon, San Antonio.

Santo Antonio is the Patron Saint of Lisbon; he was born in Lisbon in the 12th Century, later becoming a Friar in the Franciscan Order. San Antonio is the saint of missing objects as well as being known in Portugal as the saint for the singletons.  On day 1 of the festival, a mass wedding celebration takes place at the Church of Santo Antonio.



Day 1

The Festival starts with a massive street party on the 12th. Early in the evening at 9.30pm a massive parade begins at the Marques de Pombal making its way down the Rossio Plaza. It is full of brightly coloured dancers in Exotic and Traditional Portuguese Costumes that sing songs for the Patron Saint and do wonderful dance moves to honour the festival.  At midnight when the Parade ends the people watching the parade head over to Alfama to join the rest of Lisbon in the street parties happening all over the neighbourhood. 

In every single nook and cranny there are pop up food stalls and bars selling Sardines, Sangria and Beers. The streets are covered in colourful streamers and decorations that celebrate the festival, music and dancing taking place with big smiles on the locals faces.                            The main hub of the street party is located at Largo do Chafariz de Dentro where there are big stalls to buy balloons that glow in the dark with fairy lights wrapped around them, fairy floss and other cheeky nibbles. Not to mention everyone dancing there socks off in this square. It is a wonderful atmosphere where everyone is having the best time of their lives.                        The party goes onto 4am at the earliest but needless to say we saw people still going when we got breakfast the next day. 


Day 2

On the 13th June it is a slow quite day as the city recovers, it is a public holiday in Lisbon so some places can be closed during the day. During the day the locals line up outside the Church of San Antonio to give their prayers to him, light candles outside the church at the foot of his statue and buy cakes (money going to children charities) to feast on during the festival, it is just wonderful to spend time outside the Church seeing how the Lisboetas pay homage to their local Saint. 


 The main celebration begins in the afternoon around 5pm; there is the Procession of San Antonio starting from the Se (Lisbon Cathedral), the procession weaves through the narrow streets of Alfama, picking up Icons from the 5 Churches in Alfama as well as picking up the locals as they tag along with the procession then coming to a close at the Se (Lisbon Cathedral) again with a Mass. The Procession is wonderful to experience, it is beautifully decorated with flowers and colours everywhere. There are Brass Bands playing along the walk, hymms being sung by Priest and Locals and the highlight being a Giant Statue of San Antonio on a mini truck being squeezed through the streets.


In the evening head into the heart of Alfama to enjoy what the locals do. We had a delicious feast of Sardines with salad and potatoes all topped off with a Sangria and a Beer. There are many street vendors with locals feasting too, we found a place where the Locals where having the most fun eating the huge amount of food and gosh it was yummy. Make sure you stroll around the narrow streets and join in the celebration with the locals, grab a beer from one of the neighbours who has opened there house front door during the festival. Follow the live music into a small square where every body seems to be dancing and singing to the local music.



Day 3

The party continues through the afternoon and evening as the locals drink, eat sardines and dance into the night. Being located in the heart of Alfama is a wonderful experience to be part of the local life style, I would absolutely come back again to enjoy this amazing festival in Portugal.



Symbolism of the Festival

While partying hard you might notice people wearing hats of Green Bushes and Sardines, they are the most wonderful hats and I wish I could own one myself. These symbolise different meaning for the festival; The Sardines symbolise the feasting of Sardines during the festival and the Green Bushes are Manjerico Pot Plants which are a bush of Basil that symbolises newly sprouted love. 


You are able to find Manjerico Pot Plants being sold in lots of little stalls by ladies that live amongst the district. Included in the beautiful green bush with an aroma of the sweetest basil, you will find a brightly colour paper mache flower placed on top along with a verse of love poerty. They are given to loved ones as a symbol of their love. 


It is also known as the Festival of Sardines, you will discover that the sardines are devoured at a fast rate, sometimes faster than the deliveries can be ran up the hill to be grilled. As you walk into Alfama the smell of charcoal barbecued sardines is delicious, but I am not sure about the next day when your clothes still smell from the night before. The reason for the Feast of the Sardines is that they are associated with the poor and with San Antonio had taken a vow of poverty in his order as well as it being the height of Sardine fishing season.



Some things to know when taking part of the festival;

  • Bring Cash

  • Lisbon is one of the safest cities in Europe apart from the sad case of Pick-pocketing.

  • Taxis and cars do not come into the main part of the city and Alfama on the 12th, but only no taxis in Alfama in the last 2 days.


The summer evenings are glorious, the streets are full of the smell of Sardines being grill and the locals can not stop smiling and laughing. It is one of the most wonderful festivals to get involved in, it will be a eye opening brightly colour fun few days in Lisbon.