Public Holidays

New Year’s Day (Jan 1); Carnival (Feb or early Mar—dates vary); Good Friday (Mar or Apr—dates vary); Freedom Day (Apr 25); Labor Day (May 1); Corpus Christi (May or June—dates vary); Portugal Day (June 10); Assumption (Aug 15); Republic Day (Oct 5); All Saints’ Day (Nov 1); Restoration of Independence (Dec 1); Immaculate Conception (Dec 8); Christmas Day (Dec 25). The Feast of St. Anthony (June 13) is a public holiday in Lisbon, and the Feast of St. John the Baptist (June 24) is a public holiday in Porto.

Events

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Where Spain has its fiesta, Portugal has festa. There are countless traditional celebrations held up and down the country. Just about every village has a festa of some sort. Many have a religious origin, based on a pilgrimage (romaria) to honor a local saint. Others are feasts created around a prized local product. In the Algarve, for example, Lagos celebrates traditional almond, fig, and carob cakes in July; Portimão and Olhão hold two of the biggest food-based festivals at the height of the summer season in August, the former focused on sardines, the latter on shellfish. More modest is the Festival of Sweet Potatoes held in November in the pretty west-coast town of Aljezur. The pattern is repeated up and down the country. Some such events are humble: where villagers carry a holy statue through the streets, attend a church service, and then follow up with a communal barbecue, performance by the local folklore group, and a wine-fueled baile (dance). Others go on for several days, attracting big-name performers and crowds of visitors.

The bigger festivals are concentrated in the summer, but there is always plenty going on in Portugal. Kicking off the year, Madeira’s capital, Funchal, hosts one of Europe’s most spectacular New Year’s Eve parties, with the city streets strung with colored lights and a dazzling firework display over the bay. February sees carnival celebrations around the country. Many are rather less-glamorous imitations of Rio. Once again, Funchal’s is the biggest: Madeira islanders claim their emigrants took the carnival tradition to Brazil. For a more authentic experience, head to northern villages like Podence in Trás-os-Montes or Lazarim, near Lamego, where young men still act out pagan traditions by dressing in bizarre colored costumes, donning devilish masks, and chasing girls around the streets.

 

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Easter is an altogether more solemn occasion, especially in the religious center of Braga, where Holy Week processions feature masked marchers and bejeweled floats along with fireworks, folk dancing, and torchlight parades. Students in Coimbra’s ancient university will paint the city red in early May with the Queima das Fitas celebrations, when they mark the end of the school year by burning the colored ribbons worn to designate their faculties, then get down to nights of serious partying.

Early May also sees the Festas das Cruzes, in Barcelos, where since 1504, women dress in gold-adorned regional costumes as part of a procession over streets strewn with millions of flower petals. May 13 sees the start of the pilgrimage season in Fátima, where many Catholics believe the Virgin Mary appeared to shepherd children in 1917. Pope Francis attended the centenary of the apparitions in 2017. Pilgrims flock to the Fátima shrine all year round, but the main gatherings are on the 13th of every month between May and October.

Recently, Portugal has emerged as a popular venue for rock festivals, drawing the biggest international names. Highlights include Nos Alive and Super Bock Super Rock, held in July near Lisbon, and the Nos Primavera Sound, held in June in Porto. The Rock in Rio festival is held every other May in Lisbon; the next is in 2020. Recent performers have included Bruce Springsteen, Ed Sheeran, and Katy Perry.

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Street parties to celebrate Lisbon’s patron saint, Santo António, on June 12 and 13, are a joyous celebration. Neighborhoods compete to produce the best marcha, a musical promenade in costume down the Avenida da Liberdade, then head home to eat grilled sardines, drink red wine or sangria, and dance the night away in squares decked with fairy lights and paper decorations. Similar scenes are repeated in Porto when the second city honors São João on June 23 and 24. The Azores island of Terceira celebrates St. John with the 10-day Sanjoaninas festival in late June. Portugal’s biggest agricultural fair, the Feira Nacional da Agricultura, is held every June in Santarém, the heart of cattle country. Expect bullfights, displays of horsemanship, and opportunities to consume heaps of regional food.

Farther down the River Tagus, Vila Franca de Xira holds its Festa do Colete Encarnado, featuring Pamplona-style bull-running through the riverside streets, in early July. Portugal’s bullfighting season reaches its height in the summer. There are weekly performances at Lisbon’s exotic Campo Pequeno ring. Unlike in Spain, the bulls are not killed in Portuguese bullfighting, but the spectacle can be disturbing for animal lovers.

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One of the most striking traditional events is the Festa dos Tabuleiros, held every 4 years in Tomar, which features a procession of young women in traditional costume balancing trays laden with 30 stacked loaves of bread, decorated with flowers and topped with crowns. The next is due in early summer 2023.

The Portuguese soccer season runs from August through May. Catching a clássico game between the top clubs—Benfica, Sporting Lisbon, or FC Porto—in a packed stadium of impassioned fans is a powerful experience, showing just how deeply engrained the love of club is for most Portuguese.

September sees the Romaria da Nossa Senhora festival in Nazaré, Portugal’s most famed fishing town, where a sacred statue is carried to the sea, followed by folk dancing, singing, and bullfights. A relatively recent tradition is the Santa Casa Alfama festival in September, where top fado singers perform in venues throughout Lisbon’s Alfama neighborhood.

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Horse lovers should head to Golegã in early November for the Feira Nacional do Cavalo, a celebration of all things equine, where the beautiful Lusitano breed holds pride of place. Christmas (Natal) is a family affair. Midnight masses fill churches up and down the country.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.