It’s São João Festival in Porto – Get Your Hammers Out!

São João bunting in the streets of Porto.

By Kieran Ford

Porto’s Turn to Party

[Cue dramatic narrator voice] Previously, on… Key discovered that Lisbon goes crazy for saints and sardines throughout the month of June. Missed it? Click HERE to catch up now.

Coming up, this week – Porto’s day of celebration has arrived. It’s 23rd June, which can only mean one thing – it’s Festa de São João 2019!

How will Key cope with so many hammer hits to the head? All will be revealed, NOW!

“It becomes so frequent that you start anticipating the blows…” 

People gather by the Douro river for São João 2019.
(♫) Take me to the river! (♫)

Wait, Hammers!?

Yes, hammers. Not real ones, thankfully. Big novelty plastic ones that squeak on impact. Yep, I was surprised too… But that’s the tradition, and boy do they hammer it home!

Why? I’m not sure. I heard many different explanations. A lot of the tales involved the presence of either leek or garlic as a sign of luck, fertility or fortune.

Apparently, the soft plastic hammers have since replaced the leeks or garlic bulbs that people used to hit each other on the head with.


Hit on the Head!?

Yes, hit on the head with the squeaky plastic hammers, by everyone, of all ages, from all angles, all night long …Sounds annoying?

Well, it’s different. It’s funny – I’m just strolling along the busy streets and *BEEP* Portuguese pensioner pops me on the back of the head and has a little chuckle with his wife.

*BEEP* *BEEP* I bow my head to the left and then to the right as two other randomers decide to have a go. It becomes so frequent that you start anticipating the blows, heading them off Ronaldo style.

…Watching the band moments later – *BEEP* a little kid jumps up to reach the top of my head on his way by, slam dunk style. Just casual… keeps walking.

It’s used as an ice-breaker too – men hit the women they’d like to get talking to, and vice versa. This falls in line with the fertility theme, and the idea that everyone’s encouraged to party with each other on this special São João eve. The whole city of Porto together.

Heaps of different coloured São João plastic hammers for sale.
Hammers... so many hammers.
People getting whacked with the squeaky hammers. All in the name of São João!
Pass through this passageway, if you dare!
Basil Bushes are seen all around. Another symbol of São João.
Basil bushes are everywhere too.
Long garlic flowers are dangled in faces.

Those Sizzling Sardines…

Ah, it wouldn’t be a Portuguese festival without their delicious grilled sardines, would it?

They’re out in abundance. The smell of them wafts through the city as hundreds of café bars, restaurants and locals set their BBQs up along the streets.

Flames flickering, they throw handfuls of the fresh sardines onto the grill and season with sea salt and olive oil. Chargrilled red and green peppers often sit amongst them, enhancing the colours and the aromas.


It’s a Street Party!

Definitely. The biggest one I’ve ever been to.

Everywhere closes, even the bars. Everything’s moved onto stalls outside that line the packed streets.

Once everyone’s finished eating, they swarm down to the Dom Luís Bridge that arches over the glorious Douro River.

Here, at precisely midnight, there’s a huge fireworks display. It was all very New Year’s Eve like.

A Porto local cooks up a bunch of São João sardines on a huge barbecue.
One of the local BBQ Kings cooking up a few sardines.
Spectacular São João 2019 Fireworks display over the Douro River.
Fireworks over the river.

BANG BANG! …What Now Then?

Despite having passed into the next day, the end of the fireworks only signals the beginning of the festa!

All of the bars reopen, local bands take to the stages and the classic Super Bock and Sagres flow into plastic cups as huge crowds dance through packed out partying alleys, avenues, squares and gardens.

There’s a constant buzzing atmosphere all around, everywhere, pretty much until the sun rises. It’s madness. But all in good spirits. Once again, I didn’t even catch a glimpse of trouble.

With SO many people tightly packed, tourists and locals, SO much alcohol on the go, and people whacking strangers on the heads with squeaky hammers… It sounds like a recipe for disaster. Not here in Portugal. Everyone’s just getting along at one citywide party.

The Sao Joao party still very much in full flow at five thirty in the morning...
5:30 am...

(♫) Viva São João! (♫)

Like Christmas, there’s whole albums dedicated to São João (St. John). It seems that every year there’s a top tune that becomes the song of that year’s event e.g. Viva São João 2019.

It’s a huge celebration and unlike any other I’ve experienced. It’s on the 23rd June every year, so check it out if you get the chance. It’s a memorable one.

Right, that’s another traditional Portuguese treat in the bag then. June’s a great month to be in Portugal!

As always, thank you for reading, it’s much appreciated. Any thoughts? Anything I’ve said wrong, or missed out? Let me know in the comments below.

Until next time!

Thanks / Obrigado,



Follow me on Instagram for regular updates!

Leave a Reply

Close Menu