Many Catholic countries around the world have must-do religious festivals that you should attend. Although many are now associated with drinking and partying and not religion (though some still are), there are some festivals that are quite simply intriguing. One of them is the Lisbon Sardine Festival – the Feast of St. Anthony.
Every year in June, this Lisbon festival honors St. Anthony of Padua, its most revered Patron Saint, with a holiday and huge block party. While attending a Wedding in Portugal, we were lucky enough to attend!
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The Festival of Sardines 2020
Preparation for the Lisbon Sardine Festival takes weeks. Normally, you’d think of the peak of any festival as being the last day. But in this case, the big celebration is on the first night.
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All the narrow streets and plazas in some of Lisbon’s oldest neighborhoods mesmerize locals and visitors with their colorful decorations.
On this day, preparations are made for a massive Lisbon wedding celebration at the Igresia de Santo Antonio. A lively parade with dancers in traditional costumes, massive parties on many street corners, and a plethora of makeshift grill stations and bars that sell Portuguese sardines, beer, and sangria.
It lasts the whole night till sunrise.
Who was Saint Anthony?
St. Anthony was born to a noble Lisbon family in the 12th century. He became a friar, joined the Franciscan Order, and moved to Padua, Italy.
St. Anthony has been associated with many miracles recognized by the Vatican. Worldwide, he is the patron saint of missing objects.
There’s the official Prayer to Saint Anthony of Padua to recover lost things, making him as one of the Catholic Church’s more popular saints.
But in Portugal, he’s the matchmaker – a patron saint for singles.
If Portugal is on your list, then you should definitely check out the St. Anthony Feast Day. First though, here are a few things you need to know about the Lisbon Sardine Festival.
The Feast Day of St. Anthony is all about Sardines!
Portuguese festivals associated with this fish occur throughout the country.
Walking around some of Lisbon’s old neighborhoods after the sun goes down, you will smell fragrant, blackened over charcoal, sardines, and barbecue all over the city.
These salty sardines have no additional seasoning to bring out the charred taste. They’re served enveloped in a small bun (Sardinha no Pão).
And trust me, you will smell these on your clothes and you will do laundry the next day.
Why Sardines in Lisbon?
Sardines are important to Lisbon because they are associated with the poor. St. Anthony, being a Franciscan friar, had taken a vow of poverty.
Another reason is because of a peculiar legend of St. Anthony. After being ignored by the actual people of Rimini, Italy during one of his sermons, he decided to preach to the fish instead.
The sardines came to the sea edge to listen to him.
Caldo Verde and Entremeada
Another thing you may run into is Green Soup, or Caldo Verde and Entremeada, cheap and fatty pork ribs.
These cuts are typically prepared the same way as sardines – over an open fire and served on a bun.
The dish is Entremeada no Pão.
Lisbon Sardine Festival: Sangria and beer
No Lisbon festival would be complete without alcohol and the Lisbon Sardine Festival, Noite de Santo António, is no different.
Long tables of street vendors sell beer and sangria for everyone to enjoy.
And not just street vendors. Local residents open up their street-facing windows to do it, too!
Beer & sangria, all served in plastic cups!
The biggest block party in Lisbon
The whole city celebrates with block parties, also known as an arraials! In the winding narrow streets and plazas of some of Lisbon’s oldest neighborhoods of Alfama, Bica and Castelo, thousands of attendees party and dance the night away.
Some neighborhoods in Lisbon are extremely packed and are very difficult to pass through, let alone dance in.
“Ai, Se Eu Te Pego” was a popular Brazilian pop song. We heard it on almost every corner of the Alfama neighborhood.
For those who prefer a more traditional touch, a lot of Lisbon’s restaurants have a fado performance, which originated here in Portugal.
Santo Casamenteiro: St. Anthony’s Mass marriage
In Portugal and its former colonies, St. Anthony is the Patron Saint for singles.
“St. Anthony the matchmaker.” Single girls practice the tradition of writing down the names of boys on small pieces of paper, rolling them up, and leaving them overnight under their beds.
The one name that unrolls the most is the chosen one.
Many couples marry during the Lisbon Sardine Festival. The Brides of St. Anthony, or Noivas de Santo António, line up at St. Anthony’s Church to join hands during the mass marriage held at St. Anthony cathedral.
This tradition started in 1958. Twenty-six couples were married at the Church of Saint Anthony as a way to make marriage possible for couples who couldn’t afford a lavish wedding ceremony.
It is tradition to stuff written prayers inside a small roll of bread and then to stick them in the frame of the saint’s portrait inside the cathedral.
Lisbon’s Marchas Populares Parade
On June 12th of each year, dancers and newlyweds march in the parade along the Avenida da Liberdade in Lisbon wearing colorful costumes.
Lisbon’s traditional neighborhoods compete against each other to show off their best-choreographed dances and costumes.
The parade starts at 9:30 PM at the Marques de Pombal Square and finishes at the Rossio Plaza around midnight.
Sagres, the popular beer company in Portugal, hands out three types of decorative hats during the festival in Lisbon for people to wear.
No doubt, it is also quite lucrative for them to have thousands of walking advertisements!
The first two are obvious in their meaning to me – the sardines and the friar’s bald head.
The third green bushy one just looks like Chia pet, but it’s actually a Manjerico, a potted plant of basil in the form of a ball that symbolizes newly-sprouted love.
Inside the actual Manjerico pot (not the hat), a colorful paper maché flower is placed on top of the plant, along with a verse of Manjerico.
It is customary to rub the leaves between your fingers for the wonderful aroma of basil.
Locals create several Manjericos for decoration. They give some away to loved ones.
Lisbon Sardine Festival FAQ
Here are a few things you need to know before you head out to enjoy the festivities in Lisbon:
1. What should I wear?
You can wear fairly light clothing. Lisbon in the summer is really nice. And Lisbon’s weather in June is very comfortable. At night, the average temperature is about 61°F (or 16°C). We had no problem wearing just t-shirts and shorts.
But we’re from North America, so this was a good temperature for us. Perhaps the Portuguese felt differently.
2. Will I smell like fish when I go home?
Yes, your clothing is probably going to smell. Be mindful that, by the end of the Lisbon Sardine Festival, your clothes and hair will smell like grilled sardines and charcoal! And because of the crowds, you might even get a beer or sangria spilled on you.
Take it all in stride, but try not to wear anything expensive.
Wear comfortable shoes. The old streets are cobblestone streets, and you will walk and dance the whole night. Enjoy the festival without foot problems.
Leave the high heels at home!
3. Do vendors at the festival take credit cards?
Not typically. Bring lots of small bills and coins. Typically, food and drinks are priced in whole numbers – 1€, 2€, etc, and the vendors appreciate small bills or exact change. Anything 10€ or smaller works best.
Definitely don’t plan on using your credit cards. The majority of the street vendors don’t have machines.
Like many countries in Europe, most people in Portugal still tend to prefer cash to plastic.
4. What about pick-pockets?
Watch out for pick-pockets at the Lisbon Sardine Festival. With thousands of people packed into such small areas, this is a concern. Be aware of your surroundings. Bring enough cash and an ATM card to get more if you need it.
Have just enough on you to cover spending for the night and leave everything else behind.
5. Will I need ID to buy alcohol?
We didn’t always get carded, but you probably will at some point. Take a color copy of your ID instead of taking your actual ID. Leave your passport at home.
6. How do I get to and from the Lisbon Sardine Festival?
Lisbon has a great public transit system, but it doesn’t cater to the Portugal festival’s all-night’s party scene. Check with locals and the city’s official webpage for hours during the Feast of St. Anthony and plan your night accordingly.
But let’s be honest, most party-goers will spend the whole night on the streets anyway!
Be mindful that Lisbon’s traffic gets extremely congested – Uber and Taxi are usually not as fast as just walking!
7. Will there be toilets at the festival?
Need a bathroom at any Portugal street celebration? Good luck! They’re extremely limited or non-existent in some areas. Honestly, some folks choose to relieve themselves in a darkened street corner.
Don’t count on restaurants and other establishments to let you use their restrooms either.
Very few allow it.
8. What happens on the following morning?
July 13 is a public holiday in Lisbon. While the city recovers from a collective hangover, be mindful that many places will not be open to cater to your needs, especially governmental offices and some stores and restaurants.
So enjoy the Lisbon Sardine Festival, and if you’ve been to any cool religious festivals, let us know!
9. What are the Lisbon Sardine Festival dates?
The Feast of Saint Anthony runs from June 12-14, 2020.
10. Where will I stay?
Lisbon hotels are easy to find, and there are also a lot of options for budget travelers. Having said that, this is perhaps the busiest time in Lisbon.
It’s absolutely crazy here during the Sardine Festival, so you need to book your accommodations well in advance.
Lisbon is one of Europe’s friendliest cities for backpackers and budget-conscious people! We asked fellow travel bloggers to tell us about some of their favorite places to stay in Lisbon. Be sure to check it out!
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Halef moved from Indonesia to the US nearly two decades ago to go to college here. He hasn’t looked back. He’s been to over forty countries and doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon. He’s a Landscape Architect in Atlanta, GA.