Spain is country well known for its beautiful weather, delicious food and vibrant culture. Each region has it’s own traditions and cultural identity, but if there’s one that is the same across the whole country, it’s that they know how to celebrate festivals.
From food fights to bull fights, neighbourhoods decorated in flowers or frogs, Spain has festivals and celebrations to cover it all. There are festivals dating back hundreds of years, ones that showcase the community spirit and others that are just…fun. Here’s my pick of the best of the Spanish festivals.
– Las Fallas –
It’s no secret that Spanish festivals are loud, but Las Fallas in Valencia must set a new record. The festival started when carpenters would burn old pieces of wood and rags when spring came around, and has evolved since then to the celebrations there are today. Running from 1st-19th March, it starts off with daily mascletas in Plaça de l’Ajuntament. Thousands of people squeeze in and fill the surrounding balconies to listen to the firecrackers, and feel their clothes shake from the crazy loud bangs. To balance out the bangs of the mascletas, there are also daily flower offerings in Plaza de la Virgen.
From the 15th, there are nightly firework displays, and the start of Fallera week. Huge sculptures are unveiled, which can be admired for a few days before all but one – the winner of best sculpture – are set on fire and burnt. Throughout the whole of Las Fallas you can expect to hear bangs and fireworks throughout the day, as kids throw poppers that make a little bang when they hit the floor, and random fireworks go off whenever.
When and where: 1st – 19th March, Valencia.
– La Tomatina –
The food fight to end all food fights! A small town in the province of Valencia hosts the famous La Tomatina. People gather from all over the world to travel to Buñol and throw tomatoes at each other. The day starts with the palo-jabón which is a slippery pole with a ham balanced on top. People try to climb the pole, and the first one to the top claims the ham. Then the main event starts: the tomato fight!
The crowds fill the streets and part to allow trucks full of tomatoes to come through. Tomatoes are thrown from the trucks into the eagerly waiting crowd, and the fun begins! An hour of tomato throwing finishes with the sound of a firework, at which point people try to find someone to hose them down before carrying on their day.
When and where: The last Wednesday in August, Buñol. You’ll need a ticket for La Tomatina as they limit numbers allowed to take part since 2013.
– Fiesta de San Pedro –
From a food fight, to a wine fight! The Fiesta de San Pedro is an annual event in the small town of Haro in theLa Rioja region of Spain, known worldwide for the delicious Rioja wine. As well as the usual Spanish festival celebrations they have something extra: La Batella del Vino – a wine fight!
One morning of the festival, everyone hikes – or catches the shuttle – to the top of the hill where the battle takes place. It’s tradition to wear white with a red handkerchief, but it won’t stay white for long! You can use whatever you like to spray, throw or pour wine on the people around you, and once everyone has finished it’s back to the town square to continue the celebrations with food, music and the famous Spanish street parties. This festival also has bullfighting, but unlike larger festivals like San Fermin, the bulls aren’t killed here.
When and where: 29th June, Haro.
– La Merce –
Barcelona’s biggest festival of the year, La Merce celebrations cover the city over the span of 5 days. A real celebration of culture, multiple venues across the city host exhibitions, concerts, parades, fireworks, dancing and the impressive human towers. A programme is released each year with the different venues and events, with everything culminating in a huge fireworks display at Font Montjuic.
It’s big, it’s busy and it’s an amazing atmosphere.
When and where: Dates vary, but end of September, Barcelona.
– Festa Major de Gracia –
The Gracia neighbourhood of Barcelona comes to life between 15th – 21st August each year with the Festa Major de Gracia. The whole barrio takes part in the celebrations, which starts with some seriously impressive street decorations, and includes street parties, correfocs, music, drinks, food…everything Spanish festivals could have!
As a neighbourhood festival, there’s a real community feel to the celebrations here. Neighbours decorate the streets together, there are long tables in the street for people to enjoy a meal with lots of their neighbours, and there’s a real family friendly vibe. Visitors can’t take part in the neighbourhood dinners, but there’s lots of food, drink, music and fireworks as part of the street parties later in the evening.
When and where: 15th – 21st August, Barrio Gracia, Barcelona.
– Festival de los Patios –
Cordoba is one of the lesser explored cities in Spain, but that just adds to the charm of the cobble stone streets, Moorish architecture and pretty white buildings. Exploring the old town will often lead to finding a cute courtyard with plant pot-decorated walls. Come the first week of May, the usually private courtyards are home to the Festival de los Patios. Flowers of every colour fill the corners of the patios, the plant pots hanging on the wall are home to an array of colourful plants and it’s a feast for the eyes.
It’s free to explore, and the patios and courtyards are opened up for just a week for visitors to enjoy the flowers. The route changes each year as different people decide to take part, and ‘open hours’ are usually 11am-2pm and 6pm-10pm.
When and where: First week of May, Cordoba.
– Semana Santa –
Semana Santa is the week of Easter celebrations that showcases Spain’s religious side. Celebrations vary in size across the country, but one thing you can always expect is a lot of parades. Known as Holy Week in English, the celebrations start on Palm Sunday, a week before Easter Sunday, and recall Jesus’ last week before dying on the cross and resurrecting on Easter Sunday. You won’t find the street parties usually associated with Spanish festivals, but instead get a religious insight into Spain.
The parades are undertaken by different churches in the area, with the people of each church wearing a different colour gown or hood. Women dressed in mourning clothes will follow some processions, as well as floats depicting different religious icons or scenes. And the one thing you can’t miss – the drumming. A slow, steady beat leads the processions through the streets. It’s really interesting to watch, and definitely an experience. For the best Semana Santa celebrations, head to Andalucia.
When and where: Dates vary depending on Easter, but the week preceding Easter Sunday, nationwide.
– San Fermin –
The running of the bulls in the city of Pamplona is a festival known worldwide. It’s a 9-day long affair, with things kicking off on the first day with a huge party. Each day after that, early morning sees the brave runners line up to race ahead of the six bulls towards the bullring. A route is planned, streets barricaded to ensure the bulls keep their course and thousands line the streets – outside the barricades and running space – and fill the balconies to watch as the people race through the streets in their iconic white shirts and red scarves.
San Fermin is one of the more controversial festivals, as the bulls end their race in the bullring. Come afternoon, the bulls take part in bullfights and will be killed. Although bullfighting is steeped in Spanish history, it’s a controversial topic among tourists and Spaniards. If you’d rather not see the bulls suffer, then check out Boloencierro in Mataelpino, where a huge ball is rolled down the street for people to run from instead of the bulls.
When and where: 6th – 14th July, Pamplona.
Although there are countless more festivals across the country to explore, these are my top 8 to experience. Have you been to any Spanish festivals?