9 Months of Can’t-Miss Barcelona Festivals
PHOTO: La Merce festival gegants. (Photos by Will Hatton)
Barcelona is quite literally a city that never sleeps. All day, every day, excited visitors and locals pile onto the trains, into the parks, onto the beaches. From sundown to sunrise the young and the not-so-young, people from near and far, take to the city’s many terraces and squares to eat, drink and play. Deservedly, the Catalan capital has made a name for itself as a must-visit destination — but when’s the best time to go? Here’s a lowdown on just a few of the annual events that locals and visitors alike love to get involved in:
January: La Cavalcada dels Reis Mags (Three Kings Parade)
Really a holiday for children, but who doesn’t love getting sweets tossed at them from a decked out float? Per tradition, the Three Kings of the Orient went to Bethlehem on January 5 and handed out presents to children on their way back. Now, children in Spain write letters to the Kings asking for presents.
Every year on the evening of the 5th, there is a huge parade down Via Laietana, featuring beautiful themed floats, music and, most importantly, the Kings and their cohorts throwing tons of candy for the children (or whoever can catch it first).
February: Sitges Carnival
A small, lively beach town a short train ride away from Barcelona, and the heart of Catalunya’s homosexual community, Sitges steals the limelight for having the region’s best carnival celebrations. Expect a week of exuberant residents and flamboyant (slightly debauched) parades.
Don’t forget to get creative with a costume — everyone else does! By night, the little streets and the beachfront fill with dancing and merriment.
If you’re looking for a more family-friendly carnival activity, check out the burial of the sardine. Symbolizing the beginning of Lent, a large fake sardine is buried on the beach on Ash Wednesday, and you’ll find lots of cute stalls offering your final pre-abstinence omega-three intake.
March(ish): La Calcotada
A practice repeated throughout the spring of calcot season (usually November-April), a calcotada is basically a celebration of large spring onions dipped in romesco sauce. There are special parties all over Catalunya where calcots are barbecued, the outer layer is removed, the tip dipped, and the whole messy, slippery thing lowered vertically into the mouth. Ideally, with precision. Wine and much hilarity are, necessarily, included.
April: Diada de Sant Jordi
Catalunya’s answer to Valentine’s Day, Sant Jordi celebrates the legend of St. George killing a dragon to save a princess, then presenting her with a rose. Traditionally, on the April 23 every year, women receive roses and men books. All notions of sexism aside, it’s beautiful to see the city explode into mass book and flower stalls.
May/June: Primavera Sound
Held pretty much right on the Balearic Sea, Primavera is one of Spain’s largest music festivals, usually taking place over three days in late May or early June. You will find a line-up to suit anyone and everyone, from electronic to hip hop to rock, with mainstream and independent, domestic and international artists gracing the stage. Alumni include Arcade Fire, Armand van Helden, The Cure and Kendrick Lamar.
An enormous, three-day, two-night festival in the middle of June, Sonar is a firm favorite among the 20-something party crowd that merges electronic and progressive music with pioneering audio-visual technology. Showcasing such famous names as The Chemical Brothers, Skrillex and Duran Duran, it’s no surprise that Sonar is engraved into thousands of diaries in Barcelona and beyond. Book tickets and accommodation well in advance, because this festival attracts tens of thousands.
From sunset on June 23 to sunrise on the 24th, Sant Joan is Barcelona’s summer solstice celebration, and there is absolutely no way to escape it — so you may as well join it. Groups of families and friends gather together all over the city to revel with bonfires and very noisy firecrackers. So understand, if your plans are to sleep, you’re going to have to change them. One of the most popular/fun places to celebrate is along the city beach, with friends, music and alcoholic beverages.
PHOTO: A casteller human tower team.
June-August: Festas Majors (Neighborhood Parties)
Throughout the summer, many of Barcelona’s neighborhoods organize their own weekend street parties (all on different weekends, for maximum fun) known as the “festa major.” The main parties happen in Barceloneta, Raval, Poble Sec, Sants and Gracia, and are all great events for not only that neighborhood, but for anyone who wants to join in.
Some have parades and others have long tables lining the streets for neighborhood dinners. All have live music and dancing in the streets until the small hours. In Gracia (the biggest festa major, held in August), every participating street chooses a theme and the residents cover it with stunning decorations with the hope of winning the prize for best dressed street!
June-September: Piknic Electronik
Every Sunday from late June to mid-September, a section of the pretty hill Mont Juic is given over to this daytime electronic festival. Beginning in the early afternoon and lasting into the night, Piknic is an unusually versatile event and one of the coolest ways to spend your weekend. If you want to relax under a tree with your friends and an actual picnic, you can. If you want to rave the afternoon away to some great music, you can do that too. They even have a section for kids in an adjacent field!
September: La Merce
Celebrating Barcelona’s patron saint and lasting a week (the official holiday being September 24), La Merce is Barcelona’s ultimate outdoor festival and it comprises absolutely everything, including a cheese and wine festival, traditional sardana dances, live music, a street food festival, and light shows.
The highlights, however, are seeing the gegants (enormous, paper-mache sculptures of people and creatures which are paraded around the city), the castellers (teams from different localities competing against each other to form intricate human towers, always with a helmeted small child at the top), and the correfoc.
Literally translating as “fire run,” the correfoc does what it says on the tin, and then some: people dressed as demons and dragons spend a night running down Via Laeitana throwing fire into the road, while the braver spectators jump from the pavements and dance in it. Somewhat surprisingly, this practice tends to result neither in pain nor in flaming humans, but is exhilarating, original and loads of fun — a must-do of La Merce!
More by Will Hatton
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