The world is full of crazy cultural festivals where you see things you’ve never seen before. Spanish festivals are no exception. Unique and memorable events are scattered around the country throughout the year, paying homage to Spain’s traditions and heritage. Here’s the four must-sees:
1. Las Fallas
This Spanish festival takes place in Valencia and is the number one recommendation. Every 15th-19th March, the city literally explodes with fire as the incredible ninots are set alight in the streets at the finale, known as the cremà. In the weeks leading up to the festival, the large-scale papier mâché sculptures are displayed around the city, showcasing the hard work and creativity of each neighbourhood’s fallas building team. Each differs in theme, structure, size, colour etc, making it a huge touristic attraction for people from all around the world.
Be careful not to become too transfixed by the ninots though, or you’ll forget to watch out for the numerous firecrackers being thrown around the streets! This festivity is the height of a health and safety hazard, which would never be possible in the UK, with firecrackers exploding inches from people’s feet every second of the day and night, suffocating crowds at the daily mascletàs and of course, the gigantic street fires just metres away from buildings at the highly anticipated cremà.
You’ll never experience such an abundance of noise anywhere else – the deep, earthquake like boom of the mascletàs can be heard far out of the city, and the smoke produced seen in the distance on a clear day. If that’s not enough to keep you entertained, there are various ninot competitions to keep track of; as well as traditional Spanish parades, such as the offering of the flowers; street parties; firework displays; and the heavenly Agua de Valenica (don’t be fooled, this famous Fallas drink is definitely not water based…). If you arrive in advance, you can also take advantage of the ninot museum.
2. Semana Santa
Semana Santa has to be the most renowned of all Spanish festivals, celebrated in every corner of this Catholic country. If you want to experience it for its religious roots, head to Seville for Easter week where this authentically Spanish city swarms with eerily slow moving nazarenos (cone-shaped hoods) from a multitude of brotherhoods. Day or night, there’s always a procession to catch, with a unique history attached to it for you to discover.
Despite its religious origin, in many locations around Spain, the most celebrated festivity of the year has become more of a fiesta. For a unique, rivalry charged atmosphere, travel to the city of Lorca in the region of Murcia. But be prepared to pick a side. The two main brotherhoods here are known as Los Azules (The Blues), and Los Blancos (The Whites), and each side sells separate tickets for the main two Easter parades so that The Whites are one side of the road, and The Blues the other.
The parades themselves are full of energy and passion, from both the participants and the crowds, with corresponding coloured handkerchiefs being waved, chants being shouted, and horse stunts being performed. It’s so exciting that you don’t know where to look – at the extravagant floats, the wonderful costumes, or the 6 horse racing chariots – you feel as if you’ve travelled back in time. A once in a lifetime experience.
Although this Spanish festival is supposedly celebrated in various parts of Spain throughout March, the prime location is the small town of Águilas in the south. Throughout the festival, this pretty seaside town comes alive with cultural events and competitions, before the main party weekend arrives. The most prominent aspect of this Spanish festival is the obligatory fancy dress. Everyone gets creative and turns up in the craziest of costumes, from magnificent crossdressers, to TV characters, to animals, you name it, you’ll find it at Carnaval. You’ll need plenty of the famous festival drink, cuerva (a lethal mix of alcohol disguised by a fruity taste), to get you through the six-hour dance parade, but fear not, as the street parties are also in full swing.
This festival may not be uniquely Spanish, but Barcelona Pride is one of the best in the world, proving that the Spanish really do know how to throw a good party. With Barcelona being the LBGT hub that it is, the streets are rainbow-fied over this feel-good summer weekend, not a bad vibe on the gaydar. Music-pumping floats parade down to Plaza de España, with dancers thriving on the enthusiasm of the following crowd. Everyone is colourful. Everyone is happy. Everyone is equal. Pride is an unmissable event purely for the greatest sense of community and love for humanity you’ll ever feel in one place.