Barcelona Culture, Fiestas & Gastronomy
Being a modern, advanced city with a very strong personality, Barcelona is hugely attached to tradition and long standing customs. No aspect illustrates this better than Barcelona’s festival schedule. It is packed full of events which leave us spoiled for choice. This is especially true during the summer months when each district celebrates its identity with individual festivals like the Festa Major de Gràcia, as well as the city-wide events which take place such as La Mercé. Indeed Barcelona ticks all of the boxes with its variety of celebrations.
Barcelona Public Holidays:
January 1st - Año Nuevo (New Year’s Day)
January 6th - Epifanía (Epiphany).
March 19th - Dia de San José (St Joseph’s Day).
Easter - Jueves Santo (Maundy Thursday).
Easter – Viernes Santo (Good Friday).
May 1st - Fiesta del Trabajo (Labour Day).
August 15th - La Asunción (Feast of the Assumption).
September 11th - Catalunya National Day
September 24th - La Mercé - Barcelona's Patron Saint Day.
October 12th - Nacional de España (National Day).
November 1st - Todos los Santos (All Saints' Day).
December 6th - Dia de la Constitución (Constitution Day).
December 8th - La Inmaculada Concepción (Feast of the Immaculate Conception).
December 25th - Navidad (Christmas Day).
Regional and District Fiestas
Festa Major de Gracia
The most famous district festival in Barcelona is the Festa Major de Gracia. Almost every district in the city has one at some point in the year, yet Gràcia's is particularly special. Locals in this district are very precious over the place they live and the saying 'I’m not from Barcelona, I’m from Gràcia' is particularly clear during the festival. This is by no means suggesting that outsiders are not welcome however, far from it in fact! The district opens its doors to everyone to come and celebrate tradition with them and if you are in town around August, you should take up that offer.
For just over one week, the streets of Gracia are packed out with people enjoying the various displays, hanging objects and lanterns which decorate the avenues and walkways. Of course the cerveza and sangria are flowing as the three main plazas in the district become guerrilla concert venues with live music and bands performing for the festival goers. The Festa Major de Gracia really does celebrate with a fantastic carnivalesque vibe.
Sants Festa Major
The Sants Festa Major is another great example of Barcelona’s district festivals. Taking place towards the end of august in and around ‘Carrer de Sants’ close to Montjuic, the atmosphere really gets going when the sun goes down and the streets host their own parties, games activities, parades and costumed dances.
Our personal favourites from this festival in 2010 were the "Butifarra contest" where the challenge is to literally eat as many sausages as you can, and also the less glutinous "Castellers" display which saw the performers form ‘human towers’.
Festa Major de la Dreta de l'Eixample
(Festival of the Eixample – Right)
The end of May witnesses the Festival of the Dreta de l’Eixample which provides an array of activities to enjoy. Between the streets of Gerona and Diagonal Aragó, a mass of stalls and entertainment come to feature in this celebration of prosperity and modernism. Throughout the festival, l’Eixample organises some 60 different activities including exhibitions, competitions, demonstrations and even a car-show displaying a range of vintage automobiles. There is something for everyone at this festival and locals and visitors are encouraged to celebrate the modernist and traditional aspects of Catalan culture.
Festa Major de Sant Roque
Taking place in the ‘Old City’ or the 'Barri Gòtic' to be precise is Festa Major de Sant Roque. In the perfect location for the enjoyment of Barcelona’s tourists, this is actually one of the oldest festivals in Barcelona. Indeed since the 1600’s, the Barri Gòtic has come to life once a year in celebration of San Roque who was said to liberate the area from the plague in 1607. During the festival, there are processions, traditional games and musical parades all typical of a traditional Catalan festival. Certainly one of the most unique celebrations in the city, the Festa Major de Sant Roque is not to be missed if you get the opportunity.
Festa de la Mercé
La Mercé is the celebration of Barcelona's patroness ‘La Mare de Déu de la Mercé’ (The Lady of Mercy). Long established as one of Barcelona’s biggest and arguably best annual festivals, La Mercé lasts for an entire week with over 600 different cultural events taking place! As well as paying homage to the Lady of Mercy, La Mercé also signals the end of summer as the autumnal months roll in. The list of attractions on offer at La Mercé are seemingly innumerable with music, film, food, dancing, sport and many other things being celebrated simultaneously. The streets are packed out and spirits are sky high for this magical experience. On the last night of La Mercé be sure to head towards Montjuïc and Plaça d'Espanya to witness the incredible firework finale.
This is the Spanish celebration of Saint John the Baptist and also the event which marks the long awaited beginning of summer! This is one a really big deal for Barcelona and by far and away the most energetic street festival. The event takes place on June 23rd and the following day of the 24th is a public holiday so the locals take the celebrations through the night without any hesitation.
Due to the festival being a celebration of the solar calendar and fire, what better way to celebrate than with fireworks? They are everywhere and set the sky ablaze with colour and noise as the drinks flow and the dancing begins. Fireworks hold a strong position in most of Catalunya’s festivals and each district will have its own display during Sant Joan but typically the party atmosphere is at its best on one of the city’s beaches.
In keeping with a celebration of the elements, water is another major feature of the celebrations at Sant Joan and in keeping with religious tradition, you are encouraged to take a swim in order to cleanse your spirit as well as your body from any pain, symbolising the baptisms of Saint John.
For Sant Joan, to quote a famous singer; "Everyone you meet will be dancing in the street all night long!" That’s right, the sun will come up around 6am and everyone is expected to be there to greet it. Perhaps a couple of coffees with your sangria to keep you going!
this is a large celebration which is still growing in its magnitude year by year. Similarly to other Spanish communities, Barcelona celebrates the important religious event of lent by 'going for it' one last time before giving up on one of life’s vices. Basically that is an excuse to eat, drink and get merry with all of your friends. Its as good an excuse as any right? Here you can witness an array of fancy dress, drag queens, float parades, confetti, dancing, singing and partying before of course, you guessed it, the firework finale!
On the Thursday of the festival known as Jueves Lardero (Fat Thursday), many competitions take place with one thing in mind… eating. The chef’s and wannabe’s alike bring their kitchens to life in order to create some local specialties which include tortilla (A traditional omelette) and Crema Catalana (A devilishly sweet dessert).
Dia de Sant Jordi
(Saint Georges Day)
Dia de Sant Jordi is celebrated with a lot more swagger in Barcelona than other places around the world who share the Patron Saint. Of course English heritage itself claims the hero was indeed the protector of people from Dragons in the British Isles, yet Saint George also worked his way across to Catalunya to protect the good people from similar troubles. For that reason he is celebrated in Barcelona on a day which witnesses streets all over the city turn into guerrilla book stores and florists. Why book stores and florists? Well this is because the men by tradition, give the women in their lives a rose (typically red) and the women likewise, buy their men a book in celebration of Miguel Cervantes’ life, who died on the same day.
Certainly, Dia de Sant Jordi is one of the prettier celebrations given the overwhelming presence of flowers and its emphasis on the loved ones in your life. Las Ramblas and Passeig de Gracia are a great place to visit at this time of year.
(Mid-June to early August)
Potentially the most ’sophisticated‘ of Barcelona’s big, annual festivals is the Grec Festival which takes place in the most prestigious venues and theatres around the city. Each year, Grec invites a host of world-class acts from the spheres of Dance, theatre and music to come and perform for the ever-appreciative audiences. If you are a fan of the arts, you are going to love the Grec events and most significantly, increasing amounts of the entertainment are being delivered in English.
Benicàssim International Festival
Ok… so we are cheating a little bit with this one, Benicàssim is not technically in Barcelona, however it is very close and you would at least require the use of Barcelona El Prat airport to get there from abroad. Working on that logic, allow us to introduce Spain’s premier International Music Festival; Benicàssim. It is to Spain what Glastonbury is to England and what Woodstock is to the USA. Over the years the Festival has provided performances from some of the world’s most famous bands including Oasis, Radiohead, The Stone Roses, The Strokes, Depeche Mode, Placebo and Morrissey.
Many revellers from around the world flock to this festival each year in order to enjoy the rock atmosphere in the beautiful Mediterranean sunshine before heading in to the ’Dance‘ tent to party the nights away. Swap the wellies for some flip-flops and a bottle of sunscreen, then get yourself down to 'Beni' for the party week of your life.
This is one of the biggest and most respected events on the world-dance and electro music scene. Earning its reputation slowly over the years, Sónar now has festivals in Barcelona, A Coruña and Chicago with scope to grow even further for the masses. With headliners like the Chemical Brothers, LCD Soundsystem and Dizzie Rascal it is no wonder why the festivals popularity is ever-growing. Tickets can get quite expensive but fret not, if you do not fancy splashing out on a ticket, the bars and clubs around Barcelona also hold events to coincide with Sónar and the unofficial dance parties are all a great night out.
Gandules Film Season
Organised by the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (Centre for Contemporary Culture), or CCCB, the Gandules Film Season runs throughout August as an open air cinema which shows classic contemporary movies. Each year provides a different theme and the films shown are concurrent with this. Gandules provides four movies per week starting at 22:00 so after a nice meal, head up to CCCB courtyard in El Raval, near Plaça Catalunya with a blanket and some sweeties to enjoy a great film. All movies are shown in their original language, whether it is English, Catalan or German for example, yet subtitles are provided.
Formula One Spanish Grand Prix
An event with world-wide appeal is the Formula One Spanish Grand Prix. Held right here on our doorstep at the Circuit de Catalunya, the F1 guys come racing into town bringing the full furore of motor racing with them. With the full three day long parade of the world’s most expensive racing event including checks, qualifications and the big race, you can be assured of a good time. Michael Schumacher certainly enjoys Catalunya; he holds the record for the most victories here in F1 with an impressive total of 6.
Typical Catalan cuisine is essentially a gastronomic twist on the famous Mediterranean diet. This is combination of fresh, healthy and light foods which are served as a small dish or as part of a larger, complex recipe. Vegetables play a huge role in most traditional Catalan fare and indeed the importance of such ingredients to Catalan gastronomy result in them being celebrated in most of Catalunya’s festivals. For example at Sant Joan, it is traditional to have Sardinas a la Brasa which are Sardines barbequed with lemon. Whichever festival you choose to visit, you can be sure that the ‘taste’ of that area will be represented to the fullest.
Some foods even have their own special festivals, for example Calçots which are a highly typical vegetable of Catalunya. A Calçot is a little bit like a spring onion crossed with a leek which is customarily put on a ‘brasa’ (Barbeque) and later dipped in a rich sauce before being "necked" quite literally. Do not be surprised when you see the locals dropping the entire Calçot into their mouths, this is not the sign of a glutton but moreover the traditional way to go about eating them. The Catalan activity of ‘Calçotadas’ happens during the winter months with friends and families all gathering around the barbeque for a get-together with the Calçots as the centrepiece to the evening. The restaurants and bars also make the most of Calçots season by serving them up in huge numbers all over the city.
There is also the celebration of Catalunyan viticulture in September at the Catalan Cava and Wine Show. This is a favourite among guests of the city who are invited to sample some of the fine wines produced in the region. With the Penedés region right on Barcelona’s doorstep. The quality of local wine is exemplary and includes some of Europe’s most famous cava’s. Located down at Barcelona’s old port at the end of September and coinciding with La Mercé festival, the Catalan Wine and Cava show is well worth stopping by for any budding wine connoisseurs.
La Catedral de la Santa Creu i...
"Drac" in front of the Boqueri...
The Eixample district
The best paella on the beach -...
Beach at the Villa Olímpica
"One of the great things about travel is that you find out how many good, kind people there are " - Edith Wharton