For 51 long weeks out of the year, the lot just adjacent to the port of Seville sits empty. But as springtime approaches, makeshift tents are slowly erected and paper lanterns strung up around the dozen streets named for bullfighters.
Ya huele a Feria, y olé, it’s time for Seville’s biggest fête.
Two weeks after the solemn floats of Holy Week have been stored in their churches, the Real de la Feria becomes a display of vibrant color, Andalusian horses and a dizzying, four-part dance. The Feria de Abril of Sevilla is six days filled to the brim with revelry and culture, wearing out both your feet and your bank account by its end.
What is the Feria de Abril?
Feria, as you might guess, means fair and that’s where this tradition gets its name – from the livestock fair that took place every spring in Sevilla. Of course, as the years went by it became less and less about the buying and selling of goods and more about seeing and being seen, eating, drinking and dancing.
In Sevilla the feria begins a fortnight after Easter and after the lights are turned off in the capital, ferias begin popping up all over Andalucía for nearly six months. If you wanted to, you could ring in the Feria season in Sevilla in mid-to late-April or May and party all the way to San Pedro de Alcántara in late October.
When is the Feria de Abril?
The fair traditionally begins on the third Monday after Resurrection Sunday. In 2014, the fair will fall in May. The alumbrado, or lighting of the main gate, is on Monday, May 5th and the closing fireworks take place at dusk on Sunday, May 11th.
The Language of the Feria de Abril
The Feria has a language all its own and to make the most of your time you should brush up on some essential vocab.
- Alumbrado – every feria has a main portada or entrance covered with close to 30,000 little light bulbs that are ceremoniously lit the night before the first full day of feria activity. Apart from the main gate, each street is lit with farolillos, or paper lanterns.
- Sevillanas – forget the Macarena, Sevillanas are what you need to know to really fit in at Feria. From teenagers to grandparents, (almost) everyone knows how to stomp and twirl to this traditional 4-part flamenco-style dance.
- Traje de flamenca – what better way to show off your dancing skills than in a traditional dress? They come in all colors and sizes (and price ranges!), but the most traditional ones call for lots of lunares and volantes [polkadots and puffy ruffeled sleeves]. You’ll also need a flower in your hair and an abanico [fan] to keep you cool. Here’s Cat’s guide to buying a flamenco dress and another for buying its accessories, called complementos. Though trajes aren’t required, be sure to look smart, as the dress code can be quite strict in tents.
- Rebujito – a mixture of Fino or Manzanilla sherry with Sprite and ice. You buy it by the jarra [pitcher] and share with friends. Just be careful – it’s potent! The tents will also offer soft drinks, beer, sherry and plates of food, and there are churros stands lining the perimeter – it’s hard to go hungry at the fair!
- Caseta – the tents, which are set up to house all the fun. However, don’t let the name fool you, these provisional bars have a full kitchen, dance floors, bathrooms and if you’re lucky even air-conditioning. Remember that the vast majority in Seville are private, so you won’t be able to get in if you don’t know anyone. Low on contacts in Sevilla? We’d recommend trying other Ferias later in the season where most casetas are open to the public.
- Calle del Infierno – or ‘Hell Street’ is really just a small amusement park with roller coasters, Ferris wheels and a host of carnival games. It’s always fun to stroll through and take a spin on one of the rides, and the food here is far cheaper than in the casetas!
Aside from the drinking and dancing, Feria season also kicks off the bullfighting calendar in southern Spain, with daily bullfights at the Maestranza in Seville. You can find the official schedule for the 2014 season here.
Making the most of the fair
The city of Seville usually takes one or two days as an official holiday, meaning the fairgrounds are packed for weekends. The fair has two different sides – daytime and its horse carriage processions, and the nighttime, when casetas blast sevillanas and the rebujito flows. We suggest you see the fair in both ambiences (and grab some buñuelos when you’re about to head home!).
The city of Seville’s tourism office has a great mobile application with maps, caseta names, and other information about the city and its history that’s available for free download on the Google App store. What’s more, the city runs tours in English and German around the Real that last about 45 minutes with a drink at the end. Drop by the information kiosk under the main gate for times and prices.
Try and skip the taxi line if you can – not only is it long at night, but fares skyrocket during this week. Instead, the city bus system runs a direct bus from the Prado de San Sebastián straight to the portada until 6am. The cost is 1,60 per ride or 1,50 if you have a city bus pass. You can check the times on their website.
There’s no fee to enter the fairgrounds, so if you want to take pictures during the day of the horses, dresses and ambience, grab some comfortable shoes and go! The city of Seville hosts public casetas that are free to enter, and you can get a taste of the fair here. Be sure to stop by the public information kiosk for a map, a paper fan and information about where to find public casetas.
Not for you?
Unfortunately, Seville is a city where classism is alive and well. You can’t just roll up to any caseta and walk in unless you’re invited, which makes the fair difficult to enjoy if you don’t know anyone or want to see it from a local’s perspective. Plenty of people aren’t into Seville’s fair, but do prefer them in smaller towns where there’s more variety in music, food and access. We recommend the fairs in Jerez, El Puerto de Santa María and Córdoba as an alternative .
The Feria de Abril is what you make of it – go, have fun, be safe and enjoy yourself! And if you can’t make it to this year’s fair, be sure to check out the ferias in other cities around Andalucía!