Ten Festivals You Can’t Miss in Spain, Part Two

Spain has long been known as the place for siesta and fiesta. Whether you’re studying or traveling around Iberia or considering making it your long-term home, the heart and soul of the country is in its festivals. We’ve already told you five of our favorites through the first half of the year in an earlier post. Here are five more mega-parties for the rest of the summer in Spain. Our advice? Book early and let loose!

La Noche de San Juan – throughout Spain – June 24th

COMO Consulting_Noche de San Juan

Spain’s Celtic origins lend well to the celebration of La Noche de San Juan, whose roots are believed to be pagan. Fires burn late into the night all over Spain on June 23, signaling the summer solstice and asking the sun to burn more brightly in summer months.

The Night of Saint John coincides with the saint’s feast day on June 24, and revelers participate all over Spain by lighting enormous bonfires, called hogueras, and throwing relics from the past year or even wishes into the flames the evening before his feast day.

Legend states that you must jump over the fire, and then look into the water, where you will see the face of your future spouse. In other places in Spain, revelers sometimes bathe in the waters as a sort of rebirth.

San Juan also signals the end of exams for many university students, and festivities in these cities reach a fever pitch of drinking, fire jumping and book burning. In other cities, concerts are held and food tents erected.

San Fermines (Running of the Bulls) – Pamplona – July 6th to 14th, 2014

COMO Consulting_san fermines

Immortalized by Hemingway in ‘The Sun Also Rises,’ Pamplona is a quaint Basque city in Northern Navarre 51 weeks out of the year. However, when early July rolls around, this quiet town becomes the epicenter of debauchery.

The festival officially begins on July 7, the saint’s feast day, with a daily tradition: las corridas. This slick, uphill race through the city center towards the bullring pits man versus beast: six bulls are released into the street promptly at 8am while hundreds, dressed in white with red scarves, run in front of them to the bullring. There is a bullfight each afternoon, and some of Spain and Southern France’s biggest names take part.

For the faint of heart, there’s no need to tempt fate – spectators far outnumber those brave enough to run. You can also check out the parades of the Cabezas Gigantes, larger-than-life puppets meant to represent famous rulers and world leaders, or watch the nightly fireworks display.

The San Fermines are an extremely popular touristic event, so it’s wise to book your accommodation early or face sleeping in the street or in a nearby town.

La Tomatina – Buñol (Valencia) –August 27th, 2014

COMO_La Tomatina Festival in Spain

One of the most widely known festivals in Iberia consists of revelers throwing tomatoes at one another. The sleepy town of Buñol, less than an hour from bustling Valencia, hosts an epic food fight on the last Wednesday of each August, turning the streets into a battlefield, stained bright red with tomato pulp and water.

Originally started as a protest against local government officials, the festival attracts about 20,000 partygoers each year. More than 40,000 overripe tomatoes are transported in from other parts of Spain, and for one hour, trucks laden with the red fruit drive through the Plaza del Pueblo, the main square, unloading them for revelers to throw.

Our tip – bring goggles and clothes that you’re okay parting with. Locals will safely store your bag in their homes for a few euros, and you’ll want a fresh change of clothes for the after party.

In 2013, the local government began charging a 10€ entrance fee for security matters, but it’s a small price to pay for one of Spain’s most famous fiestas.

Semana Grande – Bilbao – August 15th to 24th, 2014

COMO Consulting_Semana Grande Bilbao

A relative newbie on the party scene, Bilbao’s music festival which also coincides with the Assumption day on August 15, has only been around since 1978. Dreamt up as a way to unify the city in the aftermath of the fall of Dictator Francisco Franco, the festival has little root in history or tradition, and more to do with what Spain does best: eating, drinking and making merry.

The biggest draw to the Semana Grande, called Aste Nagusia in regional tongue, is the concert series, which has attracted both national and international acts. There are also numerous cultural activities, fireworks and parades.

Perhaps the quirkiest tradition during the Big Week is the master of ceremonies, a fictional woman called Marijaia. Once the party has been kicked off by the txupinazo fireworks, Marijaia calls for locals and spectators to commence the party. Sadly, she meets an untimely death when she’s burned, at week’s end, in front of the Arriaga theatre.

The Mercè – Barcelona –  September 22nd to 24th, 2014

COMO_Merce Barcelona

As with many of the other festivals mentioned above, Barcelona’s big feast pays homage to a saint, in this care the Virgin of Grace. This festival has been raging since the late 17th century and has all the hallmarks of Catalonian culture: human castles called castells, the sardana dance and the correfoc fireworks parade.

According to legend, the city was once under a siege of locusts and in order to rid the pesky pests local counsels prayed to the virgin so that the city might be saved. In honor of their salvation the Virgen de Gracia was named patroness of Barcelona, and the city has since celebrated La Mercè or The Mercy on her saint day, September 24th.

One of the highlights of La Mercè are the giant paper-mâché figures that parade down the street, called gegants i capgrossos. Popular all over Spain, those in the Mercè often represent royalty and counselors from the ancient Catalonian kingdom.

It’s rare to find a region that isn’t celebrating something in Spain, be it food or a saint or a historical figure. Our tip – pick your favorite, book your travel and take a chance on rubbing elbows with locals and get a glimpse into Spanish life and culture. 

Author: Como Consulting Spain

Cat and Hayley are relocation specialists who can help you move to, live in and work in Spain. We'd love to hear from you! hola@comoconsultingspain.com

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    • Hola Terry! A lot of Spanish festivals are deep-rooted in legends and Pagan rituals, just revamped for 21st century safety standards! The worst part about the Tomatina is that there aren’t any bathrooms on-site, and the Mercè is tame, so long as you’re not too close to the sparks!

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    • Cat went last year. Messy, stinky fun, and probably something you should try at least once! Just wait till your little one gets older, and take him! She saw loads of kids there.

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  1. I’m fresh off the excitement of this year’s San Fermin and to describe it with words just does not do the fiesta justice. It is a MUST SEE in order to fully appreciate it. Plus, I live in Pamplona, and the rest of the year here is the complete opposite of the environment you find during San Fermin.

    San Juan fiesta in Pamplona seems to be more for children, with small fires around the city for them to jump over. I did, however, see giant haystacks ready for burning, the week before when I was visiting Bilbao. I imagine it was more spectacular there. I have been to several Semana Grandes in different cities, but have not made it to the one in Bilbao, which I hear is amazing. The one I went to in Santander was really nice, but I would say it was more geared toward families than partying.

    And, I have my ticket in hand to check out this year’s Tomatina, and I’m super excited!
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