When visiting Barcelona on vacation or on business, it is useful to know of the major events that take place in the city each month. Here is a general calendar of events in Barcelona on a monthly basis, and how you can book or get to the event of your choice.
In January the main event in Barcelona is El Dia de los Reyes - the Three Kings Day. This celebrates the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus, and takes place on the 5th of January eve each year, the day before Epiphany (12th Night). This is a popular tradition in Spain, and in Barcelona it is celebrated at sea. The crowds gather at the harbour off the Moll de la Fusta, and when the Wise Men’s boat is spotted, fireworks are let off and the foghorns start blowing from the boats in the harbour. There is then a procession led by the mayor, from the Moll de la Fusta through the city centre to Montjuic, where the fountain is floodlit and specially written classical music is performed. It’s a fabulous spectacle and a must for any tourists in Barcelona at that time.
The Wise Men throw sweets for the children who traditionally receive their Christmas presents on this day.
The Moll de la Fusta runs along Barcelona’s main harbour waterfront. For details go to the Central Tourist Office at Plaza de Cataluña (telephone +34 93 285 3834). There is also a tourist office at Terminal A of Barcelona Airport.
The outstanding event throughout Spain during February is the Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) season, the days leading up to Lent. This 10-days pre-Lent carnival takes place all over the city with processions, dancing, street markets and concerts. Though compared to other parts of Spain, Carnaval in Barcelona is a low key event. You are likely to see market stalls owners dressed up in some funny costumes, so buying the fish in the market during the days of carnival may be an exciting experience.
The street celebration on the Saturday is known as the Gran Rue de Carnaval, or just ‘Carnaval’. Don’t miss it, although by far the most exciting Carnaval takes place in Sitges, a Bohemian resort named the ‘Gay Capital of Europe’. Whether you are gay or not this is worth visiting, and with parades given the names ‘Debauchery Parade’ and ‘Extermination Parade’ you know you are going to get your eyes opened wide!
MARCH - APRIL
Setmana Santa (Holy Week) is the Easter celebration in Spain. Barcelona offers you a number of events including traditional Catalan music and dancing. Chocolate Easter eggs are popular and the kids will love a trip to Barcelona’s Chocolate Museum.
A number of religious processions held on Palm Sunday and throughout the week leading up to Good Friday. On Palm Sunday palm leaves are blessed in churches and the traditional Easter cake mona is eaten on Easter Monday.
Churches around Barcelona participate but the major processions take place in Barri Gotic.
St. George’s Day is on April 23rd, also, known as Diada de Sant Jordi who is the Patron Saint of Catalonia. This is the most romantic day in Barcelona for young lovers, when men give women roses and the women give their men a book in exchange; although nowadays in the interest of gender equality many men give women a book also. As a consequence book- and rose-sellers will be out and about in the city. Las Ramblas is the best place to find the bookstalls for your lover.
In Barcelona, as in many other cities and countries, May Day (1st May) is a day of marching by trades unionists. If you go to the Carrer de l’Hospital in the Fira de Sant Ponç you find stalls selling herbs, health foods and natural remedies in the street at this time.
Corpus Christi is also in May, but sometimes in June, and in Barcelona if you go to some of the city’s fountains, you should find hollowed out eggs dancing at the top of the spout. This is known as l’ou com balla, or the ‘dancing egg’. The eggs should be white, with the shell representing the body of Christ, and the water his resurrection. If the shell doesn’t break it means good luck until next year. See this beautiful tradition at the Catedral de la Seu.
The Verbena de Sant Joan is celebrated on 23rd June as the midsummer solstice (though the actual solstice varies). Bonfires are lit in the streets and the parties start in the evening with drinking, dancing, fireworks and coca - this is a special cake baked for this celebration.
There is also a tradition to have the first dip in the sea at the dawn.
Sonar is festival of music and dance held in June, and is the world’s premier festival of electronic music and audiovisual art. It is techno-music at its best, and its sole aim is to encourage freedom of music no matter how it is produced. In 2010, this will be held from 17th - 19th June though many events will straddle these official dates. Tickets are on sale now. For details contact email@example.com
El Grec is a music and theatre festival that takes place each year on Montjuic Hill - in the amphitheatre close to the Olympic Stadium. It is named El Grec after the Grecian design of the amphitheatre. It offers a wide range of entertainment each year, previous years offering stars such as Craig David, Joss Stone and Brian Wilson. There is something new each year and the dates for 2010 have yet to be announced so you cannot book them yet.
The Festa Major celebrations in Gràcia are renowned all over the city. This celebration on 15th August marks the Feast of the Assumption, and the streets are filled with floats, decorations, music and lots more. The ‘Castellers‘ form human pyramids, and the ‘devils’ roam the streets with fireworks. There is lots of street entertainment, and the Catalans generally do what they do best: enjoy themselves and entertain others. There are games, orchestras, theatre shows, dances and anything else you want. This is Barcelona’s top festival, so be there to enjoy the 600+ events.
La Diada de Cataluña is the national day of Catalonia. This is September 11th, the date that Barcelona was besieged during the War of the Spanish Succession in 1714, and effectively celebrates the autonomy of Catalonia. This is a day of independence, with demonstrations and wreath-laying, and of great interest to those wanting to understand the Catalan view of independence. The people fly their flags and dance in the streets.
Though it is rather a serious day by comparison to other festivals and you are likely to see political demonstrations.
La Mercè gives honour to La Mercè, Our Lady of Mercy, who is the patron Saint of Barcelona. The traditional castellers and giants walk the streets, along with all the other traditional entertainments provided during the Festa Major. Concerts of all types of music and traditional dances take place, and fireworks and a final night involving dragons and the ‘correfoc‘ or fire run, with people running around carrying lighted fireworks and ’sparklers’. It is one of the best festivals in the city.
Dia de la Hispanitat is the main national event in October: it is held on October 12th, Spain’s national day celebrating the date on which Christopher Columbus is believed to have discovered the ‘New World’. Because of the nationalistic feeling of the people of Catalonia, it is no surprise that this national holiday is not celebrated to the same extent as in Madrid or any other city outside Catalonia. You will find the occasional celebration, but you will also find a number of demonstrations. Catalonia and Spain are a bit akin to Scotland and the UK.
All Saints Day is the day after Halloween, and celebrated in Barcelona as a day when we remember our dead. The people of Barcelona visit the cementery to lay flowers to the graves of their loved ones and pay their respects, and then will traditionally eat castanyes (roast chestnuts), boniatos - sweet potatoes and panellets - marzipan cakes made from potato, almonds, pine nuts and sugar). Munch these with some sweet white wine, Muscatel is traditional, and you are in heaven!
Nadal - Christmas: as in all other Christian countries, there is only one great festival in December. It starts at the beginning of the month when stalls are set up in areas such as Fira de Santa Llúcia around Barcelona Cathedral in the Plaza de la Seu in the Barri Gotico - the Gothic Quarter. This is one of Spain’s most famous Christmas markets, and goes on until 23rd December. It is a wonderful exhibition of decorations, trees, gifts, figurines and nativity dioramas (pessebre).
If you are in Barcelona at Christmas you are likely staying with friends or relatives, or on an arranged tour. Make sure to pay a visit to the Cathedral and get some Christmas shopping done - it’s a fabulous experience, even if you purchase nothing.
San Juan (Sant Joan in Catalan) plays a very important role within the festive calendar of Barcelona. In English the exact name for the festival is the festival of John the Baptist. The Catalans have various names for the festival including La revetlla de Sant Joan , Verbenas de Sant Joan which indicates it´s an open air festival or Nit de Sant Joan which simply translated is the night of Saint John. This great festival is celebrated in Barcelona every year on the 23rd June.
The festival Saint John comemerates the start of the summer solstice, the longest day of the year with the most sun light. Its origins are deeply rooted in pagan tradition where fire and water are the 2 most significant elements associated with Sant Joan.
The whole of Catalonia will be full of bonfires and fireworks. One of the traditions states that if you burn something on Sant Joan you will purify your soul, expurgate your sins and cast aside your bad luck. Other traditions include jumping over a bonfire with your loved one to ensure everlasting love or writing 3 wishes on a piece of paper and throwing the paper in the fire. I personally don’t recommend jumping over any bonfire even for loves sake.
Each area of Barcelona has its own fireworks display but the biggest display is by the waterfront, next to the Colon Statue at the bottom of Las Ramblas. Also be aware of the fire crackers and especially the kids throwing them! They really don’t seem to worry about throwing them in any direction so keep your distance. They can be dangerous and getting burnt will definitely spoil your party.
As the festival is in honor of John the Baptist, water features quite strongly during the celebration. So a swim is essential in order to eradicate your sins and also cure your aches and pains! If that is true I´ll be swimming for a couple of hours on the 23rd. Of course it is quite normal to see thousands of people swimming, some fully clothed, around midnight and now I understand the tradition as there is some kind of sense for his unorthodox behaviour and not just as I first thought due to the great quantities of alcohol consumed by the Barcelona beaches.
Other traditions include eating a bread called Coca filled with different ingredients and Herbs such as Verbena which is suppose to have aphrodisiac qualities so lets get eating. Sant Joan is a hellacious festival full of fire, heat, colours, light and water.Everyone is in good spirits and the atmosphere in the city is electric. As the Catalans say, “Fred per Nadal, Calor per San Juan, salut per tot l´any, “which translation is “Cold for Christmas, warm for Saint John and good health all year round.”