Top Spanish festivals 2016
There are celebrations and festivals in Spain all year. Here is a list of some of the best and bizarre Spanish festivals to see in 2016.
Spain offers plenty of festivals throughout the whole year, many of them specific to different towns and regions offering a huge variety in local specialities, trades, and cultural quirks. Mark your calendar to experience some of the top Spanish festivals. You can see which festivals fall on public or school holidays in Spain.
Top Spanish festivals
January 5–6: Three Kings Day
This day is celebrated throughout Spain with the biggest processions in the major cities, and it is the traditional Spanish version of annual gift-giving (similar to Christmas). In Spain children are brought presents by the Three Kings, who visit their homes at night. Before this the kings take part in an elaborate procession where they throw confectionary to children in the streets. Though the official Dia de Los Reyes is January 6, the gift-giving procession (Cabalgate de Reyes) takes place the night before.
January 19–20: San Sebastian Festival, Majorca and San Sebastian
An explosion of bonfires and dancing to celebrate St. Sebastian, with the famous taborrada drumming taking place in Spain's northern city of San Sebastian.
February 1–3: The Arizkun Carnival (Jumping the bonfire), Arizkun, Navarra
Thousands of people queue up in the streets ready to jump over some 20 bonfires, a tradition dating back to pagan times and said to encourage fertility and ward off evil spirits. Locals dress up in instantly recognisable costumes that look like sheepskin coats, adorned with black pots, wearing maypole style hats and carrying brushes.
February 4–10: Sitges Carnival, Catalonia
The huge gay event is one of the most flamboyant in Spain with wild partying launched by Jueves Lardero ('Fatty Thursday'). There’s a massive drag queen show and an enormous feast of local dishes. The two main parades come through the town on the Sunday and Tuesday from 7.30pm and the partying continues through the night. The names alone — Extermination and Debauchery Parades — are a clue to the extravagance of the event so don’t dress down, but be warned, temperatures can drop in the early hours. Extra night buses and trains for the event can get you back into Barcelona if you’re not staying over. See www.sitges.cat.
February 18–21: International animation festival, Lleida, Catalonia
The Animac Mostra Inernacional de Cinema d’Animació de Cataluyna is a non-competitive film exhibition open to makers of animated films using a variety of techniques. See www.animac.cat.
March 15–19: Las Fallas Festival, Valencia
High-tech giant-size sculptures are made into the shape of traditional figures or even modern cultural icons like Shrek and President Obama. The creations are on display all over the city before being burned in one of the many bonfires, which takes place amid much partying. You haven't seen bonfires until you've seen the ones the Valencians light on the last night of Las Fallas. See www.fallasfromvalencia.com.
March 20–26: Holy Week (Semana Santa), Seville
Semana Santa is one of the most important festivals on the Spanish calendar. The Easter festivities are big all over Spain, but the biggest spectacle is in Seville. Semana Santa is mainly a series of processions of elaborate floats bearing jewelled statues of Mary and Jesus, penitents wearing pointed hoods, and brass bands. They begin on Palm Sunday the week before Easter, followed by those on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The city may be packed with visitors and locals but the experience is worth it. See www.andalucia.com.
April 23: Saint George Festival, Barcelona
Sant Jordi, or St George, is the patron saint of Catalonia (as well as England and about 10 other countries and regions). But St George's Day in Barcelona is also the city's version of Valentine’s Day when romance sweeps the city. The tradition is for the man to give his lady a rose in return for a book. The streets and balconies are clad in Catalonia's red and yellow flag, the Senyera.
April: Feria de Sevilla, Seville
Spring Fair, the Feria, comes two clear weeks after Semana Santa. This will be around 12 to 17 in 2016. The Feria is a joyful festival with masses of food, drink, music and dancing. To the south west of the city a huge area is given over to the fair, creating a small ‘town’ of casetas (tents or pavilions) for drinking, eating and socialising. Most of the tents are private and invitation only but there are seven public ones, so you won’t miss out. Sevilliano/as, in traditional flamenco dresses, or tight trousers and boleros, parade around on horseback and in carriages – providing you with some fabulous photo opportunities. Not to be missed. See www.andalucia.com.
Mid-May: Fiesta de San Isidro, Madrid
It's Madrid’s largest festival, and the events offer an opportunity to wear the traditional castizo finery and sample tasty delicacies like thick steamy broth. Music and dancing is everywhere with flamenco, zarzuelas and Latin rhythms happening at concerts all over the city. The festival is launched with a grand procession of giants and cabezudos, followed by an opening speech in the Plaza Mayor. Over the next few days, entertainment and revelry takes over the city's public spaces. The fiesta runs from 11 to 15 May 2016. See www.esmadrid.com.
Late May: Feria de la Manzanilla in Sanlucar de Barrameda
If you like your sherry this should be right up your street, as the locals celebrate their local drink by drinking unhealthy quantities of it (along with consuming plenty of fish and tapas). The week officially begins on the Tuesday night when the lights are turned on, but festivities usually start early the previous weekend. Then on Sunday there is a spectacular fireworks display to end the festival with a bang. Check their website to confirm the 2016 dates: www.andalucia.org.
Spring/Summer: Moors and Christians Festivals
La Fiesta de Moros y Cristianos is a celebration of the victory over the Moors in the 13th century. The festival itself dates back to the 16th century, and includes street parades of costumed soldiers and battle re-enactments. It is held in many cities at various times of the year, with some of the largest street parades taking place in Alicante, Alcoy, and Villajoyosa. See www.spain.info.
June 20–24: Night of San Juan, Valencia region
In this festival, you won't see costumes or religious parades, but rather it's a pagan celebration of the Summer Equinox. It's the one night of the year that locals can light bonfires on the beach, barbeque and drink, and later everyone jumps over the fires and waves to make a wish. You need to bring your own wood, food and drinks, and celebrations last until sunrise. Valencia and Alicante have the biggest congregations of local partiers, with celebrations in Alicante lasting several days and culminating in huge papier-mâché figures being burnt on the night of 24 June. See www.spain.info.
June 28–30: Haro Wine Festival
There are celebrations all over Spain to mark the wine harvest and one of the best is held in Haro in La Rioja region. La Batalla de Vino or the Wine Fight starts with a huge street party on the eve of 28 June. The next day the locals (and you too, if you're lucky), climb up a nearby mountain and drench each other with rioja using sprays, buckets, water pistols, or whatever they can lay their hands on. The battle moves down the mountain and into the town where dancing and general merrymaking continues, all accompanied by the quaffing of lots and lots of vino tinto. Wear old clothes. See www.wine-fight.com.
Late June to July: International Festival of Music and Dance, Granada
A celebration of flamenco and classical music that traces its origins back to the 1880s, and combines the vibrant energy of Spanish guitars, castanets and flamenco dancers. The dates for 2016 are yet to be confirmed: check their website at www.granadafestival.org.
Mid-June: El Colacho (Baby Jumping) Festival, Castrillo de Murcia, near Burgos
The uniquely Spanish festival sees townspeople dress up in colourful costumes and form a queue to leap over a mattress laden with babies born during the previous 12 months. The ceremony rids the babies of evil spirits and guards against illness. This is one of the Corpus Christi festivals held all over Spain on the first Sunday after Corpus Christi, making it fall on 7 June 2016. See www.burgos.es.
July 6–14: Running of the Bulls (Fiesta de San Fermín), Pamplona
This is probably Spain’s most famous festival, and is a magnet for thrill-seekers and spectators alike. Hundreds of thousands of Spanish and international visitors don white shirts and red bandanas for some serious partying. The bravest (or most foolhardy) line up to engage in a mad dash ahead of rampaging bulls careering through narrow cobbled streets. Luckily the runners have a newspaper to protect themselves with. By night the squares are strung with fairy lights for drinking, eating and dancing; there are fireworks and brass bands. See www.turismo.navarra.es.
July 25: Feast of St. James, Santiago de Compostela
A public holiday in the Basque Country and Galicia, this religious event commemorates the life and work of Saint James, the town's patron saint who is reputed to be buried in the local cathedral. Theatre productions, street shows, concerts and dance events are held, together with religious services, during the Fiesta de Santiago Apóstol en Santiago de Compostela. Those walking the 'Camino de Santiago' can time their pilgrimage to end at this event. See www.santiagoturismo.com.
Late July: Near Death Festival, Neves
Those who have had a brush with death in the past year are carried through the streets in coffins to thank Saint Marta, the 'patron saint of death'. Known in Spanish as Romería de Santa Marta de Ribarteme. See www.turgalicia.es for the 2016 festival date.
August 15–21: Festa Major de Gràcia, Catalonia
All year long, the residents of Gràcia work on elaborate decorations with themes such as marine life, the solar system, or even local politics, to hang in the streets. By day, long trestle tables are set up for communal lunches and board games; at night, thousands invade the tiny streets for outdoor concerts, dances, and general revelry. See www.festamajordegracia.cat.
Mid-August: Aste Nagusia, Bilbao
The Aste Nagusia, Semana Grande or Big Week, the largest festival in northern Spain, starts on the first Saturday after 15 August when a rocket (txupinazo) shoots into the sky and the festival mascot Marijaia makes her appearance on a balcony of the Arriaga Theatre. This nine-day festival celebrates Basque culture with live music and dancing; wood chopping, stone carrying and strongman competitions; parades of giants; food and drink; bullfights; concerts; nightly fire works — and culminates in the burning of Marijaia. See www.astenagusia.com.
August 29–31: La Tomatina, Buñol, west of Valencia
This is the world-renowned, tomato-flinging festival held on the last Wednesday of August. Thousands of joyful revellers use truckloads of overripe tomatoes as missiles. Only recently has the town started charging an entrance fee, so you'll need a ticket to get in. Bring goggles and a change of clothes. See latomatina.info.
September 7–8: Fiestas de la Mare de Deu de la Salut in Algemesí, Valencia
The main local festival in Algemesí dates back to the Middle Ages and has been awarded the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage designation. Theatre, dance and music are part of the celebrations and more than 1,400 people take part in the main parade. The festival also features giants representing King James I of Aragon and his wife as part of the 'Volta General', which also includes numerous biblical characters. See www.algemesi.es.
Late-September: San Sebastián International Film Festival
The premier film festival of Spain takes place in the Basque capital around 18 to 26 September 2016, usually at several different theatres. Retrospectives are frequently featured, and weeklong screenings are held. See www.sansebastianfestival.com.
September 24: Fiesta De La Mercé, Barcelona
This celebration honours Our Lady of Mercy (La Mercè), the city's patron saint. Free music concerts, from traditional to contemporary, are held in the plazas (particularly Plaça de Catalunya and Plaça Sant Jaume), and figures from folklore such as the gigants (giants) and cap grosses (fatheads) take to the streets. People come out to perform the sardana (the traditional Catalan dance) and to watch the nail-biting castellers (human towers). Firework displays light up the night, and the hair-raising correfoc, a parade of firework-brandishing 'devils' and dragons, is the grand finale. See merce.bcn.cat.
October 12: Hispanic Day / Columbus Day, throughout Spain
El Día de la Hispanidad is a national holiday of Spain that is celebrated on 12 October, commemorating the exact date that Christopher Columbus first set foot in the Americas. A special parade is held in la Plaza de Colon, in Madrid, led by the Spanish military and followed by the King and the Royal Family. A wide array of other authorities, from foreign diplomats to the presidents of the autonomous governments, are invited to attend this parade. The Spanish Armed forces also fly through the air doing aerobatics with red and yellow smoke drawing images for the crowd to see.
Late-October to early-November: Annual Horror and Fantasy Film Festival, San Sebastian
A range of horror movies are screened at various venues, particularly at the Teatro Principal, together with outdoor performances and street theatre, comedy events, horror-related exhibitions and many fanzine festivities. The 26th festival will run from 29 October to 4 November 2016. See www.donostiakultura.com.
November 29: San Andres Festival, Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife
In theory the celebrations are about tasting the new year's wine, but it’s usually more about making a lot of noise in the streets with pots, pans and assorted objects. Celebrants drag cans and other noisy metal objects tied to string and wire through the streets of the town and then everyone drinks into the early hours. See www.todotenerife.es.
November 1: All Saints' Day, Cadiz
Although All Saint’s Day is celebrated throughout Spain, it is a lot of fun to spend it in Cadiz. There, celebrations are a little different: it is known as Tosantos and the Gaditanos (locals of Cadiz) do wacky things like dress up rabbits and suckling pigs in the market, as well as making dolls out of fruit. The whole region gets involved and the festivities last all week.
End-November to December: Nadal (Christmas), Barcelona
In mid-December stallholders set up Fira de Santa Lucia, a huge open-air market held in the streets around the main cathedral. Thousands come to buy handicrafts, Christmas decorations, trees, and the figurines for their pessebres (nativity dioramas) that are hugely popular here. The Betlem Church on La Rambla holds an exhibition of them throughout the month, and a life-size one is constructed outside the city hall in the Plaça Sant Jaume. Check their website for dates at en.firadesantallucia.cat.
December 28: Día de los Santos Inocentes, throughout Spain
This equivalent of April Fools' Day gives people an excuse to do crazy things.
December 28: Els Enfarinats, Ibi in Alicante
This day-long festival is a mix of carnival and anarchy which dates back around 200 years and is part of the celebrations around the Day of the Innocents. A group of Els Enfarinats (Flour Men) dressed in mock military uniforms 'take control' of the town, make satirical speeches (often against local politicians and businessmen), impose 'laws' and have a huge battle with eggs, flours and firecrackers. See www.ibi.es.
Updated from 2012, 2014, 2016.