In a country as vibrant and colourful as Spain, it’s no wonder that their annual calendar is full of exciting events! There are so many reasons to visit Spain, from friendly locals to delicious cuisine and fascinating history. Attending a Spanish festival will give you an authentic taste of unique local cultures and customs. Expat Explore has put together a guide to Spain’s top annual events to make your trip to Spain truly unforgettable!
Let’s start with one of Spain’s most bizarre festivals, shall we? Tomatina is the Catalan word for tomato and that really is the essence of the celebration! Held annually on the last Wednesday of August in the Valencian town of Buñol, La Tomatina is essentially the world’s largest food fight. Thousands of participants gather in this small town and throw tomatoes at each other – just for the fun of it! There are, however, some rules: tomatoes must be squashed before throwing them (to avoid hurting anyone), tomatoes may not be thrown at buildings and, of course, nothing but tomatoes can be thrown.
While the festival began in 1945, ruler Francisco Franco banned La Tomatina in 1950 for not having any religious significance. This did not stop people from gathering illegally and in 1957 a protest was held which involved carrying a giant tomato in a coffin! The people marched through town with a band playing funeral marches and held a burial for the tomato. The protest was successful and La Tomatina became an official festival!
Related: Learn more about Spanish culture with these fun facts!
Valencia, 15-19 March
Also taking place in Valencia from 15-19 March, the Fallas (festival of fire) celebrates the commemoration of St. Joseph and the start of spring. While it is not exactly certain how the festival started, many believe that it dates back to the Middle Ages. Valencian carpenters would burn old wood saved during winter the day before the Feast of St. Joseph (19 March), the patron saint of carpenters. Medieval carpenters hung up planks of wood called parots to support their candles while they worked. Over time, carpenters would dress up their parots to look like humans. Today, they are called ninots and are impressive works of art, some are even worth millions of euros, yet the festival today involves these creative ninots being destroyed and going up in flames!
The ninots, some of which are several stories high, are erected on the 15th and can be seen all over the city. During this time you will also see many dazzling light displays. The most impressive light display of over 750,000 light bulbs can be found in the Ruzafa District. On 19 March, the Fallas culminates in a mesmerising parade featuring live performances, costumes, music and, of course, fire! In 2016, the Fallas was added to UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage of humanity.
Tarragona, October 2022 (every second year)
More of a competition than a festival, the Concurs de Castells involves the building of some rather unique towers. Not towers made out of wood or concrete but towers made out of people! Taking place in Tarragona, a port city in Catalonia, the Concurs de Castells sees men, women and children of all ages assembling and disassembling human towers. These human tower events have existed in Catalonia since the 18th century and are still extremely popular today. The next Concurs de Castells will take place in October, 2022. Castells (human towers) were declared among the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2016. Due to their cultural significance, it’s not uncommon to see castells at other Spanish events such as the Festa Major De Gracia in Barcelona.
The largest and strongest people stand on the bottom of the tower for stability while the rest of the people “build” the tower by climbing on the shoulders of the others! At the top are the youngest members, some as young as 5 years old. It’s a fascinating sight and hard to look away, even though the anxiety that someone might fall is very real! However, there have been very few recorded accidents since the start of Concurs de Castells thanks to the hard work, training and skills of the participants!
Related: For more weird and wonderful events, check out these top Japanese festivals!
All over Spain, February/March
Why have one event when you could have multiple across the country? In Spain, Carnival celebrations take place just before Lent and generally feature a whole week of festivities! The programme begins with the arrival of a Carnival King or Queen, followed by parades, elaborate costumes and music throughout the city. It ends with the Entierro de la Sardina (Burial of the Sardine), a mock funeral procession to say goodbye to Carnival before the start of Lent.
The most notable Carnival celebrations take place in Tenerife. These parties are similar to the carnivals you might associate with Brazil or the Caribbean. Expect massive floats, street parties and flashy costumes! The small resort town of Sitges also holds an impressive Carnival while major cities like Barcelona and Madrid host some fabulous events on a smaller scale.
Two weeks after Easter, the Feria de Abril (Seville Fair) takes over the streets of Seville. This week-long celebration begins on a Saturday with la noche del pescaíto (night of the fish) which usually includes a traditional fish dinner. After dinner, people head to the portada, a beautiful structure that acts as the gates to the fair. The Mayor of Seville lights up the portada with thousands of lights at midnight!
The neighbourhood of Los Remedios houses the Real (fairground). This is like a small city in itself! Within the Real are over 1,000 casetas (uniquely designed marquee tents). The casetas are decorated with red or green and white stripes and are usually private spaces where family and friends can eat, drink and dance. However, there are public casetas for non-locals to enjoy. There is also an amusement park in the fairground complete with rollercoasters and games! On Tuesday, a horseback parade takes place with women dressed in stunning flamenco attire and men dressed in traditional suits known as el traje corto. The festivities come to a close on Sunday evening with an extraordinary fireworks display!
Mataelpino, 24 August
The most notorious of all Spanish festivals is undoubtedly the bull run in Pamplona. However, this event has faced immense opposition and criticism for its treatment of bulls. Enter Boloencierro – a modern, cost-effective and animal-cruelty-free alternative! Taking place in the town of Mataelpino north of Madrid, Boloencierro swaps out bulls for a 200kg polystyrene ball! The event began in 2011 when the town couldn’t afford to host its own bull run and has since grown significantly in popularity. Many other towns even followed suit and started hosting their own boloencierros.
Over 700 people gather to run away from this massive polystyrene boulder that rolls at about 30kmph! It’s certainly not for the faint of heart. There is a smaller, and safer, event held for children with colourful mini-boulders. It’s a great way to discover Spain’s historic culture while adapting to the modern age.
La Rioja, 29 June
We started this list with a food fight, it’s only right that we end with one! Or, should we say drink fight? The Haro Wine Festival is a summer celebration in the town of Haro which is situated in the heart of La Rioja, a renowned winemaking area. It begins with a pilgrimage to the Chapel of San Felices de Bilibio, where a mass takes place. A parade of horsemen leads the attendees 7km up to the chapel. After mass, the Battle of Wine begins!
Participants, dressed in white, throw wine at each other using bottles, jugs, water pistols and pretty much anything that holds liquid, until everyone is soaked and stained in purple! After the battle, participants enjoy hours of festivities involving plenty of wine, food and dancing. Don’t expect to just be a spectator, everyone is a target and no one is safe from the battle of wine!
Related: Discover more of Europe’s best events and festivals.
So many festivals, so little time! Why not get started by planning a trip to Spain? Have a look at our incredible Taste of Spain tour or add in an extra country and join our Spain & Portugal Explorer!
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