Festivals & events in Barcelona

By | 04.09.2009

By Sally Davies

There are times, in Barcelona, when it can be hard to step out for coffee without bumping into a giant, tripping over a dwarf or sharing the pavement with a dragon. While visitors gasp and fumble for their cameras, Catalans sidestep these strange creatures without so much as a backward glance. This isn’t to say that barcelonins don’t throw themselves into the folkloric festivities with admirable zeal – it’s just that there are more city festivals than there are weeks of the year.

The array of religious events and old-fashioned pageants, all of which spotlight what makes Catalonia unique, are supplemented by a wide variety of more modern celebrations. You’re just as likely to stumble across a festival of rock documentaries, graffiti art, hip hop or cyber sculpture as you are to see a traditional parade: Sónar alone attracts 80,000 people each year.

Local tradition

The key events in the Barcelona year are September’s Festes de la Mercè, the main city celebrations that offer a wild variety of events. The Mercè and the other 30 or so neighbourhood festes share many traditional ingredients: dwarfs, castellers (human castles), and gegants (huge papier-mâché/fibreglass giants dressed as princesses, fishermen, sultans and even topless chorus girls), and two unique exercises: the correfoc and the sardana.

The correfoc (‘fire run’) is a frenzy of pyromania. Groups of horned devils dance through the streets, brandishing tridents that spout fireworks and generally flouting every safety rule in the book. Protected by cotton caps and long sleeves, the more daring onlookers try to stop the devils and touch the fire-breathing dragons being dragged along in their wake.

The orderly antidote to this pandemonium is the sardana, Catalonia’s folk dance. Watching the dancers executing their fussy little hops and steps in a large circle, it’s hard to believe that sardanes were once banned as a vestige of pagan witchcraft. The music is similarly restrained, a reedy noise played by an 11-piece cobla band. The sardana is much harder than it looks, and the joy lies in taking part rather than watching. To try your luck, check out the sardanes populars held in front of the cathedral (noon-2pm Sun Jan-Aug & Dec; 6-8pm Sat, noon-2pm Sun Sept-Nov) and in the Plaça Sant Jaume (6pm Sun Oct-July), or see www.fed.sardanista.cat for monthly displays around the city (It’s a fair hop).

Information

Organisers are prone to change dates. For more information, try tourist offices, the city’s information line (010) and the cultural agenda section atwww.bcn.cat. Newspapers also carry details, especially in their Friday or Saturday supplements.

Critic’s choice

Feria de Abril de Catalunya

Where: Fòrum area
When: end Apr/May
Website: www.fecac.com
A pale imitation of Seville’s grand Feria de Abril, this week-long, sprawling and joyously tacky event is still a whole heap of fun, especially for fans of fried squid and candy floss. The rows of decorated marquees are a sea of polka dots, as young and old twirl on and off the stages, and onlookers glug manzanilla sherry and scarf some of the greasiest food imaginable. It’s great for children, and there’s a funfair.

L’Ou Com Balla

Where: Ateneu Barcelonès, C/Canuda 6; Casa de l’Ardiaca, C/Santa Llúcia 1; Cathedral cloisters; Museu Frederic Marès; all in Barri Gòtic
When: mid June
Tel & website: Institut de Cultura 93 301 77 75/www.bcn.cat/icub
L’Ou Com Balla (the ‘dancing egg’) is a local Corpus Christi tradition dating from 1637: a hollowed-out eggshell is set spinning and bobbing in apparent perpetuum mobile on the spout of various fountains garlanded for the occasion with flowers. The Sunday Corpus Christi procession leaves from the cathedral in the early evening; on the Saturday, there’s free entry to theAjuntament, the Palau Centelles behind it and the Museu d’Història de la Ciutat, along with sardanes at 7pm outside the cathedral.

Sant Joan

Where: all over Barcelona
When: night of 23 June
In the weeks leading up to the feast of St John, the streets become a terrifying war zone of firecrackers and cowering dogs. This is mere limbering up for the main event – on the night of 23 June there are bonfires and firework displays all over the city, but especially the beach, running until dawn. Cava is the traditional tipple, and piles of coca – flat, crispy bread topped with candied fruit – are consumed. Special metro and FGC trains run all night and the 24th is a much-needed holiday.

Festival del Grec

Where: various venues
When: late June-early Aug
Tel & website: 93 316 10 00/www.bcn.cat/grec
Named after the Greek amphitheatre (Teatre Grec) that forms such an integral part of its programming, this is the major cultural festival of the year. It brings together dozens of shows from around the world, encompassing dance, music, theatre and circus. Increasingly there are performances in English, with Catalan surtitles.

Música als Parcs

Where: various venues
When: June-Aug
Tel & website: 93 413 24 00/www.bcn.cat/parcsijardins
This series of free, alfresco concerts runs throughout the summer months in some of Barcelona’s loveliest parks. It comprises two cycles; jazz from June to August on Wednesdays and Fridays at 10pm in Ciutadella park in front of the fountain and, in July, young musicians perform a varied classical concert programme from Thursday to Saturday in various parks. A new introduction in 2008 was the municipal band, who boost the programme on occasional Thursdays with shows of crowd pleasers from Gershwin, West Side Story and the like.

Montjuïc de Nit

Where: Montjuïc
When: early July
Website: www.bcn.cat/cultura/montjuicnit
In line with other ‘White Night’ or ‘Nuit Blanche’ events across Europe, Barcelona has laid on its own night of dusk-to-dawn entertainment, all of it free. While Rome, Paris, Brussels and others hold theirs in early October, the date was felt to be uncomfortably close to the Mercè celebrations. Instead, a quiet weekend in July was picked for a vibrant selection of music, theatre, dance, cinema and art, with Montjuïc’s museums staying open until 3am or so. One of the highlights of 2008, the inaugural year, was a mesmerising midnight performance by La Fura dels Baus in the Olympic Stadium.

Festa Major de Gràcia

Where: all over Gràcia
When: 3rd wk in Aug
Tel & website: 93 459 30 80/www.festamajordegracia.cat
The main event at Gràcia’s extravagant festa major is its street competition, where residents transform some 25 streets into pirate ships, rainforests and Jurassic landscapes. The festival opens with giants and castles in Plaça Rius i Taulet, and climaxes with a correfoc and a castell de focs (castle of fireworks). In between, there are some 600 activities, from concerts to sardanes and bouncy castles. Recent years have been marred by vandalism and late-night scuffles with the police.

Festival Asia

Where: various venues
When: late Sept
Website: www.casaasia.es/festival
This week of twirling saris, Chinese acrobats, music, workshops and stalls from 17 Asian countries, has expanded from its base at the Mercat de les Flors to take in a number of venues, but mostly in the Parc de la Ciutadella. The festival now runs with the Festes de la Mercè; see below.

Festes de la Mercè

Where: all over Barcelona
When: week of 24 Sept
Website: www.bcn.cat/merce
This immense, week-long event in honour of the patron saint of the city, Our Lady of Mercy, opens with giants, dragons and capgrosses in the Plaça Sant Jaume. It’s followed by more than 600 events including sardanes and correfocs (a tamer version for children, followed by the biggest and wildest of the year on the Saturday night). Other highlights include dazzling fireworks displays from the beaches, free concerts, a seafront air show, sporting events including a swim across the port and a regatta, and a heap of activities for children. The pressure on the centre has been eased since 2008, when many events were staged up at Montjuïc castle or in the former textile factory, Fabra i Coats, in Sant Andreu. Even so, 100,000 people descended on the Barri Gòtic to watch the final parade.

Fira de Santa Llúcia

Where: Pla de la Seu & Avda de la Catedral
When: 2-23 Dec
Tel & website: 93 402 70 00/www.bcn.cat/nadal
Dating from 1786, this traditional Christmas fair has expanded to more than 300 stalls selling all manner of handcrafted Christmas decorations and gifts, along with mistletoe, poinsettias and Christmas trees. The most popular figure on sale for Nativity scenes is the curious Catalan figure of the caganer (crapper), a small figure crouching over a steaming turd with his trousers around his ankles. Kids line up for a go on the giant caga tió, a huge, smiley-faced ‘shitting log’ that poops out pressies upon being beaten viciously by a stick; smaller versions are on sale in the stalls. There’s also a Nativity scene contest, musical parades and exhibitions, including the popular life-size Nativity scene in Plaça Sant Jaume.

Cavalcada dels Reis

Where: various venues
When: 5 Jan, 5-9pm
Website: www.bcn.es/nadal
Epiphany is the big Christmas event here, and is marked by the Kings’ Parade. Melchior, Gaspar and Balthasar arrive aboard the Santa Eulàlia boat at the bottom of La Rambla before beginning a grand parade around town with a retinue of acrobats, circus clowns and child elfs. The route is published in the newspapers, but normally starts at the lower entrance of Ciutadella, running up C/Marquès de l’Argentera and Via Laietana. Later that night, children leave their shoes out on the balcony stuffed with hay for the kings’ camels; in the morning, they’re either full of presents or edible sugar coal depending on their behaviour the previous year. The following day is a holiday.

Festa dels Tres Tombs

Where: Sant Antoni
When: 17 Jan
St Anthony’s day naturally enough also marks the festa major of the district; all the usual ingredients of music, and gegants here include a monstrous, symbolic fire-breathing pig – the form the devil took when tempting the saint. Anthony is patron saint of animals and on his feast day it’s still the custom to bring pets to the church of St Anthony to be blessed. Afterwards, horsemen ride three circuits (tres tombs) in a formal procession from Ronda Sant Antoni, through Plaça Catalunya, down La Rambla and along C/Nou de la Rambla.

Santa Eulàlia

Where: all over Barcelona
When: wk of 12 Feb
The city’s blowout winter festival is in honour of Santa Eulàlia (Laia), who met her end at the hands of the Romans after revolting tortures, Barcelona’s co-patron saint and a special favourite of children. Her feast day on 12 February kicks off with a ceremony in Plaça Sant Jaume, followed by music, sardanes and parades, with Masses and children’s choral concerts held in the churches and cathedral. In the evening, the female giants gather in Plaça Sant Josep Oriol, then go to throw flowers on the Baixada de Santa Eulàlia before a final boogie in the Plaça Sant Jaume. The Ajuntament and the cathedral crypt (where she’s buried) are free and open to the public, as are more than 30 museums. The festival closes on Sunday evening with correfocs (for adults and children) centred around the cathedral.

Spring

Festes de Sant Medir de Gràcia

Where: Gràcia to Sant Cugat & back
When: 3 Mar
Website: www.santmedir.org
On or around the feast day of St Emeterius (Sant Medir in Catalan), for almost 200 years colourfully decorated horse-drawn carts have gathered around the Plaça Trilla to ride up to his hermitage in the Collserola hills. The most popular element are the carts that circle the streets of Gràcia and shower the crowd with 100 tons of blessed boiled sweets.

El Feile

Where: various venues
When: week of 17 Mar
Tel & website: 93 423 76 68/www.elfeile.com
This Saint Patrick’s celebration of all things Gaelic has become an established part of the Barcelona calendar in its short life. It embraces music, dance and stand-up comedy, as well as sports such as Gaelic football, rugby and hurling. The celebrations are enjoyed with particular enthusiasm at the Quiet Man pub.

Setmana Santa (Holy Week)

Where: various venues
When: Easter week
Easter for Catalans is a relatively sober affair, with none of the pageantry embraced by their southern cousins. The main event is the blessing of the palms on diumenge de rams (Palm Sunday). Crowds surge into the cathedral clutching bleached palm fronds bought from stalls around the city; these are then used to bring luck to households. On Good Friday, a series of small processions and blessings takes place in front of the cathedral. On Easter Sunday, godparents dole out the mones: chocolate confections, more elaborate than humble Easter eggs.

Festival Guitarra

Where: various venues
When: Mar-June
Tel & website: 93 481 70 40/www.theproject.cat
This prestigious festival of guitars and, indeed, all stringed instruments, is a classic on the Barcelona music scene and has the ability to attract world-class players, from Jackson Browne to John Williams. Styles span everything from flamenco to Latin sounds, classical guitar and gypsy jazz.

Fira de la Terra

Where: Parc de la Ciutadella and Passeig Lluís Companys
When: late Apr
Website: www.diadelaterra.org
The Fira de la Terra is a two-day eco-festival to celebrate Earth Day (22 April), although it’s normally held on the nearest weekend to the actual day. There are handicrafts, food stalls and performances, along with talks on environmental issues, though most of the activities are aimed at children.

Sant Jordi

Where: La Rambla & all over Barcelona
When: 23 Apr
Website: www.bcn.cat/stjordi
St Jordi (Saint George) is the patron saint of Barcelona and on his day, 23 April, nearly every building bears the red and gold Catalan flag, bakeries sell Sant Jordi bread streaked with red pâté, and red roses decorate the city’s many paintings of George in his dragon-slaying glory. Men traditionally give woman a rose tied to an ear of wheat; women reciprocate with a book.

Barcelona Asian Film Festival

Where: various venues
When: late Apr-early May
Website: www.baff-bcn.org
The BAFF has grown to include some of the sharpest and most broad-ranging programming of any of the city’s film festivals.

Feria de Abril de Catalunya

Where: Fòrum area
When: end Apr/May
Website: www.fecac.com
A pale imitation of Seville’s grand Feria de Abril, this week-long, sprawling and joyously tacky event is still a whole heap of fun, especially for fans of fried squid and candy floss. The rows of decorated marquees are a sea of polka dots, as young and old twirl on and off the stages, and onlookers glug manzanilla sherry and scarf some of the greasiest food imaginable. It’s great for children, and there’s a funfair.

Dia del Treball (May Day)

Where: Plaça da la Universitat and various venues
When: 1 May
A day of demonstrations and marches led by trade unionists representing various left-wing organisations. The main routes cover, Via Laietana, Passeig de Gràcia, Passeig Sant Joan and Plaça Sant Jaume.

Loop Art Fair

Where: various venues
When: May
Website: www.loopbarcelona.comwww.loop-videoart.com
A video art fair, entrepreneurial individuals are always prepared to invest in the art scene and there’s a keen public that swarm to springtime events, such as May’s video art fair Loop. See also emerging art fair Swab (www.swab.es).

Sant Ponç

Where: C/Hospital
When: 11 May
A street market held in honour of the patron saint of beekeepers and herbalists, and ablaze with candied fruit, fresh herbs, natural infusions, honey and honeycomb, most of it straight off the farmer’s cart. The beautifulAntic Hospital de la Santa Creu is nearby.

Barcelona Poesia & Festival Internacional de Poesia

Where: all over Barcelona
When: mid May
Tel & website: 93 316 10 00/www.bcn.cat/barcelonapoesia
This poetry festival started in 1393 as the courtly Jocs Florals (Floral Games), named after the prizes: a silver violet for third prize; a golden rose as second; and, naturally, a real flower for the winner. The games died out in the 15th century but were resuscitated in 1859 as a vehicle for the promotion of the Catalan language. Prizes went to the most suitably florid paeans to the motherland; these days, Spanish is permitted, as are Basque and Galician. Many languages can be heard at the International Poetry Festival.

Festa Major de Nou Barris

Where: All over Nou Barris
When: mid May
Website: www.bcn.cat
What the humble neighbourhood of Nou Barris lacks in landmark architecture, it makes up for with vim, and along with some great cultural programming, it has a very lively festa major, attracting top-notch local bands, along with the usual parades and street fairs. The Nou Barris flamenco festival runs concomitantly, and also brings in some big names. There’s more flamenco at the annual Festival Guitarra.

Dia Internacional dels Museus

Where: all over Barcelona
When: 18 May
Website: http://icom.museum/imd.html
Proposed by the International Council of Museums, this worldwide day of free museum entrance has an annual theme with related activites; in 2009 this will be ‘Museums and Tourism’. Note that the recommended date is 18 May, but this can vary from year to year. La Nit dels Museus is a new initiative where 21 museums offer free entry on the previous night from 7pm to 1am.

Festival de Música Creativa i Jazz de Ciutat Vella

Where: all over Old City
When: May-June
Website: www.bcn.cat/cultura
The Old City Festival of Creative Music and Jazz hosts a range of performances at intimate venues particularly suited to these sort of sounds.

Primavera Sound

Where: Parc del Fòrum
When: 3 days late May
Website: www.primaverasound.com
Fast stealing Sónar’s thunder, this three-day, six-stage music festival is one of the best in Spain. Credit for its success is due to its range of genres. There are rafts of electronica acts, DJs and local bands, plus a record fair and the Soundtrack Film Festival.

La Tamborinada

Where: Parc de la Ciutadella, Born
When: late May
Tel & website: 93 414 72 01/www.fundaciolaroda.net
A one-day festival aimed at children, which fills the Ciutadella park with concerts, workshops and circus performances, along with games from snakes and ladders to a towering wall for rock-climbing.

Festa dels Cors de la Barceloneta

Where: Barceloneta
When: weekend of Whitsun
In a Pentecostal tradition dating back 150 years, more than 20 choirs of workers parade through the streets of the barrio in elaborate costumes garlanded with objects typical of their profession – nets and oars for a fisherman, cereal boxes and sausages for a grocer – on the Saturday morning before Whitsun. They then pile into coaches and take off on a weekend jolly, returning for more parading, fireworks and revelry on Monday evening.

Sónar

Where: various venues
When: mid June
Website: www.sonar.es
The three-day International Festival of Advanced Music and Multimedia Art (or Sónar, as it’s more snappily known) remains a must for anyone into electronic music, contemporary urban art and media technologies. The event is divided into two distinct parts. SónarDay comprises multimedia art, record fairs, conferences, exhibitions and sound labs around the CCCB, while DJs play. Later, SónarNight means a scramble for the desperately overcrowded shuttle bus from the bottom of La Rambla out to the vast hangars of the site in Hospitalet (tip: share a cab between four – it’ll cost you the same), where concerts and DJs are spread over SónarClub, SónarPark and SónarPub.

L’Ou Com Balla

Where: Ateneu Barcelonès, C/Canuda 6; Casa de l’Ardiaca, C/Santa Llúcia 1; Cathedral cloisters; Museu Frederic Marès; all in Barri Gòtic
When: mid June
Tel & website: Institut de Cultura 93 301 77 75/www.bcn.cat/icub
L’Ou Com Balla (the ‘dancing egg’) is a local Corpus Christi tradition dating from 1637: a hollowed-out eggshell is set spinning and bobbing in apparent perpetuum mobile on the spout of various fountains garlanded for the occasion with flowers. The Sunday Corpus Christi procession leaves from the cathedral in the early evening; on the Saturday, there’s free entry to theAjuntament, the Palau Centelles behind it and the Museu d’Història de la Ciutat, along with sardanes at 7pm outside the cathedral.

Summer

Sant Joan

Where: all over Barcelona
When: night of 23 June
In the weeks leading up to the feast of St John, the streets become a terrifying war zone of firecrackers and cowering dogs. This is mere limbering up for the main event – on the night of 23 June there are bonfires and firework displays all over the city, but especially the beach, running until dawn. Cava is the traditional tipple, and piles of coca – flat, crispy bread topped with candied fruit – are consumed. Special metro and FGC trains run all night and the 24th is a much-needed holiday.

Festa de la Música

Where: all over Barcelona
When: late June
Tel & website: 93 316 10 00/www.bcn.cat/festadelamusica
Started in France in 1982 and now celebrated in more than 100 countries, the three-day Festival of Music sees amateur musicians from 100 countries take to the streets. All events are free, and you’re as likely to see a child slapping a bongo as a first-rate blues band, symphony orchestra or choir.

Gran Trobada d’Havaneres

Where: Passeig Joan de Borbó, Barceloneta
When: last Sat in June
Tel & website: 93 316 10 00/www.amicshavaneres.com
The barnacled legacy of Catalonia’s old trade links with Cuba, havaneres are melancholy 19th-century shanties accompanied by accordion and guitar. The main event is at the port town of Calella de Palafrugells, but the Barcelona satellite is no less fun. Performances by groups dressed in stripy shirts, with salty sea-dog names such as Peix Fregit (fried fish) and Xarxa (fishing net), are followed by cremat (flaming spiced rum) and fireworks.

Festival del Grec

Where: various venues
When: late June-early Aug
Tel & website: 93 316 10 00/www.bcn.cat/grec
Named after the Greek amphitheatre (Teatre Grec) that forms such an integral part of its programming, this is the major cultural festival of the year. It brings together dozens of shows from around the world, encompassing dance, music, theatre and circus. Increasingly there are performances in English, with Catalan surtitles.

Música als Parcs

Where: various venues
When: June-Aug
Tel & website: 93 413 24 00/www.bcn.cat/parcsijardins
This series of free, alfresco concerts runs throughout the summer months in some of Barcelona’s loveliest parks. It comprises two cycles; jazz from June to August on Wednesdays and Fridays at 10pm in Ciutadella park in front of the fountain and, in July, young musicians perform a varied classical concert programme from Thursday to Saturday in various parks. A new introduction in 2008 was the municipal band, who boost the programme on occasional Thursdays with shows of crowd pleasers from Gershwin, West Side Story and the like.

Montjuïc de Nit

Where: Montjuïc
When: early July
Website: www.bcn.cat/cultura/montjuicnit
In line with other ‘White Night’ or ‘Nuit Blanche’ events across Europe, Barcelona has laid on its own night of dusk-to-dawn entertainment, all of it free. While Rome, Paris, Brussels and others hold theirs in early October, the date was felt to be uncomfortably close to the Mercè celebrations. Instead, a quiet weekend in July was picked for a vibrant selection of music, theatre, dance, cinema and art, with Montjuïc’s museums staying open until 3am or so. One of the highlights of 2008, the inaugural year, was a mesmerising midnight performance by La Fura dels Baus in the Olympic Stadium.

B-estival

Where: Poble EspanyolEspacio Movistar
When: July
Tel & website: 93 481 70 40/www.b-estival.com
Defining itself as Barcelona’s ‘festival of rhythms’, B-estival was born in 2006, and the impressive programming covers blues, soul, R&B, and Brazilian music, with flamenco and rai to fill the gaps. In 2008, memorable acts included Macy Gray and Erykah Badu, along with an incongruous but energetic show from the B52s.

Interfèrencia Art Show

Where: various venues
When: July
Website: www.marato.com
Interfèrencia grapples with the relationship between art and the public space.

Sala Montjuïc

Where: Castell de Montjuïc
When: July
Website: www.salamontjuic.com
A blend of classics and recent independent cinema shown three times a week throughout July, transforms the grassy moat of the castle into an outdoor cinema. Bring a picnic and and turn up early for the jazz band. A free bus service runs from Espanya metro from 8.30-9.30pm and after the film.

Summercase

Where: Parc del Fòrum
When: two days mid July
Website: www.summercase.com
Summercase is the two-day partner to Wintercase (see below), with a healthy line-up of indie rock and some big-name dance acts. Recent performers have included Primal Scream, Daft Punk, Massive Attack, the Verve and Blondie.

Festa Major del Raval

Where: Rambla del Raval
When: mid to late July
Website: www.bcn.cat/cultura
Over three days, events include giants, a fleamarket, children’s workshops and free concerts on the Rambla del Raval. This particular festa major prides itself on multiculturalism, with music from around the world and ethnic food stalls.

Nits d’Estiu CaixaForum

Where: CaixaForum
When: every Wed in July, Aug
Tel & website: 93 476 86 00/www.fundacio.lacaixa.es
Many museums hold Nits de Estiu (Summer Nights) programmes in July and August, but CaixaForum has one of the best. All its exhibitions are open until midnight, and there are concerts of varying stripes, films (€2) and other activities.

Mas i Mas Festival

Where: various venues
When: late July-early Sept
Tel & website: 93 319 17 89/www.masimas.com
This tasteful music festival stretches over the summer months and has gone from concentrating on Latin sounds to providing a little bit of everything. Some concerts take place at the Palau de la Música Catalana.

Gandules

Where: CCCB
When: Aug 10pm Tue-Thur
Tel & website: 93 306 41 00/www.cccb.org
A series of outdoor films are screened in the deckchair-strewn patio of the CCCB. It gets extremely crowded, so arrive early for any chance of a seat.

Festa de Sant Roc

Where: various venues around Plaça Nova, Barri Gòtic
When: 12-16 Aug
Tel & website: 010/www.bcn.cat
The Festa de Sant Roc, celebrated every year since 1589, is the Barri Gòtic’s street party. It’s hard to beat for lovers of Catalan traditions: there are parades with the giants and fat heads, sardana dancing and 19th-century street games. The festivities, which centre around the Plaça Nova in front of the cathedral, conclude with a correfoc and fireworks.

Festa Major de Gràcia

Where: all over Gràcia
When: 3rd wk in Aug
Tel & website: 93 459 30 80/www.festamajordegracia.cat
The main event at Gràcia’s extravagant festa major is its street competition, where residents transform some 25 streets into pirate ships, rainforests and Jurassic landscapes. The festival opens with giants and castles in Plaça Rius i Taulet, and climaxes with a correfoc and a castell de focs (castle of fireworks). In between, there are some 600 activities, from concerts to sardanes and bouncy castles. Recent years have been marred by vandalism and late-night scuffles with the police.

Festa Major de Sants

Where: all over Sants
When: last wk in Aug
Tel & website: 93 490 62 14/www.bcn.cat
One of the lesser-known festes majors, Sants has a traditional flavour, with floral offerings to images of St Bartholomew at the local church and the market. Major events, such as the correfoc on the night of the 24th, can be found in the Parc de l’Espanya Industrial; others are held at Plaça del Centre, C/Sant Antoni, Plaça de la Farga and Plaça Joan Peiro, behind Sants station.

Autumn

Festival L’Hora del Jazz

Where: various venues
When: Sept
Website: www.amjm.org
A three-week festival of local jazz acts, with free daytime concerts in public spaces such as Gràcia’s Plaça Rius i Taulet (normally on Sunday lunchtimes). Some night-time concerts are also free.

Diada Nacional de Catalunya

Where: all over Barcelona
When: 11 Sept
Catalan National Day commemorates Barcelona’s capitulation to the Bourbon army in the 1714 War of the Spanish Succession, a bitter defeat that led to the repression of many Catalan institutions. It’s lost some of its vigour but is still a day for national re-affirmation, with the Catalan flag flying on buses and balconies. There are several marches throughout the city, the centre being the statue of Rafael Casanova (who directed the resistance) on the Ronda Sant Pere.
Many make a pilgrimage to the monastery at Montserrat, Catalonia’s spiritual heart.

Hipnotik

Where: CCCB
When: mid Sept
Website: www.hipnotikfestival.com
A two-day festival that celebrates everything hip hop, with competitions, workshops and a breakdancing championship to complement the concerts.

Weekend Dance

Where: Parc del Fòrum, Poblenou
When: mid Sept
Website: www.weekendance.es
This one-day electronic dance festival floundered slightly in 2008 when the venue fell through (and the Prodigy and Groove Armada pulled out), but Fatboy Slim kept the crowds pleased. It’s hoped the event will return to the Fòrum in 2009.

Barcelona Acció Musical (BAM)

Where: various venues
When: during the Festes de la Mercè, Sept
Tel & website: 93 427 42 49/www.bam.es
BAM stages free concerts, mostly of jazz and singer-songwriters, on Plaça del Rei; more famous names perform outside the cathedral, with dance acts at the Fòrum and rumba at Portal de la Pau (near the Museu Marítim). The prime mover of what’s known as so Barcelona (Barcelona Sound), BAM largely promotes leftfield mestissa (vaguely, ethnic fusion) in its mission to provide ‘music without frontiers’.

L’Alternativa

Where: CCCB
When: late Sept
Website: www.alternativa.cccb.org
A festival of independent, mostly European cinema.

Festival Asia

Where: various venues
When: late Sept
Website: www.casaasia.es/festival
This week of twirling saris, Chinese acrobats, music, workshops and stalls from 17 Asian countries, has expanded from its base at the Mercat de les Flors to take in a number of venues, but mostly in the Parc de la Ciutadella. The festival now runs with the Festes de la Mercè; see below.

Festes de la Mercè

Where: all over Barcelona
When: week of 24 Sept
Website:
www.bcn.cat/merce
This immense, week-long event in honour of the patron saint of the city, Our Lady of Mercy, opens with giants, dragons and capgrosses in the Plaça Sant Jaume. It’s followed by more than 600 events including sardanes and correfocs (a tamer version for children, followed by the biggest and wildest of the year on the Saturday night). Other highlights include dazzling fireworks displays from the beaches, free concerts, a seafront air show, sporting events including a swim across the port and a regatta, and a heap of activities for children. The pressure on the centre has been eased since 2008, when many events were staged up at Montjuïc castle or in the former textile factory, Fabra i Coats, in Sant Andreu. Even so, 100,000 people descended on the Barri Gòtic to watch the final parade.

Mostra de Vins i Caves de Catalunya

Where: Moll de la Fusta, Port Vell
When: during Festes de la Mercè, Sept
Tel: 93 552 48 00
This outdoor wine and cava fair has been running since 1980 and now showcases more than 400 labels from around 50 Catalan bodegas. Big names include Torres, Freixenet, Codorníu, Pinord and Mont Marçal; also on show are fine cheeses and charcuterie. Ten wine or cava tastings with a free glass cost €6; four food tastings cost €5.

Festa Major de la Barceloneta

Where: all over Barceloneta
When: late Sept, early Oct
Tel & website: 93 221 72 44/www.cascantic.net
This tightly knit maritime community throws itself into the local festes with incredible gusto. The fun kicks off with fireworks on the beach, a 24-hour football tournament, falcons (acrobatic groups), sardana dancing and a free tasting of traditional crispy coca bread washed down with muscatel, and ends with more of the same ten days later. In between, expect parades, music, fire-breathing dragons, open-air cinema and bouncy castles. Look out, too, for a character called General Bum Bum, who parades with a wooden cannon but stops periodically to fire sweets into crowds of scrabbling children.

Art Futura

Where: various venues
When: Oct
Website: www.artfutura.org
Check out the latest progeny of the union between mind and machine at pioneer cyber-art festival Art Futura.

Sitges Festival Internacional de Cinema de Catalunya

Where: Auditori Melia Sitges, C/Joan Salvat Papasseit 38
When: Oct
Tel & website: 93 894 99 90/www.cinemasitges.com
Sitges’ Film Festival is widely recognised as the leading European festival for gore, horror, sci-fi and fantasy, offering dozens of screenings, as well as a host of conferences, retrospectives, premieres and appearances from the leading figures in the rarefied world of genre film-making. During the festival, a special late-night train service returns to Barcelona after the final screening of the evening.
Tickets from Tel-entrada (902 101 212/www.telentrada.com).

LEM Festival

Where: various venues, Gràcia
When: Oct
Tel & website: 93 237 37 37/www.gracia-territori.com
A month-long, well-organised festival of multi-media art and experimental music. It mostly covers electronica, but also includes jazz and rock. Concerts are mostly free.

Festival de Músiques del Món

Where: L’Auditori
When: Oct
Staged every October, this world music festival features around 20 concerts, along with related exhibitions, films and workshops. Concerts might include anything from Mongolian throat-singing to Turkish whirling dervishes alongside such home-grown talent as flamenco singer Miguel Poveda, a regular at this event.

Festival de Tardor Ribermúsica

Where: various venues, Born
When: late Oct
Tel & website: 93 319 3089/www.ribermusica.org
A lively autumn music festival that boasts more than 100 free performances around the Born, and fills the squares, bars, galleries, shops, churches and clubs with concerts of all stripes.

In-Edit Beefeater Festival

Where: Cine Rex, Gran Via 463 & Aribau Club, Gran Via
When: last week Oct
Tel & website: 565-567/www.in-edit.beefeater.es
A well-regarded cinema festival of musical documentaries, which range from jazz to flamenco.

La Castanyada

Where: all over Barcelona
When: 31 Oct-1 Nov
All Saints’ Day and the evening before are known as the Castanyada after the traditional treats of castanyes (roast chestnuts) along with moniatos (roast sweet potatoes) and panellets (small almond balls covered in pine nuts). The imported tradition of Halloween has grown in popularity of late, and there are now several celebrations around town. Tots Sants (All Saints’) is also known as the Dia dels Difunts (Day of the Dead); the snacks switch to white, bone-shaped ossos de sant cakes. Thousands visit local cemeteries over the weekend to sprinkle the graves with holy water, leave flowers, hold vigils, and honour and pray for the dead.

Festival Internacional de Jazz de Barcelona

Where: various venues
When: late Oct-late Nov
Tel & website: 93 481 70 40/www.theproject.cat
One of Europe’s most well-respected jazz festivals has grown to embrace everything from bebop to gospel to tribute bands around a core of mainstream performers that have recently included Chick Corea, Bebo Valdés, Al Green, Herbie Hancock, Caetano Veloso and even Katie Melua. Venues included in the festival’s programme range from the Palau de la Música, Luz de Gas and Razzmatazz to L’Auditori; there are also big-band concerts and swing dancing in the Ciutadella park.

Winter

Wintercase

Where: Razzmatazz
When: Nov
Website: www.wintercase.com
This festival showcases some of the finest indie bands over four nights every November. The Barcelona leg takes place in Razzmatazz, with past players including the likes of Ian Brown, Mercury Rev and Teenage Fanclub.

Els Grans del Gospel

Where: various venues
When: Dec
Tel & website: 93 481 70 40/www.theproject.cat
A three-week festival of international gospel music, born of the gospel section of the International Jazz Festival (see above), which eventually became popular enough to stand alone.

Drap Art

Where: CCCB market and FAD exhibition space
When: Dec
Tel & website: 93 268 48 89/www.drapart.org
An international creative recycling festival, with concerts, performances, workshops and a Christmas market.

Fira de Sant Eloi

Where: C/Argenteria, Born
When: 1-24 Dec
Tel & website: 93 319 84 51/www.acar.cat
Neither as sprawling nor as lively as the Fira de Santa Llúcia (see below), this Christmas street fair nonetheless has some pretty handmade gifts, from leather bags and hand-painted ceramics to wooden puppets, and there is live music from 6-8pm.

Fira de Santa Llúcia

Where: Pla de la Seu & Avda de la Catedral
When: 2-23 Dec
Tel & website: 93 402 70 00/www.bcn.cat/nadal
Dating from 1786, this traditional Christmas fair has expanded to more than 300 stalls selling all manner of handcrafted Christmas decorations and gifts, along with mistletoe, poinsettias and Christmas trees. The most popular figure on sale for Nativity scenes is the curious Catalan figure of the caganer (crapper), a small figure crouching over a steaming turd with his trousers around his ankles. Kids line up for a go on the giant caga tió, a huge, smiley-faced ‘shitting log’ that poops out pressies upon being beaten viciously by a stick; smaller versions are on sale in the stalls. There’s also a Nativity scene contest, musical parades and exhibitions, including the popular life-size Nativity scene in Plaça Sant Jaume.

Nadal & Sant Esteve (Christmas Day & Boxing Day)

Where: various venues
When:
25 & 26 Dec
The Catalan equivalent of the Christmas midnight Mass is the missa del gall (cockerel’s mass), held at dawn. Later, the whole family enjoys a traditional Christmas feast of escudella i carn d’olla (a meaty stew), seafood and roast truffled turkey, finishing off with great ingots of turrón. The caga tió (see above Fira de Santa Llúcia) gives small gifts but the real booty doesn’t arrive until the night of 5 January.

El Dia dels Sants Innocents

Where: all over Barcelona
When: 28 Dec
The name is an incongruous reference to King Herod’s Massacre of the Innocents, but in fact this is a cheerful local version of April Fool’s Day, with cut-out newspaper figures attached to the backs of unsuspecting victims. The media also introduces fake stories into the day’s coverage.

Cap d’Any (New Year’s Eve)

Where: various venues
When: 31 Dec & 1 Jan
In Spain, New Year’s Eve tends to be a time for family dinners, with most people emerging to party after midnight, but there is always a group of revellers to be found in Plaça Catalunya. The drill is to wear red underwear for luck in the coming year, and to eat 12 grapes, one for each chime of the clock, at midnight. It’s harder than you’d think, and tinned, pre-peeled versions are available. During the day, look out for L’Home dels Nassos, the man who has as many noses as days the year has left (it being the last day, the sly old fox has only one) who parades and throws sweets to the children.

Cavalcada dels Reis

Where: various venues
When: 5 Jan, 5-9pm
Website: www.bcn.es/nadal
Epiphany is the big Christmas event here, and is marked by the Kings’ Parade. Melchior, Gaspar and Balthasar arrive aboard the Santa Eulàlia boat at the bottom of La Rambla before beginning a grand parade around town with a retinue of acrobats, circus clowns and child elfs. The route is published in the newspapers, but normally starts at the lower entrance of Ciutadella, running up C/Marquès de l’Argentera and Via Laietana. Later that night, children leave their shoes out on the balcony stuffed with hay for the kings’ camels; in the morning, they’re either full of presents or edible sugar coal depending on their behaviour the previous year. The following day is a holiday.

Festa dels Tres Tombs

Where: Sant Antoni
When: 17 Jan
St Anthony’s day naturally enough also marks the festa major of the district; all the usual ingredients of music, and gegants here include a monstrous, symbolic fire-breathing pig – the form the devil took when tempting the saint. Anthony is patron saint of animals and on his feast day it’s still the custom to bring pets to the church of St Anthony to be blessed. Afterwards, horsemen ride three circuits (tres tombs) in a formal procession from Ronda Sant Antoni, through Plaça Catalunya, down La Rambla and along C/Nou de la Rambla.

Sa Pobla a Gràcia

Where: Gràcia, around Plaça del Diamant
When: around 17 Jan
Website: www.bcn.cat
Another celebration in honour of St Anthony, who is one of the world’s most venerated saints, this one imported from Mallorca. Two days of Balearic folk festivities see street bonfires, parades of dragons and giants, and candlelit singing (in mallorquín) in the Plaça del Diamant.

Festival Internacional de Percussió

Where: L’Auditori
When: Feb
Website: www.auditori.cat
The festival name may be a slight misnomer, since at least half the acts of the International Percussion Festival are actually Catalan, but it’s none the worse for that. At the end of the festival, CDs are made featuring the artists who performed during it.

Santa Eulàlia

Where: all over Barcelona
When: wk of 12 Feb
The city’s blowout winter festival is in honour of Santa Eulàlia (Laia), who met her end at the hands of the Romans after revolting tortures, Barcelona’s co-patron saint and a special favourite of children. Her feast day on 12 February kicks off with a ceremony in Plaça Sant Jaume, followed by music, sardanes and parades, with Masses and children’s choral concerts held in the churches and cathedral. In the evening, the female giants gather in Plaça Sant Josep Oriol, then go to throw flowers on the Baixada de Santa Eulàlia before a final boogie in the Plaça Sant Jaume. The Ajuntament and the cathedral crypt (where she’s buried) are free and open to the public, as are more than 30 museums. The festival closes on Sunday evening with correfocs (for adults and children) centred around the cathedral.

Barcelona Visual Sound

Where: various venues
When: late Feb
Website: www.barcelonavisualsound.org
Ten-day showcase for untried film talent covering shorts, documentaries, animation and web design.

Carnaval (Carnival)

Where: all over Barcelona
When: Shrove Tuesday & Ash Wednesday
Website: www.bcn.cat/carnaval
The city drops everything for a last hurrah of overeating, overdrinking and underdressing prior to Lent. The celebrations begin on Dijous Gras (Mardi Gras) with the appearance of potbellied King Carnestoltes – the masked personification of the carnival spirit – followed by the grand weekend parade, masked balls, fartaneres (neighbourhood feasts, typically with lots of pork), food fights and a giant botifarrada (sausage barbecue) on La Rambla, with most of the kids and market traders in fancy dress.

Public holidays

Most shops, banks and offices, and many bars and restaurants, close on public holidays (festius/festivos), and public transport is limited. Many take long weekends whenever a major holiday comes along. If the holiday coincides with, say, a Tuesday or a Thursday, many people will take the Monday or Friday off: this is what is known as a pont/puente.

New Year’s Day (Any Nou) 1 Jan
Three Kings (Reis Mags) 6 Jan
Good Friday (Divendres Sant)
Easter Monday (Dilluns de Pasqua)
Labour Day (Festa del Treball) 1 May
Mon after Whitsun (Segona Pascua) 1 June
Sant Joan 24 June
Verge de l’Assumpció 15 Aug
Diada de Catalunya 11 Sept
La Mercè 24 Sept
Dia de la Hispanitat 12 Oct
All Saints’ Day (Tots Sants) 1 Nov
Constitution Day (Día de la Constitución) 6 Dec
La Immaculada 8 Dec
Christmas Day (Nadal) 25 Dec
Boxing Day (Sant Esteve) 26 Dec

http://www.timeout.com