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A Guide to the Best Spanish Festivals

Spain is renowned for its lavish party scene, and when it comes to annual festivals, things are no different.


The parties spill into the streets, with colourful getups, detailed floats and parades that seem to extend for days. Each city is privy to its own unique celebrations, but there are some that are nationwide, and others that are just too wild to ignore.


Carnival

Historically, Carnival has been a celebration across the world where people get all their partying out of the way before buckling down for Lent.

Society went a little wild, and mischief was always encouraged. These days, while Carnival is still a raucous celebration, the festivities centre around parades in the street, colourful and elaborate costumes and gorging yourself on traditional Spanish food.

One of Spain's most popular Carnival celebrations takes place in Sitges, where the partying rages on for an entire week.

It begins with Fat Thursday, which sees the King Carnestoltes – or the King of Carnival – parading through the streets signalling the start of the festivities. Then it continues with more than 40 floats in the Debauchery Parade, where things can, as you might imagine, get a little risque.

On Ash Wednesday, everyone returns to the streets for the traditional Burial of the Sardine, as there won't be many seafood dishes going around for the next 40 days. Here, drag queens and other party-goers dress in black to mourn the end of Carnival, and the closing of one of Spain's greatest celebrations.


Las Falles

This popular celebration takes place in Spain's Valencia region, honouring Saint Joseph and the arrival of spring. Artisans from around the area will prepare their ninots – papier mache puppets or dolls filled with firecrackers modelled after a chosen theme that often pokes fun at current events.

Throughout the five-day celebration, the artists and other members of the community – often dressed in medieval clothes – will let off fireworks and firecrackers in the street as processions flow by.

There are marching bands, fireworks shows, visits by the mayor and a flower offering to a statue of the Virgin Mary. At the end of the celebration, all of the ninots go up in flames as everyone celebrates in the main square with more firecrackers and live music.

La Tomatina

The history of La Tomatina is a little foggy – people speculate that it began with a disgruntled parade participant falling from his float as a result of a young crowd getting a little over excited.

The man angrily threw whatever came in his path, which eventually was tomatoes from a vegetable stand. The next year, at the same parade, the group came back with tomatoes of their own and started a massive food fight that has since been relived every August.

Nowadays, La Tomatina sees thousands of participants flock to the town of Bunol in Valencia for a purely entertaining tomato fight, until the streets and the people in them are painted completely red.

The tradition has now caught on around the world, but there's nothing quite like experiencing it in its original location.


San Fermin

This traditional, incredibly popular celebration that's held every July in the city of Pamplona is a little bit crazy. The core of the festivities is the famous bull run, which involves six bulls and six steers chasing hundreds of participants down narrow streets, and eventually ends in a traditional bullfight.

The rest of the week's celebrations include parades with giant-headed papier mache statues, live music, a procession of the statue of Saint Fermin and an event called El Struendo.

It's where hundreds of people gather near the Town Hall and make as much noise as possible – often using drums, whistles and anything else they can manage – for hours on end.

Semana Santa

Semana Santa is a religious celebration observed in almost every city across Spain during the last week of Lent, leading up to Easter.

Celebrations range from glamorous to solemn, depending on the city, but always see Catholic brotherhoods parade through the streets with floats depicting religious icons. Colourful flowers and people from all over the world flood the streets, as live music and intricate statues pass by.

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