For an exhaustive list of events beyond those listed here for the city of Barcelona, check http://events.frommers.com, where you'll find a searchable, up-to-the-minute roster of what's happening in cities all over the world.
Barcelona—like Seville and Madrid—is a big fiesta city; whether it's a rip-roaring street carnival or a culture fest, the year's calendar is sprinkled with events to keep in mind when planning your trip. Note that on official holidays shops, banks, and some restaurants and museums close for the day.
The dates for festivals and events given here may not be precise. Sometimes the exact days are not announced until 6 weeks before the actual festival. Also, days allotted to celebrate Easter, Carnaval and some other religious days change each year. Check with the Barcelona tourist office if you're planning to attend a specific event.
Día de los Reyes (Three Kings Day). Parades are held around the country on the eve of the Festival of the Epiphany, which is traditionally when Christmas gift-giving is done (the concept of "Santa Claus" has crept into the culture now, so people also exchange gifts at Christmas). In Barcelona, the three "kings" arrive by boat in the evening to dispense gifts to all the excited children. January 6.
Carnaval. Carnaval in Barcelona is a relatively low-key event. The most dressing up you will see is by groups of children or stall owners in the local markets who organize a competition between themselves for "best costume" (buying fresh fish off a woman dressed in full Louis VI regalia is one of those "only in Barcelona" experiences you will treasure), as well as the city's main Carnaval parade. Just south of the city, however, in the seaside town of Sitges, locals, especially the local gay community, go all out and many Barcelonans take the short train ride to celebrate along with them. Just before Lent.
Semana Santa (Holy Week). Catalonia has some Easter traditions not found in the rest of the country. The Mona is a whimsical chocolate and pastry creation given in the same way we give Easter eggs. On Palm Sunday, palm leaves are blessed in Gaudí's Sagrada Família and the city's main cathedral celebrates with the curious l'ou com balla—a hollowed-out egg shell placed on top of a fountain in the city's cathedral's cloister to bob around and "dance." Out of town, the ominously named Dansa de la Mort (Dance of Death) sees men dressed as skeletons performing a "death" dance in the village of Verges near Girona, and various Passion Plays are also performed, the most famous in the village of Esparraguera, 40km (25 miles) outside of Barcelona. One week before Easter.
La Diada de St. Jordi. Saint George (St. Jordi in Catalan) is the patron saint of Catalonia, and his name day coincides with the death of Don Quijote author Miguel Cervantes. On this day men give a single red rose to the significant women in their lives (mother, girlfriend, sister, and so on), and women give a book in return (although many men now give women a book). This is one of the most colorful days in Catalonia, as thousands of rose-sellers take to the streets and bookshops set up open-air stalls along the major thoroughfares. April 23.
Saint George Conquers the World — In 1995, taking a cue from Catalonia, UNESCO declared April 23 "World Book Day" to encourage people to buy books, to think about books, and to simply read more. In the U.K., children receive a book token and online chat rooms are set up with well-known authors. The idea seems to be catching on, with as many as 30 countries participating. See www.worldbookday.com.
May Day. Also known as Labor Day, this day sees a huge march by the city's trade union members. Dozens of herbs, natural remedies, and wholesome goodies are sold along the Carrer de l'Hospital in the Fira de Sant Ponç. May 1.
Corpus Christi. During this festival, solemn processions trudge through Barcelona, while the streets of Sitges are carpeted in flowers. Can fall in May or June.
Sónar. This dance-music and multimedia festival has gained a reputation as one of the best on the world circuit. Thousands from all over Europe descend on the city for the DJs, live concerts, and other related events. During the day events are held at the Museum of Contemporary Art; at night, they move to the enormous trade-fair buildings. Purchase tickets to this wildly popular festival well in advance at www.sonar.es. Early to mid-June.
Verbena de Sant Juan. Catalonia celebrates the Twelfth Night with fiery activities that can keep even grannies up till dawn. Families stock up on fireworks a week in advance before setting them off in streets and squares and even off balconies. Bonfires are lit along the beachfront, and the sky is ablaze with smoke and light. Lots of cava is consumed, and it is traditional to have the year's first dip in the sea at dawn (officially the first day of summer). Madcap fun. June 23.
How the Egg Dances — During the feast of Corpus Christi in June, a uniquely Catalan tradition can be seen in the cathedral's cloister. L'ou com balla (the egg that dances) consists of an empty eggshell placed on top of the fountain's spurts of water and left to "dance." Its origins go back to 1637, although its significance is disputed. Some say that the egg simply represents spring and the beginning of a new life cycle, others that its form represents the Eucharist.
El Grec. International names in all genres of music and theater come to the city to perform in various open-air venues, including the mock-Greek theater, namesake of the city's main culture fest. Beginning of July.
Festa Major de Gràcia. This charming weeklong fiesta is held in the village-like neighborhood of Gràcia. 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. Early to mid-August.
La Diada de Catalunya. This is the most politically and historically significant holiday in Catalonia. Although it celebrates the region's autonomy, the date actually marks the day the city was besieged by Spanish and French troops in 1714 during the War of Succession. Demonstrations calling for greater independence are everywhere; wreath-laying ceremonies take place at tombs of past politicos; and the senyera, the flag of Catalonia, is hung from balconies. Not your typical tourist fare, but interesting for anyone who wishes to understand Catalan nationalism. September 11.
La Mercè. This celebration honors Our Lady of Mercy (La Mercè), the city's patron saint. Legend has it she rid Barcelona of a plague of locusts, and the Barcelonese give thanks in rip-roaring style. Free music concerts, from traditional to contemporary, are held in the plazas (particularly Plaça de Catalunya and Plaça Sant Jaume), and folkloric figures 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. One of the best times to be in Barcelona. September 24.
Dia de la Hispanitat. Spain's national day (which commemorates Columbus' "discovery" of the New World) gets a mixed reception in Catalonia, due to the region's overriding sense of independence. The only street events you are likely to see are demonstrations calling for exactly that, or low-key celebrations from groups of people from other regions of Spain. October 12.
All Saints' Day. This public holiday is reverently celebrated, as relatives and friends lay flowers on the graves (or nichos—in Spain, people are buried one on top of another in tiny compartments) of the dead. The night before, some of the bars in the city hold Halloween parties, another imported custom that seems to be catching on. November 1.
Nadal (Christmas). In mid-December stall-holders 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. December 25.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.