The dates given below are approximate and will help you start planning. Sometimes the exact days are not announced until 6 weeks before the actual festival. Check with the Tourist Office of Spain for more information and exact dates.
Granada Reconquest Festival, Granada. The whole city celebrates the Christians’ victory over the Moors in 1492. The highest tower at the Alhambra is open to the public on January 2. For information, call [tel] 95-824-71-46 or visit www.turgranada.es. January 2.
Día de los Reyes (Three Kings Day), throughout Spain. Parades are held around the country on the eve of the Festival of the Epiphany. Various “kings” dispense candy to all the kids. January 5–6.
Gastrofestival, Madrid. Top international chefs gather for Madrid Fusion, restaurants and tapas bars offer special menus and treats. Cooking tours and demos are held; museums and galleries host food-themed films and programs. Call [tel] 91-454-44-10 or visit www.esmadrid.com. Last week of January, first week of February.
ARCO (International Contemporary Art Fair), Madrid. One of the biggest draws on Spain’s cultural calendar, this exhibit showcases the best in contemporary art from Europe, the Americas, Australia, and Asia. For more information, call [tel] 91-722-30-00 or visit www.ifema.es. Dates vary, usually mid-February.
Festival de Jerez. Annual flamenco festival highlights Jerez’s role in the development of the art. Performances range from intimate bars to enthusiasts’ clubs to large stage shows, usually featuring major figures. Also guitar, singing, and dance workshops. Call [tel] 95-614-98-63or visit www.turismojerez.com for tickets. Late February through early March.
Madrid Carnaval. The carnival kicks off with a parade along Paseo de la Castellana, culminating in a masked ball at the Círculo de Bellas Artes on the following night. Fancy-dress competitions last until Ash Wednesday, when the festivities end with a tear-jerking “burial of a sardine” at the Fuente de los Pajaritos in the Casa de Campo, followed by a concert in the Plaza Mayor. Call [tel] 91-454-44-10 or visit www.esmadrid.com. Just before Lent.
Barcelona Carnaval. Compared to other parts of Spain, Carnaval in Barcelona is a low-key affair. In addition to the city’s main parade, stall-owners in local markets organize a competition among themselves for best costume. Just south of the city, in the seaside town of Sitges, the local gay community goes all out for Carnaval. Many Barceloneses hop the commuter rail to celebrate with them. Call [tel] 93-285-38-34 or visit www.barcelonaturisme.com. Just before Lent.
Carnavales de Cádiz. The oldest and best-attended carnival in Spain is a freewheeling event full of costumes, parades, strolling troubadours, and drum beating. For more information, call [tel] 62-933-28-40 or visit www.carnavaldecadiz.com. Just before Lent.
Fallas de Valencia, Valencia. Dating from the 1400s, this fiesta centers on burning gigantic papier-mâché effigies of winter demons. Burnings are preceded by bullfights, fireworks, parades, and the mascletà, a series of controlled explosions. This festival must be seen (and heard) to be believed. For information, visit www.fallasfromvalencia.com. Early to mid-March.
Semana Santa (Holy Week), throughout Spain. From Palm Sunday until Easter Sunday, a series of processions with hooded penitents moves to the piercing wail of the saeta. Heavy floats, or pasos, bearing the image of the Virgin or Christ are carried on the penitents’ shoulders. Notable processions are held in Zamora, Cuenca, Jerez de la Frontera, Sevilla, and Madrid. Not surprisingly, Catalunya has some traditions not found in the rest of Spain. The “Mona de Pascua,” a whimsical chocolate and pastry cake, is traditionally given by godparents to their godchildren. On Palm Sunday, palm leaves are blessed in Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia. Spaniards often take holidays on this week, and hotel prices soar to the highest of the year. Be sure to reserve in advance. Some restaurants and attractions curtail their hours. Unless you are interested in the religious spectacle, it’s a good week to avoid. One week before Easter.
La Diada de Sant Jordi, Catalunya. St. George (Sant Jordi in Catalan) is the patron saint of Catalunya, and his feast day coincides with the deaths of Miguel de Cervantes and William Shakespeare. On this day, men traditionally give a single red rose to the significant women in their lives, and women give a book in return. This is one of the most colorful days in Catalunya, as thousands of rose-sellers take to the streets and bookshops set up open-air stalls along the major thoroughfares. April 23.
Feria de Sevilla (Sevilla Fair). This is the most celebrated week of revelry in all of Spain, with all-night flamenco dancing, entertainment booths, bullfights, horseback riding, flower-decked coaches, and dancing in the streets. You’ll need to reserve a hotel early for this one. Call [tel] 95-448-68-00or visit www.turismosevilla.org. Second week after Easter.
Moros y Cristianos (Moors andChristians), Alcoy, near Alicante. For 3 days, the centuries-old battle between the Moors and the Christians is restaged with soldiers in period costumes. The Christians who drove the Moors from Spain always win. The simulated fighting takes on almost a circus-like flair, and the costumes worn by the Moors are always absurd and anachronistic. For more information, call [tel] 96-514-34-52 or visit www.alicantecongresos.com.Late April.
Feria del Caballo, Jerez de la Frontera. This annual livestock fair, held here since the 13th century, focuses on the famous Andalucían standard breed developed by Carthusian monks. It features 5 days of equestrian events, parades, flamenco, livestock displays, and, of course, sherry drinking. For information, call [tel] 95-614-98-63 or visit www.turismojerez.com.Mid-May.
Festival de los Patios, Córdoba. This is a rare chance to get inside the gates to visit Córdoba’s famous patios with their cascading gitanillas (little Gypsies), as gardeners call their geraniums. Residents decorate with flowers and welcome visitors. Visit www.amigosdelospatioscordobeses.es for more information. First 2 weeks of May.
Fiesta de San Isidro, Madrid. Madrileños run wild with a 10-day celebration honoring the city’s patron saint. Food fairs, Castilian folkloric events, street parades, parties, music, dances, bullfights, and other festivities mark the occasion. Make hotel reservations early. Expect crowds and traffic. Call [tel] 91-454-44-10 or visit www.esmadrid.com. Mid-May.
Corpus Christi, all over Spain. A major holiday on the Spanish calendar, this event is marked by big processions in Madrid as well as in nearby cathedral cities, such as Toledo. In Catalunya, the streets of Sitges are carpeted in flowers. May or June, depending on liturgical calendar.
Suma Flamenca, Madrid. This month-long flamenco summit offers performances almost every night in intimate clubs and large concert halls. For information on performers and venues, see www.madrid.org/sumaflamenca. June.
Sónar, Barcelona. This international 3-day festival of advanced music and new media art has gained a reputation as one of the world’s most innovative. For more information, visit http://sonar.es. Early to mid-June.
Verbena de Sant Joan, Barcelona. This traditional festival occupies all Catalans. Barcelona literally lights up, with fireworks, bonfires, and dances until dawn. The highlight of the festival is the fireworks show at Montjuïc. Call [tel] 93-285-38-34 or visit www.barcelonaturisme.com. June 23 (eve of feast of St. John).
Festival Internacional de Musica y Danza de Granada, Granada. Since 1952, Granada’s prestigious program of dance and music has attracted international artists who perform at the Alhambra and other venues. It’s a major event on Europe’s cultural calendar. Reserve well in advance. For a complete schedule and tickets, visit www.granadafestival.org. Last week of June to first week of July.
A Rapa das Bestas (The Capture of the Beasts), San Lorenzo de Sabucedo, Galicia. Spain’s greatest horse roundup attracts equestrian lovers from throughout Europe. Horses in the verdant hills of northwestern Spain are rounded up, branded, and medically checked before being released back into the wild. Call [tel] 98-154-24-00 or visit www.turgalicia.es. First weekend in July.
Fiesta de Santiago, Santiago de Compostela. Pomp and ceremony mark this annual pilgrimage to the tomb of St. James the Apostle. Galician folklore shows, concerts, parades, and the swinging of the botafumeiro (a mammoth incense burner) mark the event. Call [tel] 98-154-24-00 or visit www.turgalicia.es. July 15 to 30.
Fiesta de San Fermín, Pamplona. Vividly described in ErnestHemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises, the running of the bulls through the streets of Pamplona is the most popular celebration in Spain. It includes wine tasting, fireworks, and, of course, bullfights. Reserve many months in advance. Visit www.sanfermin.com. July 6 to 14.
San Sebastián Jazz Festival, San Sebastián. Celebrating its 50th year in 2015, this festival brings the jazz greats of the world together in the Kursaal. Other programs take place alfresco at the Plaza de Trinidad in the Old Quarter. For schedule and tickets, call [tel] 94-348-19-00 or visit www.heinekenjazzaldia.com. Late July.
Festival Internacional de Santander. The repertoire includes classical music, ballet, contemporary dance, chamber music, and recitals. Most performances are staged in the Palacio de Festivales, a centrally located auditorium custom-built for this event. Call [tel] 94-221-05-08 or visit www.festivalsantander.com. Throughout August.
Fiestas of Lavapiés and La Paloma, Madrid. Festivities begin with the Lavapiés on August 1 and continue through the hectic La Paloma celebration on August 15, the Day of the Virgen de la Paloma. During the fiestas, thousands of people race through the narrow streets. Apartment dwellers hurl buckets of cold water onto the crowds below to cool them off. There are children’s games, floats, music, flamenco, and zarzuelas, along with street fairs. Call [tel] 91-454-44-10 or visit www.esmadrid.com.Two weeks in early August.
Misteri d’Elx (Mystery of Elche). This sacred drama is reenacted in the 17th-century Basilica of Santa María in Elche (near Alicante). It represents the Assumption and the Crowning of the Virgin. For tickets, call [tel] 96-665-81-96 or visit www.visitelche.com. August 11 to 15.
Feria de Málaga (Málaga Fair). One of the longest summer fairs in southern Europe (generally lasting 10 days), this celebration kicks off with fireworks displays and is highlighted by a parade of Arabian horses pulling brightly decorated carriages. Participants dress in colorful Andalucían garb, plazas rattle with castanets, and wine is dispensed by the gallon. Call [tel] 95-192-62-20 or visit www.malagaturismo.com. Weekend before August 19.
La Tomatina (Battle of the Tomatoes), Buñol (Valencia). This is one of the most photographed festivals in Spain, growing in popularity every year. Truckloads of tomatoes are shipped into Buñol, where they become vegetable missiles between warring towns and villages. Portable showers are brought in for the cleanup, followed by music for dancing and singing. Visit www.latomatina.org. Last Wednesday in August.
Fiesta de la Rosa del Azafrán (Saffron Rose Festival), Consuegra. The heartof Spain’s saffron-growing region celebrates the harvest with a weekend fair featuring beauty queens, competitions to separate saffron threads from flowers, and a folk festival. A ceremonial grinding of saffron in windmills cements the friendship of Spain’s chief saffron-growing villages. Visit www.turismocastillalamancha.es. Last weekend of August.
Diada de Catalunya, Barcelona. The most significant festival in Catalunya celebrates the region’s autonomy from the rest of Spain, following years of repression under the dictator Franco. Demonstrations and other flag-waving events take place. The senyera, the flag of Catalunya, is everywhere. Not your typical tourist fare, but interesting. For more information, visit www.gencat.net. September 11.
San Sebastián International Film Festival, San Sebastián. The premier film festival of Spain takes place in the Basque capital, often at several different theaters. Retrospectives are frequently featured, and weeklong screenings are held. Call [tel] 94-348-12-12 or visit www.sansebastianfestival.com. Second week in September.
Festa de la Mercè,Barcelona. This celebration honors Mare de Deu de la Mercè, the city’s patron saint, known for her compassion for animals. Beginning after dark, and after a Mass in the Igreja de la Mercè, a procession of as many as 50 “animals” (humans dressed like tigers, lions, and horses) proceeds with lots of firecrackers and sparklers to the cathedral and then on to Plaça de Sant Jaume and eventually into Les Rambles, Plaça de Catalunya, and the harborfront. Call [tel] 93-285-38-34 or visit www.barcelonaturisme.com. Mid-September.
Semana de Santa Teresa, Avila. Verbenas (carnivals), parades, singing, and dancing honor the patron saint of this walled city. Call [tel] 92-035-40-00 or visit www.avilaturismo.com. October 8 to 15.
Feria de Otoño, Madrid. Spanish and international artists participate in this cultural program with a series of operatic, ballet, dance, music, and theatrical performances featuring companies from Strasbourg to Tokyo. This event is a premier attraction, yet tickets are reasonably priced. Make hotel reservations early. Call [tel] 91-454-44-10 or visit www.esmadrid.com. Late October to late November.
All Saints’ Day,throughout Spain. This public holiday is reverently celebrated, as relatives and friends lay flowers on the graves or nichos of the deceased. Many bars in Madrid and Barcelona hold Halloween parties the night before—an imported custom that seems to be catching on. November 1.
Christmas Markets,Madrid and Barcelona. More than 100 stalls set up in Plaza Mayor in Madrid to sell handicrafts, Christmas decorations, and Nativity scenes. A similar market sets up in the plaza outside Barcelona’s cathedral.