La Feria de Abril, Seville
This festival is the perfect opportunity to witness a little of every Spanish tradition there is. The celebrations begin on the last Monday in April with the official lighting of the lanterns when half a million lights are all turned on at the same time. As well as bullfighting and flamenco, there are numerous parades, concerts and more than a thousand tents where locals sing and dance the famous sevillanas. And, for those of you who like to frequent your childhood every now and again, there is a huge fairground with numerous rides which should help you recapture your youth. Most of the activities don’t start until after 10.00pm, however, so bring plenty of energy with you and ensure that you conserve some for the finale on the Sunday night which includes a spectacular fireworks display.
Running of the Bulls, Pamplona
Spain’s most famous festival is the Running of the Bulls (Sanfermines) and is held in Pamplona in July every year. Now, the bad news for all you who have difficulty getting out of bed in the morning is that the actual running takes place at 7.00am. The good news is that most people stay up all night in preparation. Basically, visitors and locals alike drink all night and by the time the bulls do actually run everyone is exhausted. The atmosphere, however, is enough to keep you going. As with most events in Spain, the Sanfermines festival is an excuse to party as much as you possibly can. As well as the run, most people get dressed up in traditional garb and the most amazing atmosphere descends upon the town. Definitely one to watch!
While Carnival takes place throughout Spain during February every year, the wildest of all celebrations is found in Sitges. What used to be a quite fishing village is now home to the most popular gay resort in the country and on some days during the carnival attracts over a quarter of a million people – gay and straight. While the revelers mainly travel from around Spain itself as well as France, England, Italy and Germany, the festival is rapidly attracting members of the gay population from all over the world as some of the best drag performances of the year are put on as part of this weird but wonderful event.
Las Fallas, Valencia
This is another of Spain’s wilder festivals, and like most of the celebrations in the country, it too has religious origins. But, what began as a feast day celebration for St. Joseph somehow became a five-day celebration of fire. Yes, you read correctly. During ‘las Fallas’ the whole town becomes a loud, smoky haven for party lovers of the weirdest sense. Meaning ‘the fires’ in the native dialect, the focus of the festival is the creation and destruction of huge cardboard and plaster statues that are placed all over the city. They can take up to six months to construct and many are several stories tall. And what happens to them, they’re stuffed with fireworks and completely destroyed in a matter of minutes. But, the atmosphere is fantastic and unlike anything you are ever likely to witness anywhere else in the world – strange yes, but seriously enjoyable too.
This traditional form of dance is experiencing somewhat of a revival in Spain at the moment so you should certainly try to see at least one performance while you are in the country. The best place to do so is in Andalusia, its traditional home. And, not only will you get to see the native dance, you will also hear some excellent guitar playing too. If you don’t make it to Andalusia, however, there are always excellent displays at all of the Spanish fiestas. Furthermore, many hotels and restaurants in towns and cities all over the country will have flamenco dancers who perform especially for visitors. It’s probably not as authentic, but it is fun nevertheless, particularly if you head to an establishment where they make you try your skills too.