In a city of pedestrian walkways and plazas waiting to be filled with stages and revelers, there is rarely a week that goes by without something to celebrate in Barcelona. Whether you’re looking for religion, innovative art, experimental music or just a good old-fashioned block party, these eight festivals will satisfy any celebration-seeking traveler.
Primavera Sound (pictured above) is an annual three-day music festival that takes place just north of the city center by the Mediterranean Sea at Parc del Fòrum in late-May/early-June. The festival is a celebration of pop, rock and indie music and is renowned for its eclectic line-up and for showcasing independent, new acts. Internationally established and well-known bands such as Blur, Björk, Iggy and the Stooges, The White Stripes and The Smashing Pumpkins have all graced Primavera’s stages. Parc del Fòrum is a beautiful site alongside Barcelona’s stunning Mediterranean coastline. All of the stages are outdoors except the Auditori, which is one of the biggest of its kind in Europe with a seating capacity of 3,200.
The International Festival of Advanced Music and New Media Art, also known as Sónar, is requisite for anyone interested in electronic music, contemporary art and media technologies. The event runs for three days and two nights in the third week of June over two main venues. Sónar by Day is located at Fira Montjuïc, where there are concerts, DJs playing multimedia art, record fairs, exhibitions and sound labs. Sónar by Night takes place in a vast hangar space out in Fira Gran Via de L’Hospitalet where the leading names in the international music scene play concerts spread over SónarClub, SónarPark and SónarPub. If you’re attending Sónar, be prepared for crowds; the festival attracts 80,000 attendees per year.
The main celebrations for Sant Joan in Barcelona take place on the evening of June 23 the night before the public holiday on June 24. Sant John’s Eve is a celebration of the Summer Solstice and the start of summer. It is one of the most important feast days for Catalans as the sun, which reaches its highest point on the evening of the Summer Solstice, is seen as a symbol of fertility and wealth. Families, friends and whole neighborhoods meet up and stay out late to celebrate outside, on roof terraces, by the beach, in a square or up in the hills. Vast quantities of cava are consumed, bonfires are lit on the beaches and the streets, fireworks fill the sky and music is played. The street and beach parties are the best ways to experience the festival.
A three-day music festival, Cruïlla is an annual event in mid-July. The festival started in nearby Mataró and moved to Barcelona in 2008 and it has now become one of the city’s best summer festivals. Around 30,000 music fans go to Festival Cruïlla each year, which also is held at Parc del Fòrum. The festival’s eclectic line-up ranges from pop and rock to R&B, Jamaican and African music. The diverse line-up has included three-time Grammy winner Damian ‘Jr. Gong’ Marley, Emeli Sandé, Of Monsters and Men and Franz Ferdinand.
Photo: Getty/Carlos Alvarez
During the third week of August the Gràcia neighbourhood hosts a spectacular annual street party called La Festa Major de Gràcia (pictured above). The main event at Festa Major is the “best decorated street” competition, during which locals construct elaborate displays with themes like outer space, jungles and rainforests within their street. The festival opens with giants and castles in Plaça de la Vila de Gràcia and finishes with a castle of fireworks. During the festival, there are around 600 activities like concerts, acrobatics, Catalan folk dance shows and bouncy castles.
Every year in mid-July Raval, Barcelona’s most multicultural neighborhood, has a big street party to celebrate the feast day of Mare de Déu del Carme, the barrio’s patron saint. Festa Major’s program of events includes a parade with dancing, live music, fire runs, human towers, film screenings, light projections, sports and more.
The Sala Montjuïc open-air cinema festival takes place each summer on the grounds of Montjuïc Castle, one the most beautiful and historic places in town. A great selection of classic and new films is shown three times a week during July and August. Turn up early to see the jazz band play before the film starts. To make the evening as comfortable as possible bring a blanket and some chairs or rent lounges when you arrive. Lots of people bring picnics with them or grab something from the picnic service there.
Lasting five-days in late September, La Mercè is the city’s largest street party and features more than 600 events, including free concerts all over the city and Catalan cultural attractions such as human towers, dancing giants and fire running. The festival finishes with an enormous fireworks display in Montjuïc.
Hatty Copeman is a London based freelance journalist who writes about travel and culture.