It has been said that Barcelona holds fewer festivals than its more exuberant sister cities in the south of Spain. This might be true. Then again, considering the city’s events calendar is positively polka-dotted with dates for carnivals, festivals, parades and street parties, there certainly doesn’t seem to be much cause for complaint – there’s always something lively happening somewhere in Barcelona.
A swinging city!
The most common sort of excitement is the usual buzz you get from a city liberally supplied with restaurants, theatres, clubs, bars and discos. For most people, their nightlife starts at about 6 pm, just after the exodus from the offices. First, there’s the almost obligatory long dinner. Like all Spaniards, Barcelonans dine late, usually at about 10 pm. Then, at a suitably late hour, its off for further entertainments that often lasts ’til dawn — which helps explain the vibrant energy that pervades the city late at night.
Barcelona has a swinging club scene, perfect for night owls who want to dance and drink from sundown to sunup. The multitude of decadent clubs are an irresistible draw for dedicated revellers from around Europe, who flock to the city in their thousands throughout the year.
There are also fairly regular performances by international music stars, and even more frequently, there are raves, house parties and whatever other sort of music event can be dreamed of by Europe’s famously hedonistic clubbing culture.
There’s some disagreement over whether Barcelona really deserves its reputation as the one of the hippest nightspots in Europe, but with cover charges generally lower than in neighbouring countries, seemingly endless music and a generous flow of liquor, no one grouses too much.
Besides, for the serious partier, membership in some of the clubs has the added amusement of getting your arm implanted with a micro-chip. This Barcelonan innovation separates the VIP (Very Important Partiers) from the less exalted crowd, allows special entry and acts as a debit account for all those drinks to come.
Religious Festivals of Barcelona
Next to the clubs and modern dance parties, the more traditional religious festivals might seem rather tame — unless its a Barcelonan traditional religious festival of course, in which case they are often just as enthusiastically celebrated as the most modern dance craze. Despite the solemn religious foundations of many festivals, they are quite often occasions of great raucousness and free spirited revelry, especially in the later hours of the night.
There are almost as many occasions for religious celebration as there are days in the year, though not all of them are major events. Many of Barcelona’s districts stage their own special celebrations or activities throughout the year, in honour of a patron saint, or the coming of summer, spring or autumn. These events don’t always make it into the tourist guides, but do make a pleasant surprise during a casual exploration of the city.
Most of these festivities are in the form of parades, offerings and other acts of devotion, as most of the festivals are religious in nature. For example, on Saint George’s day, the Catalans celebrate by offering a rose or a book to the learned Saint, and the main shopping avenues of the city are crammed with book stands. Barcelona also combines an ancient celebration of Midsummer with honouring a patron saint. The summer solstice is observed on 23 June, together with the Eve of Saint John’s Day, and the occasion is marked by fire — fireworks, firecrackers and big roaring bonfires, around which the celebrants dance and sing and eat the traditional pastry, coca de Sant Joan.
One of the most famous, and most wildly celebrated district festivals is the Festa Mayor de Gracia. This lively, bohemian area was once a separate village, and even after it was incorporated into Barcelona, it maintained a fiercely independent free spirit. This unique character is most evident during the Festa, which takes places during the third week of August, when almost everyone in the city has run for the beaches and the hills to escape the summer heat. Whilst the rest of the city lies empty and lifeless, the residents and lucky visitors to Gracia district pass the time with a seemingly endless street party, with music, dancing, singing and pretty much every other activity involving noise, laughter, movement or all three.
Then there are the citywide religious festivals, which can often resemble colossal street parties, at least in the later hours. Out of all these festivals, the most prominent, and definitely the most exciting is the La Merce festival, which celebrates Barcelona’s patron saint. This festival is held in the week of the 24th September and there’s a brilliant array of activities held throughout the city. For the kiddies, there are games, parades and other pursuits, while for the older (but no less excited) crowd, there are pyrotechnic shows, music performances.
All in all, Barcelona offers plenty of opportunities for a visitor to let their hair down, and if its not quite as wild and happening as its sister-cities in the south, it is still a respectably lively city. From the usual bar hopping routine of a Saturday night, to a visit to an ultra-hip new club, or just a good old street party, with food and music galore, Barcelona is a great place to visit for some good ol’ fun.