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A Spanish Sojourn

The Spanish are as well-known for their culture and tradition as their penchant for partying hard, where anything can be an excuse for a celebration. Below are our top picks of fiestas and events in the Spanish calendar, along with need-to-know tips to help you make the most of your visit. 

Carnavales in Tenerife and Cadiz

Carnavales (Carnival) is celebrated in all of Spain, but Tenerife and Cadiz are the places where the party really takes off. There, the festivities go for more than a week, with the highlight being their fancy dress parades. On the weekend, everyone dresses up in costumes varying from the Mario Brothers to gladiators. Dates change every year, but generally fall in February or March.

Las Fallas in Valencia

Gunpowder and the ninots are the main attractions of Las Fallas, a fiesta that goes from 15 to 19 March. Ninots are satirical sculptures (usually of well-known public figures or events) that are up to 30m high and take almost a year to make. On the last day of the fiesta, the Valencians celebrate la cremá, the awe-inspiring burning and destruction of these huge creations. 

Semana Santa

Semana Santa (Easter) is the most important religious event in the Spanish calendar. In all the villages and cities there’s a procession with men carrying a statue of Jesus or Mary and a marching band. Leon, Valladolid and Sevilla are among the cities that have become tourist hotspots for Semana Santa celebrations. 

San Fermin in Pamplona

San Fermin, also known as ‘The Running of the Bulls’, is arguably one of the greatest fiestas in the world, not least because almost every year some hapless partier meets with a grave accident. During the week-long party, the population of Pamplona increases from 200,000 to almost 3 million people. The chupinazo (rocket launch) occurs at midday on 6 July at the town hall, signifying the start of the celebrations. From 7 to 14 July at exactly 8am, bulls are let loose to run along a fenced path into the Plaza de Toros (bull ring). After the spectacle, the Spaniards stay in the street drinking and partying long into the night. 

Descenso del Sella in Arrioandas and Ribadesella

Generally on the first Saturday of August, the Descenso del Sella is a race down the river Sella in canoe or kayak. As much a social as a sporting event, people travel from all of Spain to watch and to row down the river themselves once the race has finished. The towns Arriondas and Ribadesella close down traffic to allow visitors to pitch tents anywhere they like. Internationally, the annual Descenso is considered one of the most important canoe/kayak events in the sport.

Tips

  • Restaurants open after 8pm, but don’t fill up until around 10pm. If you’re there to crowd-gaze, make your booking for 9.30pm. In the meantime, have a tapa or two in the bar to tide you over.
  • Shops generally close for a few hours between 1.30 and 5pm, except for big chain stores and high traffic areas like the Madrid and Barcelona CBDs.
  • Spaniards respect their Sundays and public holidays - expect supermarkets and shops to be closed on these days. It’s also best to check what regional and national holidays will occur during your visit, as each region in Spain has its own public holidays and fiestas (and there are many).
  • Different languages are spoken in different regions of Spain. Signage can be in the local language but you can usually get away with Castellano.
  • People on the street are more than happy to help you with directions and advice if you get lost or need to find a bar serving good tapas.
  • Tourist hotspots are a magnet for skilled pickpockets. Make sure you keep your valuables or bag within eyesight.
  • Banks are open from 8.30am to 2pm on weekdays. Some will also open for a few hours on Saturday and during one weekday afternoon.
  • In the summer months, some offices and companies have restricted hours.

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Tips by
Catherine

Deal Expert, Sydney
Monday, May 16, 2011
See more Tips from
Catherine Mah