If you're visiting Spain in October, you're probably not headed to the beach—the weather in fall isn't exactly conducive to getting a suntan, but if you're partial to mildly warm days and quiet tourist attractions, it might just be the best time to go.
Many towns, especially on the Costa del Sol, have their annual feria (Spanish for festival) in October, so expect street stalls selling food and drink as the locals indulge in their seasonal revelries. This is also prime time for film festivals in Spain, and what better way to spend an autumn evening than by cozying up with a good movie? In 2020, many events have been altered or canceled, so check the websites of organizers for updated information.
Catch a Jazz Show in Catalonia
In Barcelona, toward the end of the month, you can hear world-class jazz at the famous Voll-Damm Barcelona International Jazz Festival, bringing big-name musicians and up-and-coming artists to more than a dozen venues around the city. 2020's festival will feature María José Llergo on October 28, Martirio and Chano Domínguez on October 31, and Brad Mehldau and Mario Biondi in November. Some of the concerts have been pushed back to December or later in 2021.
To take advantage of the last few days of really warm weather, many towns on the Costa del Sol hold their local feria, or fair, in October. You'll find festivals in Nerja, Fuengirola, Cádiar (including a wine fountain providing free vino), and San Pedro de Alcántara near Puerto Banus. The San Pedro feria—one of the last ones of the year—offers something for everyone: a "parade of giant heads," fireworks at the beach, live music, and more. As the location is directly adjacent to one of Marbella's most popular family destinations, you can also enjoy great restaurants and cafes while you're in the area. 2020's Feria de San Pedro Alcántara will take place on October 14.
Watch a Flamenco Competition in Seville
The remarkable Royal Alcázar and Plaza de España attract travelers to the Andalusian capital of Seville year-round, but the city's annual Guitar Festival is an added draw in October. At this event, guests are treated to performances by world-class guitarists and can even indulge in a very traditional flamenco guitar competition (a quintessentially Spanish experience). 2020's event will be held from October 8 to 24.
Learn About Architecture in Madrid
Spain's capital is heaven for the design-obsessed, boasting such architectural feats as the 17th-century Parque del Buen Retiro, the unique brick CaixaForum, and the Herrerian-style Plaza Mayor. So, it makes sense that Madrid would be the location for Architecture Week—Semana de la Arquitectura—a trade fair with exhibits, children's workshops, and public events held in some of Madrid's most famous buildings. All face-to-face events planned for 2020 have been moved to 2021, but the organizers will continue to put on virtual programming in place of the fair from September 30 to October 7.
Celebrate the Patron Saints of Spain
Spain follows the age-old Catholic tradition of honoring each town's patron saints. The majority of these special Saints' Days feature offerings and shows of respect to the saints, as well as parades and processions where statues are carried through the streets. Look for a feria in a small city or town to experience the custom firsthand.
- Fiestas del Pilar: The city of Zaragoza in Aragón honors the city's patron saint, Our Lady of the Pillar, with a week of shows, contests, and parades. Highlights include the offering of flowers and fruits to the Virgin Mary and the parade featuring floats made entirely of glass. 2020's Fiestas del Pilar has been canceled.
- Feria de Fuengirola: Also called Feria del Rosario, this celebration in Fuengirola is held in honor of Spain's national holiday (October 12) at the fairground. Locals bring their horses and carriages and wear their finest traditional garb: flamenco dresses for women and suits for men. The fair includes rides, live music, flamenco dancing, and fair foods, but in 2020, it's been canceled.
- Feria de Nerja: Nerja hosts a week-long celebration for its patron saints, the Virgin of Anguish and St. Michael the Archangel. Festivities take over much of the town but focus mainly on the east and west sides of the town center. This family-friendly festival features music, horses, parades, concerts, fair rides, dancing, and children's activities. In 2020, tentative dates are October 7 to 11.
- Fiestas de San Lucas: In Jaén—the world's olive oil capital—the city honors St. Luke with concerts, dancing, local foods, and cultural and sporting events for longer than a week. 2020's celebrations have been postponed to 2021.
- Romería de Valme: In Dos Hermanas, near Seville, locals celebrate the Romería de Valme religious pilgrimage on the third Sunday of October every year. The colorful processions honor Our Lady of Valme, and statues of her are paraded through the streets. The 2020 pilgrimage has been suspended.
Join in on the Bilbao Night Marathon
The Bilbao Bizkaia Night Marathon attracts hundreds of runners to the de facto capital of Basque Country every October. The run—kicking off around 7 p.m. and lasting past midnight—winds through the magical streets of Bilbao, between skyscrapers surrounded by green mountains. Finishers are treated to fireworks, music, and performances. Participants can choose between a 10K, half marathon, or full marathon. In 2020, the Bilbao Night Marathon has been made into a virtual challenge.
Dance the Sardana in Girona
The Fires de Sant Narcis in Girona, Catalonia, celebrates its beloved Sant Narcís with quite a spectacle. You'll find hundreds of locals doing the sardana (a traditional Catalan dance) and the local castellers building a soaring human tower. Giant figures and heads made of papier-mâché roam the streets while revelers participate in sports competitions and roast chestnut feats. In 2020, the event will take place from October 28 to November 1.
Brave the Horror and Fantasy Film Festival in San Sebastian
Although Spain doesn't celebrate Halloween in the way the U.S. does, this spooky film festival makes for a good stand-in. San Sebastian's annual Horror and Fantasy Film Festival, established in 1990, is an intriguing combination of horror and sci-fi. It features full-length films and shorts in the categories of horror, fantasy, sci-fi, animation, and classics from all over the world. Besides movie screenings, you'll run into street shows, music, exhibitions, and comedy. 2020's festival will take place from October 26 to November 1.
Attend an LGBTQ+ Film Festival in Madrid
LesGaiCineMad is the most significant LGBTQ+-centered film festival in the Spanish-speaking world, with a collection of more than 3,000 international films. The festival shows feature-length films, shorts, video art, and documentaries and is known internationally for its work in the discovery, subtitling, and release of Spanish-American productions. It's a portal for LGBTQ+ Spanish film distribution, and it's scheduled for October 29 to November 14, 2020.