Spain's colorful, lively and passionate culture draws millions of visitors every year, all of whom are eager to experience this fun and vibrant country for themselves. Without a doubt, there's no better time to experience local culture at its best than during one of the myriad traditional festivals in Spain throughout the year. Each festival has a completely unique vibe, with unforgettable traditions and customs that make it unlike any other celebration in the world. Be sure to try and experience one of these unforgettable traditional festivals in Spain on your next trip.
You may have heard of Semana Santa—Holy Week—but you've probably never seen it celebrated on the Spanish level before. Throughout many parts of Spain, elaborate processions take to the streets every day throughout the week leading up to Easter as members of local parishes and religious brotherhoods parade ornate floats depicting Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary throughout the city.
These processions have been taking place throughout Spain for centuries, and look much the same as they did hundreds of years ago. The elaborate floats, traditional costumes, and somber music played by live bands make for an Easter celebration unlike any other.
You can catch Semana Santa processions in many cities throughout Spain, but Seville and Malaga are home to some of the most famous. Don't underestimate the celebrations in Castilla y León, either—the cities of Valladolid and León also host incredible processions.
In 2020, Semana Santa will take place from April 3–12.
San Fermin (Pamplona Bull Run)
A controversial yet popular festival that draws hundreds of foolhardy souls and hundreds more eager spectators, Pamplona's Bull Run might just be the most action-packed traditional festival in Spain.
The bull runs are actually part of a larger local festival known as San Fermín, taking place in the northern city of Pamplona for a week in early July (scheduled for July 6–14, 2019). Each morning throughout the duration of the festival, participants and bulls take to the streets in a nail-biting race to the bull ring, where a bullfight will take place later in the day.
The first official documented celebration of San Fermín took place in 1591, and was supposedly a much more low-key affair compared to the raucous celebration we know it as today. Although the rest of the festival is full of unique local traditions, the bull run itself is dangerous and considered by many to be unethical.
TripSavvy does not recommend running with the bulls and trusts its readers to make their own decisions on the ethics of the bull run event and bullfighting as an attraction.
Tomatina Tomato Fight
Not everyone can say they've taken part in the world's biggest food fight. Except for the thousands of people who take to the streets of the tiny town of Buñol, near Valencia, to do so every year. The food of choice at La Tomatina is, unsurprisingly, tomatoes. Messy? Yes. Unforgettably fun? Also yes.
Sources vary when it comes to the origins of the Tomatina, but the festival's official website claims it all started in 1945, when a disruption during a parade resulted in spectators and participants throwing tomatoes from a nearby fruit stand at each other. The tradition caught on, and now every year on the fourth Wednesday in August, Buñol transforms from a sleepy village into party central.
2019's Tomatina will take place August 28. Participants must now purchase a ticket, which includes travel to Buñol from one of several larger cities, in order to participate.
If you've celebrated Guy Fawkes Night or attended a Homecoming party, you might think you've seen a big bonfire. The truth is, unless you've been to Las Fallas in Valencia, you haven't seen anything yet.
Throughout several nights in mid-March, the streets of Valencia come alive with giant paper sculptures, painstakingly handcrafted in ornate detail. Then, on the last night, most of the sculptures, or fallas, are burned in epic bonfires throughout the city. A select few are saved from the blazes every year and end up in Valencia's Fallas Museum.
The first documented Las Fallas celebration took place in 1784, and each year it's grown bigger and better than ever. It takes place every year from March 15–19, featuring more than 700 incredible fallas.
Feria de Sevilla
Seville's most iconic celebration, the annual April Fair, is a colorful extravaganza of flamenco, horses, and sherry. Think of it as everything Andalusia is famous for packed into one epic week. (And despite its name, 2019's fair will take place entirely in May—May 4–11, to be exact.)
Though it began as a humble livestock fair, the Feria is now a place to see and be seen, with lavishly costumed men and women riding in horse-drawn carriages among the casetas, or tents. Many casetas are private, but several public tents are available, so anyone can enjoy the party.
During the day, Feria is a wholesome family affair, with children enjoying the fair rides and families sitting down for long, leisurely meals inside their casetas as traditional music fills the air. At night, however, the event turns practically hedonistic, with free-flowing alcohol and parties raging long after the sun has gone down.
Before the somber solemnity of Lent and Holy Week, most cities throughout Spain erupt into vibrant, happening celebrations not unlike Mardi Gras in New Orleans. No matter where you find yourself in the country, you'll be able to find a Carnival celebration nearby. While each city's celebration retains its own distinct vibe, in general, expect extravagant costumes, exciting parades, and plenty of music and alcohol.
Keep in mind, however, that not all Carnival celebrations are created equal. Sure, you'll have a good time no matter where you end up, but a few select destinations really go above and beyond. Island paradise Tenerife is home to Spain's most famous Carnival, with easygoing Cádiz and gay-friendly Sitges not far behind.
Due to the changing date of Easter, Carnival's date varies by year as well. In 2020, celebrations will take place February 23.
Christmas & New Year
They say that Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, and nowhere does that refrain hold true more than in Spain.
What makes Christmas in Spain so special? First, you've got the undeniable European wintertime magic. Think charming Christmas markets and holiday lights twinkling throughout the streets. However, Spain's pleasant Mediterranean climate and plentiful sunshine make it a much milder alternative to chillier destinations around the same time of year.
Spanish families typically get together for a long, hearty dinner on Christmas Eve, with plenty of after-dinner drinks and conversation prolonging the affair for hours. Christmas Day itself is more low-key, with Santa Claus taking a backseat to the Three Kings who appear a few weeks later, but is still a meaningful day shared among loved ones.
Cristianos y Moros
Skim any Spanish history textbook and you'll learn pretty quickly that Spain was dominated by two clashing cultures throughout much of the last century: the Moors and the Christians. Today, the battles between the two cultures come to life once more at the Moors & Christians Festivals that take place in multiple cities throughout Spain over the course of the year.
The celebrations condense 700 years of history into one evening full of mock battles taking place at a giant papier-mache castle. And, of course, there's plenty of partying going on throughout the rest of the night as well.
Semana Grande, Bilbao
Semana Grande, Great Week, Aste Nagusia (that's Basque, by the way)—whatever you call it, it's one of the most important traditional festivals in northern Spain. A legendary celebration unique to the Basque Country, this massive festival takes place every August in one of the region's largest cities, Bilbao.
What can you see at Semana Grande? A little bit of everything! Two main attractions are the giant puppets parade and the unrivaled number of concerts, with performances ranging from rock and pop to classical and jazz.
For visitors looking for a bit of friendly competition, there are plenty of contests taking place throughout the week as well, from an international fireworks competition to a strongman showdown and even an "ugly contest."
Sound good? Save the date for 2019's celebration, set to take place from August 17–25.
Tamborrada, San Sebastian
While on the subject of the Basque Country, let's swing over to San Sebastian for a bit. It's no surprise that in a Catholic country like Spain, each city celebrates its patron saint in style. In San Sebastian (whose patron saint is—wait for it—St. Sebastian), that means a massive drum parade known as the Tamborrada.
The fun starts at midnight on January 19 with the ceremonial raising of the flag in Plaza de la Constitución. From there, it's 24 hours of music, as dozens of drum lines make their way through the streets of San Sebastian throughout the day. At the end of the celebration, the flag gets taken down, signaling the end of the music until the next year. It's loud, colorful, and the only traditional festival of its kind in Spain.