Carnival in Spain, like everywhere else in the world, marks the start of Lent, a Christian religious observance. Carnival is held on Sundays and is similar to the Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) celebrations in the United States. These events honor life, fun, and excess before the beginning of the somber Lenten season. Holy Week, which immediately precedes Easter Sunday, is known as Semana Santa and is also widely observed throughout Spain.
Many cities in Spain take part in the festivities, so if you're traveling to Spain, here are the top places to experience Carnival.
The Best Cities in Spain for Carnival
Not all cities in Spain honor Carnival equally. If you're looking for a more raucous or tame version of Fat Tuesday, there is a city with a celebration tailored to your taste. See below for which city's celebrations might be best for you.
- Tenerife plans the most glamorous of all the Carnival celebrations. This southern city's version of Carnival most resembles the world-famous event in Rio de Janeiro. Since Tenerife is closer to Africa than Europe, you can expect the weather to be quite warm.
- The Carnival in the city of Cadiz is unique as it features free sea urchin tastings for visitors, as well as a healthy dose of music and comedy added to the mix.
- Carnival in Sitges is not for the faint of heart. The large gay community in town has made this Carnival one of the wildest affairs in Spain, guaranteeing fun for all.
- It's no surprise that a city like Madrid that has everything would have a large Carnival celebration. You will see fanfare just about everywhere, but you can expect most of the action to be in the Chueca district, which is Madrid's largest gay neighborhood.
- Ciudad de Rodrigo's Carnival event is unlike any other in Spain. You won't find parades or colorful costumes. Instead, this city plans a bullfighting event where the public is invited to get involved and have a fight with a young bull.
- The seaside town of Vilanova continued to hold Carnival celebrations during Francisco Franco's rule, despite the fact that the dictator banned it. This city's festivities begin with a meringue fight on Thursday and go well up until midnight on Fat Tuesday.
- Barcelona isn't well known for its Carnival, but it does have one big parade each year that is worth heading to see if you're in town. The venue changes each year but it always takes place on Carnival Saturday instead of Sunday.
- Villanueva de la Vera's take on Carnival includes a giant puppet that is called the Peropalo. You will see lots of drinking in the streets, as well as a donkey that is paraded around the town, though the reason for this tradition remains unclear.
Carnival Dates in Spain by Year
- Carnival 2018 February 11, 2018
- Carnival 2019 March 3, 2019
- Carnival 2020 February 23, 2020
- Carnival 2021 February 14, 2021