Everything You Need to Know About Bilbao's Semana Grande Festival

Esme Fox

Semana Grande or Aste Naguisa, is one of the most anticipated events on the Bilbao calendar and one of the Basque Country‘s most important events. Here’s everything you need to know about the festival, from when it happens, to its origins and what’s involved. Did you know – Culture Trip now does bookable, small-group trips? Pick from authentic, immersive Epic Trips, compact and action-packed Mini Trips and sparkling, expansive Sailing Trips.

When does it happen?

Semana Grande, also known as Aste Nagusia (meaning ‘Big Week’), is Bilbao’s biggest festival and is a nine-day event which occurs in the month of August. This year it will be held from the 19th to the 27th of August 2017.

What’s it all about?

A colorful fireworks display

Semana Grande honours the Virgen de Begoña and is also a celebration of Basque culture, it comprises a whole host of events from street concerts and fireworks to parades, as well as traditional Basque dances and rural sport competitions. The festival begins on a Saturday with the bang of the txupinazo rocket, after which the mascot of the festival, a puppet-like figure called Marijaia, appears on the balcony of the Arriaga Theatre. She is always shown with her hands in the air, ready to party.
The festival continues during the week with concerts, bullfights, theatrical programs, gastronomic competitions, children’s workshops, and a giant egg and flour food fight through the streets. Basque culture is of course a big part of the festival, which includes Basque folk music and dancing, as well as rural sporting competitions such as wood chopping and stone lifting. An iconic part of the festivities are the huge Gargantúa monsters, who parade through the streets swallowing children (who then ride on a giant slide through their body and come out at the tail). Nightly firework competitions are also held, and are an important part of the festivities.

What are its origins?

Semana Grande began in the early 1970s with a series of paid-for events such as theatre productions, opera and bullfights, as well as a few Basque cultural offerings. Then in 1973, Spain’s biggest department store, El Corte Inglés decided to organise a Basque Rural Sports Week, a free program of competitions such as stone lifting (harrijasotze), wood chopping (aizkora) and tug-of-war (sokatira).
Finally, in 1978 all these various events were brought together for one big festival in the first Semana Grande or Aste Nagusia. A week before the event, the artist Mari Puri Herrero was commissioned to create a symbol of the festival, and this is how the puppet Marijaia was born.

The culmination of Semana Grande

Semana Grande ends on the 9th day when the Marijaia puppet is burnt in front of a huge crowd. She will be recreated next year, ready to party again.

culture trip left arrow
 culture trip brand logo

Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip

meet our Local Insider


women sitting on iceberg


2 years.


It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.


I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!

culture trip logo letter c
group posing for picture on iceberg
group posing for picture on iceberg

Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.

map of volcanic iceland trip destination points
culture trip brand logo
culture trip right arrow
landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.


Keen to explore the world?

Our passionately curated premium small-group trips are an invitation to connect with like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences.