This week-long celebration in September is one of the best occasions to get up close and personal with the most unique Catalan cultural traditions. Although the main event takes place on September, 23 – ending with a spectacular pyrotechnic display – the days before then see processions of giant figures known as els gegants, as well as a ghoulish correfoc fire-run, and perhaps most impressive of all, the human pyramids or castells.
Throughout the summer, each of Barcelona’s main neighbourhoods takes its turn to host its annual festa major or ‘big celebration’. The most famous of these is of course the Festa Major de Gràcia, in Barcelona’s hip, bohemian Gràcia neighbourhood. Think a week-long street party with free music concerts and some of the craziest street decorations you’ve ever seen: every street competes for recognition in line with the annual theme.
If top music festivals such as Primavera Sound or Sónar can be prohibitively expensive for some, the Barcelona Acció Musical or BAM Festival is entirely free of charge. The festival is an eclectic mix of genres, featuring musicians from across the globe and including a fair amount of homegrown talent. Concerts generally take place in the evening – recent editions have seen the festival centre around the MACBA museum in El Raval.
Another Catalan celebration you’re unlikely to forget anytime soon, Sant Joan is a historic celebration which roughly corresponds to Midsummer. In Catalonia, the evening of June, 23 or Eve of Sant Joan is possibly one of the loudest nights of the year as young and old enjoy bonfires, firework shows and, most notably, very large firecrackers. The beach is where you’ll find the biggest crowds and most bonfires, with many people sitting by the fire until sunrise.
A Europe-wide cultural initiative, the Night of the Museums has proven particularly popular in Barcelona thanks to its many outstanding museums. The festival generally takes place in May and sees the city’s top museums – such as the Picasso Museum, the Joan Miró Foundation or the MACBA – offer free entrance and late-night opening hours to visitors.
One for the romantics, Sant Jordi’s Day is Catalonia’s answer to Valentine’s Day. First started by a bookseller near Valencia, tradition has it that on Sant Jordi’s Day men would be given a book by their lover, while women would receive a rose. The streets of Barcelona fill with book stalls and dozens of notable authors attend public signings alongside the many flower stalls selling individually wrapped roses often accompanied by a sheaf of wheat for good luck.
Throughout the summer Barcelona’s parks and green spaces double up as outdoor music venues for Música als Parcs. A three-month-long programme of jazz and classical music, the festival covers pretty much every neighbourhood of the city including the popular Parc de la Ciutadella and lesser-known parks and gardens such as the Parc de la Trinitat or the Jardins del Turó del Putxet.