From Spanish guitar concerts in the Palau de la Musica and joining locals singing sea shanties on the beach at the Habanera festivals, to watching international artists perform in the gardens of a Peralada Castle and two of Barcelona’s musical highlights at Sónar and Primavera Sound, here are the best musical experiences to have in Catalonia.
No list of top musical experiences throughout the country is complete without a mention of the Palau de la Música, one of Barcelona’s most prominent music venues, designed by the famous architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner. You can go on a guided tour of the venue, but to truly experience it properly, book a ticket to see a musical performance. You’ll find many types of concerts here, from classical to traditional Spanish guitar and flamenco music. Tickets can be booked online or at the ticket office at the venue itself.
If you’ve never heard of habaneras but want to know what it’s like to experience them first-hand, then a trip to the Costa Brava will give you that chance. Habaneras are sea shanties, which Catalan sailors brought back with them from Cuba during the 19th century. At the time they were typically performed in taverns around the region, but today there are several habanera concerts held on the beaches of various towns and villages throughout the Costa Brava. Most of the performances occur during the habanera festivals, held over the summer. The oldest and most famous of these festivals is held in the coastal village of Calella de Palafrugell. It is typically held on the first Saturday in July and tickets can be booked online in advance.
The Festival Castell de Peralada is one of the Costa Brava’s best and most atmospheric music festivals. It features an eclectic variety of concerts, from opera and Latin to classical. It’s held in the grounds of Peralada Castle throughout July and August. Past performers have included everyone from Carlos Santana and Carla Bruni to Mozart’s opera of The Magic Flute.
Vida Festival is an alternative music festival, held in the town of Vilanova i Geltru, around an hour’s drive southwest of Barcelona, along the coast. It takes place in the forest in the grounds of a grand villa, where magical twinkly fairy lights surround. Scattered throughout the forest, you’ll discover various creative stages, such a small boat or a wooden cabin, where both local and international artists perform. The musical styles are varied, and include everything from pop and indie to rock. You’ll be able to see everyone from long-standing famous groups such as Granada indie rock group Los Planetas and Irish orchestral pop band Divine Comedy, to new up-and-coming artists such electronic music singer Betty Belle.
If you want to experience and real Catalan musical tradition – impromptu and without stages or tickets, then head to Barcelona Cathedral on Sunday mornings. Here in the grand square, locals gather for an intimate performance of the traditional Catalan Sardana dance. Watch as both young and old dance in a circle, all holding hands and performing a series of intricate footsteps. This is accompanied by a live band playing typical Catalan instruments such as grallas (reed instruments), shawms (similar to oboes) and flabiols (small wooden flutes).
If you’re interested in expanding and broadening your musical horizons to other cultures and locations, then a visit to Barcelona’s Music Museum is a must. Located inside the Auditorium building next to the National Theatre, this space is perfect for learning about unique and interesting instruments from as far as Korea, Indonesia and India. There’s even a room filled with instruments that you can play too.
A list of the top musical experiences in Catalonia wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the capital’s most revered and famous music festivals: Sónar and Primavera Sound. Considered to be the highlights of Barcelona’s musical calendar, they are attended by thousands from across the world. Primavera Sound is usually held at the end of May for three days, and covers a variety of musical styles and performers from across the globe. There are performances from music legends like Björk and current popular groups such as the Arctic Monkeys, and even new up-and-coming artists like Jorja Smith. It takes place in the big Parc del Fòrum next to the seafront. Sónar meanwhile is held in July, and focuses on cutting edge electronic music from both national and international DJs. Past performers have included DJ Harvey, Black Coffee and Charlotte de Witte. It takes place over three days in various venues across the city.
Girona is known as the ‘City of Festivals’, largely because of the sheer amount of festivals held throughout the year, many of which are music based. There’s everything from the Girona Jazz Festival, to the Classical Music Festival and the Black Music Festival. One of the most unique is the A Capella Festival, where groups from around the world come to compete. The A Capella Festival typically coincides with the Temps de Flors flower festival in May.
Held in the Cap Roig Gardens, next to an impressive castle, the Cap Roig Festival takes place during July and August with tickets sold separately for each concert. It caters to a wide range of musical styles and taste for every age range. There’s everything from pop and jazz to Latin and rock, so there’s sure to be a concert to suit your taste. Past performers have included Norah Jones, Jason Derulo, James Blunt, Sting, and Shaggy.