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The first week of January is still very much Christmas time here in Catalonia and many people won’t go back to work until after the Epiphany, celebrated on January 6 each year. This is when many children receive their presents, delivered by the Three Kings or Reyes Magos who appear in the city the previous evening. The procession starts from the port before carrying on through the city centre, with sweets and treats being handed out to the throng along the way. After that, January is a relatively calm month and one of the few times the city can feel a little quiet – perfect if you’re interested in visiting museums and other popular sights.
Although the exact dates change each year, February is usually the time during which Barcelona celebrates carnival. Falling the week before the beginning of Lent, carnival is celebrated from the Thursday before Ash Wednesday, known locally as ‘Dijous Gras’ or ‘Thursday Gras’. At the weekend processions take place throughout the city with many schools organising processions in their neighbourhood, with bars and clubs hosting special events for the occasion. Valentine’s Day is something of a non-event here as the locals celebrate Sant Jordi’s day in April instead, so don’t expect flowers and love-hearts in anywhere but the more commercial venues. Instead get out of town and experience an authentic calçotada – a feast involving the Catalan spring onion known as calçots and copious amounts of wine and vermouth.
If there even is such a thing as a low-season in Barcelona, March well and truly marks the end of it. Depending on when Easter falls, it is still possible through to enjoy some relatively quiet March days which can also have great weather. This is an ideal time for outdoor sports, before the heat of the summer makes it too difficult: check out local schools for paddle boarding, surfing or even rock climbing. If you are in the Catalan capital this month, be sure to check of the Festival of Saint Medir which takes place in the Gràcia neighbourhood and involves long processions of people handing out sweets.
If Easter falls in April then you’re in for a treat – but also big crowds. The run up to Easter Monday is known as Semana Santa or ‘Holy Week’ and involves processions, religious ceremonies and naturally lots of eating. The traditional Easter treat is known as the Mona de Pascua and is customarily given to children by their godparents. A visit to the Barcelona Chocolate Museum at this time of the year is sure to get you in the mood thanks to their impressive chocolate displays. The other big occasion in April is the Day of Sant Jordi – Saint George in English – the patron saint of Catalunya. On this day, men offer their female partners a rose while the women reciprocate with a book. The festival is credited with being the origin of World Book Day.
There’s not much in terms of festivities in Catalonia in May but by now the weather is usually good enough for the beaches to keep people entertained at weekends. Avoid the crowds of tourists at the Barceloneta beach by heading slightly further out to the Bogatell beach and explore the Poblenou neighbourhood while you’re there. If you’re a sports fan then the Barcelona Formula One race which takes place 20km north of the city this month is likely to be of interest.
This is the month for big events in Barcelona. In terms of music, June usually sees the arrival of both Primavera Sound and Sónar electronic music festival – two of the best live music festivals of their kind in Europe. Having celebrated its 10th edition in 2015, the Barcelona Design Week has established itself as a serious event for designers, entrepreneurs and other design enthusiasts. Also worth a mention is the 080 Barcelona Fashion Week, which generally takes place in June and attracts some of the foremost Catalan and Spanish designers. Finally, if you’re around at the end of the month you won’t be able to miss the festival of Sant Joan on June 24, although most of the celebrations take place the night before when fireworks are set off across the city and people enjoy a glass of Cava with a slice of the coca de Sant Joan.
The summer is the busiest time of the year in Barcelona and July is undoubtedly the busiest of the season. If this is the only time you can make it to Barcelona, be sure to plan day-trips away from the city for a little respite from the crowds. For beautiful beaches head further north towards the Costa Brava where you’ll find azure waters and secluded coves along the waterfront. Explore the nearby Pyrenees for some epic scenery and charming Medieval villages which are a far cry from the modernity of Barcelona. When you are in the Catalan capital, check out the Grec festival for the chance to watch open air performances in the outdoor amphitheatre of the Grec gardens on Montjuïc. Finally, make the most of the public outdoor swimming pools which open for just a couple of months over the summer.
While August is peak tourist season, it is also the month when locals go on holiday meaning two things: that the city is ever so slightly quieter than July but that many independent shops are shut. Outside of the main shopping areas and the larger stores, many of the smaller boutiques and retailers close down for anywhere between two weeks to the full month in August. Be sure to check ahead of time if the places you’re interested in visiting will be open during your stay. However, August is also the month of the Festa Major de Gràcia, a week long street party during which neighbours compete for the best street decoration and there are free live bands on every night.
Back to school and back to work: September marks the return to normal life after the summer holidays. Fortunately, there’s something to look forward to at the end of the month as September 25 is the festival of La Mercè – the patron saint of Barcelona. During the week in the run up to the festival there are processions, displays of traditional dances and folklore throughout the city. The real show comes on the final day though, when a spectacular pyrotechnical display takes place by the MNAC museum and Plaza Espanya.
With the cooler, wetter weather comes mushroom season in Catalonia: the Pyrenees abound in comestible mushrooms which are much appreciated in the restaurants of the capital. Try one of the local varieties such as the rovellons (Lactarius deliciosus) – flat and orange with dark markings – which taste great simply cooked on the grill. October also marks the beginning of Barcelona’s prestigious Jazz Festival which attracts some of the finest jazz musicians from across the world.
The first day of November is All Saint’s Day and this is typically a moment for families to remember their loved ones by laying flowers on their tombs. It’s also the time when chestnuts are at their best and you’ll find stalls selling roast chestnuts wrapped in newspaper on nearly every street corner. The eve of All Saint’s Day is in fact marked by the Castanyada – a celebration during which neighbours gather to eat roast chestnuts and drink sweet wine called Moscatell.
If you’re a fan of Christmas celebrations then Barcelona is a great place to come to soak up the festive spirit. The Christmas market outside the Cathedral sells hand-made decorations, artisan gifts and everything you need to build your own nativity scene – including the all important caganer or ‘pooping man’. Christmas is first and foremost a time for spending with family in Catalonia so private celebrations are quite common. However, bars and restaurants remain busy with work parties and family gatherings, so it’s a great time to visit some of the more traditional local restaurants such as Can Cañete or Botafumeiro.