Barcelona is a city that loves to party, with a flurry of festivals running throughout spring and summer that bring music, dancing and a carnival vibe to its streets.
Words Brian Johnston
Barcelona is a progressive, conﬁdent city with a sunlit waterfront, excellent restaurants and theatres, wonderful art museums and eclectic architecture. It’s a city to wander, admire, bar-hop and browse. Most of all, though, Barcelona is a festival city. Such is the local enthusiasm for ﬁestas that they seem to merge into one another: religious events and rock music, ﬂamenco dancing and ﬁreworks.
Kick oﬀ festivities this month with an event that originates in the southern Spanish region of Andalusia, the Feria de Abril (April 22–May 1; www.fecac.com) or April festival. It features horsemanship and ﬂamenco performances in Parc del Forum, enlivened with music, dancing and funfairs; the view of the Barcelona coastline from the Ferris wheel is marvellous. Businesses and cultural organisations sponsor 70-odd tents, all open to the public, and many feature notable singers and performers. Most serve food: just the place to indulge in some seafood-ﬁlled paella straight from the pan.
On April 23, St George’s Day celebrates the patron saint of Catalonia, of which Barcelona is the capital. Las Ramblas boulevard turns into a giant ﬂower shop for the day, as it’s a tradition for men to buy roses for their girlfriends or wives. Women buy men a book in honour of Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote, who died on April 23. This equivalent of St Valentine’s Day is more a local tradition than festival, but temporary ﬂower and book stalls enliven the city centre. If your stroll around creates a thirst, head to the Maritime Museum, where the Barcelona Beer Festival (www.barcelonabeerfestival.com) runs throughout April and May, oﬀering some 300 craft beers from Catalonia and around the world.
In May there’s a change of pace with the Spanish Grand Prix (May 13–15; www.formula1.com) at the Circuit de Catalunya, 20km beyond the city. Founded in 1913, it’s one of the world’s oldest motor-racing events and features a complex course that fully tests the skills of competing drivers.If the whiﬀ of petrol, roar of engines and excitement of the chase appeals, this is one of Europe’s top racing events.
In mid-June, it’s time for one of the world’s best experimental electronic music festivals. Sónar (June 16–18; www.sonar.es) erupts in several venues across the city with music from both big-name groups and smaller niche bands. This year features US singer Santigold, British hip-hop vocalist Lady Leshurr, notable DJs such as A-Trak from Canada and Ben Klock from Germany, and up-and-coming artists from Spain, Italy, Ghana and the UK. Meanwhile, a whole range of unofficial events energise the city’s bars, clubs and beaches. If you’re into electro, hip-hop, dance or avant-garde music – or just want a taste of what it’s all about – this is the festival for you. There’s also an innovative array of workshops, classes and music presentations for kids, making this music festival surprisingly family friendly.
There’s music just about everywhere in Barcelona over the summer, however. Another music festival, Festival Cruïlla (July 8–10; www.cruillabarcelona.com), features pop, rock, R&B and African music, and Música als Parcs (www.ajuntament.barcelona.cat) provides free music in city parks from early June into early September. There’s usually jazz on Wednesday and Friday evenings in Ciutadella Park, and classical music on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays in various other parks.
On June 23, it’s time to celebrate St John the Baptist Day, a midsummer festival celebrated with ﬁreworks and bonﬁres across the city, especially on its beaches. Sins are written on strips of paper and burned, locals jump over ﬁres, and ﬁreworks and ﬁrecrackers explode. Cava sparkling wine is the drink of choice, ﬂatbread topped with candied fruit the traditional snack. Celebrations go on into the wee hours; fortunately, the following day is a public holiday.
By July, the long-running annual Grec Festival (July 1–31; www.lameva.barcelona.cat) returns to town. The major cultural event showcases music, dance and theatre, while Circus Night has wide family appeal for its musicians, acrobats and jugglers. The festival is named for the open-air Greek theatre built into Montjuïc hillside, but has since spread across many city venues. World-class acts come from around the globe, with a number of performances in English.
Montjuïc, the city’s largest green zone, is also the venue for an open-air cinema, Sala Montjuïc (www.salamontjuic.org), throughout the summer, with movies shown three evenings a week in various languages. Movies are a mix of classics and independents, and in various languages with subtitles. Locals bring picnics and enjoy the views as the sun sets, and there’s often a jazz band to provide a toe-tapping accompaniment: just another ﬁne way to spend an evening in Barcelona.
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From Colours April 2016
5 Senses – Sight
Barcelona has several world-class art museums but,if you visit only one, make it this. It holds over 4,000 works by the painter and sculptor, and is particularly interesting for the way it explores the important inﬂuences that Barcelona had on the early works of Picasso, who lived here as a child and adolescent. His childhood sketches are wonderful, and show his amazing early artistic talent. There are also works from both his Rose and Blue periods.