Preferred Hotels & Resorts: The World's Best Independent Hotels | Preferred Hotels & Resorts

Spain + Portugal's Festivals: The Streets Alive

September 17, 2015
Spain + Portugal's Festivals: The Streets Alive

Spain and Portugal are set the on beautiful coastline, filled with historic cities and romantic evenings. The people come together on the cobblestone plazas for marvelous gatherings during the nation's many festivals. For the richest experience and grasp on life from these two European countries, visit during a festival or holiday and be immersed in the waves of people, languages, and vibrant energy. Here is a comprehensive guide of the most fascinating festivals and the best ways to experience the breadth of these magnificent countries.

JAN Fiesta de Los Tres Reyes Magos First weekend in January Experience the Spaniard gift-giving celebration with La Fiesta de Los Tres Reyes Magos, the festival of the three Magi Kings. In this unique festival, the people celebrate the three Wise Men that brought gifts to baby Jesus on the evening of his birth. Spain celebrates on January 5th with an elaborate and regal procession of the Magi entering the city, arriving on elaborate floats and camels, while throwing candy to the children in the streets. The following day children wake up to open the gifts the Magi left for them in their shoes or under the Christmas Tree. Celebrations happen in every town in Spain, promising a magical Christmas experience too all visitors with lights, music, and tradition.

40 days before Easter
Carnaval is a vibrant holiday celebrated all around the world as the last hoorah before Lent begins. In Spain, the holiday is growing in grandeur. Famous in Cadiz, Madrid, Lisbon, and Sitges, partying reaches a high level with the hedonistic parades and celebrations with extravagant floats, glittering costumes, and fireworks. Artistic freedom takes flight with masks, costumes, and massive parade floats. Celebrations in Cadiz are most renowned for size, visitors, and are even broadcasted on television. Carnaval is also elevated and celebrated in glittering Rio-style in Portugal with the most notable celebrations in Lisbon, Loule, and Nazare.

Fantasporto International Film Festivalsp-content-portugal-flag.jpg
February 26 - March 5 2016
Experience the rich culture and art of Portugal and the famous Fantasporto International Film Festival. This reputable film festival has been held since 1982 and attracts hundreds of thousands annually. The festival features films and shorts of all genres, from 1920's classics, commercial movies, to experimental films. Located in Porto, this city is of ancient beauty with its roots dating back to the Middle Ages. Days at the festival are surrounded by art on all sides, from the landscape and architecture to the films playing on the screens.

MAR Las Fallas Mid-March Calm picturesque Valencia streets take a tumultuous turn during Las Fallas, when the streets are filled with towering floats and elaborate artistic sculptures. Artists allow their creativity to flourish with carved wondrous figures from mythical mermaids, popular fairytales, famous celebrities, and political figures, each peaking in height around 15 meters. At the end of the week the figures are set ablaze in the city plaza. The festival has roots in Catholicism commemorating Saint Joseph as well as historical traces to pagan practices. Las Fallas is a wild, unique party with parades that showcase the figures, traditional garb, dances, and plenty of drinking and merriment. Evening bullfights add suspense and fireworks top off the evening of frolicking.

La Semana Santasp-content-spain-flag.jpgsp-content-portugal-flag.jpg
During Holy Week
La Semana Santa, the Holy Week, is the celebration of Easter and is one of the most important holidays in this Catholic country. Festivities start Palm Sunday and end on Easter Sunday with a master parade. Celebrations take place in nearly every city in Spain and Portugal, but are most notable in Seville and Braga. In this region, Easter comes to life in a much more extravagant, medieval, and somber fashion than in other countries. The festivities include a series of parades and processions with elaborate floats, traditional medieval robes, adorned statues of the Virgin Mary and Jesus led throughout the cities to music, thudding drums, and carried by penitents wearing white pointed hoods. The parades fill the streets with melancholy, sorrowful songs, with candles glowing in the evening, and singers in the parade and from second-story balconies breaking out into wailing songs called saetas over the crowds, mourning the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Las Feriassp-content-spain-flag.jpg
Following Holy Week
After La Semana Santa, the Feria de Abril— the April Fair— overtakes Seville. The outdoor event is a massive gathering of colorful tents, paper lanterns, horse drawn carriages and beautiful flamenco dancers. The marquee tents are privately owned or sell treats and alcohol. With music, dancing, carnival rides for children, and bullfighting, this festival brings the vibrancy of Spanish culture into one place. Fireworks top off the evening, showering stars over the crowds of traditional dancing and music.

MAY Rock in Rio Late May Experience a whole new side of Lisbon at Rock in Rio, the largest music festival in the world. Throngs of thousands gather under the flashing lights, heart thudding music, lively crowds, and the spectacle of artist performances. Rock in Rio originated in Rio de Janeiro and alternates locations between Rio de Janeiro, Madrid, Lisbon, and Las Vegas. This contemporary concert is just one of the many music festivals Portugal specializes in; however, Rock in Rio is the largest and most legendary having hosted the likes of Queen, AC/DC, James Taylor, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Beyoncé, and Shakira. The festival takes place in late May and lasts four days.

Dia de Portugal (Dia de Camões)sp-content-portugal-flag.jpg
June 10
See the cities fill with fiery and energetic passion of Portuguese culture and identity on Portugal Day. Celebrated on June 10 to memorialize independence from Spanish rule and to commemorate the death of Luís de Camões, the country's greatest literary figure of Portugal and national hero. His poems and writings encapsulated the golden years of Portugal's New World explorations and the height of the country's might. Although festivities take place in every city, the official celebrations take place in a different city every year, as chosen by the President. In the chosen city the Royal family, costumed dancers, and famous singers take to the streets in processions with banners proudly waving the Portuguese flag. Enjoy traditional food, streets pulsing with music, flowing drinks, and the celebration of Portuguese culture.

St. Anthony’s Day (Dia de Santo António)sp-content-portugal-flag.jpg
June 12–13
Portugal's capital Lisbon is transformed into streets full of the smoke and smell of grilled sardines, romantic weddings, and flowers. Paper and floral streamers connect the medieval and baroque homes, girls dance in traditional dresses, and plazas are filled with drinking, merriment, and tasty sardine sandwiches. The St. Anthony's Day celebrations on June 12 and 13th commemorate the patron saint of Lisbon, also known as the matchmaker saint and the preacher that even the fish of the sea clamored to hear. Love is in the air with weddings and match-making ploys played by the young boys and girls, in hope that St. Anthony will reveal the name of their soul mate. Come see the historic and romantic architecture come to life with colorful parades, fun gatherings, and plazas full of dancing and sardine munching.

JUL Festa dos Tabuleiros First weekend of July, next scheduled for 2019 The Festa dos Tabuleiros is a vision of streets bedecked in colorful flowers, city dwellers wearing detailed traditional clothing, and girls balancing beautifully arranged trays of bread and wheat on their heads. This unique festival held in Tomar is truly a one of a kind event, occurring every four years. The city is overtaken with elaborate processions with hundreds of young women wearing white and colorful sashes and balancing 30 loaves upon their heads while escorted by young men wearing red ties. The weekend continues with music, dancing, traditional games, a bullfight, and brilliant fireworks displays. Festa do Colete Encanado – The Red Waistcoat Festival First two weeks of July Festa do Colete Encanado, translated to The Red Waistcoat Festival, is similar to Spain's San Fermin. In the city of Vila Franca de Xira, the festival celebrates the long tradition of bull fighting. The festival begins in the city square with a parade and a bull-run through the city where men in red waistcoats and green caps riding on horses are chased by the angry bulls. Crowds rush to the arena to spectate the bull fights, where bold men wrestle with the animals but do not kill them. Markets flourish with goods and souvenirs and concerts light up plazas at night. This holiday is smaller and more traditional in this small town, and provides a one of a kind glimpse into the long standing bull and horse economy in Portugal. San Fermin Second week of July The iconic Running of Bulls holiday in Pamplona is a vision of locals clamoring about in white, with red scarves tied around their necks, weaving through the cobblestone streets the city as bulls charge, chasing the crimson banners into the bull ring. The parade claims its origins from the death of Saint Fermin, who according to legend, died by being dragged through the streets chased by angry bulls. Today the celebration’s processions, stampedes, and spirit are unforgettable sights. The week-long celebration pulses with a contagious energy and vitality that culminate in the bull arena and explode in the sky with a firework spectacle. Over a million people visit for the special festival and the famed event has busses destined for Pamplona arriving from all over Spain.

La Tomatinasp-content-spain-flag.jpg
Late August
The charming, tiny town of Buñol is transformed into a flood of people, tomato juice, and tomato throwing jostle. Just outside Valencia, a four-hour drive from Madrid and Barcelona, the festival Tomatina is the largest food fight on the planet. The partying brings gusto to the streets of Buñol for a week and peaks on the last Wednesday with a giant tomato fight from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Getting a bite of the action may be difficult as thousands flock to the small town for the legendary fight; however, the partying continues all around the city with festivities and drinking. Busses leave from major cities to Valencia, where it is typical to stay and then take a short bus ride to Buñol. Check online for tickets as only 20,000 are allowed in the fight as throngs of thousands come to the small city for the fight.

SEP Catalan National Day September 11 The streets of Barcelona are bedecked in red and yellow on September 11, Catalunya National Day. The day commemorates the defeat of Catalan troops in the War of the Spanish Succession, where the troops were defeated by King Philip V of Spain. Throngs gather for parades, speakers, music, and demonstrations rallying for Catalan independence. Millions come together on this day for the spectacles but also to visit the open-house days in Barcelona government buildings, free museums, and concerts that light up city plazas. Fiesta De La Mercé September 24 The festival La Mercé takes place in late September and celebrates the saint Virgin de La Mercé, who saved Barcelona from a locust plague back in the Middle Ages. La Mercé is the last party of the summer celebrated with a parade of huge effigies of kings, queens, and mystical creatures for the crowds to admire, a projection show with art projected onto one of the buildings in the main square, Human Towers by the Castellers, and an adult and child Correfoc (firework run), where people take to the streets spraying fireworks over each other at dusk.