5 amazing carnivals in Catalonia, Spain

There’s no need to travel to Rio to have a fantastic time at a carnival, you can join in on some serious festivities during carnival time in Catalonia, Spain. In the country where fiestas and carnivals are integral to the culture; Catalonia, which is considered by many to be the gastronomic capital, is also the top destination for carnivals. Outside Catalonia the best known carnivals are Tenerife and Cadiz, but in Catalonia there’s a lot of great carnivals concentrated in this one autonomic community. Although it’s difficult to narrow down my choice of Catalonia’s best carnivals, here are 5 amazing carnivals where you will have a great time, however there are plenty more.

The Catalans have been running carnivals since the 15th Century, with the exception of when they were banned by Franco – so by now they really know what they’re doing. Carnival time in Catalonia means an abundance of food and drink, dressing up and wearing masks, taking pleasure in being outrageous, leaving the cares of your everyday life behind and dancing until you drop. Carnival kicks off this year on the 27th February and lasts for a week, or sometimes even longer.

Vilanova i la Geltrú Carnival – Community of Barcelona

How therapeutic is it to toss meringues at your friends, family and other people around you? Believe me, it really is. Vilanova i la Geltrú Carnival is for those who like satire. Carnival gets underway there on Maundy (Fat) Thursday with the eating of a ritual meal of codfish called Xatonada, which is served with a tasty sauce of almonds, garlic and red peppers. After the meal is when the meringue throwing begins. It’s a rather odd, but very fun custom!

Friday sees the arrival of the Carnival King (Carnestoltes), who comes through the town leading a masked procession of different cultural groups. Then on Saturday watch out for the Blazing Bird (Moixó Foiguer) who is a kind of human bird that is slathered in honey, covered with feathers, and jumps in and out of a box. The mascarots also appear on Saturday. These are masked celebrants who prowl the streets trying to figure out the identities of their fellow revellers without revealing their own identities.

Sunday is considered the most symbolic and important day, when the traditional parades take place. Men wear a barretina, the traditional Catalan hat, with a sash and a dinner jacket, and the women wear carnations in their hair, a skirt and a Manila shawl. The processions are made up of some 3,000 dancing couples, of all ages, that line up according to the association they belong to, and march to the beat of the Turuta, a military march. The couples throw sweets to the crowds that line the parade route and then it culminates in the town square where the famous sweet wars take place – let the craziness commence.

On Carnival Monday, the Carnival King’s Troop performs comical, ironic songs in front of the crowd, and on Tuesday, there is the Viladot parade, the final parade of the mascarots before Ash Wednesday, when a sardine is buried to mark the end of the festivities.

Sitges Carnival – Community of Barcelona

Unique, eccentric and rather loud, the Sitges Carnival is so picturesque and one of the best known in the country. It’s the most flamoyant, Brazilian style carnival – and so hot that it makes July and August seem cold!

Sitges Carnival

Like the carnival in Vilanova i la Geltrú, this traditional carnival begins on Fat Thursday with the arrival of the King of the Carnival. The ritual fish meal is eaten and parades follow. Two of the biggest and most popular parades are the Rues de la Dibauxa (Debauchery Parade) and the Extermini (Parade of Extermination) with more than 2,000 participants and more than 50 floats. Each float represents a different theme, and as they move slowly around the streets, a crowd of some 300,000 people gathers to watch them.

After the parades, tourists and villagers migrate to the boardwalk to drink and eat. The music doesn’t stop until the wee hours of the morning, when the die-hard party animals go home. As in Vilanova i la Geltrú, the Sitges Carnival ends on Ash Wednesday, with a finale of a sardine being buried. In 2013 one of the events mixed in with the carnival, by the gay community, was a Widows Night on the final night of the carnival, and the concept was that by that stage you’ve most likely murdered your boyfriend for being naughty.

Palamós Carnival – Community of Girona

In Palamos, one of the highlights, on Saturday afternoon, is the Grandiosa Rua del Carnaval, which is a big street parade. Also on Saturday, if you want to get into the spirit of things, then it’s time to dress up for the costume party, which tends to go on until almost dawn. The carnival is attended by hundreds of costumed residents of all ages, who dance in the streets and attend a variety of events and performances. It’s been going on for more than 30 years and attracts hundreds of visitors to this picturesque town.

Platja d’Aro Carnival – Community of Girona

The Platja d’Aro Carnival is the most famous of the Costa Brava carnivals. In fact it’s popularity has got it onto the official list of carnival cities in the world. In this small town, a huge amount of people gather to sing, dance, dress up and party at this once-a-year free-for-all. The biggest event is the Gran Pasacalle de Carrozas y Comparsas and more than 70 different groups march and create floats, with more than 4,000 artists, musicians and performers participating.

The 12-day festival includes parades, theatre performances and music concerts. There are parades on two consecutive Saturdays here, making the Carnival Platja d’ Aro one of the biggest celebrations on the Costa Brava. It regularly attracts almost half a million visitors.

Solsona Carnival – Community of Lleida

This 9 day carnival has been recognised as a Festival of National Tourist Interest, and because of the town’s long tradition of giant making and giants, it’s only natural that they are the stars of the Solsona Carnival, along with the Carnival King and the donkey. Tall statues (carried on the shoulders of volunteers) dance to the sound of the El Bufi, the Carnival hymn. Since it was revived in 1971, this carnival has delighted the people of this peaceful town and of course, visitors.

Loud music trumpets the beginning of the Carnival on Shrove Tuesday with the entrance of the Carnestolte, the Carnival King, and continues for nine days. There are more than 40 different events scheduled during this time, from a delicious meal of pork to a kid’s dress-up competition attended by more than 300 children. There are also contests like Miss Forastera de Fora (Miss Outsider from Abroad), which pokes fun at traditional beauty pageants, and, most surprisingly, the hanging of a fake donkey from the town’s bell tower.

Jackie de Burca is Co-owner of Catalonia Valencia.

Comments (8)

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  1. I would love to go to a carnival in Spain…they look so stunning!! I have been to Barceloma and had the moat amazing time. Seeing a carnival there would be fantastic!

  2. Hi Anita,

    Thanks for your comment. Yes they are super stunning and heaps of fun, right up your street by the looks of your great trip to Barcelona on your blog. As you’ll have noticed in the post, they kick off on the 27th February this year, so I highly recommend you to get yourself on that computer of yours looking for a another cheap flight. You can fly into Reus as well as Barcelona, depending on where you want to end up!

    Keep having fun!
    Jackie

  3. Angela Luke says:

    I spent a year in Vilanova y la Geltrù some years ago, and recently returned during Carnaval – their set up, organisation and program is a winning formula. The sweet battle is quite unique and, as Sitges is only a few kilometres away, you can see both; the traditional and the flamboyant :)

  4. Hi Angela,

    Very true, a great idea for travellers to get to both Sitges and Vilanova i la Geltru. The same is true for other parts of Spain where I have lived, when it comes to carnivals and fiestas, it’s amazing how organised they are.

    Thanks
    Jackie

  5. Joshua Smalling says:

    Jackie,
    Thanks for great article of yours. After reading the story will do my best to attend carnival in Catalonia)

  6. Hi Joshua,

    I am really happy to hear that the article has inspired you to come to a carnival or two in Catalonia. You’ll have a great time for sure!

    Thanks
    Jackie

  7. Buenas dias Xavier,

    Gracias por poner los links interesantes.

    Ahora estamos siguiendo en Twitter via @CataloniaValenc

    Y en Facebook https://www.facebook.com/CataloniaValencia

    Que tengais un buenisima dia

    Jackie

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