One of the most exciting and interesting parts of our trip to Barcelona was attending the Festa Major de Gràcia. Before planning the trip, I hadn’t even heard of this festival but after experiencing it I can say for sure it was one of the best experiences and the most interesting festivals I’ve ever attended!
About the Festival
The Festa Major de Gràcia is Barcelona's biggest, most colourful and most popular neighbourhood, street festival. Every year, the Gràcia neighbourhood is transformed with fantastical scenes made out of recycled materials and bright paper mache. The decorations and all the events are organised by local residents with their aim being to bring together the community and invite others from all over the world to experience their outlandish creations. The festival is also replete with activities and events for all the family so throughout the week-long festival there is always something to do.
History of the Gràcia neighbourhood
The Festa Major de Gràcia is Barcelona's biggest, most colourful and most popular neighbourhood, street festival. Every year, the Gràcia neighbourhood is transformed with fantastical scenes made out of recycled materials and bright papier-mâché . The decorations and all the events are organised by local residents with their aim being to bring together the community and invite others from all over the world to experience their outlandish creations. The festival is also replete with activities and events for all the family so throughout the week-long festival there is always something to do.
History of the Festival
Streets in the barrio have been doing this as far back as 1817. Every year the festival attracts over half a million visitors, but it wasn’t always so inclusive. Originally, the festival was only for the residents of the neighbourhood, but the sheer beauty and creativity of the street decorations became so popular that festival organisers couldn’t keep the throngs of people away who were clamouring to visit the famous streets of Gràcia.
When Does the Festival Take Place?
The Gràcia fiesta always takes place in August. The official dates for 2019 have yet to be announced but check their website for the official announcement. The 2018 Gràcia Festival opened on August 15th, 2018 and was open until August 21st.
How to Get There
The Gràcia festival takes place across the entire barrio but the best place to start is near one of the festival information booths where you can pick up your festival guide. To make your way to Gràcia, head to the metro and get off at Fontana station, on the Green line, L3. This metro stop will land you right at the heart of Gràcia. While driving a car in Barcelona is highly inadvisable, there is a car park near Gràcia where you can drop it off to eat and drink your way around the festival for the rest of the day.
Do You Need Tickets?
The Gràcia festival is a free event, so there is no need to purchase tickets either in advance or at the festival. The program and guide costs 1 euro to purchase and while you can also use the app for free, the money for your program is also a donation towards the festival organizers so I'd recommend picking one up!
Where to Explore
When you arrive in Gràcia, seek out a festival information station where you can grab a map and ask the volunteers to help you navigate throughout the neighbourhoods. But if you'd prefer to do it on your own, you can also download a handy-dandy app that will tell you what you’ll find around the various streets and how to get there. Although every road is worth seeing, the streets that are most famous for their decorations are "Carrer de Joan Blanques" and "Carrer de Verdi." There are around 20 different streets and squares around Gràcia which are decorated during the festival and the locals take the decorations very seriously. Some people spend the whole year preparing and creating different magical wonders for their fantasy worlds. Guests and locals can walk through these fascinating carnival style spectacles.
Respect the Community
Guests are asked to be very careful while walking through the exhibits since this is the result of hard work from everyday people who it means a great deal to. When we were there, we saw firsthand the respect that even the visitors have for these incredible handmade creations.
The first night of the festival is the most popular since it is the big kick-off party and the most crowded time to visit. The narrow streets are packed to the gills with people so if you want to experience a more laid back walkthrough, head on down during the day on one of the last days of the festival like we did. Although there were crowds, it wasn’t nearly as busy as the first few days. Throughout the week there are different festivities taking place all the time so be sure to check the website for a daily schedule. The different large, squares throughout the barrio host a variety of different themed events. The Plaça del Sol hosts various folk concerts, the Plaça del Diamant is where you can find swing music and dancing, the Plaça de la Revolució and Plaça de les Dones del 36 hosts activities for the kids featuring storytelling, games and even book exchanges. My favourite is the Plaça de la Virreina where you can find a variety of craft fairs featuring local artisans.
The festival opens with a celebratory parade throughout the streets of Gràcia. This opening day parade is a dreamlike fantasy full of enormous papier-mache creations called 'gegants' which are up to 4 meters tall! People wear enormous papier-mache heads called 'capgrossos' and dance along the streets. There are people walking on stilts and musicians who entertain the crowds throughout the day. it feels like a giant circus pouring through the narrow streets of the city.
The Human Tower of Gràcia
The Gràcia festival features one of the most traditional of Catalan events, the 'colles castelleres'. A castell is a human tower, sometimes 7 or 8 stories high. During one of the nights of the festival, they have an event called the Baixada del Pilar Caminat where they not only build a tower made of humans but move it between two plazas. It's a nerve-bending feat of human aptitude but also an enormously entertaining performance to see live!
The Gràcia Firerun
Visiting during the evening means you'll be able to see all the decoration lit up with beautiful lights under the stars. It also means you'll see various other traditional celebrations including the famous 'correfoc' and their 'colles de diables'. The 'correfoc' is a firerun with a group of devel who chase down dancers and drummers with fireworks spraying out of their forked devil sticks! It's incredibly theatrical and something unlike anything you'll see elsewhere in the world!
Food and Drinks
Throughout the festival dates there are food and drinks served to raise money for the event. and at night, the festival lights up as local bands take the stages, and live music is performed nightly.
When we visited the themes for the streets was ‘Night at the Movies’. The ‘Lord of the Rings’ themed street was complete with all the characters from the film made up in Papier-mâché. Yes, they weren’t perfectly executed, but that was the charm of this whole event, the handmade look of the creations. Things didn’t have to be made perfectly. It didn't need to be high art. There NEEDED to be an element of crafty-ness to the decorations or else it would just seem like some corporate, assembly line made the festival and would lack that personal quality.
The “Life in the Movies” street had the most impressive entrance of them all. Covered in iconic movie props, it felt like you were about to walk into a museum of cinema.
The “Pirates of the Caribbean” street was enormous! They built almost a life-size pirate ship complete with a giant Kraken attacking both the ship and guests passing through. The mouth of the Kraken was a wonderful example of the incredible things you can make with recycled materials. It looked so realistic from afar! (maybe not so much close up).
The lush forest and jungle we walked through was created by using hundreds of strands of recycled green plastic bags. In the daylight, there was this soft green glow that emanated throughout the street and with the warmth of the hot afternoon, it really did feel like the jungle.
My favourite street was the “Under the Sea” themed thoroughfare. Not only were the fish and other sea creatures incredibly rendered, but the giant feet that hung down from above was also ingenious. It made you feel like a miniature version of yourself, being shrunk down to explore the enormity of the sea.
The most colourful of all the streets was the “Venetian” display. Hanging from above the cobblestones were hundreds and thousands of brightly coloured masks. It was a relatively simple design, but the overall effect was pretty powerful.
The last street we walked through was designed to look like a seaside port town, complete with lighthouse, fish market and nautical decorations. Even the faux fish in the market looked good enough to eat. From afar they looked so real, but close up you could see all the different recycles materials used to make up these realistic looking fish!
There is nothing like the Gràcia Festival, at least not that I’ve ever seen. There is something so heart-warming about a whole community coming together to celebrate their love for their barrio, their creativity and passion for art. And then, they invite strangers to come and celebrate alongside them. Simply marvelous. The Festival de Gràcia is a unique and imaginative festival that you simply can’t miss if you’re visiting Barcelona in August!