Barcelona has long been known as a hedonist's paradise but the refined neighbourhood of Gràcia can, to the casual observer, seem an unlikely place to find the city's biggest annual street party. By day, when the area is full of local families enjoying siestas in tree-lined squares, even the lively strip of bars on Carrer Verdi gives little clue to the week-long revelry that attracts an estimated 1.5 million party-goers in August every year.
Part art exhibition, part rock concert, Festa Major de Gràcia is a veritable explosion of creativity. One second you're being jostled by a gang of ravers, the next you're gawping at a two-storey-high papier-mâché model of Alice in Wonderland. Think Glastonbury played by your brother's band, and you won't be far off.
Calling the crowds eclectic is an understatement of epic proportions. Little old ladies listen intently as ageing Spanish rockers power-slide through Aerosmith covers, while a few streets away a socialist collective offering cut-price drinks to patrons willing to reuse their glass compete with the family serving mojitos from their front window the next block over.
Just like Gràcia itself, the festival twists and turns in a never-ending set of surprises. Just as you think you’ve reached the end, you turn a corner and find yourself in a Wild West saloon with cowboys dancing on the tables. Street after street vies to outdo the others as neighbours compete for the coveted ‘best decorated street’ award. If you think the Star Wars street is cool you should see the Antarctic-themed alley with dancing penguins. And, of course, it wouldn't be Barcelona without an abundance of Gaudi-inspired streetscapes that start to confound your senses after a couple of glasses of Freixenet.
Unbelieveably in its 197th year, Festa Major de Gràcia is not just about creative silliness and getting drunk. You’ll find yourself becoming immersed in Spanish culture in any number of surprising ways (experiencing a poetry slam while eating crema catalana, anyone?) Look out for the awe-inspiring colles castelleres (human towers), which can reach more than several stories high (check them out on YouTube here).
Thanks to its community roots, attending Festa Major de Gràcia is dirt cheap. No entrance fees, EUR1 beers from the local supermercado and everyday pricing from the local bars and restaurants. All the music is free with most streets making money by selling drinks, food or T-shirts from impromptu stalls. Above all, this is a party by Gràcia for Gràcia, and you get the sense that they’d still do it even if no one else came.
Also, anyone who has camped at Europe’s notoriously muddy music festivals will be relieved to know that when the night is over at Festa Major de Gràcia, there’s no returning to a tent to find someone has nicked your shoes. Gràcia is full of decent mid-range (and luxury) hotels, but the top pick has to be flashpacker-perfect Hostel Sant Jordi in Gracia, with a friendly atmosphere, spotless dorms and location right in the heart of the action.
Just make sure you're not too hungover to see the sights or it will be another day sleeping on the beach...
Make it happen
- When: for 2013, party-goers will be hitting the streets of Gràcia from 15-21 August. Book accommodation early if you want to be in the thick of the action.
- Timing: the revelry begins in the early evening and runs until about 2am. There’s a day-time parade on the first day of the festival, to kick off the week of hedonism.
- Where: the closest metro stop is Fontana on line L3.
- Learn more: www.festamajordegracia.cat [Catalan only]
This article was first published in April 2013 and was republished in June 2013.
Ready to discover the rich tapestry that awaits you in Europe? Download the free eBook Europe: 40 Amazing Experiences now from Amazon (US | UK), the iBookstore or PDF.