Top Events

Semana Santa (Holy Week), usually March or April

Las Fallas de San José, March

Bienal de Flamenco, September

Carnaval, February or March

Feria de Abril, April

January

In January, ski resorts in the Pyrenees and the Sierra Nevada are in full swing. Snow in Catalonia is usually better in the second half of January. School holidays run until around 8 January.

Three Kings

El Día de los Reyes Magos (Three Kings' Day), or simply Reyes, on 6 January, is the highlight of a Spanish kid's calendar. The evening before, three local politicians dress up as the three wise men and lead a sweet-distributing frenzy (Cabalgata de Reyes) through most towns.

February

This is often the coldest month, with temperatures close to freezing, especially in the north and inland regions. If you're heading to Carnaval, accommodation is at a premium in Cádiz, Sitges and Ciudad Rodrigo.

Carnaval

Riotously fun, Carnaval ends on the Tuesday 47 days before Easter Sunday, and involves fancy-dress parades and festivities. It's wildest in Cádiz, Sitges, Badajoz and Ciudad Rodrigo. Other curious celebrations are held at Vilanova i la Geltrú and Solsona.

Fiesta Medieval

In one of Spain's coldest corners, Teruel's inhabitants don their medieval finery and step back to the Middle Ages with markets, food stalls and a re-enactment of a local lovers' legend during the Las Bodas de Isabel de Segura.

Contemporary Art Fair

One of Europe's biggest celebrations of contemporary art, Madrid's Feria Internacional de Arte Contemporánea (www.ifema.es) draws gallery reps and exhibitors from all over the world.

Barcelona's Winter Bash

Around 12 February, the Festes de Santa Eulàlia celebrates Barcelona’s first patron saint with a week of cultural events, from parades of giants to castells (human castles).

Extremadura Birds

Parque Nacional de Monfragüe has long been known to birdwatchers from across Europe, but they come in their greatest numbers in late February or early March for the Extremadura Birdwatching Fair (www.fioextremadura.es). There are seminars, hiking excursions and other twitching-related fun.

March

With the arrival of spring, Spain shakes off its winter blues (such as they are), the weather starts to warm up ever so slightly and Spaniards start dreaming of a summer by the beach.

Festival de Jerez

One of Spain's most important flamenco festivals takes place in the genre's heartland in late February or early March.

Las Fallas de San José

The extraordinary festival of Las Fallas consists of several days of all-night dancing and drinking, first-class fireworks and processions from 15 to 19 March. Its principal stage is Valencia city, and the festivities culminate in the ritual burning of effigies in the streets.

April

Spain has a real spring in its step, with wildflowers in full bloom, Easter celebrations and school holidays. It requires some advance planning (book ahead), but it's a great time to be here.

Semana Santa (Holy Week)

Easter (the dates change each year) entails parades of pasos (holy figures), hooded penitents and huge crowds. It's extravagantly celebrated in Seville, as well as Málaga, Ávila, Cuenca, Lorca and Zamora.

Dance of Death

The Dansa de la Mort (Dance of Death) on Holy Thursday in the Catalan village of Verges is a chilling experience. This nocturnal dance of skeleton figures is the centrepiece of Holy Week celebrations.

Los Empalaos

On Holy Thursday, Villanueva de la Vera, in northeast Extremadura, plays out an extraordinary act of Easter self-abnegation, Los Empalaos; the devotion and self-inflicted suffering of the barefoot penitents leaves most onlookers in awe.

Moros y Cristianos (Moors & Christians)

Colourful parades and mock battles between Christian and Muslim 'armies' in Alcoy, near Alicante, make Moros y Cristianos one of the most spectacular of many such festivities staged in Valencia and Alicante provinces in late April. Other versions are held elsewhere at other times.

Feria de Abril (April Fair)

This week-long party, held in Seville in the second half of April, is the biggest of Andalucía's fairs. Sevillanos dress up in their traditional finery, ride around on horseback and in elaborate horse-drawn carriages and dance late into the night.

Romería de la Virgen

On the last Sunday in April, hundreds of thousands of people make a mass pilgrimage to the Santuario de la Virgen de la Cabeza near Andújar, in Jaén province. A small statue of the Virgin is paraded about, exciting great passion.

Catalan Food

The central Catalan town of Vic puts food at the centre of Easter celebrations, with the Mercat de Ram, a food and agriculture fair that's quite the spectacle

Diving in the Med

The dive season in Catalonia's (and possibly Spain's) best diving and snorkelling area, Illes Medes. The season runs from around April to early November.

May

A glorious time to be in Spain, May sees the countryside carpeted with spring wildflowers and the weather can feel like summer is just around the corner.

Feria del Caballo (Horse Fair)

A colourful equestrian fair in Andalucía's horse capital, Jerez de la Frontera, the Feria del Caballo is one of Andalucía's most festive and extravagant fiestas. It features parades, horse shows, bullfights and plenty of music and dance.

Córdoba's Courtyards Open Up

Scores of beautiful private courtyards in Córdoba are opened to the public for the Fiesta de los Patios de Córdoba. It's a rare chance to see an otherwise-hidden side of Córdoba, strewn with flowers and freshly painted.

Muslim Pirates

Sóller, in northern Mallorca, is invaded by Muslim pirates in early May. The resulting 'battle' between townsfolk and invaders, known as Es Firó, re-creates an infamous (and unsuccessful) 16th-century assault on the town.

Titirimundi International Puppet Festival

For a week in the middle of May, puppet shows take over Segovia with all manner of street events throughout the city to celebrate this fine festival.

Fiesta de San Isidro

Madrid's major fiesta celebrates the city's patron saint with bullfights, parades, concerts and more. Locals dress up in trad­itional costumes, and some of the events, such as the bullfighting season, last for a month.

Womad

Cáceres hosts the annual Womad, a fabulous festival dedicated to world music and drawing top-notch musicians from across the globe to perform in the city's medieval squares.

Ibiza Clubbing

On the cusp of summer, the Ibiza clubbing scene kicks off with an official opening in May by way of extravagant opening parties. Things keep going long and loud until things close up in October or November.

June

By June, the north is shaking off its winter chill and the Camino de Santiago's trails are becoming crowded. In the south, it's warming up as the coastal resorts ready themselves for the summer onslaught.

Romería del Rocío

Focused on Pentecost weekend (the seventh after Easter), this festive pilgrimage is made by up to one million people to the shrine of the Virgin in El Rocío. This is Andalucía's Catholic tradition at its most curious and compelling.

Feast of Corpus Cristi

On the Thursday in the ninth week after Easter (sometimes May, sometimes June), religious processions and celebrations take place in Toledo and other cities. The strangest celebration is the baby-jumping trad­ition of Castrillo de Murcia.

Bonfires & Fireworks

Midsummer bonfires, fireworks and roaming giants feature on the eve of the Fiesta de San Juan (24 June; Dia de Sant Joan), notably along the Mediterranean coast, particularly in Barcelona and in Ciutadella, Menorca, where you can see splendid equestrian skills in parades.

Electronica Festival

Performers and spectators come from all over the world for Sónar, Barcelona's two-day celebration of electronic music, which is said to be Europe's biggest festival of its kind. Dates vary each year.

Wine Battle

Haro, one of the premier wine towns of La Rioja, enjoys the Batalla del Vino on 29 June. Participants squirt wine all over the place in one of Spain's messiest playfights, pausing only to drink the good stuff.

Primavera Sound

One of Spain's biggest music festivals, Primavera Sound – in Barcelona over three days in late May or early June – lures a host of international DJs and musicians.

Noche Blanca del Flamenco

An all-night fest of top-notch flamenco by leading song, guitar and dance artists of the genre, in picturesque venues around Córdoba. All performances are free. It all happens on a Saturday night around 20 June.

July

Temperatures in Andalucía and much of the interior can be fiercely hot, but July is a great time to be at the beach and is one of the best months for hiking in the Pyrenees.

Festival de la Guitarra de Córdoba

Córdoba's contribution to Spain's impressive calendar of musical events, this fine international guitar festival ranges from flamenco and classical to rock, blues and beyond. Headline performances take place in the city's theatres.

Running of the Bulls

The Fiesta de San Fermín is the weeklong nonstop festival and party in Pamplona with the daily encierro (running of the bulls) as its centrepiece. PETA (www.peta.org.uk) organises eye-catching protests a couple of days before.

Celtic Pride

Groups from as far off as Nova Scotia come to celebrate their Celtic roots with the gallegos (Galicians) at Festival Ortigueira, a bagpipe- and fiddler-filled music fest held in Galicia.

Día de la Virgen del Carmen

Around 16 July in most coastal towns, particularly in El Puerto de Santa María and Nerja, the image of the patron of fisherfolk is carried into the sea or paraded on a flotilla of small boats.

Fiestas del Apóstol Santiago

The Día de Santiago (25 July) marks the day of Spain's national saint (St James) and is spectacularly celebrated in Santiago de Compostela. With so many pilgrims around, it's the city's most festive two weeks of the year.

Festival Internacional de Benicàssim

Spain is awash with outdoor concert festivals attracting big-name acts from around the country and abroad, especially in summer. This one, in the Valencian town of Benicàssim, remains one of the original and best.

Santander Summer

Semana Grande in Santander (around 25 July) is this northern Spanish town's big summer blow-out, with music, shows and plenty of partying all day and all night.

August

Spaniards from all over the country join Europeans in converging on the coastal resorts of the Mediterranean. Although the weather can be unpredictable, Spain's northwestern Atlantic coast offers a more nuanced summer experience.

Crazy for Canoeing

The Descenso Internacional del Sella takes place in Asturias on the first weekend in August when tens of thousands of people go mad for a canoeing competition between Arriondas and Ribadesella.

Festival Internacional de Teatro Clásico

The peerless Roman theatre and amphitheatre in Mérida, Extremadura, become the stage for the classics of ancient Greece and Rome, and the occasional newbie such as Will Shakespeare. Performances are held most nights during July and August.

More Muslim Pirates

In northwest Mallorca, Pollença is the scene of fierce mock combat between invading Muslim pirates and townsfolk during the Festes de la Patrona. The afternoon of processions and combat in the streets of the town is preceded by much all-night merriment.

Galician Wines

The fabulous wines of Galicia are the reason for the Festa do Albariño in Cambados on the first weekend of August. Expect five days of music, fireworks and intensive consumption of Galicia's favourite fruity white wine.

Natural Cider Festival

Gijón's Fiesta de la Sidra Natural gives expression to the Asturian obsession with cider and includes an annual world-record attempt for the number of people simultaneously pouring cider in one place. It also involves musical concerts.

Galician Octopus

Galicia's passion for octopus boils over at the Festa do Pulpo de O Carballiño on the second Sunday in August. Tens of thousands of people converge on the small town of Carballiño to eat as much of the stuff as they can.

Barcelona Street Festival

Locals compete for the most elaborately decorated street in the popular week-long Festa Major de Gràcia, held around 15 August. People pour in to listen to bands in the streets and squares, fuel up on snacks, and drink at countless street stands.

La Tomatina

Buñol's massive tomato-throwing festival, held in late August, must be one of the messiest get-togethers in the country. Thousands of people launch about 100 tonnes of tomatoes at one another in just an hour or so!

Cipotegato

In the otherwise quiet Aragonese town of Tarazona, the locals every 27 August during Cipotegato re-create a local tradition whereby a prisoner could win their freedom by trying to outrun a stone- (or these days, a tomato-) throwing mob.

September

This is the month when Spain returns to work after a seemingly endless summer. Numerous festivals take advantage of the fact that weather generally remains warm until late September at least.

Bienal de Flamenco

There are flamenco festivals all over Spain throughout the year, but this is the most prestigious of them all. Held in Seville in even-numbered years (and Málaga every other year), it draws the biggest names in the genre.

Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe

Pretty Guadalupe in Extremadura celebrates its very own Virgin Mary during the Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe. A statue is paraded about on the evening of 6 September and again on 8 September, which also happens to be Extremadura's regional feast day.

Feria de Pedro Romero

The honouring of Pedro Romero, one of the legends of bullfighting, is a good excuse for the people of Ronda to host weeks of partying. Highlights include a flamenco festival, an unusual program of bullfighting and much all-night partying.

La Rioja's Grape Harvest

Logroño celebrates the feast day of St Matthew (Fiesta de San Mateo) and the year's grape harvest. There are grape-crushing ceremonies and endless opportunities to sample the fruit of the vine in liquid form.

Barcelona's Big Party

Barcelona’s co-patron saint, the Virgin of Mercy, is celebrated with fervour in the massive four-day Festes de la Mercè in September. The city stages special exhibitions, free concerts and street performers galore.

San Sebastián Film Festival

It may not be Cannes, but San Sebastián's annual two-week celebration of film is one of the most prestigious dates on Europe's film-festival circuit. It's held in the second half of the month and has been gathering plaudits since 1957.

Romans & Carthaginians

In the second half of the month, locals dress up to re-enact ancient battles during the festival of Carthagineses y Romanos in Cartagena. It's among the more original mock battles staged around Spain to honour the distant past.

Festival de Santa Tecla

Tarragona’s Festival de Santa Tecla is a wonderful chance to see Catalonia’s castells (human 'castles') in all their glory. Teams of castellers stand on each other’s shoulders to build towers up to nine levels high.

Street Art in Zaragoza

Zaragoza invites Spanish and international street artists to spend a week or so adorning some of its walls with murals during the Festival Asalto. There's also music, workshops and other happenings, not to mention a growing array of eye-catching urban art.

October

Autumn can be a lovely time to be in Spain, with generally mild temperatures throughout the country, although the winter chill can start to bite in central and northern parts of the country.

Fiestas del Pilar

In Zaragoza on 12 October, the faithful mix with hedonists to celebrate this festival dedicated to Our Lady of the Pillar. Festivities peak with the Ofrenda de Flores (Offering of Flowers) around the Virgin's image from the Basilica, brought out on to Plaza del Pilar.

Fiesta de Santa Teresa

The patron saint of Ávila is honoured with 10 days of processions, concerts and fireworks around her feast day. Huddled behind medieval walls, the festival brings to life the powerful cult of personality surrounding Ávila's most famous daughter.

Sitges International Film Festival

Early October brings to the Catalan coast the world's top festival of fantasy and horror films (www.sitgesfilmfestival.com). Latest release sci-fi and scary cinema is shown in venues across town.

November

A quiet time on the festival calendar, November is cool throughout the country. Depending on the year, the ski season usually begins in this month in the Pyrenees and Sierra Nevada.

La Matanza

One of Andalucía’s more macabre spectacles is November’s pig massacre, known as La Matanza, which traditionally starts on 11 November – St Martin’s Day. It’s an upbeat affair replicated in many mountain villages in the Spanish interior with plenty of eating and drinking.

Bird Migration

On Catalonia's Costa Daurada, waterbirds arrive en masse to one of Spain's most important wetlands, the Delta de l'Ebre, where the mighty Río Ebro meets the Mediterranean. Flamingos are a highlight and while many arrive in October, it's in November that the spectacle is assured.

December

The weather turns cold, but Navidad (Christmas) is on its way. There are Christmas markets, turrón (nougat), a long weekend at the beginning of the month and a festive period that lasts until early January.

Navidad

The main Christmas family get-together is on the night of 24 December (Noche Buena) with much feasting. Although Spanish families now celebrate both Christmas Day (when Papa Noel brings presents) and Three Kings on 6 January, the latter was traditionally the main present-giving occasion.

Noche Vieja

At midnight on New Year's Eve, all eyes turn to the television as the 12 chimes are broadcast live from Madrid's Puerta del Sol and Spaniards young and old try to eat a grape for every chime of the clock as they ring out.

Christmas Markets

Although not quite in the same league as the Christmas markets further north in Europe, Spain does have its share of Christmas markets. Watch for the traditional belén, the large-scale nativity that appears everywhere. The biggest markets are in Madrid, Barcelona, Zaragoza, Seville and Granada.