Big festivals and major events in Barcelona: Spring

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Festes de Sant Medir de Gràcia

Where: Gràcia to Sant Cugat & back
When: 3 Mar
Website: www.santmedir.org
On or around the feast day of St Emeterius (Sant Medir in Catalan), for almost 200 years colourfully decorated horse-drawn carts have gathered around the Plaça Trilla to ride up to his hermitage in the Collserola hills. The most popular element are the carts that circle the streets of Gràcia and shower the crowd with 100 tons of blessed boiled sweets. 

Mutek

Where: Convent de Sant Agustí, Sala Apolo, Moog
When: 5-8 Mar
Website: www.mutek.org
The International Festival for Digital Creativity and Electronic Music, which got its start in Montreal back in 1999, has been making sound waves in Barcelona for the past five years. There's a Digi_Section daytime conference programme (Q&A sessions, workshops, demos) and of course electronic music every night. Confirmed acts for 2014 include the UK's Andy Stott, 10 Years of Hyperdub feat. Kode 9, and Scratcha Dub; and Laurel Halo from the States, among others.

Zurich Marató de Barcelona

Where: Avinguda María Cristina
When: 16 Mar, 8.30am-2.30pm
Website: www.zurichmaratobarcelona.com
The Barcelona Marathon celebrates its 35th year in 2014. The marathon course runs throughout the city streets, so you might want to check the website whether you're participating, watching, or just want to know where traffic will be diverted on the day.

El Feile

Where: various venues
When: week of 17 Mar
Tel & website: 93 423 76 68/www.elfeile.com
This Saint Patrick’s celebration of all things Gaelic has become an established part of the Barcelona calendar in its short life. It embraces music, dance and stand-up comedy, as well as sports such as Gaelic football, rugby and hurling. The celebrations are enjoyed with particular enthusiasm at the Quiet Man pub.

Alimentaria Barcelona

Where: Recinto Ferial Gran Via
When: 31 Mar - 3 Apr
Website: www.alimentaria.com
The top international food and drinks exhibition is back in Barcelona in 2014 with stalls, conferences, talks, and tastings of all kinds, including olive oil, wines and cheeses, with an emphasis on the international.

Circ d'Ara Mateix

Where: Mercat de les Flors
When: Mar & Apr
Website: http://mercatflors.cat/en/
The shows that the Mercat de les Flors has programmed for this 'Circus Today' cycle reflect modern trends and artistry in today's circus world that have little to do with what 'circus' meant in the past.

Setmana Santa (Holy Week)

Where: various venues
When: Wk leading up to Easter
Easter for Catalans is a relatively sober affair, with none of the pageantry embraced by their southern cousins. The main event is the blessing of the palms on diumenge de rams (Palm Sunday). Crowds surge into the cathedral clutching bleached palm fronds bought from stalls around the city; these are then used to bring luck to households. On Good Friday, a series of small processions and blessings takes place in front of the cathedral. On Easter Sunday, godparents dole out the mones: chocolate confections, more elaborate than humble Easter eggs.

Festival Guitarra

Where: various venues
When: Feb-June
Tel & website: 93 481 70 40/www.theproject.cat
This prestigious festival of guitars has the ability to attract world-class players. In 2010 the festival opened with Pat Metheny and closed with Paco de Lucia. Styles span everything from flamenco to Latin sounds, classical guitar and gypsy jazz.

Barcelona Beer Festival

Where: Sala Marqués Comillas del Museu Marítim de Barcelona
When: 11-13 Apr
Website: www.barcelonabeerfestival.com
Some 300 different types of craft beer served in rotation from the bar's 50 taps, with 70 of the 300 from foreign brewers, and the rest, Catalan and Spanish, many of them being tasted for the first time in the country. The organisers have said the festival is akin to a living thing: beers that are served on Friday will be changed each day following. Most brands run between just €2 and €3. To accompany your drinks, there are also tapas, dishes, pasties, crepes, and cheeses. The beers are served at three different temperatures, with careful attention paid to the ideal service for each beer, and pulled by staff who are well trained in pouring a glass on tap.

Món Llibre

Where: Various venues
When: 12-13 Apr
Website: www.bcn.cat/monllibre/
This two-day 'World of Books' festival dedicated to the youngest readers, celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2014 with fun activities and readings to introduce children to the wonderful world of books.

Fira de la Terra

Where: Parc de la Ciutadella and Passeig Lluís Companys
When: late Apr
Website: www.diadelaterra.org
The Fira de la Terra is a two-day eco-festival to celebrate Earth Day (22 April), although it’s normally held on the nearest weekend to the actual day. There are handicrafts, food stalls and performances, along with talks on environmental issues, though most of the activities are aimed at children.

Sant Jordi

Where: La Rambla & all over Barcelona
When: 23 Apr
Website: www.bcn.cat/stjordi
On the feast day of Sant Jordi (St George), the patron saint of Catalonia, nearly every building bears the red and gold Catalan flag, while bakeries sell Sant Jordi bread streaked with red sobrassada pâté. Red roses decorate the Palau de la Generalitat and the city’s many statues and paintings of George in all his dragon-slaying glory. It’s said that as the drops of the dragon’s blood fell, they turned into red flowers – and for more than five centuries, this has been the Catalan version of St Valentine’s Day. Men traditionally gave women a rose tied to an ear of wheat, and women reciprocated with a book; this is also the ‘Day of the Book’. It accounts for an amazing 10% of Catalonia’s annual book sales, and street stalls and bookshops give good discounts.

D'A: Festival Internacional de Cinema d'Autor

Where: Various venues
When: 25 Apr - 4 May
Website: www.cinemadautor.cat
The Independent Film Festival in Barcelona isn't just about the chance to see films that you otherwise couldn't; it also focuses on the main concerns of contemporary cinema. The festival is also establishing itself as a springboard for Catalan filmmakers who bet their all to make where they call home a bit less small in the world of cinema.

Feria de Abril de Catalunya

Where: Fòrum area
When: late Apr/early May
Website: www.fecac.com
A pale imitation of Seville’s grand Feria de Abril, this week-long, sprawling and joyously tacky event is still a whole heap of fun, especially for fans of fried squid and candyfloss. The rows of decorated marquees are a sea of polka dots, as young and old twirl on and off the stages, and onlookers glug manzanilla sherry and scarf some of the greasiest food imaginable. It’s great for children, and there’s a funfair.

Dia del Treball (May Day)

Where: Plaça da la Universitat and various venues
When: 1 May
A day of demonstrations and marches led by trade unionists representing various left-wing organisations. The main routes cover Plaça da la Universitat, Via Laietana, Passeig de Gràcia, Passeig Sant Joan and Plaça Sant Jaume.

Primera Persona

Where: CCCB
When: 8-10 May
Website: www.cccb.org
The Primera Persona Festival is dedicated to writers of literature and music who employ the first person singular and their own experience as raw material for their work. This year the festival is even bigger, with more performances, shows, concerts and monologues than in the two previous editions.

Saló Internacional del Còmic

Where: Fira de Barcelona
When: 8-11 May
Website: www.ficomic.com
This is the weekend that comic and graphic novel aficionados have circled on their calendars every year. The 32nd International Comic Fair in 2014 will feature four days of compressed activities, new releases and exhibitions in a 19,000m2 venue.

Feria BioCultura

Where: Palau Sant Jordi
When: 8-11 May
Website: biocultura.org
The International Fair of Organic Products and Responsible Consumption is the most important of its kind in Spain. With hundreds of exhibitors, tens of thousands of attendees, and thousands of organic products, the fair includes products ranging from cosmetics and hygiene with certified ingredients; organic materials; eco-materials, furniture and home decor; renewable energies; therapies and medicines; recycling; environment and ecology; rural tourism; toys; arts; music; books and magazines.

Sant Ponç

Where: C/Hospital
When: 11 May
A street market held in honour of the patron saint of beekeepers and herbalists, and ablaze with candied fruit, fresh herbs, natural infusions, honey and honeycomb, most of it straight off the farmer’s cart.

Barcelona Poesia & Festival Internacional de Poesia

Where: all over Barcelona
When: mid May
Tel & website: 93 316 10 00/www.bcn.cat/barcelonapoesia
This poetry festival started in 1393 as the courtly Jocs Florals (Floral Games), named after the prizes: a silver violet for third prize; a golden rose as second; and, naturally, a real flower for the winner. The games died out in the 15th century but were resuscitated in 1859 as a vehicle for the promotion of the Catalan language. Prizes went to the most suitably florid paeans to the motherland; these days, Spanish is permitted, as are Basque and Galician. Many languages can be heard at the International Poetry Festival. 

Festa Major de Nou Barris

Where: All over Nou Barris
When: mid May
Website: www.bcn.cat
What the humble neighbourhood of Nou Barris lacks in landmark architecture, it makes up for with vim. Along with some great cultural programming, it has a very lively festa major, attracting top-notch local bands, along with the usual parades and street fairs. The Nou Barris flamenco festival runs concomitantly, and also brings in some big names.

La Nit dels Museus

Where: all over Barcelona
When: 17 May, 7pm-1am
Website: network.icom.museum
The European Night of Museums is an initiative promoted by the Council of Europe, with more than 3,000 participating museums. It takes place the night before International Museum Day (see below), a day that brings together more than 30,000 centers worldwide with the aim of raising public awareness about the role of museums in the ongoing transformation of society.

Dia Internacional dels Museus

Where: all over Barcelona
When: 18 May
Website: http://icom.museum/imd.html
Masterminded by the International Council of Museums, this worldwide day of free museum entrance has an annual theme with related activities; in 2014 it's ‘Museum Collections Make Connections’. Note that the recommended date is 18 May, but this can vary from year to year. La Nit dels Museus is a new initiative, where more than 60 museums offer free entry on the previous night from 7pm to 1am (see above).

Setmana de la Poesia

Where: Various venues
When: 14-20 May
Website: www.bcn.cat/setmanapoesia/
The local government puts culture all around the city with a week of poetry in Catalan, including readings and prizes.

Festival Ciutat Flamenco

Where: Mercat de les Flors
When: 22-25May
Website: mercatflors.cat
Mercat de les Flors dedicated the Ciutat Flamenco festival of 2013 to Carmen Amaya with a full year of celebrations and the inauguration of the Sala Carmen Amaya auditorium. This year the celebrations will come to an end with the Mercat's contemporary, transcultural and universal vision of flamenco: performances by new artists, dialogue between music and dance, artistic residencies, tapeos and more, in order to examine and bring up to date the tradition and future of this art. Organised jointly by Mercat de les Flors and Taller de Músics, the festival presents the most innovative face of flamenco, opening the traditions up to new interpretations while maintaining flamenco as an art deeply rooted in the culture.

Festival de Música Creativa i Jazz de Ciutat Vella

Where: all over Old City
When: May-June
Website: www.bcn.cat/cultura
The Old City Festival of Creative Music and Jazz hosts a range of performances at intimate venues particularly suited to these sort of sounds. 

Primavera Sound

Where: Parc del Fòrum
When: 29-31 May
Website: www.primaverasound.com
This three-day, six-stage music festival is one of the best in Spain. Credit for its success is due to its range of genres. There are rafts of electronica acts, DJs and local bands, plus a record fair and the Soundtrack Film Festival. Huge names have played on the stages in previous years, including Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, The White Stripes, Belle & Sebastian, Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine, Pet Shop Boys, Pavement, PJ Harvey, Fleet Foxes, Yo La Tengo, Björk, Franz Ferdinand... The 2014 headliners so far include Arcade Fire, Neutral Milk Hotel, and The Pixies. Get your tickets early to save a lot of money, as the price goes up regularly as the event date nears.

La Tamborinada

Where: Parc de la Ciutadella, Born
When: late May
Tel: 93 414 72 01
Aimed at children, this vibrant one-day festival fills the Ciutadella park with concerts, workshops and circus performances. Games and entertainments run from snakes and ladders to a towering wall for rock-climbing.

DocsBarcelona International Documentary Film Festival

Where: various venues
When: late May - early Jun
Website: www.docsbarcelona.com
DocsBarcelona is a weeklong film festival that's all about documentaries from all over the world. More than just watching documentaries, there are also pitch forums for works in progress, master classes, conferences, and more.

LOOP Fair

Where: various venues
When: 29 May - 7 Jun
Website: www.loop-barcelona.com
LOOP is the city's first fair devoted to the moving image, and it's where to be to discover, promote and discuss artists’ film and video under ideal conditions. The programme features a showcase of selected artists' video and films; a special project and meeting ground called POOL; and the LOOP Studies, a professional debate forum.

Festa dels Cors de la Barceloneta

Where: Barceloneta
When: weekend of Whitsun
In a Pentecostal tradition dating back 150 years, more than 20 choirs of workers parade through the streets of the barrio in elaborate costumes garlanded with objects typical of their profession – nets and oars for a fisherman, cereal boxes and sausages for a grocer – on the Saturday morning before Whitsun. They then pile into coaches and take off on a weekend jolly, returning for more parading, fireworks and revelry on Monday evening.

L’Ou Com Balla

Where: Ateneu Barcelonès, C/Canuda 6; Casa de l’Ardiaca, C/Santa Llúcia 1; Cathedral cloisters; Museu Frederic Marès; all in Barri Gòtic
When: early June
Tel & website: Institut de Cultura 93 301 77 75/www.bcn.cat/icub
L’Ou Com Balla (the ‘dancing egg’) is a local Corpus Christi tradition dating from 1637: a hollowed-out eggshell is set spinning and bobbing in apparent perpetuum mobile on the spout of various fountains garlanded for the occasion with flowers. The Sunday Corpus Christi procession leaves from the cathedral in the early evening; on the Saturday, there’s free entry to the Ajuntament, the Palau Centelles behind it and the Museu d’Història de Barcelona, along with sardanes (circle dances) at 7pm outside the cathedral.




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Barceloneta and the Ports

The city boasts seven kilometres of golden sands, running from the bustling Port Vell to the upscale Port Olímpic and beyond to the Fòrum. Inevitably, this is also where you'll find some of the city's best seafood restaurants.

The Barri Gòtic

A stroll through the medieval alleyways and secluded squares of the Old City is the best possible introduction to Barcelona and the starting point for most visitors upon arrival in the city.

The Born and Sant Pere

The pedestrianised Passeig del Born, the Born's main artery, is one of Barcelona's prettiest thoroughfares, bookended by a magnificent 19th-century market building and a glorious 14th-century church.

The Raval

Once a no-go area for tourists, the Raval is being transformed. Some of its gems have been around for years - Gaudí's medievalist Palau Güell was an early attempt at gentrification - but others are newer.

Montjuïc & Poble-sec

It's often left off visitors' itineraries, but the hill of Montjuïc merits a wander. In summer, the hill is a few degrees cooler than the city below, and its many parks and gardens are excellent places for a shady picnic.

The Eixample

The Eixample is a Modernista showcase: its buildings include the Sagrada Família, La Pedrera and the Hospital de Sant Pau.

Gràcia

Gràcia was an independent town that was swallowed up as the city spread, but it retains its own identity and is one of the most popular and vibrant districts in the city.

Sarrià

Sarrià was its own independent town until 1921, when it was gobbled up by Barcelona and became the city's new uptown area, not only for its geographical location but also for its more posh homes, shops and restaurants.