Every district in Barcelona has a 'Festa Major' that commemorates its patron saint, and takes to the streets for music, dancing and celebration. These are not polished, professional civic occasions, they're genuinely grass-roots festivals, organized by the locals after months of preparation, and they're open to everyone, young and old, residents and visitors alike.
Gràcia's Festa Major dates back to the mid-19th century, and is a highlight of Barcelona's summer agenda. For a whole week the district is transformed, as streets, squares and balconies are dressed up for the festivities, with neighbourhood associations competing to win prizes for the most spectacular and original creations. Giant papier-mâché figures and imaginative themed decorations, usually made from recycled materials, attract admiring crowds - as do the many café terraces and outdoor feasts. There's live music until late into the night, and during the day there's a full programme of activities for children - from creative workshops to outdoor games and chocolate treats.
Bear in mind that the festival is so popular that Barcelona Metropolitan Transport sends in reinforcements in the way of customer service staff, security and cleaning services in the name of bringing you closer to the barrio (see the map) via several metro lines: Diagonal (L3, L5), Fontana (L3), Lesseps (L3), Verdaguer (L4, L5) and Joanic (L4). On Friday 16 and Saturday 17 August, the days with the most revellers thronging the streets, the metro runs all night. This should help to give you an idea of the magnitude of the event.
From 15 to 21 August, Gràcia is all party, all the time. Here are a few tips and a selection of activities to help you make the most it.
If you'd rather bend your elbows than move your hips, get yourself to the Ruta dels Vins. If your Catalan's a bit rusty, that is indeed a wine route - a great way to taste the nectars of the fruits of Catalonia where you'll taste a different wine in every street (7pm, Tasta Gràcia space, Manuel Torrente gardens).
Our money's on the farewell party of La Caldera, which is leaving the neighbourhood after 18 years to head to new digs in Les Corts. There will be a big celebration in the street with live music, surprises and dance - plenty of dance.
The night is shaping up with a great selection of live music in the form of the Saharan sounds of Aziza Brahim & Gulili Mankoo (10pm, Plaça del Sol), the punk of Les Sueques (11.30pm, C/Mozart), Celtic music from Los Stompers (11pm, C/Joan Blanques de Baix) and Ebri Knight (12.30am, Plaça Rovira), and the blues courtesy of Chino and The Big Bet (2am, C/Progrés). And you don't have to cut the night short, because the metro runs all night both Friday and Saturday this week, thanks to the festival.
If you didn't get to sleep too late on Friday, or if you just have a lot of energy en general, get back to the festival early when Saturday starts off with the Pedalada Popular - everybody on their bike to tool around Gràcia, starting off at the top of Passeig de Sant Joan (10.30am) and winding up in Plaça de la Vila. Keep the momentum going by bettering your lindy hop skills in the open class that starts at 1pm in C/Joan Blanques de Baix de Tot, or show off your virtuosity at the mortar and pestle in the 2nd contest of handmade alioli (1pm, Manuel Torrente gardens).
If the cycling, dancing and elbow grease you put into the alioli have helped you build up an appetite, grab a plate and fill it up with paella at the tast arrosser (rice tasting) to be held at the Tasta Gràcia space (1.30pm, Manuel Torrente gardens). At 6pm back in Plaça de la Vila they'll be handing out the prizes for the best decorated streets, and at 8pm you'll get a show of the Castellers de la Vila de Gràcia, those daring human towers, who will have walked (not in tower form) down from Plaça del Sol. But if you're more into, say, craft beer, but you aren't into the fashionable microbrewed concoctions around these days, don't miss 'Family Beer', a demo on how to make beer at home (19h, C/Joan Blanques de Baix). The family that brews together ...
Recharge your batteries with a Mexican dinner back at the Tasta Gràcia space (9.30pm, Manuel Torrente gardens), where you can also enjoy some Mexican music and dance. Put down your fajitas and burritos for a night of folk dancing with El Pont d'Arcalís and La Canya Borda (10pm, Plaça del Sol), or some blues with Big Mama & The Crazy Blues Band (10pm, Plaça de les Dones del 36) and Amadeu Casas Grup (11.30pm, Plaça de Sant Miquel), and the power pop mod revival of The Bite (11pm).
At midday Plaça de la Vila plays host to the Diada Castellera, 'casteller' groups from Reus, Vilafranca and, local favourites, Vila de Gràcia will build human towers to the gasps of everyone below. To calm your nerves afterwards, head to the Tasta Gràcia space at 12.30pm for the making of the Festa Major vermouth.
Time for some folk music with El Gos Binari (2.30pm, C/Mozart), and to get ready for the IX Gimcana de la Festa Major de Gràcia (3:45pm), which is a sort of race involving groups having to complete one task or level of difficulty before going on to the next. Prizes are given out later in C/Fraternitat (Tordera-Torres) at 9.30pm.
If you happen to be a fan of both cinema and wine, this is your lucky night. Plaça del Nord is the place to be for a pairing of cinema and wine, and all from Catalonia, with the film 'El Bosc', from Óscar Aibar (8pm, €2 advanced tickets available at the Fundació Festa Major de Gràcia). If your Catalan's not up to snuff, there's still the wine. But on the other hand if all that Catalan film and wine has woken up the 'independentisme' in you, head for the lighting of the estelada de llum (a Catalan independence flag made of lights) hosted by the Assemblea Nacional Catalana (9.30pm, Plaça Joanic).
Finish up the day with a bit of Catalan music to keep the theme going: Cobla Catalana dels Sons Esencials de Marcel Casellas (10pm, Plaça del Sol), the fight songs of Cesk Freixas (11pm, Plaça de la Vila), swing music from La Vella Dixieland (11pm, Plaça del Diamant) and some rumba with Sabor de Gràcia (12.30am, Plaça Joanic).
Things slow down a bit after the weekend, but on Monday you can still follow the 'gegants' around the barrio and check out a bunch of concerts. Electro-pop duo The Pinker Tones present music from their book/CD for the little ones, 'Rolf & Flor' (7pm, Plaça Rovira), Els Catarres play tunes from their second album (10pm, Plaça del Sol), the jazz trio of Andreu Zaragoza, Oriol Roca & Sabina Witt take the stage in Plaça de la Revolució (10.30pm) and Festigàbal kicks off (11pm, Plaça Rovira), the festival brought to you by Heliogàbal, one of Gràcia's favourite spots for live music, with a mix of bluegrass and jota Spanish music from Los Hermanos Cubero, and surf music with Los Tiki Phantoms.
Happy news: the Tasta Gràcia space (Manuel Torrente gardens) hosts another Festa Major vermouth (12.30pm), because the good things in life are worth repeating, and in the evening get a bit of learning done with the 9th Celebration of the Colles de Cultura de Gràcia (7pm, Plaça de la Vila), where you'll learn about the history of the village of Gràcia and its annexation into Barcelona via texts and performances by different cultural groups from Gràcia.
At 7.45pm the Assemblea Nacional Catalana makes a human chain and parades toward Plaça Joanic, where the closing ceremony of the Festa Major will take place (8.30pm). But that doesn't mean it's over.
See short pieces at La Caldera (9pm) starring the instructors of Barcelona Dance and Scenic Arts International Meeting Point up through the 30th of August, and the Tradicionàrius Plaça del Folk as well as the Festigàbal host two of the biggest shows of the week: the double bill of Rumba All Stars and Arrels de Gràcia (10pm, Plaça del Sol) and the meeting of British punk pioneer Vic Godard (Subway Sect) and Catalan band Mates Mates, in addition to the highly recommended vàlius (11pm, Plaça Rovira).
What goes up must come down, and as much as we'd like to keep everyone who lives in Gràcia in a state of total insomnia for another week, the Festa Major must finally come to a close. Start the last day with some jazz with the Andreu Zaragoza Quartet (1pm, C/Perla). At dusk things pick up with the Tabalada Infernal, the procession of drummers of the groups participating in the 'correfoc' that goes from Plaça de la Vila, where the big fire party starts. If you plan to attend, be sure to wear old clothes, and many opt for a damp scarf around their head or other important bits if they plan on getting really close. Sparks will fly, so don't get burned.
Bid 'adeu' to the Festa Major with live music from the Inxa Impro Quartet (10pm, Plaça del Sol), who depart from traditional music to improvise a little, and De Mortimers Gang Live Karaoke Band (11pm, Plaça Rovira), a sort of anti-karaoke with a live band playing the music for your performance that would make Simon Cowell weep.