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Barcelona's 20 top events of 2015

The Catalan capital is buzzing with excitement year-round. Here’s our pick of the city’s best gigs, exhibitions, festivals and sporting events, chosen in association with Barcelona Turisme

With stunning architecture, world-class museums, legendary nightlife and beaches a few minutes’ walk from the city centre, Barcelona is great to visit any time of year. From May to September, the warmer months are packed with outdoor events like the Sónar electronic music festival and the eclectic Primavera Sound, as well as jazz nights in the open spaces of gorgeous Gaudí buildings around the city.

Indoors or outdoors, there are cultural festivals featuring amazing human towers, fashion shows, Christmas markets and top sporting events like the Barcelona Marathon and the Spanish Grand Prix, and the neighbourhood of Gràcia welcomes visitors to what is arguably Europe’s best street party. It’s a landmark year for the city’s wonderful museums and galleries, with a major new Dalí and Picasso exhibition and shows at the brand new Design Museum and Museum of World Cultures.

If you’ve never been to Barcelona, or if you’re making a return visit, 2015 is the year to experience all the city has to offer — download the guide in PDF format to see the full list of the 50 top events taking place in Barcelona in 2015.

1
080 Barcelona Fashion, Feb 2-6

080 Barcelona Fashion, Feb 2-6

Discover what you should be wearing, according to Catalan designers, this fall and winter with the fifteenth edition of this biannual event to promote the local fashion industry. As well as catwalk shows there are talks and discussions, pop-up shops, DJ sessions, photo competitions and stands from some of the local design schools, where you can spot the next generation of 080 participants. www.080barcelonafashion.cat

2
Museu de Cultures del Món, February

Museu de Cultures del Món, February

Barcelona’s newest museum, the Museum of World Cultures, promises to be exceptional, with exhibits from Africa, Asia, south and central America and Oceania, gathered since the late 19th century by local institutions and private collectors. With almost 40,000 items, including religious statues, clothing, artwork and books, there’s enough material here to keep curious minds distracted for hours. Its location is an added attraction: two adjoining houses opposite the Picasso Museum, built by wealthy medieval families, which have been restored and merit a close inspection in their own right. www.museuculturesmon.bcn.cat

3
Design for Life, Feb 19-May 16

Design for Life, Feb 19-May 16

Barcelona’s new Design Museum opened in December 2014, bringing together the collections of the city’s former industrial design, graphic and decorative arts, ceramics and textiles museums, some 70,000 items in total. It’s located in the Disseny Hub, a striking new building surounded by a moat, designed by leading Barcelona architects including Oriol Bohigas. “Design for Life” looks at the concepts behind 100 objects used in everyday life, from Catalan and international designers, in the fields of communication, the human body and geographical surroundings. It’s the first in a series of exhibitions taking a critical look at the role of design around the world and how products and concepts are adapted to the societies they are aimed at. www.museudeldisseny.cat

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4
Zurich Marató de Barcelona, March 15

Zurich Marató de Barcelona, March 15

There’s no denying it, running is popular in Barcelona these days. It seems as though not a weekend goes by without a big run or power walk taking place. But the Zurich Barcelona Marathon is the daddy of them all; increasingly attracting runners from abroad, it has taken its place in the list of the world’s most popular 26-mile challenges. The route zig-zags its way across town and, for those not concerned about breaking their personal record, offers a checklist of the city’s main landmarks, including the Camp Nou, the Arc de Triomf and a selection of Gaudí creations. In an effort to make this an inclusive sporting event, there are numerous entertainment points along the way, including music and dance performances. If you haven’t yet signed up for this alternative tour of Barcelona, here’s your chance—14,200 runners took part in 2014, but the organizers say that numbers can go above 17,000 this year. www.zurichmaratobarcelona.com

5
Picasso/Dalí Dalí/Picasso, Mar 19-Jun 28

Picasso/Dalí Dalí/Picasso, Mar 19-Jun 28

For the first time, work by two of the past century’s most brilliant artists is brought together. Following their first meeting in Paris in 1926, we observe how Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí echoed and challenged each other in their work. The show is produced with the Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, FL, where it was exhibited for four months from November last year; Barcelona’s Museu Picasso is its only other venue. More than 80 paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures are on display, many of them rarely seen in public before. www.bcn.cat/museupicasso

6
Festa de Sant Jordi, April 23

Festa de Sant Jordi, April 23

Catalonia’s equivalent to Valentine’s Day, the day of Sant Jordi (Saint George, patron saint of Catalonia as well as England) is so much more than heart-shaped boxes of chocolates and uncomfortably forced Valentine-card rhymes. The basic idea is that men present their sweethearts with a rose, while women give their beaus a book. On the day, the streets fill to bursting with stalls selling roses of every colour, shape and size and books for all tastes. Bibliophiles will be in heaven, as unhurried book browsing is all but obligatory. Just hope that the weather stays fine. bcn.cat/barcelonacultura and bcn.cat/culturapopular

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7
Primavera Sound, May 28-30

Primavera Sound, May 28-30

This urban festival has become a top player on the European summer circuit, with three long nights crammed full of music, from up-and-coming local groups to major names. Though it’s a pocket festival without overnight camping, Primavera Sound is certainly not lacking in variety or atmosphere. Seeing all the acts you want requires careful planning, with multiple stages hosting everything from indie pop to hard metal, folk and experimental. Pixies, Metronomy and Arcade Fire were among the 229 acts who played last year and headliners for 2015 include the Strokes and Ride. www.primaverasound.com

8
Formula 1 Gran Premio de España 2015, May 8-10

Formula 1 Gran Premio de España 2015, May 8-10

One of the biggest weekends on the Barcelona sporting calendar, the F1 Spanish Grand Prix drives into town once more at the Barcelona-Catalunya Montmeló circuit, where it has been held since 1991. Join the 140,000 spectators to see if reigning champion Lewis Hamilton can repeat last year’s top podium spot, while the locals cheer on Fernando Alonso, who won the previous year and was the first Spaniard to win the Grand Prix in 2006. The main event is clearly the Sunday race, but there are lead-up events starting with a pit lane walkabout on May 7 (for holders of a three-day or Sunday ticket), before the qualifying sessions on the 8th and 9th. If you go with your family, a kids zone offers entertainment for three- to 12-year-olds. www.circuitcat.com

9
Sónar, Jun 18-20

Sónar, Jun 18-20

If you know anything about electronic music, you know about Sónar. Now in its twenty-second year, with the official title of International Festival of Advanced Music and New Media Art, these days the parallel activities generate as much excitement as the live acts at the main day and night sessions. Art installations, a conference dedicated to digital culture and decibel-appropriate kids’ specials are just part of the extended Sónar program that takes over many corners of the city. The live performances feature top electronic acts new and old, with such noteworthy names in recent years as Grace Jones, Pet Shop Boys and Yelle. www.sonar.es

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10
Festival Jardins Palau Reial Pedralbes, Jun-Jul

Festival Jardins Palau Reial Pedralbes, Jun-Jul

A relative newcomer on the Barcelona music-festival block, this year is the third outing for this sumptuous event where the venue is almost as high on the bill as the acts. The setting is the gardens of the Palau Reial de Pedralbes, where carefully tended flower beds, Michelin-starred food and a lot of cava set the scene. But that’s not to decry the quality of the performers, with past acts that have included Blondie, Tom Jones, Lana Del Rey and Kool and the Gang. www.festivalpedralbes.com

11
Les Nits D’Estiu, Jun-Sep

Les Nits D’Estiu, Jun-Sep

During the summer in Barcelona, you’re never short of outdoor events that allow you to make the most of the somewhat cooler evenings. To add to their appeal, many such events are held in buildings with splendid outdoor spaces, including Gaudí’s unique creations La Pedrera, Casa Battló, Torre Bellesguard and Palau Güell. In Passeig de Gràcia, La Pedrera has thrice-weekly rooftop jazz concerts and the chance to visit the Espai Gaudí, a permanent exhibition about the architect, while Casa Batlló offers supper and cocktails accompanied by live music. Away from the center of town, Torre Bellesguard, overlooking the city, offers panoramic guided tours, cava and varied musical acts. Palau Güell is the most exclusive venue, opening its roof terrace for just four nights last year, where it staged jazz concerts for 50 people at a time.

12
Grec Festival de Barcelona, July

Grec Festival de Barcelona, July

Barcelona’s biggest cultural festival features dance, theater, music and circus staged in venues all around the city. Inaugurated in 1976 with the aim of showcasing Catalan creativity, its basic tenet remains the same, while the festival has expanded to include more international acts. If you can, go and see an event at the Grec Teatre, where the festival originated. A Greek-style amphitheater built on the site of a disused quarry for the city’s 1929 Universal Exhibition, it’s a magical setting for seeing a performance on a balmy July night. www.grec.bcn.cat

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13
Festa Major de Gràcia, Aug 15-24

Festa Major de Gràcia, Aug 15-24

The neighborhood of Gràcia was once an independent town, only absorbed into Barcelona proper at the end of the 19th century. Its community spirit remains strong, as evidenced by the consistent hard work put into this annual “big party.” The main attraction is the street-decoration competition, which sees some 25 associations strive to create the most elaborate and incredible metamorphosis of an ordinary road into, perhaps, a jungle, underwater scene or zombie hangout. The weeklong festa includes traditional Catalan culture, fun for the kids and lots of street-food and drink. www.festamajordegracia.cat

14
Trofeu Joan Gamper, August

Trofeu Joan Gamper, August

The Joan Gamper Trophy, named for FC Barcelona’s founder, marks the start of the team’s new season. Traditionally played toward the middle of August, when locals are returning from their summer holidays but before the serious business of La Liga gets going, it’s a chance to see the big stars in action, alongside the club’s newest signings. Inaugurated in 1966, it used to be a four-game minitournament but is now a single friendly (exhibition match), often against somewhat inferior opposition. Visiting teams face the added pressure of playing in front of up to 99,000 home fans, and the usually one-sided game shows off the home players to their best advantage – in the past four Joan Gampers, Barça scored 19 goals but let in only one. www.fcbarcelona.com

15
Festes de la Mercè, Sep 23-27

Festes de la Mercè, Sep 23-27

Each year, Barcelona celebrates its patron saint, Mercè, with five days of festivities and activities. From Catalan staples such as human towers, dancing giants and fire running to outdoor concerts, singing competitions and open days at some of the city’s most important landmarks, see Barcelona let its hair down at this end-of-summer bash. It all finishes off with a monster firework display in Montjuïc. www.bcn.cat/merce

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16
Castells (Sant Felix-Vilafranca), Aug-Sep

Castells (Sant Felix-Vilafranca), Aug-Sep

If you want to know what locals mean when they say “Catalonia is not Spain,” this is the kind of thing they are talking about. Castells, or human towers, are a unique and historic feature of Catalan culture, originating in the Tarragona area in the 18th century. Today, castell groups are found across the region, practicing hard to perfect the art of climbing onto each other’s shoulders to build the highest tower they can. Towers are deemed complete when a small child climbs right to the top and raises one arm – the skill and courage of the youngsters is truly a sight worth seeing. Castellers regularly appear at festivals in towns big and small around Catalonia, with the annual late-summer Festa Major of Saint Felix one of the stellar events in the calendar. Located in the winemaking region of Alt Penedés, each year the town of Vilafranca welcomes four of the current top castell groups to create their stunning temporary edifices. www.festamajorvilafranca.cat

17
Sitges – Festival Internacional de Cinema Fantàstic de Catalunya, October

Sitges – Festival Internacional de Cinema Fantàstic de Catalunya, October

If you love going to the cinema to be scared out of your mind, then the Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival is the place for you. The last edition opened with the fourth and final in the series of “REC” movies, some of the most popular terror films to come out of Catalonia. Possibly to avoid any liability, the organizers advise reading a description of any film before buying tickets, to get an idea of the gore and fear levels involved. But maybe that takes all the fun out if it, and anyway, judging by the 2014 screenings, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, With Your Heart in Your Throat and Bombshell Bloodbath, the titles all sound quite self-explanatory. www.sitgesfilmfestival.com

18
Voll-Damm Festival Internacional de Jazz de Barcelona, October

Voll-Damm Festival Internacional de Jazz de Barcelona, October

Barcelona has a thriving jazz scene, with numerous venues presenting live concerts most nights of the year, so it’s no surprise that its annual festival devoted to the genre is still going strong in its forty-seventh edition. Inaugurated in 1966 when Dave Brubeck and his quartet performed at the Palau de la Música Catalana, it has since welcomed masters including Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins and Count Basie, among a roll call of the finest jazz musicians around. In 2014, headliners included Chucho Valdés, Wayne Shorter and Zakir Hussain. Fans can also enjoy jam sessions at the Conservatori del Liceu and masterclasses with the likes of bassist Dave Holland, pianist Joachim Kühn and vibraphonist Gary Burton. City libraries also get in on the act, with exhibitions, activities introducing children to the key instruments, and sessions where some of the festival participants talk about their art. www.barcelonajazzfestival.com

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19
Fira de Santa Llúcia, December

Fira de Santa Llúcia, December

This long-established Christmas fair takes over the square in front of Barcelona’s cathedral for the weeks leading up to the big day, with stalls selling seasonal accessories including mistletoe, tree decorations and small gifts. However, if you want to experience the fair as a local, grab the chance to buy some nativity figures, whether a caganer (a Catalan peasant who defecates in the corner of the stable—or a celebrity, like Rafa Nadal or Barack Obama) or a character who actually appeared in the original story. nadal.bcn.cat

20
Campanades de Cap d’Any, December 31

Campanades de Cap d’Any, December 31

Barcelona city council has upped the ante recently on the local end-of-year festivities, to compete with the established New Year celebrations of Edinburgh, London and New York. For last year’s inaugural event, Plaça Espanya hosted a big outdoor party that included human towers and a huge firework display. The star of the evening, though, was a 49-foot-tall human figure in front of the Magic Fountains in Montjuïc, part of a family-friendly show produced by theater group Fura dels Baus, using water, lights and pyrotechnics to create a memorable welcome to the year. If you really want to get into the party mood, local tradition dictates the wearing of red underwear and eating 12 grapes at midnight, finishing them before the last bell stroke. Seedless grapes may help with a task that’s much more difficult than it sounds. nadal.bcn.cat

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