There are few communities in the world that party like Valencia. The region is famous for wonderful weather, laidback attitude, and famous fiestas. If you want to see something truly authentic on your Valencian trip, head to one of these Valencia festivals.
Las Fallas de Valencia
Traditionally held in honour of St. Joseph, Fallas – like all good celebrations – is probably a rip-off of a Pagan festival to celebrate the Spring Equinox. The festivities start on the 1st of March and run until the 19th, but it’s the last five-days of it which are the most eventful. It has a long association with carpenters, a group St Joseph is the patron saint of, so the relationship the festival has with burning wood makes sense – but more on that later.
The fireworks start in the morning during Las Fallas de Valencia, and they continue regularly throughout day. That’s not to say things don’t crescendo at night – of course they do. That’s the natural order of things, and the cacophony of sounds is integral to what Fallas is about. You get into the spirit pretty quickly, even with the usually disliked combination of late finishes and 8AM brass bands marching through the street.
Valencia is already an artsy city: the galleries showcase talent as good as any in Spain, and the transformative Turia Gardens are astounding. During the festival, however, this gets kicked up a notch. Different groups get together months in advance and build effigies of various sizes, which are revealed throughout the days of the festival. Each group is known as a Casal Faller, and they are usually sorted along familial or neighbourhood lines. The effigies are known as ninots, which translates to dolls or puppets in English. This translation doesn’t do these masterpieces justice: some of the works of art are up to thirty-foot high, and all are amazing in their own way. Some are scenes from famous children’s tales, whilst some are caricatures of famous people.
These ninots all share one characteristic, though – and this is where the wood comes in: they’re all flammable. Yes – once a year, the people of Valencia spend months crafting meticulous scenes from literature and gross caricatures of politicians, leave them around to gawk at whilst they party for a few days, and then burn them to the ground at the end. This final day is known as La Crema (the burning), and it’s as incredible as it sounds.
Because of the festival, there are huge numbers of people out and about in traditional garments during the period, and lots of beer and music, too. Valencians are already a friendly and welcoming people, but when you visit during Las Fallas de Valencia, this gets taken to a whole new level, as you’ll discover whilst walking through the street and being handed shots of free liquor.
Most villages in the region host their own version of events, as does each neighbourhood in the capital, but it’s the official events in the city centre that dominate. The Mascleta is one of the first of these – this is the second time in the day that official fireworks go off, and it’s accompanied by an organised firecracker show.
The only thing more ubiquitous to Fallas than astoundingly grotesque ninos and firecrackers is the music. Throughout the city, mini-stages and not-so-mini soundsystems are set up, as are makeshift bars and churro stands – a must-try when you’re visiting.
During the drowsy siesta period, you find yourself recharging in preparation for the night ahead, because it’s the nights which are really spectacular. The entire city seems to morph into a gigantic street party, with cars given the short shrift outside of main roads, and fireworks galore exploding in all corners of the city. There are stages in outer suburbs for larger, local bands to perform, with folk, pop and rock music played. There are some private areas set up by Casal Fallers, but these are marked clearly, and, on the whole, the entertainment is a free-for-all.
From the 15th – 18th, there is a firework’s display in Turia, the riverbed-turned-park, which grows in size every night. The last night matches any New Year’s celebration, and the spectacle – known as La Nit del Foc – can be watched from all over the city but is best enjoyed with the crowds just outside the park.
As night falls on the final evening of celebrations, known as La Crema, the city begins to flicker and bang. Eventually, the last and main ninot (located in front of city hall) is burnt, and the entire city erupts into a gigantic street party for one last time.
This unique and messy festival has been taking place in Buñol since the 1940’s, with one theory claiming it was started by disgruntled locals attacking the city councillors with tomatoes. The town is about 40km West of the main city. Sometimes known as the Valencia Tomato Festival, it is basically the world’s biggest food fight, with nearly 50,000 people attending at its peak before ticketing was introduced in 2013 to limit capacity to 20,000.
While it would be nice to stay in Buñol, given the town normally has a population of 9,000, there is incredibly limited hotel room, so it makes sense to stay in Valencia and get a bus or train in, or to use a car.
The Valencia Tomato festival takes place on the last Wednesday of every August. It begins with trucks hauling in the tomatoes at around 11am, although technically the festivities only start when a selected brave person climbs to the top of a greasy wooden pole and grabs some jamon from the top. With that said, most people start before the meat is gone as it can take quite long – nowadays, the signal to throw your tomatoey bombs is the firing of water cannons.
The festivities don’t last too long, normally around an hour, and the town is cleaned by fire trucks afterwards. The festival goers, however, are usually left to clean themselves, some in the nearby river, and some by friendly locals willing to offer a hose down. All in all, a unique experience that’s totally worth the clean up afterwards.
Festival de les Arts
Music festival fans should head to this incredible Valencia festival that’s usually held in June. Although primarily a music festival, there are a tonne of other things to do other than listen to bands, including design and illustration sections, as well as sampling some of the wonderful local and international food that’s on offer.
The festival itself is held in The City of Arts and Sciences complex, and although technically only takes place over a couple of days, it does have a wide reach within the city, picking up local artists to promote them to an international audience. There are a mixture of more famous international artists and Spanish musicians performing; in the past the festival has seen shows by The Vaccines and Jake Bugg.