This weekend, for the Festival de San Juan, Barcelona
will explode into life. For those not in the know, this is the celebration of the year. I can see you shaking your head and thinking, “yeah, yeah, according to you, every celebration in Barcelona
is the celebration of the year.” But, stop. This one is.
Here’s the low-down because the festival celebrates a couple of things. According to the Gospel of Luke, St. John (a.k.a San Juan is in Spanish and Sant Joan in Catalan), who would later become Saint John, was born six months before Jesus. Seeing as St. John is a pretty big deal across most major religions, in Christianity, a day was set aside to celebrate him. Dia de San Juan or the feast day of St. John the Baptist. Celebrated on the 24th of June, the day is generally spent at church, eating or loafing and lollygagging around at home. In short, here in Catalonia, everyone shuts up shop.
But, the festival also coincides with the summer solstice or the longest day of the year. And the promise of a few months of being able to spend evenings out drinking, eating and generally being merry in the warm Mediterranean air, is definitely something to celebrate, too! This though is celebrated the night before on the 23rd of June.
The night of the Festival de San Juan, Barcelona and its fine people hit the streets to run wild, light bonfires, set off fireworks and revel late into the night and early into the wee hours of the morning. So, to make sure you make the most of the celebrations and all they have to offer, here’s a guide.
Plaça de Sant Jaume: Flama del Canigó
The arrival of the Flama del Canigó marks the beginning of the Festival de San Juan in Catalonia
and has done for the past 50 years. Once paraded through the streets of Barcelona
, the flame lights a beacon in Plaça de Sant Jaume in the Gothic quarter.
From here local torch teams then light their own torches and carry them to light over 20 bonfires throughout the city. While this is going on, there are heaps of events to enjoy. There are traditional Sardana dancing, a gegants (giants) parade and human tower building. This is a great way to start off the Festival de San Juan and get a proper taste of some of the best bits of Catalan culture
The Bunkers of Carmel
Set back from the sandy beaches, and blue waters of Barcelona’s coastline, past the Sagrada Familia and into the hills that encompass the city are the Bunkers of Carmel. Located in the neighborhood of Carmel, at the top of Turó de la Rovira, is a long-abandoned anti-aircraft station. Built during the Spanish Civil War, the Bunkers of Carmel are now an enormous viewing platform. From here you can enjoy 360-degree views of the Barcelona below. And, on a night where everyone and their dog will be shooting off fireworks, it’s a fantastic place to set up camp.
Grab a six-pack of Estrella, some Catalan vermut or cava and a picnic, maybe even some fireworks of your own, and head on up. The place will be alive with people, locals and tourists alike, and settle in. Watch the black canvas of the sky burst with color and welcome in the start of summer in true Catalan style.
Barceloneta beach is a thumping spot pretty much all year round. But on the Festival de San Juan, Barcelona’s beach
is a sea of people partying it up. Without a doubt, this is the heart of the party
. So, if you want to get up close and personal, down and dirty with the locals then this is where you want to be.
Take a towel and bottle of something fancy to enjoy. Find a comfortable looking bit of sand, pop the cork and join in the celebrations. Or, if you make good time and get to the beach early maybe, you can nab yourself some seats at a chiringuitos (beach bar).
On the beach, there are live music performances and bonfires (more on these in a second). Children run wild with roman candles, and everyone else fires bottle rockets of varying sizes into the sky. The best part of the being down at the beach though is the midnight swim. This washes away the sins of the year gone by. And, on a warm summer night is a great way re-enliven yourself.
It is quite a sight, both spiritual and culture. But, fair warning, on average about 75,000 people make their way to Barceloneta beach. So, if crowds aren’t your thing, opt for an alternative way to join in the fun.
Barcelona Bonfire Night
The bonfires of San Juan are central to the festival. Lighting them is a tradition. In fact, the night of San Juan could just as equally go by the name, Barcelona bonfire night. You see, fire and water are the two central symbols of San Juan. Fire representing purification and water rejuvenation.
On the night people light thousands of bonfires and jump over them, purifying their spirits. They write wishes on paper and burn them so that they may come true. And, they also burn old possessions, ridding them from this world.
There was once a lot of rivalry between bonfires. Neighborhoods and people used to compete to see who could build the biggest. Now, people, drawn to the raw magnetism of the bonfire’s flame, gather to sing songs and dance around them.
It is beautifully overwhelming. And, to walk the streets bathed in the orange hue of fires scored to the whizzes and bangs of fireworks and the hisses, pops, and crackles of bonfires is a memory you’ll never forget.
If the crowds at the beach aren’t your thing, then Montjuic is a fantastic alternative. Although by no means any less festive, the vibe is different here. If you have kids, this is the best place to head to.
Montjuic hill offers another great view of the city and is therefore ideal for firework watching. Pick a patch of grass and set up camp. Give the kids some sparklers and watch the night unfold.
The kids will love the explosions of colors painting the night sky, and it will give them a fantastic taste of Catalan culture.
Grab a Coca de Sant Joan
For the Festival de San Juan, Barcelona also boasts a delicious sweet pastry, the Coca de Sant Joan. No night would be complete without enjoying at least a bite.
The Coque de San Juan is specific to the festival. It is a flat, crunchy, brioche pastry covered in nuts and candied fruit. In the lead up the festival, they start popping up in just about every baker’s front window. Each may be dressed differently, making use of different types of candied fruits or nuts, but they are all flavored with aniseed.
So, for a complete experience, be sure to pick up a Coca to enjoy around one of the bonfires of San Juan.
Revetlles or Street Parties
This is one of the best Barcelona festivals 2018 has to offer, and the people of the city are what make it so. All the neighborhoods throw revetlles, or, street parties. Most begin with a Sopar Popular, or, a communal dinner. Here, people come together, bringing food and drinks, and sit at long trestle tables to eat and enjoy each other's company.
All Revetlles have music or live performances. And, spaces are set up to allow people to dance. The wine and cava
flow freely at these street parties, and the celebrations go late in the night. Many don’t end until the early morning.
So, head to your nearest firework kiosk, write yourself some wishes for the coming year, pack some matches and your swimsuit, it’s time to celebrate the Festival de San Juan. And, if you’re interested, check out some other great Barcelona festivals 2018 has to offer here