Spain is a modern country steeped in a deep sense of history, where astonishing centuries-old architecture embraces hyper-modern lifestyles, and where vast dry vistas suddenly give way to plunging cliffs, deep blue waters, and spectacular beaches. Spain’s many festivals embody these contradictions, braiding the past together with the modern era and producing a riot of sights and sounds which can’t be found anywhere else on earth. It’s enough of a joy to go cruising past the shores of Spain on your Mediterranean adventure, but taking the time to join in with the revellers at Spanish festivals will leave you with memories you won’t forget for the rest of your life. These are the moments which make life truly worth living, and if you join in wholeheartedly, you’ll find yourself living for the moment in a way you may not have done in years. From the joyful celebration that is the Fiesta de San Isidro in Madrid, to the ancient Moors and Christians Festivals, to the bizarre and wonderful tomato-flinging party which takes place in Buñol for La Tomatina, you can have your fill of celebration simply by stopping by at one of Spain’s fantastic festivals.

Fiesta de San Isidro

Madrid’s largest festival, the Fiesta de San Isidro is held every year in mid-May. This is the kind of festival which is known all over the world, complete with spectacular parades, stunning costumes, flamenco dancing and music wherever you turn, and many more public events spanning over nine days of revelry. The festival marks the feast day of San Isidro, the city’s patron saint as well as the patron saint of farmers. San Isidro was said to have lived in Madrid from 1082 to 1172, and his feast day has been a time of celebration and excitement throughout the centuries.

Madrid is a city with a long history and a storied culture, and this amazing festival is the perfect time to see it in all its glory. Dressed in the traditional costumes of Madrid, chulapos and goyescos arrive in public spaces to dance the chotis, eat delicious Spanish food, take in the parades with their bright colors and strange giant puppets, and much more. The grand parade is part of the “launching party”, complete with food vendors, family-friendly events, and music everywhere you turn, but the festivities don’t stop for over a week.

If you’re interested in the religious and historic reasons for this festival, the Pradera Of San Isidro is unmissable. Crowds go on pilgrimage through the streets to drink from the sacred spring at the shrine of San Isidro, before settling beside the Manzanares river to sample the food available from countless vendors, listen to traditional music, watch dancing, and come together in celebration. Of course, there are plenty of purely secular events as well. Massive dances are held with free concerts, activities for children, and - as always - more to eat and drink than you’d ever be able to sample all of.

The Moors & Christians Festivals

Celebrating the victory over the Moors during the 13th century, La Fiesta de Moros y Cristianos is a tradition stretching back to the 1500s and still observed today. Throughout Spain, people dress up in dramatic 13th century costumes in order to re-enact battles, listen to medieval music, watch impressive fireworks displays, and - above all - have as much fun as possible while celebrating their long history. While you can find these festivals throughout Spain in late April and occasionally July (due to various feast days and dates of historic battles), two of them most impressive and widely known are found in Villajoyosa and Alcoy. Recognized as being some of the most popular events for tourists in Spain, these events are nonetheless as spectacular and authentic as you could possibly wish them to be.

As bystanders fill the streets in search of the perfect viewing spot, the Moorish and Christian “armies” arrive to march through the city, a procession of camels and elephants, Arabian horses and Spanish Andalusians, gunpowder and flashing scimitars. People in fur and metal stretch out for as far as the eye can see, while the crowds cheer on the opposing armies. After the parades, ceremonial readings, and many more wonderful events, the armies finally clash in a final battle which inevitably ends in a triumphant victory for the Christians. The battle is a sight to behold, echoing back through the centuries until you can truly believe you’ve found yourself in the distant past; this is one festival you won’t soon forget.

La Tomatina

On the last Wednesday of every August, as part of the week-long festival of Buñol, the people of this Mediterranean town take part in a giant tomato fight. In many ways, that’s the end of the story; this isn’t based on ancient customs or centuries-old history, and it doesn’t have deep symbolic meaning. In fact, the tradition has only been in place since approximately 1950, but in those 60 plus years it has developed a frenzied momentum (much like the tomatoes themselves) and a cherished place in the hearts of those who have taken part. Billed as the world’s largest food fight, La Tomatina draws visitors from across the world to throw tomatoes at each other until the streets run red with pulp and everyone is laughing, happy, and feeling very much like a kid again. Tomatoes (too flavorless to be used as food) are brought in via truck for the festival, and revellers go through approximately 150,000 of them every year.

Due to the popularity of the festival, tickets are limited to 15,000 for out-of-town visitors, so make sure to pick up your ticket online before arriving. As one of the strangest, most wonderful events in the world, La Tomatina is an absolute must for anyone who’s cruising the Mediterranean in August. Located a short drive from many popular docking sites, it’s well worth the trip, and will leave you with stories which will keep your friends in stitches for years.

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