In August every year, the streets of Gràcia neighborhood transforms into fantasy streets decorated for Gràcia Festival in Barcelona. In 2015 the festival is held from 15 to 21st August, the festival combined music concerts, activities for kids, chocolatadas – drink chocolate in popular gatherings in the afternoon-, learn how to dance, theatre, magic and much more.
Gràcia used to be an independent town and until now it has preserved his identity, an artisan town that was absorbed by the big city of Barcelona at the end of the 19th century.
La Festa Major de Gràcia, as we call it, started in Gràcia when it was still an artisan village near Barcelona. The festival started as an agriculture celebration on 15th May for Saint Isidre but then it was moved to 15th August. The festival starts as a yearly gathering at the end of XIX century.
Gràcia neighbourhood center is Plaça de la Vila where their clock tower is, what used to be the old city hall when it was an independent town. All around the area there are artisans and designer shops from clothes to home decorations. Ecology-related movements, natural products, and organic foods are also part of the identity. A bohemian quartier that has become very popular for tourists and locals.
Decorated streets in Gràcia
Gràcia has a community spirit and the street decoration is a big part of the belonging of a street and collaboration between residents and neighbors to produce these imaginative street art displays.
The street decoration is one of the main parts of the festival, every year a map is done to see what streets are decorated so visitors can do a route around the area and see them all. There is a contest of street decoration and winners are announced during the festival.
There are 25 associations that elaborate and contribute to see the change from an ordinary street to an enchanted forest, an underwater scene with mermaids or a jungle that could well be from South America. Anything is possible and every year is different so there are surprises every time you go.
The decorations are thought months ahead, there is a recycling spirit behind it and more and more materials are reused to decorate and imagination is the limit.
I love how Abi King calls the Gracia festival as papier mache party festival, I think this definition describes part of the collaborative and artistic process and the usage of different materials such as the papier mache.
How to take the most of Gràcia festival
It's a fun festival for families by day and rebel-ready music festival by night with talented performers day after day. The streets are full of light and music and it is typical to go out in August to Gràcia at night and enjoy the music outdoors in the street.
During the day is more a family festivity, there are activities for kids and it is a good thing to do to walk around the area and see the decorated streets.
There are street food stalls and drinks so you can taste a bit of the gastronomy of Catalonia as well and you can mingle with locals.
It is a good opportunity to experience the traditional Catalan culture and there are activities that are very typical from Catalonia, I will explain them so you can identify them in the official program when it is displayed for this year's activities.
Activities that are part of the Catalan culture:
Correfoc (literally means run from fire)
It is a game in the Street that people run to avoid the fire made by dragon figures, “diables” (we call it the devils, people dressed as devils that also have fire torches) and other fantasy figures that also have fireworks. The are different associations that do correfocs: Vella de Gràcia, Drac de Gràcia, Diabòlica de Gràcia, Malèfica del Coll, Drac Gaudiamus and Diables de Moja.
It is important to know some basics before participating in the correfoc, if you have never been I recommend you to see it near but not close enough to be a risk. It is recommended to wear old clothes, cotton clothes are best and wear long sleeves and long trousers. Wear closed shoes that you can move fast with, do not interfere in the path the correfoc follows to avoid obstacles. It is very rare to get burn in the correfoc, but if it happens there is medical assistance in the area prepared. I am not a big fan of fire and since it is noisy you won't see me there, but it is part of the culture and it is worth it to see it at least once.
A giant is an imaginary figure that is very tall, they are normally made from paper and cardboard and in Catalonia normally every city has a couple of giants, a man and a woman, and also “capgrossos” little figures with a big head that also accompany the giants. Els gegants, do a tour around the city in celebrations and are accompanied by music and everyone walks with them or see them pass through.
Cercavila: the start of every festivity starts with a cercavila which is the walk around the streets with music before the festival starts.
Where to eat and take the first drink in Gràcia
Gràcia has a wide variety of places to choose from and before heading to a music concert Is better to fill in your stomach. For tapas my favorite is Pepa Tomate and their bravas are in my top list of best in Barcelona with thick all I oli and a special tomato sauce. La Pepita is also a tapas bar, with special treats that change every day, they have gourmet tapas and the fish is very good. La Pepita is famous for les pepites, a variation of the pepito sandwich –bread with normally meat and other garnishments-. La Xula tapería is another option, a tiny bar that gets you a free tapa with a beer, good deal for Barcelona.
If you want to sit down in a restaurant, there is great greek food at La Taberna Griega, my favourite dish their moussaka. Thai Food at El Petit Bangkok and Arrosseria Xativa if you want to go for rice or paellas is a very good choice. El Vietnamita is also one of my favorites, Vietnamese food, the nems Rán with mint are delicious.
Get a drink at Elephanta a gin and tonic bar with an extensive menu of different kinds of gin and tonics, sweet or dry, flowery or fruity, get your favorite!
How to get to Gracia Festival and where to stay in Gràcia
If you would like to stay in Gràcia to enjoy the festival to the fullest, find accommodation in Gràcia, Barcelona, there are great apartments in the area to enjoy the festival as a local or hostels and hotels depending on your needs.
There are different metro stations depending on the area you are visiting, my recommendation is to get off at Fontana L3 stop, the green line on the underground. Fontana is right in the center of Gràcia and starting there it will allow you to go around the area easily.