Valencia is home to some pretty amazing modern architecture but that doesn’t stop it from enjoying age old traditions like a good fiesta! If there’s a nation that loves a good party at any time of year, then it has to be Spain. March sees the return of Las Fallas, which is possibly the nosiest of the lot. Here’s our guide to Las Fallas…
What is Las Fallas and when is it?
Las Fallas is a fiery spectacle of a festival celebrated every March in Valencia. It’s a little like New Year’s Eve and the more traditional Bonfire Night celebrations in the UK rolled into one. But Las Fallas is bigger, nosier and a lot more bonkers! It also goes on for a lot longer. Just as New Year celebrations are about saying farewell to the old and welcoming in the new, so is Las Fallas. In this way, it ties in nicely with Spring’s arrival!
Like many (if not all!) Spanish fiestas, this one celebrates the feast day of a saint (San José if you’re curious). But he takes a back seat as festivities are named after the giant paper and cardboard creations collectively called Las Fallas. The origins are thought to go way back to medieval times when carpenters would sweep up their wood shavings to create a bonfire to be burnt on the feast day of San José, their patron saint. But as rivalry and creativity grew, these bonfires began to include giant effigies. Each is called a ninot, which forms part of a falla. The rest of a falla is made up of the mount the ninot is on and the firecrackers they are filled with. They won’t go off until the fallas are set alight on the last night of the festival in a big bonfire.
The main celebrations happen from 15 to 19 March but there are various events related to the festival that begin at the end of January. Events get a lot nosier and move onto the streets starting at the end of February…
Wake up, it’s festival time!
You won’t have to worry about missing any of the fun. There is plenty of assistance available (even if you don’t want it) to make sure you’re awake. Festivities kick of with La Desperta at the end of February. This year, it takes place on 25 February and basically involves a parade of people setting off firecrackers through the streets of the Old Town and ending in Plaza del Ayuntamiento. They are also accompanied by a marching band. This happens at 7.30am!! Desperta means ‘wake up’… And if you’re in the Old Town, I would be amazed if you don’t.
When everyone has gathered at Plaza del Ayuntamiento, they all set off even more firecrackers before organisers offer people taking part breakfast for their service. There used to be a similar wake-up call during the big festival days but that seems to have stopped… Probably to the relief of people staying in the area!
Here’s a video of La Desperta by the folk behind the For 91 Days Blog…
Despite there no longer being additional morning ‘wake up’ calls after La Desperta, you’re not entirely safe from them. Lunchtime is also a bad time for snoozing as mascletás (fireworks and more firecrackers) take place every day at 2pm in Plaza del Ayuntamiento in the Old Town. There is a mascleta from 1 March through to 19 March. As it’s daylight, tt’s a weird time for fireworks but these are all about the noise and smoke. There are also street artists and acrobats who perform as part of the show.
Fireworks and a night of fire: 15, 16, 17 and 18 March
For fans of more traditional fireworks, you’ll find night time displays too! These happen every night from 15 to 18 March. But you’ll have to stay up late for them as they don’t usually kick off until around midnight or 1am. Fireworks take place in the Turia Gardens by Paseo de la Alameda.
The biggest night of fireworks is on 18 March for the Nit del Foc (which means night of fire).
Las Fallas… Building them up: 15-16 March
Neighbourhood groups work through the night on 15 March to build up their falla, which have to be ready for people to see and judges to judge.
Each neighbourhood also holds a parade before la planta, which is when the ninots are mounted onto its final resting place (unless it’s given a pardon – more on this further below). The general theme for the ninots is always satirical with politicians, celebrities and characters from books or a movie featuring heavily. The city’s streets and squares become their home but only for a few days.
A pardon and a history of Las Fallas
Before the big bonfire, people vote for a ninot to be saved. It’s rescued before the fires begin and gets to live in the Museum of Las Fallas.
If you don’t make it to Valencia for the celebration itself, it’s worth a look in this museum for an interesting insight into the festival over the years. It features over 80 years worth of saved ninots!
Streets lit up in colourful lights
In addition to the fallas, neighbourhoods also decorate their streets with lights. The Ruzafa neighbourhood features the best lights. See them along Calle de Cuba, Calle de Puerto Rico, Calle de Sueca and Calle Literato Azorin. They’re all conveniently located next to each other too.
An offering of flowers and traditional costume : 17 & 18 March
Clearly, fire features heavily in this festival. But Las Fallas also involves an ‘offering’ of flowers. This involves parades of people in traditional costume with flowers to be offered up to the Virgin in Plaza de la Virgen. The parades are also a good chance to see traditional dances.
Offerings take place on 17 and 18 March, from around 3.30pm at Calle Sant Sant Vicente and Calle de la Paz.
The devils bringing some spark: 19 March
If that all sounded rather tame for a fiery spectacle of a festival, devils run the streets on the final evening… The Cabalgata del Fuego involves people with devils horns and demon masks running through the streets of the Ruzafa and Colon neighbourhoods with sparklers and fireworks. This usually starts around 7pm.
Burning them down – La Crema: 19 March
If you were saving a trip around town to look at the fallas on 20 March, you’ll be too late. On the night of the 19th, they’re set alight in giant bonfires. The first bonfires take place around 10pm but the biggest bonfires happen after midnight. Remember the ninots are basically mounted on stages full of firecrackers so even though there are no fireworks, it’ll still be noisy!
Food, glorious food throughout
There are also paella contests which take place before the main festivities begin. Whether you’re a fan of the rice dish or not, this is likely to be one of the best times and places to try it as this is prime paella country. During festivities, you’ll be spoilt for choice of food stalls around. But if you’re hoping to try some of Valencia’s restaurants, it’s worth checking ahead and booking if you can.
With so much going on, you may well need something sweet to keep you going. And there is plenty of opportunity for a sugar fix. Head to one of the numerous stands around town selling buñelos (round pumpkin doughnuts) and churros with a small cup of thick hot chocolate. Yum!
Want to know more?
Getting to Valencia
You can fly direct to Valencia Airport located just 8kms from the city proper from all over Europe with airlines including easyJet and Ryanair. Valencia is also well connected with the bigger cities of Barcelona and Madrid by rail. If a train is how you prefer to travel, you can find out more about getting to Valencia Station on our sister site: TrainSpain.com
If you’re lucky enough to be going, prepare for a noisy and fired up affair – as well as a lot of fun!