After a long and cold spring in Barcelona, locals and visitors alike are flocking to the beach and soaking up some very anticipated golden rays. While this city definitely attracts sun worshippers from across the globe, tanning isn’t the only thing to do in this gorgeous Mediterranean metropolis during the long summer days and nights. Summer is the time of festivals in Barcelona! Whether you are a born and bred barceloní (as the locals call themselves), part of the expat community, or have simply come in search of a few inspiring and/or relaxing days – Barcelona and its surroundings offer festivals that cater to all genres and budgets, which make exploring Catalunya in this way a great opportunity to get off the beaten track and mingle with the locals beneath the Spanish stars. Here’s my list of the best open-air festivals this region has to offer:
Catalonia has a long-standing trade relationship with Cuba and other Caribbean islands. In fact, it was the raw materials from Cuba that were turned into fine fabrics and textiles during the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century. It was this that laid the foundation of wealth for many of the patrons of Modernist architecture, such as Eusebi Güell or Josep Batlló, who commissioned the extraordinary architect Antoni Gaudí to build some of his most outstanding family homes, one of the most famous being Casa Batlló. This heritage can still be found in Catalan music tradition, with haunting havaneres being sung in summer, accompanied by guitar and accordion. On
the first weekend in July, these local music groups rendezvous, carrying on this age-old tradition that dates back more than a century ago. After the music, there are fireworks, and if you’re lucky you’ll be able to sample a cremat, which is usually served on these occasions. So head up north to Calella de Palafrugell and be swept away by Caribbean rhythms. Only a 90-minute’s drive north of Barcelona, and situated on picturesque Costa Brava, this idyllic little town welcomes you to a weekend-long celebration of havaneres. And if you want to really polish up your Catalan and Spanish on the way – you can download the program with the lyrics of the 2012 edition of the festival here.
2. Movies under the stars in an unique setting – Sala Montjuïc (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 30th June to 7th August)
Take a warm summer night, a castle on the hill overlooking a sea of lights, add some great movies, a little night music, and you have one of the most popular summer activities in Barcelona. For more than a decade, the open-air movie festival Sala Montjuïc has been attracting thousands of visitors of all ages. The recipe is simple, the outcome spectacular. Three times a week, from the end of June through to the first week of August, both classic films (this years’ highlights include the movie version of Leonard Bernstein’s musical “West Side Story” from the 1960s as well as Orson
Welles’ “Citizen Kane”) and interesting new productions (e.g. Spanish silent movie “Snowwhite” with live orquestra music) are projected onto the ancient walls of Montjuïc castle on the homonymous Olympic hill. Before each movie (10pm), there is a concert by a local band (8.45pm) to set the mood. Tickets are 6€, and if you want to ensure your comfort, rent a deckchair for an additional 3 €, or just do as the locals do, and throw down a blanket or a big towel. Many people bring food to enjoy a picnic dinner while watching the film.
Practical information: You can get your ticket at the box office on the night of (from 8.30pm) or buy it in advance on the festival’s website. Fridays tend to be particularly crowded, so buying a ticket in advance is recommended to guarantee that you won’t miss out on the fun. There’s a free shuttle bus at Plaça Espanya (metro Espanya; bus stop next to the Venetian towers) to the castle from 8:30pm on. Most movies are shown in their original version with Spanish subtitles. For the program and more information, check the festival’s website.
Caixa Forum close to Plaça Espanya (Metro stop Espanya) is one of the city’s residents’ most popular choice among the museums in Barcelona. The former 19th century factory, an impressive red brick building designed by famous Art Nouveau architect and Gaudí contemporary Josep Puig i Cadafalch, was bought by a Catalan bank and 2002 was turned into a modern exhibition space. Until recently, the museum was completely free for visitors; however, due to the current economic crisis there is now an entrance fee of 4€, which is still pretty affordable compared to many other cultural institutions in the city. Right now, you can learn about the influence of Japanese culture in Catalan art (Japonisme, until 15th Sept) and see an interesting selection of their contemporary art collection, including works by Barcelona-born Joan Miró or American artist Bruce Nauman (Que hacer, until 8th Sept).
Little is known, however, about the evening activities that La Caixa Forum organizes every year in the summer months of July and August. They include concerts, poetry readings and small circus shows. Every Wednesday evening you can enjoy live concerts, either in the museum’s auditorium or under the stars, and even get a glimpse of the work of circus artists (find the full program here). Prices vary from free to 6€. You could always combine a museum visit with some nice music, before heading off to delve into some delicious tapas. Insider tip: don’t leave the museum without visiting the rooftop terrace you can get to by way of the hidden staircase, accessible from the first-floor patio, where you’ll have a spectacular view of the monumental area around Plaça Espanya, built for the 1929 World Fair.
4. Free music in the parks – Música als parcs in July and August (at 8pm at different venues)
In July and August, many Barcelonians try to get out of the city, and its sometimes scorching temperatures. However,
those that stay (and those who come) are rewarded with some special treats by the city’s local government’s Culture Council. One of which is a series of 49 free concerts in the city’s parks and green spaces. Depending on the date and location, you can listen to jazz standards and classical music, both by Spanish and international composers. Traditional Catalan melodies are also offered, and all-time favorites performed by the city’s official band, la Banda Municipal, and other local musicians. Highlights include a classical music concert on the 20th of July by soprano Laura Obradors and pianist Carme Gil, performing songs by Schubert, Verdi and Bizet, at Ciutadella park . Before you head over to the concert, make sure to take a stroll through this enchanting park, which not only houses an impressive fountain attributed in part to Gaudí, and a curious building called the Castle of the three Dragon” by Lluís Domènech i Montaner, father of the Modernist or Art Nouveau movement in Barcelona, but also the regional parliament and the Zoo of Barcelona. All concerts start at 8pm. For the full program click here. As this is a great occasion to mingle with the locals, the program is only in Catalan, but both dates and locations are easily understandable for non-Catalan speakers.
And if you haven’t already got enough plans for your summer nights in Barcelona, check out the city’s official website, where you can find a pretty extensive search engine, providing information for a large selection of mainstream and alternative events.
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