If you are familiar with Spain then you know that these people know how to party! Spain’s rich culture and traditions can be experienced year round in celebrations all around the country: San Fermín, la Tomatina, Carnaval, Las Fallas, Semana Santa, just to name a few. I’ve been to many of them and was mesmerized by them all, but there is only one festival that captivates me, that gets my heart beating, butterflies swirling, and palms sweating year after year and it’s “la Feria” of Andalucia.
My first feria was in 2007 in Cordoba, and although my students had been telling me about it for months on end, I could never have imagined what I was about to experience. I felt like I had been let in on a secret, a celebration for the locals, authentic yet brimming with the stereotypical and alluring qualities of Spanish, or rather Andalucian, culture. Flamenco dresses, “flamenco” dancing, fun-loving people, hot days, and wild nights. I’ll confidently say it’s the best time of year in Andalucia! This year marks 10 years since I first entered this fascinating world of tradition and revelry. The feeling of excitement as I look forward to going back this year is stronger than ever. If you haven’t been, it’s not too late to start planning (ok, it might be too late for Sevilla, but you’ve got 4 other ferias to choose from!). Here is my guide to the Top 5 Andalucian Ferias to check out in 2017!
What is Feria?
Feria translates to fair or festival. It’s a traditional annual event held in Andalucia, originating as a livestock fair as far back as the 1500s-1800s. Today’s feria is less about livestock and more about the fiesta. It’s a week-long affair and in true Spanish endurance style, it’s celebrated day and night. Unlike anything you’ve ever experienced, this never-ending party has everything you could ever want to have the best time of your life: fireworks, lights, music, drinking, dancing, food, late nights, and amusement park rides and games.
The feria is typically held on a fairground or park within the city. You’ll always find 2 main areas at the feria: 1) the casetas 2) atracciones. Casetas are rows of typically air-conditioned marquees filled with people partying, dancing, drinking and eating. This is where you’ll spend most of your day, night, or both. The main type of music at the feria is sevillanas, a type of Spanish folk music that has everyone twirling around as they demonstrate their moves with a traditional dance that goes by the same name. It’s a sight to see! You’ll also find pop, reggaeton, and electronic blaring away. So there’s something for everyone. The atracciones is the amusement park area where you’ll find rides and games.
Entrance to the feria is free and the party starts in the afternoon and continues until the wee hours of the night. Being Spain, wee hours means 6 am. All ages are welcome; families, teenagers, young children, and grandparents alike.
Feria by day is generally more traditional. Lots of sevillanas to be heard and danced. There is no shortage of women and little girls parading around in their trajes (flamenco dresses) and men in their traditional garb on horse or carriage. Feria by night is more like a wild night out.
Whether you’re visiting Spain or living here as an expat, this will be one of the most memorable experiences you will have in this country. All similar, yet each with its own unique flair, the ferias of Sevilla, Jerez, Cordoba, Granada, and Malaga, are not to be missed and whichever you choose you can’t go wrong.
To be in the know at the feria there are a few keywords to learn before heading down south to Andalucia.
Caseta: Marquee tents. This where the fun happens! Music, dancing, drinking, and eating all day and all night.
Atracciones: The amusement park area of the feria with rides and games.
Rebujito: The drink of choice at the feria. Fino, a dry white Sherry, mixed with Sprite or 7-up.
Portada: The main entrance of the festival, a massive gateway covered in lights.
Alumbrado: When the portada is lit-up on the first night of the feria. This event kicks-off the week-long festivities.
Sevillanas: The name of Spanish folk music and traditional dance, both a staple of the feria. The dance consists of 4 couplets, lots of twirling, fancy footwork, and flamenco hands.
Traje de gitana/Traje/Faralaes: The traditional flamenco dress that many women wear.
Traje de corto: The traditional men’s outfit. A short jacket, tight pants, and the Cordobese hat.
For a full list of necessary vocab check out Cat Gaa’s Feria Glossary.
Andalucía’s Top 5 Ferias to Hit Up
Sevilla – Feria de Abril
When: 2017 – April 30th* – May 6th. The dates change from year to year, generally held 2 weeks after Easter. *The festivities begin Saturday night at midnight which is technically Sunday, April 30th.
Where: Real de la Feria
What to expect?: A spectacular kick-off of the feria season for the rest of Andalucia. This is the largest, most well-known, iconic, and traditional feria of them all. Over 1,000 casetas make up the fairgrounds of this temporary “village.” As is the case with other ferias many of the casetas belong to groups of friends, clubs, associations and political parties; however in Sevilla the majority are accessible by invite only. Which means if you’re not a member, friend, or family you won’t be able to get into the private casetas. It can be frustrating, but don’t let this hold you back, there are a few public casetas where you can join in on all the fun.
What else?: The portada of the Feria de Sevilla changes from year to year. Each year a new designer with a unique theme is selected and months of construction of this grand gateway begin. The alumbrado of half a million lights at midnight on the portada marks the beginning of the Feria of Sevilla. Fireworks at midnight on the last Saturday marks the end of a week of festivities.
Jerez de la Frontera – Feria del Caballo
When: 2017 – May 13 – May 20. The dates change from year to year and it is always celebrated a week after the Feria de Sevilla.
Where: Parque González Hontoria
What to expect?: This feria is heavily influenced by the elegance and beauty of Jerez and by the region’s quintessential Spanish icons: Sherry and Andalucian horses.
Given its name, “the Horse Festival”, these majestic animals take center stage with horse related activity all week. Processions of purebreds, carriage contests, and dancing horses are just some of the sights you can see.
Most of the 200+ casetas are open to the public. The city allows caseta owners to decorate theirs in their own unique style, inside and out, (unlike the uniform guidelines of other ferias) and there is even a contest for best caseta. In Jerez you’ll be sure to catch the most unique casetas in Andalucia.
What else?: The alumbrado of the portada happens at 10 pm on the first night, starting off the week of celebration. If you’re having trouble finding a place to stay in Jerez, it’s possible to stay in Sevilla and take the train over. It’s a 1 hour ride, after a full night of partying you could potentially take the 7 am train back to Sevilla. 😉
Cordoba – Feria de Nuestra Señora de la Salud
When: 2017 – May 21*- May 27. The feria is always held the last week of May. The festivities begin Friday night at midnight which is technically Saturday, May 21.
Where: Recinto ferial de Arenal
What to expect?: I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for this city and this feria. It was my first intro to what I consider the best festival in Spain and this particular feria is my favorite by far. You’ll find about 100 casetas located on the north bank of the River Guadalquivir and all are open to the public. It’s the perfect size to run around endlessly, yet manageable enough to get your bearings and not feel overwhelmed. As it begins Friday night this is a great weekend trip to get two full nights of the feria in before heading back to work on Monday.
What else?: The feria ends a jam packed month with incredible events in Cordoba: Las Cruces, Los Patios, and Cata de Vino. The portada is fixed and made in the image of the city’s most iconic landmark, the Mezquita. Fireworks and the alumbrado of the portada happen at midnight on the first night. For more detailed information Kate from Hello Spain has a great write up on the Feria de Cordoba.
Granada – Feria del Corpus de Granada
When: 2017 – June 10* – June 17. This feria takes place 8 weeks after Easter, during the week of The Feast of the Body of Christ. *The festivities begin Saturday night at midnight which is technically Sunday, June 10th.
Where: Recinto Ferial Almanjáyar
What to expect?: This is a big week for Granada! The actual fairgrounds of this feria is much smaller with only about 60 casetas, all open to the public. However, this week you get a two for one. Along with the feria, the city celebrates the religious holiday of Corpus Christi. The procession of the Body of Christ, Procesión del Corpus, on Thursday morning leaves from the Cathedral of Granada and winds through the main streets of the city center.
What else?: On Wednesday morning is the much-anticipated Publica de la Tarasca. This event is a parade through the city that revolves around a female mannequin, the Tarasca, standing on a dragon who is accompanied by giants and carnival figures with huge heads. Don’t ask me why. 😛
The Tarasca’s outfit is a point of curiosity and criticism. Her dress changes every year and is kept a tight secret until she is revealed in front of the crowds.
Last are the Carocas de Corpus Christi. A tradition going back a few hundred years, these are satirical cartoons that are displayed in the Plaza Bib Rambla that poke fun at the major local and national events that have happened over the year.
The alumnbrado of the portada happens at midnight of the first night and fireworks on the last Saturday mark the end of the feria.
Malaga – La Feria de Agosto
When: Aug 13* – Aug 20. *The firework kick-off and opening concert begin Friday night, however the feria festivities start Saturday, August 13th during the day.
Where: Day – Marques de Larios
What to expect?: Hot and humid! This feria falls in the dead heat of summer so come prepared to sweat. Malaga’s feria is a bit decentralized as the festivities are celebrated in the historic city center around Marques de Larios and at the Real de la Feria on the outskirts of the city. Starting Saturday head down to Larios street to drink, dance, bar hop and enjoying the many activities held all week during the day in the center of town. Saturday night the fairground, Real de la Feria, comes to life and the party goes on all week, day and night. 120 + casetas of fun, all open to the public! You have the choice of spending your days in the center or at the Real but according to a local, most people spend the day bit in the center.
What else?: Friday night is the Pregon de la Feria, the official announcement and opening concert to kick-off the feria. It’s common to go to the beach, Playa de la Malagueta, to watch the fireworks and concert at midnight. Although rebujito is the typical drink of choice at the feria, in Malaga you should order a Cartojal, a sweet local wine that is served ice cold, perfect for cooling down.