Each September people around the world travel to Barcelona, Spain in order to celebrate the Roman Catholic feast day of Our Lady of Mercy, La Mare de Déu de la Mercè. This day has been an official city holiday since the year 1871. The feast day itself lies on the 24th of September but the large festival starts celebrating days beforehand. Close to two million people attend the celebration each year, giving it the nickname “the festival of festivals.” It’s a one of a kind experience to be had when visiting Barcelona. Here’s everything you need to know about attending the La Mercè festival.
Celebrating Catalan Culture
Despite years of tension between Spain and Catalonia in the past, the Catalan culture has experienced a renaissance in the past fifty years. During La Mercè you can experience the very best of Catalan food, drink, dance and more. Each celebration has over 600 different events spread across the city. Dance, circus, bands, and touring shows are among the highlights, along with numerous parades and street marches. The festival is free to attend and allows visitors to immerse themselves in this unique culture.
The castellers are human pyramids that first became popular in the 1800s. These performances draw particularly big crowds during the La Mercè festival. To ensure you see them, get to Plaça Sant Jaume early to grab a good spot. The acrobatic locals build the impressive towers up to 10 people tall. It’s a can’t miss experience during La Mercè.
The Carrefoc, or traditional fire runs, are an integral part of the La Mercè celebrations. These street marches are filled with sparklers, fireworks, and other blazing displays. They occur on the last day of the celebration. There are two processions, an early more family-friendly parade and a later one better suited for adults. The latter has elaborate dancing devils, dragons, and other dramatic effects. Spectators can view these from a safe distance along Via Laietana. If you want to get in on the action and participate in the walk, be sure to wear the proper protective gear. The local Barcelona tourist board recommends fireproof full-body garments along with leather gloves and clear protective eye wear. They also recommend avoiding the city center during the Carrefoc if you have asthma or breathing problems, as the air will be quite smoky that evening.
The Giants parade, Gigantes, is a popular family-friendly event. Huge effigies of kings, queens, and other nobility parade through the streets. These huge figures rise above the crowds for all to see. Small drumming groups accompany the parade as it moves down the streets playing traditional songs.
In Plaça St Jaume there is a famous projection show during the evenings. Each night images are projected onto the sides of the buildings in the square. It’s a fun, free event that attracts many visitors during La Mercè.
Coinciding with the La Mercè festival is BAM, Barcelona Acció Musical, an alternative leaning music festival. It brings the best of innovative dance, electronic, rock or pop music to Barcelona.
Another more recent addition to the La Mercè celebrations is the Catalan Wine and Cava Fair. At the fair, all 12 of Catalonia’s wine and Cava regions are represented among the 80+ wineries present. Recent years have boasted over 150,000 visitors to the Wine Fair. The fair is situated along the Passeig de Lluís Companys under the Arc de Triomf, making it convenient to the other La Mercè festivities.
After you’ve celebrated the La Mercè festival in Spain in September, you’ll also want to continue your European travels with a visit to Germany’s Oktoberfest. Read all about how to take on Oktoberfest in style here.