With blazing firework displays, dizzying ‘human towers’, parading giants and the explosive Correfoc fire runs, Barcelona’s La Mercè is the festival of all festivals.
Every September Barcelona’s streets explode into life with the sights and sounds of the La Mercè festival. Held in honour of the Virgin of La Mercè, Barcelona’s patron saint, this week-long street party bids farewell to the sizzling summer heat and welcomes the cooler autumn months in spectacular style.
There are many similar events in Barcelona throughout the year, but there’s no doubt that La Mercè is the big one.
Here’s what you can expect to see and do in Barcelona during La Mercè:
The Correfoc Fire Run ~ Devils and Demons at Dusk
When I first arrived in Barcelona and experienced my first “Correfoc” (fire run) I couldn’t quite believe my eyes, or my ears! This explosive extravaganza sees the city light up as packs of devils brandishing industrial sized sparklers spray dazzling pyrotechnics into the air from their spiralling pitch forks. There are two Correfoc events each evening of La Mercè, the first being the ‘junior’ version, which is a tamer and more child friendly version, and the second is a full-on, flame-firing adult version.
Where to see it: Head to Via Laietana (a long and wide road that they close off for the event) to see the best of the best. You might want to wear a hoody, gloves and maybe some glasses and earmuffs to protect yourself – I’m not joking.
The Giants Parade ~ Rhythm and Royalty
A firm family favourite, the ‘Giants parade’ is a colourful spectacular that sees humungous effigies of royal nobles parading through the streets to the rhythm of thundering percussion groups. These beautiful queens and kings stand at almost 15 feet tall and are made with wire frames and paper mache.
Castellers (Human Towers) ~ Catalan Identity
The highlight of La Mercè and one of the most thrilling Catalan traditions is the heart-stopping ‘castellers’ that can be witnessed throughout the festival. This 300-year-old tradition sees local casteller groups meeting around the city squares, where they climb onto each others shoulders to create human towers in dizzying displays of strength and acrobatic ability.
Revered as one of the most important features of Catalan identity, this tradition is listed in UNESCO’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Where to see it: Go to Plaça de Sant Jaume to see the best and biggest human towers. Get there as early as possible as it fills up very quickly. Don’t clap, whistle or gasp until the last child, the ‘enxaneta’, reaches the top of the tower and raises her/her arm to signify its completion.
Where to stay in Barcelona during La Mercè
I would strongly recommend staying near (but not on) Las Ramblas, Barcelona’s most iconic and central boulevard. From here you can stroll to all of the action of the festival and enjoy the best that the city centre has to offer.
Check out my guide (below) for my top picks – everything from budget beds to all out luxury.