Day & Night at Barcelona’s Gràcia Festival ~ A Papier-Mâché Playground (Photo Journal)

 

Barcelona’s street parties are legendary but with its live music, psychedelic decorations and immense sense of community spirit, there’s no question that the Festa Major de Gràcia is the biggest and the best.  

Festa Major de Gràcia, Barcelona - by Ben Holbrook

Words & photos by your local Gràcia guide, Ben Holbrook.

By Day

It was daytime when I arrived at this year’s Gràcia festival in Barcelona, so I was greeted with the R-rated version.

This is the time for families and tiny revellers to explore the vivid street decorations, before the less salubrious activities that ensue after dark.

I followed a stream of pigtailed princesses riding their daddies’ shoulders through the ‘ocean street’. They reached up to run their fingers through the schools of bubble-wrap jellyfish.

Professional balloon artists, folk singers and over-animated storytellers delighted seas of crosslegged tots, their parents singing and clapping along from the sidelines.

It’s amazing, I thought, that it is still possible to entertain a child in this day and age with little more than a fairytale and a few questionable dance moves.

Festa Major de Gràcia, Barcelona - by Ben Holbrook

Festa Major de Gràcia, Barcelona - by Ben Holbrook

Festa Major de Gràcia, Barcelona - by Ben Holbrook

Festa Major de Gràcia, Barcelona - by Ben Holbrook

Festa Major de Gràcia, Barcelona - by Ben Holbrook

Festa Major de Gràcia, Barcelona - by Ben Holbrook

Festa Major de Gràcia, Barcelona - by Ben Holbrook

Festa Major de Gràcia, Barcelona - by Ben Holbrook

Festa Major de Gràcia, Barcelona - by Ben Holbrook

Festa Major de Gràcia, Barcelona - by Ben Holbrook

Festa Major de Gràcia, Barcelona - by Ben Holbrook

Festa Major de Gràcia, Barcelona - by Ben Holbrook

Beers on ‘Bumblebee Street’

As dusk came and went, a man with a ladder asked me to budge out the way so he could climb up to a small fuse box in the street.

A quick flip of the switch and the entire barrio lit up like the Northern Lights, the decorations revealing even more of the locals’ creative prowess.

‘Sleep street’ suddenly made sense, its phosphorescent dream catchers glowing like a Beatles music video.

The Catalans understand community in a way we could only dream of. They work on these decorations year-round and come together to eat and drink in the street – babies, teens, grand parents and all. 

Their little workshops are also transformed into makeshift bars during the festival, hawking “Cañas 1.50, Mojitos 3, Tinto de verano 2, cubatas 8.”

It’s this income, I imagine, that they use to fund their creative projects each August.

Festa Major de Gràcia, Barcelona - by Ben Holbrook

Festa Major de Gràcia, Barcelona - by Ben Holbrook

Festa Major de Gràcia, Barcelona - by Ben Holbrook

Festa Major de Gràcia, Barcelona - by Ben Holbrook

Festa Major de Gràcia, Barcelona - by Ben Holbrook

Festa Major de Gràcia, Barcelona - by Ben Holbrook

Festa Major de Gràcia, Barcelona - by Ben Holbrook

Festa Major de Gràcia, Barcelona - by Ben Holbrook

Gracia Festival Barcelona - by Ben Holbrook

Gracia Festival Barcelona - by Ben Holbrook

Gracia Festival Barcelona - by Ben Holbrook

Gracia Festival Barcelona - by Ben Holbrook

After Dark

The ‘farmyard street’ – the winner this year – took on a slightly sinister undertone without the golden summer sunshine dripping over it.

Fat-bellied pigs and caged cockerels were accompanied by an earthshaking rock band, rollicking renditions of Blur’s ‘Song 2’… I got my head done, when I was young. It’s not my problem.

And a group of marching vegans protested quietly against animal cruelty, holding up signs and handing out leaflets from outside a local butcher’s shop.

Mohawked punks with spiderwebbed elbows gathered in their droves, clouds of smoke billowing into the air above them.

Doorstep boozers spread out as much as possible, claiming prime real estate as their own for the night.

Elderly locals in their Sunday best looked slightly baffled by the whole ordeal. Wondering, no doubt, how their little village festival has managed to become a bucket-list activity for “travelling citizens of the world”.

The lines grew longer and longer. It was like waiting to get on a ride at Disney.

The music grew louder and louder, and I felt older and older with each aching step.

Time to hit a bar, or go home…

Gracia Festival Barcelona - by Ben Holbrook

Gracia Festival Barcelona - by Ben Holbrook

Gracia Festival Barcelona - by Ben Holbrook

Gracia Festival Barcelona - by Ben Holbrook

Gracia Festival Barcelona - by Ben Holbrook

Gracia Festival Barcelona - by Ben Holbrook

Gracia Festival Barcelona - by Ben Holbrook

Gracia Festival Barcelona - by Ben Holbrook

Gracia Festival Barcelona - by Ben Holbrook

Gracia Festival Barcelona - by Ben Holbrook


Make it Happen

When: Barcelona’s Gracia festival is held every August and officially lasts for one week – though it typically lasts longer.

What: See the official website for dates, maps and a general update of what will be on show. 

Get there: Take the metro (green line) to Fontana and follow the crowds. 

Where to stay: See all of my Barcelona accommodation recommendations here. 


Have you been to the Barcelona’s Gracia festival? I’d love to hear about your experience – please either leave me a comment below or talk to me directly onInstagramFacebook and Twitter.


 

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