Every March Valencia’s explosive Las Fallas festival fills the city with huge statues and then burns them down in a blaze of glory as the city erupts in a blitz of earthshaking fireworks.
Paella competitions (paella comes from Valencia), the smell of gunpowder, colourful marching parades and light shows fill the streets, making Las Fallas one of the most exciting cultural celebrations in Spain. Unsurprisingly the festival is officially recognised by UNESCO for its Intangible Heritage of Mankind.
This is basically what Disneyland would be like if it were run by pyromaniacs – don’t be surprised if you see children running around setting off rockets and tiny sticks of dynamite!
I was lucky enough to enjoy the entire festival last year as a member of the press and am burning with desire to share my Las Fallas guide with you, including lots of my own photos and video footage.
Quick Facts ~ Everything You Need to Know About Las Fallas
WHEN: Las Fallas takes over the city Valencia from the 1st to the 19th of March, but the main events run from the 15th to the 19th of March.
WHERE: Las Fallas takes over the whole of Valencia and is easy to get involved in.
WHAT: Las Fallas means “the fires” in Valencian and is the most important cultural celebration of the year in Valencia (and arguably one of the wildest of Spain’s legendary festivals).
WHY: It celebrates the arrival of spring.
Read on for more info about what happens during Las Fallas in Valencia and a few stories from my personal experience last year.
The Ninots ~ Beautiful Statues the Size of Buildings
The main attraction of Las Fallas is the creation and burning of the huge ninots, which are giant figures made of wood, paper-machè and plaster.
The ninots depict scenes and people from contemporary culture (celebrities, politicians, local figures, etc.) and are often satirical and/or very rude by nature. It seems the Spanish aren’t as prissy about shielding their kids as us Brits and Yanks.
Each neighbourhood in Valencia builds their own ninot, often with a team of professional ninot-makers working all year-round. They are beyond beautiful and blow Disneyland out of the water.
Where to See the Ninots During Valencia’s Las Fallas Festival
Follow the crowds and you’ll find ninots all over Valencia, even in the outer neighbourhoods. But the ones you definitely won’t want to miss are in the more central areas such as:
Mascletá ~ Earth-Shattering Firecrackers (2pm – March 1st to 19th)
The daily mascletá is a sort of thrilling firework/controlled bomb zone. It’s held in the main square of Plaza Ayuntamiento at 2pm everyday from March 1st to 19th and is definitely my favourite element of Las Fallas festival.
It’s not for everyone and I have to admit that I was a bit of a nervous wreck after a couple of days of spontaneous explosions. The mascletá is more about the sound and physical sensation of the explosions than the pretty lights.
You can feel the ground beneath you shake and your chest vibrates in rhythm with each boom and bang.
I remember thinking, as the air grew thick with gunpowder, that it was as close I would likely ever get to a war zone.
I saw parents handing their kids tiny dynamite sticks called petardos as if they were sweets. They’d stand there in the street, lighting them for their little monsters to throw at unsuspecting passersby.
If you start to panic, take a minute to consider that the Valencians have been doing this for many years and almost never have any trouble. Just throw yourself in enjoy!
La Plantà ~ The Installation of the Ninots (Night of March 15th)
On the night of the 15th the plantà takes place, which is basically when the ninots are installed throughout the city. Many of them are so big – I’m talking the size of multi-story buildings – that cranes are used to erect them. Locals work through the night to have them ready for display on the morning of the 16th.
Ninot Competition Prize Ceremony ~ 17th March
On the morning of the 17th the falleros (the men and women involved in creating the ninots) meet in Plaza del Ayuntamiento to collect their prizes.
The jury has a tough job choosing the winners as they need to visit almost a thousand different sculptures around the city.
Nit del Foc ~ The “Night of Fire” (Midnight on 18th March)
There are fireworks in Valencia every night from the 15th to 18th of March, but the main spectacle is the Nit del Foc, which starts at around midnight on the night of March 18th and sets the sky ablaze.
In true Spanish spirit, the whole family goes out for the night, even little babies in pushchairs get to enjoy the firework display.
Of course you can enjoy the fireworks from anywhere, but for extra vibes be sure to join the crowds on the Puente de las Flores (Valencia’s famous “Bridge of Flowers”).
Ofrenda de Flores ~ The Offering of Flowers (March 17th & 18th)
This is a much tamer element of the festival, but equally as inspiring. It basically involves a seemingly endless parade of beautiful falleras and falleros, all proudly showing off their regional costumes.
Each group arrives with their own marching band and contributes flowers to Our Lady of the Forsaken, the Patron Saint of Valencia.
The climax of the “offering of the flowers” is a towering flower tapestry made in the historic Plaza de la Virgin.
I was mesmerised by the men who clung to the frame of the giant tapestry with one arm while catching and placing the bouquets with the other.
La Cremá ~ The Big One (March 19th)
The climax of Las Fallas takes place on the night of March 19 and is called La Cremá (as in crème de la crème).
On this night, all of the ninot are stuffed with fireworks and set alight, engulfing the entire city in dancing flames and plumes of smoke. It really is quite a sight to see.
The Crying Falleras
At this point groups of falleras, beautiful women of all ages, come out to show off their traditional costumes and pose for photos.
I found it fascinating to see that many of the younger girls were crying in hysterics.
“Why are they crying?” I asked one of my guides. “Because they are so honoured to be a fallera. It’s the highest honour they could have. And for many of them it is the first and last time they will ever have the privilege.”
The Big One and the End
By midnight it’s time to burn the giant ninot, which is specially made for La Cremà in Plaza del Ayuntamiento.
I was fortunate to watch this spectacle from the rooftop of the city’s main government building and could feel the heat of the burning flames even though I was quite a way away.
The crowds swell, the flames touch the clouds and the atmosphere becomes palpable.
As the final flames sizzle out, Las Fallas is over. Then of course the locals flock to the bars en masse and drink the night away.
Make it Happen
Book your trip to Valencia and make sure you’re in town between the 15th and 19th of March for the main spectacles. Check out the official VisitValencia.com website for more info.
Top tip: Be sure to Stay central – suggestions on where to stay below.
Where to Stay in Valencia During Las Fallas
Many of Valencia’s roads are closed off for the festival so you basically want to be as central as possible. You certainly don’t want to be driving around Valencia during Las Fallas that’s for sure.
Public transport is good in Valencia but it’s a bit stretched during Las Fallas so ideally you want to be able to step out your hotel and explore the action on foot.
Apartments in Valencia
I thoroughly recommend Valenciaflats Centro Ciudad if you’d like to rent an entire apartment in Valencia.
Hotels in Valencia
Central: I stayed at the 4-star Vincci Mercat, which is modern, chic and comfortable and situated right in the heart of the city. Prices (around €75 a night) offer outstanding value for money.
On the beach: If you’d rather stay by the beach then you can’t get any better than the Hotel Boutique Balandret. It’s 3-star but feels more like a 4-star and the prices are fantastic, especially considering it’s located right on the beach boardwalk. Perfect for families, groups and couples.
Book with Booking.com and reserve a room for free: