TRAVEL SPAIN: How to celebrate La Merce festival in Barcelona

IF YOU ever wanted to experience Barcelona at its finest and for a fraction of the cost, now is your opportunity. Starting on September 23 until 26, the Catalan capital pulls out all the stops to celebrate the world famous festival of La Mercè. 

The festival is named after Mare de Déu de la Mercè, the patron saint of the city since 1687, and has been celebrated since 1871. 

Every September the city is transformed into an open air street festival as tens-of-thousands of visitors and residents enjoy hundreds of events and activities, many of them for free!                                                                                 

You could get up close and personal with the famous gegants, which are enormous figures each representing a historical character.

Gegants Exhibition Of Giants At The Museu Maritim Barcelona Wikicommons 1
Gegants Exhibition of Giants at the Museu Marítim Barcelona (wikicommons)

Or you could find yourself running through medieval Barcelona streets with processions of dragons and devils, dodging sparks and flames as you go, also known as “correfoc”. 

Be advised, wear fire resistant protective clothing and goggles for your own safety! 

After this you could check out the world-famous human towers, known as Els Castells

Credit Kevin Rodriguez Ortiz Wikicommons Castellers Terrassa Barcelona
Castellers Terrassa Barcelona. Credit Kevin Rodriguez Ortiz (Wikicommons)

The experience of watching a group of castelleres form a tower will stay with you forever, some can be several levels high.

You’ll hear the sound of traditional Catalan flutes and drums during the build up, but silence is demanded during the climb as daredevil climbers inch higher and higher. 

The lightest member of the team, which is often a child but sometimes is a light woman and is known as the enxaneta, has to reach the top and ‘touch the sky’ to complete a tower. 

Catalans love human towers and you’ll find a team in almost every town and city across Catalunya.

Every year the festival hosts a different guest city and this year it’s the turn of Havana. 

The Cuban capital should have been the guest last year, but as Covid restrictions postponed things, you’ll find all-things-Cuban this year instead! 

You’ll find well-known Cuban artists such as actress Marieta Sánchez, who will recount stories of Cuba to children in the city’s Ciutadella Park. 

As well as the renowned dance troupe MiCompañía, who will be offering dance workshops, or why not check out Cuban rapper La Dame Blanche or many more who will be attending.  

But the festival celebrates many diverse cultures every year which reflects the make-up of the city, for example, this year you’ll have a chance to see Bolton-born electronic musician Jam Rostron, AKA ‘Planningtorock’ who will pack out Plaza Joan Coromines in downtown Barcelona Saturday night.

Many of Barcelona museums will also open their doors for free during the festival, other attractions such as Gauid’s Sagrada Familia have offered 12,000 free tickets to residents.

Last year, the famous firework display, which usually takes place in a central location, was moved instead to four separate points throughout the city. 

Fireworks In "la Merce" Festival, In Barcelona
Fireworks in “La Merce” festival, in Barcelona

This year organisers will take the same approach. 

At 10pm Sunday, September 26 Barcelona’s skyline will erupt with fireworks and light shows, and will last 20 minutes. 

The show will be visible from windows, balconies and rooftops throughout the city, and viewers can also watch along with the accompanying concert broadcast on television.

At least one thousand Guàrdia Urbana officers will police the festival, 30% more than a usual summer weekend. 

Three-hundred extra officers have been sent to the city to stem crime and anti-social behaviour which have increased during a summer of restrictions on the nightlife sector.

Restrictions limiting gatherings to a maximum of ten people were lifted in September 10, and as of Thursday, September 23, hospitality businesses such as bars and restaurants are permitted to remain open until 1am, with nightclubs able to operate until 3am.

So if you ever wanted to visit Barcelona, or if you already know or live in Barcelona but want to see the city in a different light, now is the best time to do it. You’ll make memories that you’ll never forget. 

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