You may have seen Spain, and you may have seen France, but every traveler will agree, travelling is all about discover unique traditions and habits that don’t take place anywhere else in the world. So start packing and book your Renfe-SNCF in Cooperation ticket to travel in style, and get ready to experience some of the most phenomenal and breathtaking days of the year in these magnificent cities.
Bastille day or la Fête nationale - Paris
Bastille Day, or as it is called in France, “La Fête Nationale”, is celebrated every year on the 14th of July and is France’s National Day, generating one of the largest, must-see festivals of the year. It is a very patriotic day, marking the historic event of storming of the Bastille prison back in 1789, which initiated the French Revolution of the 18th century.
Festivities begin the night before and continue well into evening of the 14th, with every bar club and establishment hosting special events, as well as parties in every streets. If you are in search of more local parties, firemen open their fire stations up to the public, with demonstrations, live music and dancing right until the break of dawn.
On the day of the 14th in the morning the traditional French Military parade takes place starting at the Arc de Triomphe, heading down the Champs-Élysées. Looking up, you will lay eyes on the famous spectacle of the military planes flying above featuring colored smoke and acrobatic aerial stunts. In the evening, don’t miss out on the impressive firework shows, lighting up the Eiffel tower.
If Place de la Concorde is already a place you will don’t want to miss in Paris, with street entertainers from every art form, on Bastille Day it is all taken to another level. Although crowded, it is a place you will definitely want to be to get involved in all the action, where you will truly feel the atmosphere of joy, pride and celebration.
Festival of lights or Fête des lumières – Lyon
The origin of this festival dates back to 1643 when Lyon was hit by the plague, and when, on December 8th, the city promised to thank and honor the Virgin Mary should they survive. The festival itself only became tradition later, in 1853, with the inauguration of the Virgin Mary’s statue on Fourvière Hill, Lyon. Since then, tradition dictates that every home in Lyon fill their windowsills with candles in clear or tainted glass cups on the evening of the 8th, giving the entire city a unique glow.
The rest of the city however, takes it to quite another level. Designers from all over the globe compete and work all year around to put together this awe-inspiring event, filling the city with light shows. See the monuments and sights of Lyon in a totally different light as they are lit up with marvelously designed shows featuring different colors and themes, telling stories accompanied by music and sound effects. Tourists and locals alike join to roam the streets and see what each year has in store for them, walking holding torches and lanterns. The festival lasts for 4 days, from December 8th to 11th, each of the four nights presents a different theme, and the city drastically changes color scheme and atmosphere per night. The main events however, take place on the evening of the 8th of December. Read here for what to eat during your stay in Lyon.
La Mercè festival or Festes de la Mercè – Barcelona
With roots similar to those of the Festival of Lights in Lyon, the Festes de la Merce find their origin back in the Middle Ages, 1687 to be precise, when Barcelona was attacked by a plague of locusts. The people voted and chose to ask the Virgin of Grace (Mare de Déu de la Mercè) for help in saving the city, a request to which she complied. She was official elected by the pope as the Patroness Saint of Barcelona in 1868 and since then been celebrated every year on this occasion.
Although the official day and the main events take place on the 24th of September every year, there are festivities spread throughout the city both the week before and the week after. Millions of people gather in the city of Barcelona every year to experience it, and best of all – it’s free of charge.
Pictures can simply not do justice to this festival, as different events and spectacles are held over these days in September, quite often with 500 to 600 different ones taking place. The whole city of Barcelona seems to transform, with decorations and parties all over, but focusing specially on the city center. People work all year around to decorate streets entirely from top to bottom with different themes. There are however, a special few which are the highlights of these festivities.
Also known as human towers, groups of people of all ages and sizes can be found sprinkled around the city creating these human towers, daring to go as high as they can. These Castells date back to the 18th century and can reach up to 9 people high (not including the base) and are, since 2010, considered UNESCO World Heritage.
Literally translated from Catalan this means fire-runs. The procession of the fire-breathing dragon generally happens on the Via Laietana at sundown. Devils and other creatures roam the streets accompanied by a fire-breathing dragon, with small fireworks and crackers making noise and making their impressive presence felt by all around. Should you have some time left over to visit Barcelona, here are 6 of Gaudí’s must-see creations.
Temps de flors - Girona
Escalinata de Sant Martí - Wikimedia Commons - DagafeSQV
Taking place in May every year, the Girona Flower Festival or Flower Time fills the city of Girona with visitors who come from all over the world to see the unique spectacle that occurs. For a few days the neighborhood of Barri Vell and others are transformed into a giant sea of flowers. Filling the city with an extraordinary blend of colors and scents, some of Girona’s most famous and beloved monuments are decorated with flowers in exquisite and wonderful ways.
The tradition was born in 1954, although originally as an indoor exhibition limited to a few rooms. Gradually it began to grow, with the input and participation from individual towns people out of fun and pleasure, to the point at which it is today, over 60 years later, taking place at 185 different sites around the city, and attracting around 200 000 people. Entire streets are revolutionized with flower power, hand in hand with music and lights to intensify the experience even further. Not only does it offer the amazing experience of the festival itself, but it also highlights hidden locations and treasures which would otherwise normally be overlooked, and opens buildings and monuments which are usually closed to the public or charge admission.