Whilst Madrid is notorious for its lively nightlife it can’t compete with the wonders of Andalucía and other parts of Spain when it comes to specific festivals. The main annual event is San Isidro which celebrates the city’s patron saint. Other festivals in Madrid such as Dos de Mayo and Almudena are specific to the capital but aren’t particularly noteworthy to the foreign visitor when compared with the better known fiestas of Spain which have earned international acclaim.
Madrid is a great city to visit at any time of year so you don’t need to plan your visit according to particular celebrations. However, here’s a summary of some of the top 10 annual festivals in Madrid to look out for if you’re planning a visit to the city.
Top 10 Festivals in Madrid
Three Kings’ Day (Día de Los Reyes Magos)
The main celebration for Three Kings’ Day in Madrid is a big parade called La Cabalgata de Los Reyes on January 5th. The parade winds its way through the packed city streets with participants throwing sweets into the crowd. The parade symbolizes the Three Kings (Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar) travelling to visit baby Jesus. It starts around 6:30pm at Plaza San Juan de la Cruz and ends around 9pm at Plaza de Cibeles.
At the end of the parade there are firework displays at Plaza de Cibeles before everyone heads home to get their children to bed in anticipation of receiving gifts from the Three Kings. In reality many Spanish families now give gifts to their children on Christmas Day whilst still celebrating Three Kings’ Day.
San Isidro Festival
The festival of San Isidro takes place on 15th May although major bullfights are held at Las Ventas, Madrid’s bullring, for the best part of a month around this date. This is the world’s largest bullfighting event which attracts all the best matadors. Tickets for the bullfights are sold out for the whole month well in advance. The other side of San Isidro consists of about nine days of varied events with many Madrileños dressed in traditional costume. A whole range of cultural events take place together with concerts and a variety of art exhibitions. You can find full details of what’s on and when on the San Isidro Website.
Fiestas del Dos de Mayo
If you’re in Madrid at the start of May be warned that both the 1st and 2nd are public holidays. Dos de Mayo is a celebration of events on 2nd May 1808 when a popular revolt against the French occupiers began in Puerta del Sol. After the protest was repressed by the Napoleonic forces present in the city, a wave of proclamations of indignation and public calls for armed insurrection spread throughout the country, which would lead to the Spanish War of Independence in which the French were defeated.
The Almudena Festival on November 9th celebrates the Virgin of Almudena, the patron saint of Madrid. According to legend, her statue was hidden in the city walls during a Muslim attack in 712 AD. It was later rediscovered in the 11th century after Madrid was reconquered by Christian troops under King Alfonso VI.
The main part of the festival is a solemn Mass at the Catedral de la Almudena after which there’s a procession in which the statue of the Virgin is paraded through the streets of downtown Madrid. The route passes through famous landmarks such as the Plaza Mayor and thousands of people line the route to catch a glimpse of Almudena.
The festival has a distinctly Madrid flavour, with many locals dressing up in traditional outfits like the chulapos and chulapas. The streets fill with music and food stalls selling traditional snacks such as roasted chestnuts, churros and ‘Coronas de la Almudena’. This sweet pastry is very similar to the Roscón de Reyes which is enjoyed all over Spain on 5th and 6th January as part of the Epiphany celebrations.
In recent times the Almudena Festival has included a more modern element with the Festival Castañas y Buñuelos. This urban festival aims to combine Madrid’s tradition with current music and atmosphere with music performed by independent national artists with their different indie, folk and electronic styles.
La Virgen de la Paloma
During the month of August the majority of Madrid’s residents head for their annual holidays on the coast yet there are some important ‘castizo’ festivals beginning with San Cayetano then San Lorenzo followed by La Paloma on 15th August (it’s the national holiday of Asunción in the rest of the country).
Whilst La Virgen de La Paloma is not the official patron saint of Madrid (a title held by La Almudena), she is traditionally considered the “popular patron saint of the people of Madrid” and enjoys great devotion. Her feast day is celebrated in her honour with traditional festivities in the old city neighbourhood of La Latina.
Mad Cool Festival
The Mad Cool Festival has quickly established itself as one of Spain’s top summer music festivals since it was first staged in 2016. Taking place in early July at an open-air venue in Valdebebas to the north of the city centre, the lively three-day festival showcases top international performers spanning pop, rock, indie, electronic and hip hop genres across four stages. Recent lineups have included music icons like Robbie Williams, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Franz Ferdinand, Kings of Leon, Metallica and Depeche Mode.
Madrid Pride Week
What was a minor affair back in the 1980s when it first took place has become a huge gay festival known as ‘La Semana del Orgullo‘ which attracts around 2 million people concentrated largely on the gay neighbourhood of Chueca. It takes place at the end of June or beginning of July.
White Night Festival (La Noche en Blanco)
Madrid’s White Night Festival takes place annually on a Saturday in mid-September.
It’s an all-night celebration of arts and culture across the city with galleries, museums, theatres and other venues open to the public for free for 24-hours. The festival is a great opportunity to visit special art exhibits at the top galleries and enjoy a whole host of concerts, shows and cultural events across the capital. Recent White Night Festivals have drawn over a million people to enjoy this lively urban event. Many metro lines and buses run all night long to allow people to get around the city-wide festivities in what has been hailed as Spain’s largest cultural event.
Madrid Autumn Festival (Festival de Otoño)
The Festival de Otoño is a major performing arts festival which has been held in Madrid since 1984. Originally inspired by the celebrated Festival d’Automne in Paris, Madrid’s Autumn Festival was founded to showcase innovative Spanish and international theatre, dance, music and other live arts.
Over its history, the Festival de Otoño has gone through several name changes and scheduling which has seen it held in autumn, spring and even extended across that whole period. Today the event is known by its traditional Festival de Otoño name and takes place in a concentrated autumn timeframe. Over the years, the event has been directed by renowned Spanish arts figuressuch as composer Tomás Marco and producer Ariel Goldenberg.
The event is staged at landmark venues across Madrid such as the Teatro Real opera house, the Teatros del Canal complex and the Círculo de Bellas Artes. Its eclectic festival program features experimental works from new creators as well as prominent global talents like Peter Brook, Robert Lepage and Israel Galván. Recent editions have also incorporated multimedia arts and virtual performances reflecting new technology.
The Festival de Otoño has become a major annual celebration of contemporary culture attracting tens of thousands of attendees and adding to Madrid’s vibrant artistic landscape.
New Year’s Eve (Nochevieja)
Puerta del Sol has become Madrid’s equivalent to Trafalgar Square in London when it comes to celebrating the arrivalof the New Year. Thousands of people flock there in anticipation of the twelve bells which sound at midnight. As each bell sounds everyone in the crowd (and in the rest of Spain) eats a grape with the intention of finishing the last grape after the final toll of the bell. Doing so brings good luck for the rest of the year. Sounds easy? You will be surprised. Many Spaniards cheat these days by buying tins of grapes which have been deseeded to make the swallowing easier!
After the bells the party spreads out around the whole city centre continuing well into the early hours of January 1st. Take a look at our Christmas in Spain article to read about how celebrations proceed during this period culminating in the arrival of the Three Kings (Los Reyes Magos) on the night of 5th January. That night there are processions through the city with the Three Kings throwing sweets to the thousands of children who line the streets awaiting their arrival.