Las Fallas Festival – Valencia

Whilst thousands of festivals are celebrated all over Spain throughout the year there are only a few that bring overseas visitors specifically for the event. The Fallas fiesta which takes place in Valencia from 15th to the 19th of March every year is undoubtedly one of those ‘super-festivals’ attracting many foreign visitors as well as Spanish tourists from all over the country. This was the first major festival I ever went to in Spain and to this day cannot get over the sheer craziness of it all.

San José (Saint Joseph), the patron saint of carpenters, is the official focus for the festival. It all started back in the Middle Ages when carpenters used to hang up planks of wood called ‘parots’ in the winter to support their candles when they were working. At the onset of spring these pieces of wood would be burned as a way of celebrating the end of dark, winter working days.

After a while they began to put clothing on the ‘parot’ and then started to try to make it identifiable with a well-known local personality. These became the forerunners of the contemporary ‘ninots’, the enormous cardboard, wooden, polyurethane, Styrofoam, cork, plaster and papier-maché figures of today. The authorities later decided to link the burning of the ‘parots’ with Saint Joseph’s Day to try to stop it getting out of control!.

Las Fallas Fiesta

Nowadays, each neighbourhood has an organising committee, the ‘casal faller’, who raise the necessary finances for constructing the ‘ninots’. There is even an area of the city called the ‘Ciutat Fallera’ where whole groups of workers and designers spend months creating all the incredible towering tableaux. The ‘ninots’, which are placed at key places throughout the city, are often cruel satirical lampoons of well-known Spanish and international celebrities or politicians.

A Day at the Fallas

If you decide to go to the Fallas festival prepare for an early start. Each day begins with a startling wake-up call known as ‘La Despertà’ at the ridiculous time (in Spain) of 8am. You’ll just love being woken by brass bands marching down the streets accompanied by those preposterously loud firecrackers; which themselves activate car and shop alarms – just to make sure you’re ready for a day’s fun.

A Day in Valencia

All day, you’ll see processions and hear explosions and then at 2pm ‘La Mascletà’ begins when there are organised pyrotechnical explosions all over the city, especially in Valencia’s main square, the Plaza Ayuntamiento. At first you’ll think they’re earth-shattering but they’re just an appetizer for what will come later.

On each night there is a firework display in the old river bed and they escalate in degrees of spectacle culminating in La Nit de Foc (the Night of Fire) on 18th March. The following night la Cremà takes place when all the ‘ninots’ are burnt. Neighbourhoods will have their own ‘falla infantile’ for the children at about 10pm and then, at around midnight, the neighbourhood ‘fallas’ will begin. The final, grandest fire, in the Plaza Ayuntamiento, won’t get under way until 1am at the earliest with huge crowds waiting in eager anticipation of the burning. The ‘ninots’ will all have been stuffed full with fireworks, the street lights switched off and the firemen will be in position when the 20 to 30 foot models, which took months of painstaking construction, will be razed to the ground. Each year, one ‘ninot’ is spared the ordeal (as a result of a public vote) whilst the rest suffer a spectacular fate.

Typical Scenes at the Fallas Festival

A Festival of Noise and Fire

However loud you think this is going to be you’ll be wrong. There is no way of beginning to describe the amount of noise generated. Pregnant women are forbidden from attending and each year people are injured or faint. It is true that you should keep your mouth open to allow the sound to escape and not echo around your head – or something like that – but be prepared to feel the ground shake beneath your feet and your head to spin uncontrollably. This is an adrenaline rush with few equals and a completely unique experience.

And please don’t think you can rest up during the day to prepare yourself for the evening’s bombardments. After you’ve been unceremoniously startled awake at 8 o’clock the whole of Valencia is one enormous street party, with various parades, pageants, beauty shows, paella competitions and bullfights all over the city.

Fallas Before the Burning

Fallas Travel Tips

Getting There: Valencia Airport lies 8km west of the city. It welcomes flights from many European countries including services provided by a number of budget airlines including easyJet, Ryanair and Vueling.
Accommodation: Hotels in Valencia and the surrounding areas sell out many months before the Fallas festivals so be sure to book your Valencia hotel well in advance. And make sure you don’t ever book to go back to work on March 21st as you’ll need at least two days rest and relaxation before you can even think about it!
More Information: For more information and a calendar of events please refer to the Official Falles de València Website.

Valencia at Night

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28 thoughts on “Las Fallas Festival – Valencia”

  1. Hola Gerry

    I’ve not yet been to Valencia for either of the big festivals, but your article in my e-mailbox today certainly made me think about it, and it brightened up a very gloomy morning here in the northwest of England.

    Thank you.

    Jerry

    Reply
    • If you stand as near as you can to the middle of the Plaza you will experience quadraphonic sound . The noise appears to wrap itself around you like a blanket. I have never felt this before. Your chest also vibrates from the shock waves from the explosions. You cannot explain it – just go like we did for the experience
      Brian

      Reply
  2. By luck and chance last year my wife and I went to Benidorm and stayed at the Magic Rock Gardens for nine days, from the 13th March to the 22nd March. Mystified at first as to what everything was about we eventually found out from the staff at the Hotel. What a brilliant time we had walking around and seeing the exhibits in the three locations. We’ve always liked Benidorm, and we were also able to see on TV what was happening in Valencia, with the parades of people carrying bunches of flowers for the really large figure of (I think) the Virgin Mary. It could never happen in this country (England) let alone a region of it.

    We will be going back at some time in the future.

    Reply
  3. The most spectacular and awesome firework display in the world. Brings tears to my eyes when they burn the efigies. Because our best friends live in Almassarra we always get involved in the village burn, so friendly and as we are guests of their village, drinks and food are always free to us – so sad that we couldn’t get over there this year.
    The downside is the cost of the flights to Valencia triple in price, we are fortunate in staying with friends so the cost to us is more than halved.

    Will be back next year.

    Reply
  4. In 1968 I was attending La Universidad de Valencia for a semester. I was there for Las Fallas. It was an incredible experience. I distinctly remember the Desperta …jumping up in my bed while the firecrackers blasted! Unforgettable!! A group of us students went to the Main Plaza to witness the final event on March 19th. Truth be told, it was scary!! So hard to believe that all of the magnificent creations were burnt to ashes .
    After the burning, we strolled around and got lost…we wound up in the Barrio Chino…..the Red Light District!! We saw a sign that read “Clinica Verereal” and scantily clad women hanging in doorways! We didn’t expect that in Franco’s Spain.That was another unbelievable experience for us 20 year old Americanas….certainly not on the tourist route.
    I’m very glad that I had the opportunity to experience this event, I have been back to Spain many times over the years…but there was only one Fallas for me.

    Reply
    • Hi Kathleen

      Thanks so much for sending us your story of the Fallas. It must have been quite an experience.

      Best Regards

      Gerry

      Reply
  5. The festival of Las Fallas is fantastic. There are fireworks and bangs going off all day and into the night. The huge fallas have to be seen to be believed, and they are built at city centre crossroads, and near to ancient buildings. When they are set alight on 19 March, the bomberos have to be in attendance to damp down buildings and extinguish trees which catch fire! The firework display at 2.00 pm every day outside the townhall is so noisy that the ground shakes. Other things not to be missed are the flower parade which takes place on two nights, with ladies dressed in beautiful traditional costumes, the fire and demons parade and the ninots exhibition. I would highly recommend anyone to visit for the duration of the festival.

    Reply
  6. We were in valencia 2 years ago for the fallas- absolutely unbelievable. To see the ladies and children dressed in their finery to bring their bunches of flowers to the madonna being prepared by the cathedral is astonishing. In groups of 4, each lady with a specific bunch of flowers, they delivered their flowers for more than 20 hours, thousands of ladies must have taken part. All on local TV, together with the lunchtime fireworks and the bullfighting from the arena, this is a very special festival. The Spanish do not really care what the fireworks look like, as long as they make a loud noise. The day we went to the lunchtime display the noise reached 128 decibels, the ground and buildings shook and the local Cruz Rioja were there to ensure people did not cover their ears during the bangs – otherwise eardrums can shatter. Absolute must see

    Reply
  7. I have seen “Las Fallas” twice and am from Anchorage, Alaska and have taught Spanish and English for 28 years. The first time I saw it in the 70’s it rained so they could not burn the “big one.” The second time (in the 70’s) when they did it was absolutely awesome. I really appreciate the explanation since otherwise, even having picked up brochures etc., I could only guess at what it was all about. Now I know.

    Reply
    • We went to the fallas in March of 1971. We were there for two and a half days. The first day was fabulous with all the neighborhood displays, the huge bronze Falla in the plaza, the festivals, the flowers, the parades and fireworks. The fireworks were amazing, just standing there looking up and watching fireworks exploding overhead. It rained during the day on the second and final day of the Fallas, so we weren’t sure there were going to be fireworks or the fires. They decided to have both. Sadly, as we were packed in the Plaza Ayuntamiento so tightly that we couldn’t get to some friends who were only a few yards away, the fireworks began and a couple of them misfired. I believe two people were killed and many more trampled. It was pretty frightening. One of the boys in our group didn’t speak any Spanish and wasn’t carrying his passport with him. He was a photographer and took a couple of pictures of what was happening. He was quickly apprehended by the police (or maybe Guardia Civil)and taken to jail. When our program directors, who spoke fluent Spanish, went to the jail and asked if they had an American there, the guards there said they didn’t. David, however, heard Dr. Quackenbush and called out to him. The guards said they had no way of knowing he was American because he wasn’t carrying a passport. In the end, they released him, but only after confiscating all his film. Back then, making international long distance calls was prohibitively expensive for most of us, but our directors told us we had to call home because the story had been picked up by one of the news agencies and was being broadcast in the U.S. We had to let our parents know we were safe. Pretty hair-raising, but an exciting memory 45 years later.

      Reply
      • Thanks Kathryn … Life in Franco’s Spain was not the democracy it is today. And the regulations in Valencia for this fiesta nowadays are such that visitors needn’t worry about safety when they attend.

        Reply
  8. So – tonight is the final night of Las Fallas: La Nit Del Foc. I first experienced Las Fallas in 89 when I was studying over there. It absolutely rodded it down with rain and quite a few of the organised events were cancelled … but it was still an amazing few days and La Nit Del Foc was stunning (despite the rain!). I’ve been back a few times since – sadly not recently. But every year during these few days, I always think of the amazing events, sights and sounds (VERY LOUD SOUNDS…24/7!)…and the smell of “el Polvo” (gunpowder).

    Ian Gibson’s sublime TV series in 1992, “Fire In The Blood” had an interview with a Valenciano who spoke about the love most of the Valencianos have for these amazing fiestas. He said that whilst he was doing “La Mili”, he couldn’t go back to celebrate Las Fallas and cried on La Nit De La Crema. Now cynics out there might pour scorn on this but – do you know what – I get what he means.

    It’s a mad few days and a real mixture of Paganism, Religious Reverie…and loads of noise and merry-making. The ‘Mascleta’ really symbolises the whole thing – madness as the whole city comes to a standstill. When I was there they even broadcast the Mascleta every day….on the radio.

    Felices Festes, Valencia. I’ll be back one day and until then a little bit of me is always thinking of these unique fiestas during these days.

    Reply
    • Thanks Dom

      I really understand what you mean about just how a person can fall in love with such fiestas so much so that they become a part of the person. Such is the love affair that Spanish people have for their local festivals that I think the majority experience this lifelong feeling and attachment to their town’s fiestas and they’ll always try to be there if they can. If they can’t attend they long to be there during every day of the festivities. Your words describe how you too have ‘caught the bug’.

      Hope you manage to get back to Valencia soon.

      Gerry

      Reply
  9. I’ve been three times and been based at Alcira, Cullera and then in central Valencia. There’s no hiding place throughout the entire province of Valencia! Nothing can quite prepare you for the five days of mayhem, partying and firecrackers / fireworks to follow! (Shame your video has fairly tame soundtrack music, rather than the actual sounds of the pyrotechnics involved). There are street parties, live bands on makeshift stages, people selling rum punch and their own variants of Sangria and it’s mental!

    The only real “solemn” part is the ‘Offrenda des flores” to the giant virgin Mary outside the cathedral, where all the barrios of the city file past and offer bunches of different coloured flowers which are placed on a giant wooden framework to make up a gigantic floral model of virgin and child. I and my two friends were invited to march with one of the barrios – albeit right at the back, but what an honour!!

    Reply
    • Hi Jon

      Thanks so much for your great description. I know what you mean about the video, the reality is more like being in a war zone.

      Regards

      Gerry

      Reply
  10. I went to the Fallas for 2015 and it was sooo windy and cold! There was still tons of fireworks going on and it’s amazing to see such big 8 lane city streets totally shut down and crowded with people. I think you could stand to put more pictures of the Falleras since that is a big part of what goes on in the city. I was told by one Fallera that their hair design is so intricate, they do it once and wrap their hair with panty hose at night so they won’t move all week long. There is also the construction of a big Virgin Mary out of flowers which is pretty impressive to see. There are Fallas on every street corner and since we were there the whole week I tried to take pictures of them all and ended up with over 100 pictured and still hadn’t been more than in the city center. If you don’t know what’s going on politically, the themes can be a bit hard to understand and there is significant nudity for those of us from conservative countries. I was worried someone would report my photos on Facebook. We didn’t go to see the burning because the wind was so strong the firefighters were spraying water all over the structures and therefore, all over the crowd in near freezing temps. There was serious concern in some areas of burning the surrounding buildings so the firefighters were spraying those too, soaking the crowds under them. Like the Tomatina, don’t wear anything too fancy to watch the burning!

    Reply
  11. I was at Las Fallas for the first time last year. It is skull shattering loud…Certainly not for anyone suffering from any form of PTSD. The mass of people is unreal; A can of sardines is sparsely packed compared to the crowds that gather. A war zone is probably serene compared to Las Fallas… The Valencianos usually rent out their apartment for mucho euros and get away to someplace where they can sleep soundly and not breathe gunpowder for a few days…

    Reply
  12. We have just returned from Valencia what an amazing place. We had no idea of any festival until we heard the fireworks in the afternoon of our arrival. Unsure if we embraced Valencia or if Valencia embraced us – never experienced anything like it. It would be nice to go back and experience the 19th of March but totally grateful to have been a part of it 4 days of madness. We will return x

    Reply
  13. Back in 1975 I was a young marine when our BLT pulled into Valencia for 5 day of liberty (time off the ship). It happened to be March 14th. For the 5 days I had the experience of a life time. I’ve traveled the orient for a year, 6 months on the Med and 3 months on the Carb and been to many events but nothing like the Festival of Saint Joseph. I have never again felt the coming together of people, joy, and harmony mixed with crazy fun like my visit to Valencia. To this day if I return to Europe it will be the 3rd week of March in Valencia to help me restore hope for humanity!

    Reply
  14. Esta celebración me recuerda al 4 de julio en los estados unidos. Muchas personas se reúnen afuera. Usamos fuegos artificiales por la noche. También preparamos comida para compartir con amigos.

    Reply
  15. I went to the Fallas for 2015 and it was sooo windy and cold! There was still tons of fireworks going on and it’s amazing to see such big 8 lane city streets totally shut down and crowded with people. I think you could stand to put more pictures of the Falleras since that is a big part of what goes on in the city. I was told by one Fallera that their hair design is so intricate, they do it once and wrap their hair with panty hose at night so they won’t move all week long. There is also the construction of a big Virgin Mary out of flowers which is pretty impressive to see. There are Fallas on every street corner and since we were there the whole week I tried to take pictures of them all and ended up with over 100 pictured and still hadn’t been more than in the city center. If you don’t know what’s going on politically, the themes can be a bit hard to understand and there is significant nudity for those of us from conservative countries. I was worried someone would report my photos on Facebook. We didn’t go to see the burning because the wind was so strong the firefighters were spraying water all over the structures and therefore, all over the crowd in near freezing temps. There was serious concern in some areas of burning the surrounding buildings so the firefighters were spraying those too, soaking the crowds under them. Like the Tomatina, don’t wear anything too fancy to watch the burning!

    Ayesha

    Reply
  16. Several years ago, I went on a girls trip to Spain. We didn’t plan on a specific route, just three weeks with a Spain Eurail Pass. We just by sheer luck went to Valencia and found a room. We had no idea that the festival was going on. Everyone was in siesta as we got to town around three in the afternoon. We were jet lagged so we took a nap. At around five, fire crackers went off in the square below our room. We had no idea what was going on. We got up in time to see a fabulous parade, all the neighborhood’s designs and the Virgin Mary being worked on. Most of her flowers were completed. All of Valencia was beautiful. I wish we had had the time to stay for the full three weeks. But, we had reservations elsewhere and were meeting friends along the way.

    Reply

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