Whilst Madrid is notorious for its lively nightlife it can’t compete with the wonders of Andalucia 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 and there are other fiestas specific to Madrid such as Dos de Mayo and Almudena but these won’t be particularly noteworthy for 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 specific festivals. However, here’s a summary of some of the city’s main annual celebrations in case your visit happens to coincide with any of them.
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.
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 which would lead to the War of Independence in which the French were defeated.
Whilst San Isidro is the male patron saint of Madrid, the Virgin of Almudena is the female one. This celebration takes place on 9th November.
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 (it’s the national holiday of Asunción in the rest of the country). With one excuse after another to party the old centre (near C/Toledo and Plaza de la Paja) is full of those non-holidaymakers who make the most of the ongoing street parties.
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.
Festival de Otoño
Madrid’s Autumn Festival begins during the first week of October and lasts for a month. It is one of the country’s top music festivals with dance, music and theatre companies from all over the world. Prestigious events are held in the capital’s main theatres including the Teatro de la Zarzuela, Teatro Madrid, the Círculo de Bellas Artes and Teatro Albéniz.
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.