The popular Las Fallas festival in Valencia, Spain… some people love it, others can’t run far enough away from it.
Now that I live in Valencia I, of course, had to celebrate Fallas and document it…
What is Las Fallas?
Las Fallas is Valencia’s biggest annual festival. It’s a traditional celebration held in commemoration of Saint Joseph. But it’s better described as a massive 5-day long street party in and around the city of Valencia.
Over 700 huge, largely papier-mâché statues or monuments, that took a year to build, are placed throughout the city and in neighboring towns.
The focus of this festival is the creation and eventual burning of these monuments, called fallas. The fallas, made up of several ninots (puppets or mannequins), often depict satirical scenes and current events.
Valencian neighborhoods get together and work for nearly the entire year to create their own falla.
On March 19, after days of festivities, participants burn the fallas in huge bonfires, and all the hard work goes up in smoke.
By popular vote, two of the ninots are spared every year. This is called the ninot indultat, or the pardoned mannequin, and it’s exhibited in Valencia’s Fallas Museum.
Fallas has recently been added to UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage of humanity list. This has given the festival even more international attention and people from all over the world now come to celebrate Las Fallas in Valencia.
The best description I heard of Las Fallas is this: “it’s a spectacular celebration of Valencian tradition for the locals and an enormous street festival for the visitors.” It is exactly that! For many Valencians it’s what they look forward to and work towards the entire year. It comes with many official activities (ceremonies, offerings, etc) and they take real pride in being a part of it all. For us outsiders, it’s days of street parties, eating, drinking, watching fireworks and walking around the city to check out really impressive statues…
When is Las Fallas?
Las Fallas is celebrated in Valencia every year from March 15th until March 19th.
However, festivities start long before March 15th and many will say March 1st is the start of Fallas. But, if you are visiting Valencia to experience Las Fallas, March 15-19 are the days to focus on.
Note: Las Fallas is a free event. Yet it is also the most expensive time to visit Valencia…
Understanding Las Fallas: Useful Words to Know
If you want to understand Las Fallas, these are a few useful words to know. And as you will see some words are used for different things which makes it all the more confusing once you are in Valencia and trying to find out what is going on where…
Falla: A falla is a local community organization. People can join a falla and normally they will join the one closest to their home or the one their friends or family belong to. This falla organizes all sorts of events throughout the year and they create one of the statues for the Las Fallas celebration.
Falla: falla is also the name of the statues that are created for the Las Fallas celebration.
Falla Infantil: A falla infantil or ‘children’s falla’ is a smaller falla (statue). They tend to be more playful and focus less on making political statements than the big fallas.
Las Fallas: Las Fallas is the name of the annual celebration. But it’s also plural for falla and can, therefore, indicate both all the statues or all the local community organizations.
Ninot: A Ninot is one of the puppets / mannequins. Together all the different ninots make up the falla (the statue).
Casal Faller: Each falla-community has a space where they get together. This building or space is called the Casal Faller.
Fallero/a: A fallero is a male member of a falla-community, a fallera a female member.
Fallera Mayor: The elected adult annual queen of a falla-community.
Fallera Mayor Infantil: The elected child annual queen of a falla-community.
La Planta: It takes about 10 days to assemble the fallas in the streets. La planta is the final moment when the fallas are finished, ready to be judged by a jury and admired by all the visitors.
Main Events During Las Fallas
As I mentioned, events for Las Fallas start long before March 15th. If you are a member of a falla it’s an almost year-round thing with numerous get-togethers and activities. Us living in Valencia without being affiliated to a falla tend to say fallas takes over the city for about a month.
But, if you are visiting Valencia for Las Fallas you will care most about what’s going on between March 15th and March 19th, so let’s start with that.
If you decide to celebrate Las Fallas in Valencia you will quickly learn Valencians love loud noises. And the Mascletas are the best proof of this!
A mascletà is basically an insane amount of firecrackers being set off, creating a noisy, smokey and colorful spectacle. It’s seen as an art form in Valencia though. And many people are willing to travel far to see, or better said hear and feel, these mascletas.
Unlike visual fireworks the mascletas aim to stimulate the body through strong rhythmic sounds. What makes a mascletà more than just a succession of explosions is the rhythm that is created. It is essential that the force of the explosions gradually increase, before coming to a dramatic conclusion.
It’s a typical Valencian thing and definitely something you have to experience at least once if you come to Valencia for Las Fallas.
From March 1st until March 19th there is a Mascletà every day at 2PM at the town hall square (Plaza del Ayuntamiento). If you want to experience it the way the Valencians do, try to get as close to the firecrackers as you can (while staying behind the fences). Because the closer you get, the more your entire body vibrates, which is the effect they are going for… It is a bit crazy, but definitely one of the unique parts of the Fallas experience!
Note: there is one Mascletà at the town hall square in February, on the same day as the Crida (see below).
2. Castillos (and Nit de Foc)
The castillos are impressive firework shows that are held on the nights of March 15th to March 18th. The firework shows on the 15th, 16th and 17th are already pretty incredible but on the night of the 18th it’s the so-called Nit de Foc (night of fire), which is an even bigger firework show and the biggest one during Las Fallas. Nit de Foc marks the start of the final day of Las Fallas.
Now I have to admit, if there is one thing Valencia does well, it’s definitely fireworks! And paella, but that’s a different story.
I’m not even that much of a fan of fireworks but these shows are something else! I guarantee that this firework display is better than what you have seen in most countries. And yes, I have been to Sydney for the New Year’s Eve fireworks; it rivals that!
If you only decide to go to one of the shows then please make it the Nit de Foc on the 18th. It’s quite incredible!
Note: all of these firework shows start late, with the earliest one being at midnight. The one on the 15th is normally held at the Plaza del Ayuntamiento and the others at the Paseo de la Alameda. Please do check the links I mention at the end of this article or ask around once you are in Valencia, to make sure you know the exact time and location.
For many locals, expats and tourists alike, a large part of the fun of Las Fallas are the verbenas.
Verbenas are basically music in the street. Most verbenas have DJs (called discomoviles) but some have live performances on stages.
SInce you will find a different verbena every couple of blocks it’s great to do a “verbena crawl” to check out the different music and atmosphere at the different verbenas.
A thing to know about verbenas is that they generally start late. Probably because the Spanish have dinner late, most street parties don’t get going until 11PM and they have permission to continue until 4AM.
Although there are a lot of public toilets available, towards the end of the night you will find both men and women peeing in the street. Or vomiting, or both. That being said though, for a 5-day long street party with cheap drinks available throughout the city, it stays surprisingly safe and clean. Valencia really works hard to ensure the streets get cleaned in the early hours and the Spanish, although they might end up drunk, are just not the aggressive, annoying drunks you would find in some other countries…
Note: it’s difficult to find good information about which type of music is played at what verbena and at what time. Ask locals for their recommendations or do a Google search for ‘verbenas Valencia fallas’, once Las Fallas has started. You will find at least some information about the main verbenas, who are better at promoting themselves.
4. Ofrenda de Flores (Flower Offering)
For this event allegedly over 100,000 falleros and falleras from the different fallas form a parade, in traditional costumes and accompanied by marching bands, from their respective neighborhoods to the Plaza de la Virgin. They do this to offer flowers to Our Lady of the Forsaken, the Patron Saint of Valencia.
The huge amount of flowers are used to form a 15 meter-high tapestry on the façade of the Basilica and to decorate an impressive statue of the Lady of the Forsaken, which is placed on the square specifically for this event.
The flower offering takes place on both the 17th and 18th of March, starting around 4PM and continuing until long after nightfall. I would recommend checking this out on the late afternoon of the 18th. By then most flowers have been offered which will give you a beautiful view of the decorated virgin and you will catch a part of the parade. Of course you won’t be the only one who has this idea so do expect large crowds and roads blocked to give way to the parade.
5. Cabalgata del Fuego
The Cabalgata de Fuego, or Fire Parade, is basically a carnival parade with lots of fire and fireworks. I’m not entirely sure about the safety, but then I wonder about that a lot throughout the entire Las Fallas celebration… So don’t let that stop you from visiting this fun and unique parade!
The fire parade is held on March 19th in calle Colon and normally starts at 7PM. But as I would recommend with any event during Las Fallas: do check the links I suggest at the end of this article or ask locals to double check dates and times.
6. La Crema
burning of the falla at the Plaza del Ayuntamiento – as everything during Las Fallas it comes with a lot of fireworks
La Crema is the main event of the Las Fallas celebration. It’s when a year’s work goes up in smoke…
Personally, I find it a shame and an environmentally bad thing to burn all these beautiful fallas, but as the Valencians would say “that’s the tradition!”.
At 10PM the burning of the children’s fallas (fallas infantiles) begins. First the general fallas infantiles, then the falla infantil that won 1st prize and lastly the falla infantil at the Plaza del Ayuntamiento. At midnight the burning of the main fallas starts. The first prize winner normally goes up in smoke and then the falla at the Plaza del Ayuntamiento is the last one to burn, at 1AM. This is followed by a small display of spectacular fireworks marking the end of the festival.
A few things to know about La Crema:
- Because these fallas are massive and close to buildings, many require the fire department to be present. This can delay the burning significantly so don’t be surprised if you have to wait a while.
- If you manage to get a spot close to the falla I highly recommend covering your nose and mouth with a scarf because the smoke can get intense!
A Final Note About the Main Events During Las Fallas
Another main event during Las Fallas used to be the light shows or ‘streets of light’ in Ruzafa.
Several streets were decorated with an impressive amount of lights. Combined with music an incredible show was created, attracting huge crowds. Unfortunately 2019 was the first year they decided to cancel the light shows, allegedly because of safety issues. Not much is known about whether the light shows will return in future years.
There still is a smaller light show in Malvarrosa though, which is worth checking out. And even without the light show many neighborhoods do make a big effort to decorate their streets with beautiful lights which creates a great atmosphere during Las Fallas.
Other Events Around Las Fallas
These are a few other events happening around Las Fallas that are worth mentioning:
1. Mascletà Vertical
To me, and I think to many, this marks the start of the ‘month of Fallas Madness’.
The night before La Crida (see below) an incredible display of firecrackers and fireworks is held in the marina of Valencia. This is absolutely the most intense but also the most beautiful noise I have ever witnessed!
It is impossible to describe this really. And unfortunately if you are only here for the main days of Las Fallas you won’t get to witness this. But if you ever find yourself in Valencia in late February, do go to this event, accept the hearing loss it will incur and see for yourself how much the Valencians love firecrackers…
2. La CridaIn front of the Serranos Towers (Torres de Serranos) Valencia’s Fallera Mayor invites the world to visit the biggest festival of the city: Las Fallas!
It’s the opening ceremony for Las Fallas. It’s a lot of talking, mainly in Valencian and Spanish, but it comes with an incredible light show on the spectacular Serranos Towers and is followed by fireworks.
La Crida takes place on the last Sunday of February.
3. Exposición del Ninot
From February 2nd until March 14th you can visit this exhibition to see some of the best ninots.
Each falla-community chooses their favorite ninot to be displayed. As a visitor you get to vote for the best ninots. This will determine which ninots will be spared from the fire…
Out of all the approximately 750 fallas, consisting of generally dozens of ninots each, only two ninots are spared: one from a falla infantil and one from a main falla. The ninots that are spared are called ‘El Ninot Indultat Infantil’ (from the falla infantil) and ‘el Ninot Indultat’ (from the main falla).
It’s fun to be able to have a closer look at some of the best ninots and worth a visit if you arrive to Valencia before the start of Las Fallas.
For the past four years, the Exposición del Ninot has been held at the Príncipe Felipe Museum (Museu de les Ciències Príncipe Felipe), inside the City of Art and Sciences. If you want to visit, do double check times and location. You never know when things change in Spain…
4. La Despertà
This is one of the Las Fallas events that is hated by many. Yet loved by the ones who are a part of it…
Early in the morning falleros and falleras gather in the streets with firecrackers and marching bands to wake everyone up… And believe me, you will wake up! They’ll walk around the streets for a while, cover everything in their firecracker smoke and then leave. Happy that they woke everyone up for yet another day of Las Fallas madness…
From March 16th until March 19th they organize despertàs throughout the city, around 8AM. You are more likely to have one close to you in the center though. So that might be a reason to book a place outside of the center during Las Fallas. 😉
Another despertà is organized on the last Sunday of February (the same day as La Crida) around 7AM, in the city center.
5. Prize Giving Ceremony
It takes the falla-communities pretty much the entire year to build their falla. And then, from about a week before the start of the official festival they start assembling their impressive sculptures in the streets. Most years they have until midnight on March 15th (occasionally this gets extended) to finalize assembling their falla.
After that, the so-called comiciones falleros start judging all of the roughly 750 fallas.
Normally the prize giving ceremony for the fallas infantiles is on the 16th and the prize giving ceremony for the main fallas is on the 17th.
Members of winning fallas are beautifully dressed in traditional fallero and fallera outfits and walk past the crowds in a parade accompanied by marching bands.
To be honest, for the average visitor these events are not too interesting. Prizes are awarded in the local Valencian language which, even if you do speak Spanish, is hard to follow.
Final Thoughts About the Events Happening During Las Fallas
The events I have listed above are only the official, scheduled events around Las Fallas. But there is more to Valencia’s biggest festival than that. You might come across parades, random get-togethers of Falleros, giant paellas being cooked in the street and other happenings that are hard to find on public calendars. In the end, Las Fallas is a local street party, not everything is planned to the second or documented perfectly… and that’s part of its charm!
At the end of this article I have listed some useful links to sites where you can find the most up-to-date time tables of events during Las Fallas. I recommend checking those for the events mentioned above as well because times and locations may change.
Tips For Making the Most of the Las Fallas Celebration
1. Book Accommodation Early and Choose a Good Location
Las Fallas attracts a lot of people. Prices of hotels and Airbnbs go up a lot and most of them sell out weeks or even months in advance. So, the sooner you book the better!
The fallas and street parties block many roads, which means many buses can’t run their normal routes. I would therefore recommend either staying close to a metro station or at a very central location so that you can walk everywhere. El Carmen and Eixample (which includes Ruzafa and Canovas) are the most central areas.
The center also gets the most crowded and most noisy though, so be prepared for that… But, no matter where you stay in Valencia during Fallas, don’t expect to get much sleep. If you are lucky you are on a quieter street, but with dozens of verbenas and hundreds of fallas throughout the city, that chance is small!
2. Don’t Wear Earplugs… But Bring Them Anyway!
Now this probably goes against everything you knew about noise and how to protect your ears. But, all of my Spanish friends keep urging me not to use earplugs when going to a Mascletá… And according to them, you shouldn’t use your fingers to block your ears either. They say the vibrations at a Mascletá are so intense that by blocking your ears in those ways your eardrums are actually more likely to rupture.
And believe me, once you have experienced a Mascletá the way most Valencians love it; from up close, you know what they mean with those vibrations! It’s insane!
Valencians say the best way to protect your ears is to cup your hands and put them over your ears. And, keep your mouth open because that should help prevent your eardrums from rupturing…
Now I have searched the internet extensively and I can’t find any reliable research supporting my friends’ advice. So my advice? Leave the “body trembling experience” to the Valencians and just keep some more distance from the Mascletás. You really don’t have to be in the front row to enjoy them. And for any other firework shows, noisy parades or loud music at the verbenas, just use those earplugs!
3. Bring Comfortable Shoes
Las Fallas is a street party that goes on every day until the early hours. You will be walking a lot, standing around admiring the fallas, eating street food and dancing at the verbenas. So be prepared and wear shoes that are comfortable.
4. Bring Snacks and Water
Valencia gets very crowded during Las Fallas. So crowded that many bars and restaurants are full. And since you will probably be out for most of the day, I would recommend carrying some snacks and water.
However, there are a lot of stalls throughout the city selling snacks, drinks, and trinkets and plenty of eateries offering food to take away. So you’ll definitely be able to find food and drinks when you need to. You just might have to wait in line for a bit… And, by buying your drinks and snacks here, you support the locals and the fallas.
If you do want to eat in a restaurant, I highly recommend making reservations.
Money saving tip: during Las Fallas you are allowed to drink alcohol in the streets. And this can be alcohol that you bring with you. So to save some money, buy your drinks in the supermarket or liquor store. Just make sure you don’t use glass.
5. Bring Cash
Most of the aforementioned stands only accept cash. So I recommend bringing enough cash, preferably in small bills.
Also, I wouldn’t want to have to look for an ATM in the crazy fallas crowds, so I recommend bringing enough cash for the entire trip. Just don’t carry it all with you when you are out enjoying Fallas since pickpocketing is common!
6. Start Early
Again, Las Fallas attracts A LOT of people! Valencia is packed during Fallas, especially at night.
If you want to check out different fallas I recommend getting onto the streets early. Thankfully the Spanish generally aren’t morning people and since most have been out partying until 4 or 5 AM, they will sleep in. Use that to your advantage. Walk around the city when the streets are still quiet to admire the fallas and take pictures without hundreds of people in them.
And for any scheduled event such as the mascletás, parades, Nit de Foc and especially La Crema goes: the earlier you get there, the better your spot will be and the more you will see. Many will bring drinks and snacks and show up well over an hour before these events.
7. Watch Out For Spanish Kids With Firecrackers!
This is the one thing my expat friends in Valencia complain about the most… How can it be acceptable for young kids (some barely 4 or 5 years old) to walk around with firecrackers while their parents stand around drinking with their friends?!
It won’t take you long to understand what I am talking about, because they are everywhere! Kids with a small wooden box filled with firecrackers. With their friends or brothers and sisters, they will randomly light them, barely run away and wait for them to explode. And, they all seem surprisingly good at throwing them exactly in front of my feet! I really wonder how many accidents happen because of this, but it has to be many!
8. It Often Rains During Las Fallas
A lot of Valencians will say that it always rains during Las Fallas. And although that’s not entirely true, I would definitely expect at least some rain. So be prepared for that, since you will be spending most of your time outdoors.
The weather can also vary quite a bit during Las Fallas with chilly evenings. I would, therefore, recommend bringing layers.
9. Eat a Buñuelo or Some Churros
Buñuelos and churros are the two most popular snacks offered at the food stalls during Fallas in Valencia.
Churros are a traditional snack made of fried dough, often dipped in chocolate. Or try the stuffed varieties – with chocolate, dulce de leche or other creative flavors.
A buñuelo is a fried dough ball that is a surprisingly good hangover cure and a perfect late night snack! Although the Spanish seem to enjoy it more as a pre-dinner snack, judging from how crowded the buñuelo stands all of a sudden get in the early evening.
Final Thoughts About Celebrating Las Fallas in Valencia
A marching band is walking past my apartment building right at this second (I am writing parts of this during Las Fallas), firecrackers go off everywhere, nonstop, and a small Mascletà has just been set up in my street… Las Fallas is 5 days of madness!
Las Fallas is a unique celebration though and the Valencians are very proud of it. Celebrating Las Fallas with them allows you to be a part of the event they look forward to all year long. Many Valencians spend a small fortune every year to be part of the creation of their falla!
In the end, for most people, Las Fallas is just a fun, multi-day street party. Enjoy the vibe, the music, dancing in the street and check out the fallas around the city.
I know I have said several times that Valencia gets very crowded during Las Fallas. And although that is definitely true, it does differ from area to area and at different times of the day. March 15th is generally a quieter day and although not all fallas are 100% completed, I found it a great day to walk around the city to explore different fallas without the crowds. As far as night time activities, the Spanish tend to have dinner between 9PM and 11PM which means that the streets aren’t too packed around those times. From midnight until at least 3AM however, all the verbenas are packed and in some places it gets impossible to move.
Valencia’s central areas El Carmen, everything close to the Plaza del Ayuntamiento and the neighborhoods in L’Eixample get very busy and very loud. During the day it’s the firecrackers, marching bands and loud people, at night the verbenas and even louder people. If this is not your thing, staying a little further outside of the center might be a better option. Cabanyal, towards Malvarrosa Beach, can be a fun option because it’s a nice area to stay in that just happens to be a bit less intense during Fallas.
What Do the Fallas Mean?
One thing that’s worth mentioning about the fallas is that they are not just impressive statues of funny looking people, animals and random objects. All of the fallas have a story behind them and many discuss current events and try to make a (political) statement. And although a lot of fallas do have signs explaining what the falla is about, these signs are generally only written in Valencian, which makes it hard for an outsider to understand.
But while you might miss the meaning of some fallas, you will also see many fallas with a more international theme. From political figures such as Donald Trump, to popular artists and athletes such as Michael Jackson and Cristiano Ronaldo have been the centerpiece of fallas in past years.
If you want to know a bit more about the history of Las Fallas and see the winning ninots from previous years, I highly recommend going to the Fallas museum or Museo Fallero. It’s located close to the City of Arts & Sciences.
Useful Resources to Find Out What’s Going on During Las Fallas
As I said there is a lot more going on in Valencia during Fallas than just the main events. Some activities are mainly for members of the Falla-community though and others are just not very well advertised. On top of that, some dates or times change because of the weather or other unforeseen circumstances.
But, the closer you get to the actual days of Las Fallas, the more information you will be able to find online about what’s going on. In English, these are the resources I find useful to figure out what exactly is happening during Las Fallas:
- The Facebook Page “Las Fallas Valencia Information For English Speaking Visitors“
- Fallasfromvalencia.com – They have a calendar with exact times of all the main events
Every year there are more apps available for Las Fallas. So far I haven’t found one I can really recommend but appValencia probably gave me the best information and has a map of the locations of (most of) the fallas throughout the city. But it’s worth checking out what other apps offer as well. In combination with the two links above it will give you most of the up-to-date information you need.
One Final Note: Unfortunately Valencia still allows bullfighting. During the Las Fallas festival several fights are held inside the Plaza de Toros. PLEASE don’t support this!
Enjoy the Fallas Celebrations in Valencia!
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