Carnival in Spain

The carnival in Spain was an integral part of the country’s predominantly Christian culture into the twentieth century, until 1928, when any carnival celebrations were banned by order of the then-head of state, General Francisco Franco. Not until after his death in 1975 was the ban lifted and the right for cities in Spain to celebrate with carnivals and parades reinstated.

After nearly 40 years without carnivals, it took time to rebuild and reestablish the ancient festivals. Today, the atmosphere at a carnival in Spain promises an exciting of parades, masked balls, colorful costumes, and feasts all taking place in the weeks prior to Lent.

Unlike in Italy, where the carnival in Venice is known as the primary event, visitors have a choice among at least three popular cities when choosing a Carnival in Spain as a vacation celebration location. The largest and best-known is the Cadiz Carnival. Over a two-week span each year prior to the festival, the city is abuzz with preparations, rehearsals, contests, and auditions for the upcoming events.

Visitors can expect plenty of festivities at the 2023 Cadiz Carnival including fancy dress processions throughout the city, colorful costumes, floats and parades, creative masks, musical entertainment, street performances, food and drink, and fireworks displays.

Two groups providing entertainment at the Cadiz Carnival are the chirigotas, who sing about current news stories, politics, people, and everyday life using original satirical songs. The singing group puts on impromptu performances in any outdoor location around the city. The choirs perform during the festival by riding through the streets on carts or wagons dressed in elaborate costumes and accompanied by a small group of musicians with guitars. Spectators are invited to join in and sing along as the group makes its way around town.

The Barcelona Carnival takes place in February and begins on Fat Thursday and lasting for one week. Visitors to the carnival enjoy lively celebrations throughout the neighborhoods and market places as spectators participate in singing, dancing, and cooking competitions.

Like the participants celebrating in Cadiz and Madrid, patrons at the Barcelona Carnival dress in extravagant costumes and wear decorative masks as part of the carnival festivities. The highlight of the Barcelona Carnival is the Gran Rua parade featuring ornate carriages with costumed riders making their way along the parade route.

The final event of the Barcelona festival is marked with the ritual burial of the King of Carnival. The royal cortege, complete with the king’s family and loyal entourage, are dressed in black to mourn his passing, which signifies the end of the festivities

The 2023 carnival in Madrid is another opportunity for visitors to Spain to experience fun-filled activities prior to Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. Like the schedule for Barcelona, the carnival in Madrid takes place in February and lasts one week. Vacationers to Madrid during carnival time will experience parties, flamboyant costumes, extraordinary masks, concerts, fancy dress competitions, parades, and concerts.

The highlight of the carnival in Madrid is the traditional burial of the sardine parade, which signifies the end of the festival. Participants adorned in black hats and cloaks somberly parade through the streets with the effigy of a dead sardine in a coffin.

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