If you're learning Spanish then you've probably noticed that Spain knows how to celebrate.
And Las Fallas in Valencia is no exception. It’s a feast for the eyes: the whole city lights up with fireworks… and actual fire!
Read on to learn more about this incredible cultural tradition and get some tips on how to make the most of your trip to the festival!
What Is Las Fallas?
Las Fallas is a five-day celebration that takes place every year from March 1st–19th in the streets of Valencia, Spain’s third-largest city and the capital of the Valencia region.
The festival is centred around large, intricate wooden puppets called ninots, arranged in larger displays called fallas. For five days, Valencia becomes one giant non-stop street party filled with fireworks, music, food, and fun.
While the festival is technically in honour of Saint Joseph, it’s not actually a religious celebration. Instead, it rings in the arrival of spring and celebrates community.
Community is a huge part of Las Fallas. Each neighbourhood in Valencia has a group called the casal faller, which is dedicated to fundraising and organizing for the festival.
They’re also in charge of building their neighbourhood falla (or collection of puppets). The whole city works together to create a joyful spectacle that you have to see to believe!
In a country that loves to celebrate, Las Fallas is one of Spain’s largest and most beloved festivals—UNESCO even put it on its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity!
Every year during the iconic celebration, Valencia’s population of 800,000 more than doubles.
The streets come alive with revellers admiring the fallas, taking in the ear-shattering noise of the mascletà, and enjoying paella served right on the street.
Spanish Or Catalan?
Before we get into the details of this celebration, a linguistic note.
You might notice that many of the specialised words used to describe the festival and its events are not in Spanish but in the Valencian dialect of Catalan, which is the native language of the Valencian community.
If you want to enjoy your trip to Valencia for Las Fallas to the fullest, which language should you learn?
Well, Catalan is a beautiful language with a fascinating history, and you should make sure you’re familiar with the Catalan words associated with Las Fallas.
But if you really want to maximise your time in Valencia, I recommend learning Spanish. It’s guaranteed to be spoken no matter where you go in Spain.
And knowing Spanish will take you to lots of other places, too (it’s one of the most spoken languages in the world!).
How Did Las Fallas Begin?
There are a few different theories about how Las Fallas began.
The most popular story about the origin of Las Fallas describes carpenters, needing to work into the dark hours of winter evenings, using pieces of wood to prop up their lights.
When the spring equinox brought longer days and more light, they burned their unneeded wooden light props, adding rags and old clothes to create bigger, brighter fires.
This eventually evolved into the tradition of creating and building ninots, specifically to burn to celebrate the spring equinox.
How Do People Celebrate Las Fallas?
The Fallas Festival is a weeks-long production that’s jam-packed with events. If you’re planning a trip to see the famous fallas, you need to know what these events are and when they take place.
Here’s a complete breakdown of all 19 days of action!
La Crida: Last Sunday Of February
This is the official kick-off to the celebration of Las Fallas.
The Fallas Queen (or la Fallera Mayor, elected by fallas commissions to represent the spirit of Las Fallas) invites everyone to have fun and enjoy the festivities, and the first fireworks explode over the city.
La Despertà: March 1st–19th
Have you heard that Spain is a leisurely country that never hurries? Maybe you’re looking forward to sleeping in so that you can stay up late to watch the main events of Las Fallas.
Well, you’d better think again! Every day at 8 a.m. for the entirety of the festival, brass bands flood the streets of the Valencian city centre to offer an early-morning wakeup call.
The bands are often followed by people throwing firecrackers, just in case you didn’t hear the music. Who needs sleep when there’s partying to be done?!
La Mascletà: March 1st–19th
You’ll notice that fireworks play a huge part in Las Fallas.
Every day at 2 p.m., the Plaza del Ayuntamiento in the city centre shakes with an incredible audible display of fireworks.
These fireworks are meant to be heard, not seen. The ground literally vibrates beneath your feet!
It’s a good idea to bring earplugs to this exhilarating affair. But if you forget, here’s a pro tip: keep your mouth open during the 5- to 8-minute display to avoid hurting your ears.
La Plantà: March 15th
Here’s where the ball really gets rolling.
Leading up to March 15th, La Despertà and La Mascletà create a festive air in the city and prepare festivalgoers for the main events. During La Plantà, the fallas are finally built and displayed!
Craftworkers and members of each neighbourhood casal faller work to create the pieces of each ninot in the months leading up to La Plantà, but they cannot be built and displayed in larger fallas until March 15th.
On this day, all streets in the city centre close to vehicle traffic, and neighbourhoods become a commotion of construction as each casal faller works to get their falla finished.
If it isn’t finished by the morning of March 16th, it’s disqualified from judging, so the stakes are high.
As soon as all of the displays are built, they are judged based on different criteria and the best fallas win special honors. But that doesn’t save them from the fire at the end of the party!
(Fun fact: one lucky ninot gets a “pardon.” Instead of burning it, they display it in the Museu Faller de València. Check out the museum for an interesting look into the history of Las Fallas!)
The ninots that make up each detailed display are true works of art. They’re also usually bawdy, satirical, and funny!
It’s tradition for fallas displays to poke fun at current events, pop culture, and news stories. Celebrities and political figures are typical choices for the fallas treatment.
So, if you think you recognize the huge figures towering over you on the Valencian streets, you probably do!
But don’t worry, kids can still enjoy the festival, too. Each neighbourhood also builds a much smaller, kid-friendly display called la falla infantil.
La Ofrenda: March 17th & 18th
Although the festival is not overtly religious, Spain’s Catholic culture still influences some parts of it.
La Ofrenda is an amazing sight to behold, with falleros and falleras (representatives of traditional Valencian culture from each fallas group) parading in traditional Valencian garb towards the Plaza de la Virgen, where a towering representation of the Virgin Mary awaits.
Each neighbourhood group offers one bouquet, and by the end of the two days, a blanket of beautiful flowers covers the statue. Not only does it look pretty–it smells amazing, too.
Nit Del Foc: March 18th
You might need an afternoon siesta to be able to stay awake to catch this massive fireworks show.
The “Night of Fire” occurs at Paseo de la Almeda in the late night hours, typically around 1:30 a.m. This dazzling display of pyrotechnics goes on for more than 20 minutes.
It’s one of the most popular events of the festival. It fills up quickly, so get to the Paseo de la Almeda early for a good spot.
Cavalcada Del Foc: March 19th
The “Parade of Fire” is exactly what it sounds like.
At 6 p.m. on March 19th, a collection of floats, fireworks displays, musicians, and performers winds through the streets of Valencia, lighting up the evening with fire and music.
The colourful parade will leave you fired up (pun intended) for the main event later in the evening.
La Crema: March 19th
You probably won’t get many other chances to witness a huge (but controlled!) bonfire in the middle of a city centre, so bask in the flames of La Crema!
Finally, one by one, each neighbourhood sets its falla on fire. Everyone watches as an elaborate, expensive piece of art that took months to create burns to the ground.
But these monuments were created to be destroyed! Valencians take huge pride in both the creation and the burnings of their fallas.
Las Fallas: Food
No guide to Las Fallas would be complete without mentioning the amazing food. There will be street vendors serving up fresh Spanish cuisine in every part of town, so bring your appetite!
One of Valencia’s most famous regional foods is paella. Take the time to try a few different versions.
And don’t miss the buñuelos: fried dough fritters traditionally made with pumpkin. There will be churros con chocolate on every corner if you need a quick sugar fix, too.
Las Fallas: An Unmissable Event
So there you have it – everything you'll need to know about Las Fallas, from food to fireworks to the fallas themselves, and the vocab you need to talk about this incredible festival.
Las Fallas is an intensely unique experience.
If this guide has motivated you to head to Valencia to witness this special cultural event, consider yourself lucky!