A Visitor’s Guide to Conquering Las Fallas
Millions flooding the streets of Valencia. One year of full-time preparation. Over 370 displays. Seven days of festivities. One festival: Las Fallas.
Las Fallas, “the fires” in Valencian, is a weeklong cultural celebration that is presented in a true Spanish fashion—as one drawn-out fiesta. The tradition dates back to the time of Saint Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters, when he and other craftsmen would celebrate the start of longer days by burning old furniture. This ritual has since escalated, replacing deteriorating wooden desks with fallas, or oversized, manmade floats built from cardboard, papier-mache, and plaster.
Scattered among the fallas in each neighborhood are an abundance of food stalls, each selling traditional Spanish dishes for an incredibly reasonable price.
For an entire year leading up to the big event, full-time workers spend their days building in warehouses, designing and constructing unique ninots that make up each falla for individual neighborhoods throughout the city. Across the board, the ninots that go into the fallas are satirical displays that range from politicians to current events, and are then showcased to the public until the final day of the festival: La Crema. As a way to truly go out with a bang, the week’s festivities come to an end with a massive burning ceremony to each falla, starting with the smaller ones scattered around the city and ending with the most dramatic in the Plaza Ayuntamiento. Although La Crema encompasses all that Las Fallas represents, the festival hosts a plethora of events throughout the week leading up to this night. From themed tent parties to daily firework displays, even visitors can experience Las Fallas like Valencians would.
It wouldn’t be a true celebration without a wide array of authentic food to choose from! Scattered among the fallas in each neighborhood are an abundance of food stalls, each selling traditional Spanish dishes for an incredibly reasonable price. Every night of the week-long festival in the Ruzafa district is the annual light show, in which three separate streets each hold a luminous display of over 750,000 light bulbs, shining bright for a show that’s not one to be missed. Make sure to get there a few minutes early to grab some dinner before, as the streets are lined with all the flavors that Spain has to offer.
My recommendation? The calamari bocadillo. Being so close to the coast, Valencia is known for their fresh seafood and specializes in this grilled dish. The combination of this fresh squid on a warm baguette and finished with garlic aioli sauce will put all other sandwiches to shame. As for dessert, Las Fallas provides the perfect treat to kick any sweet tooth. Buñuelos, or fried dough balls, are the doughnut’s biggest competition. Find these on any street corner during the week, and you will instantly be left wanting more.
While typically a pretty low-key city, Valencia just about triples in population during this week, bringing in throngs of visitors by the millions. Each day provides a new agenda of events that will draw these large crowds in, so just be mindful when preparing for the festivities. With that said, don’t let the crowds scare you away! Embrace each event just as they are. After all, there is a reason they’re so popular.
Each afternoon kicks off with the Mascleta in the Plaza Ayuntamiento. My expectation of this event was a mere gunpowder performance with a series of loud “bangs.” How my expectations were wrong. This daily show is one not to be missed by Valencian’s standards, as spectators go so far as to rent out the balconies of surrounding buildings for only the best of views. But even from the ground floor, it is still quite the experience. The constant series of firecrackers produces a thunderous explosion in the plaza, rattling your body and awakening those miles and miles away. The closer to the night of La Crema it gets, the longer the Mascleta lasts, each one more intense than the next. At nightfall, a beautiful firework show is arranged that would put the Fourth of July to shame. Make your way to the Passeo Alamedo for the best viewing spots for this nightly visual performance.
Continue the fun afterwards at a pop-up tent party, hosted each night in a different neighborhood. From Mexican-themed fiestas (complete with a mariachi band) to outdoor DJs, the city keeps the fun alive until well into the night. The schedule of events is posted a few days leading up to the festival, so there’s no missing out on what each night has in store.
Representing the “closing ceremony” for the week of festivities, La Crema is an experience like no other. While the temptation to see every falla burning may be overwhelming, try to resist. The best way to plan for this night is to find the location of your favorite falla, head to that area a little early, and wait for the burning to start. Having a decent view for one big falla rather than barely having a view for multiple is definitely worth the sacrifice.
For one week, the energy in Valencia is booming through the spirit of Las Fallas. The lights, the loud noises, the costumes are all factors that play into the intensity of the experience. Las Fallas may be classified as a festival, but it is so much more. It is an overwhelming sense of community. While my time in the city may have been temporary, the welcoming spirit from everyone around made me feel as though I had been at right at home for years.