They say the best things in life are free – and this fiesta is definitely one of them. Lighting up the whole of Barcelona on June 23-24 is the festival of Sant Joan (Saint John), which marks the official start of summer in fiery fashion. People all over the city head outside to dance demonically around bonfires and party on the beach, celebrating the summer solstice in style.
The night of fire
Sant Joan starts with a bang on the evening of June 23 and in true Spanish style it kicks off late – usually just as the sun is setting. The partying goes on until sunrise and thankfully there is a public holiday the day after. It’s one of the biggest and most exciting parties that the city hosts and the electric atmosphere draws almost everyone out onto the streets. Some of the celebrations aren’t for the faint-hearted, though, and some people prefer to watch them from a terrace with friends and family. If that all sounds a bit tame and you’re after something more memorable, get yourself out there!
Where does it all take place?
Everywhere! Taking advantage of the blissful summer night temperatures, lots of bars and clubs hold Sant Joan parties while each district of the city organises outdoor parties and events from dusk till dawn. Just to heat things up even more, there are fiery shenanigans with bonfires, fireworks and firecrackers all going off throughout the city.
If you’re looking for a really spectacular scene, head to the beach. Barcelona is renowned for its beach parties, but the ones held on Sant Joan trump them all. Extra bar space is set up to cater for the hordes of people who head there, chiringuitos turn up the music and DJs and bands often put in an appearance. Many revellers hit the sands early with a picnic and some cava to get in the spirit, or else dine out at a restaurant.
Although this day is commemorated all over Europe, each region has distinct traditions and ways to celebrate – and as you can see, Barcelona doesn’t do it half-heartedly. It really is an event not to be missed (which will be almost impossible anyway as the fiestas fill the squares and streets of the city).
The beaches are the place to be for the festivities and the metro will be busy all night. Make sure you can get home easily by booking an apartment next to the beach for Sant Joan. Then you can look forward to spend the day after relaxing on the sand, nursing the effects from the night before.
The day after Sant Joan
Unsurprisingly on June 24 the city is pretty quiet in the aftermath of the previous night. As it’s a public holiday, most bars, shops and restaurants are closed so there’s little reason for people to leave their house. Glad of the excuse, they take advantage of this day to catch up on their sleep, relax and recuperate.
You will often see the festival of Sant Joan being referred to as the feast of Sant Joan. The traditional food eaten on this day is the coca, which is a type of sweet bread that’s usually oblong in shape and flavoured with aniseed and cinnamon. It often contains pine nuts and for a decorative touch colourful candied fruits are placed on top. You’ll see them in lots of bakeries’ windows leading up to the day.
Sant Joan Traditions
Although the festivities might look like just a bit of fun (or perhaps too much fun sometimes), there is a lot of significance behind the events that take place on the day of Sant Joan.
Fire (‘He who lights the fire for Sant Joan will not burn all year round’) – this is the most important symbol of Sant Joan representing purity. Burning something on the Sant Joan fire is said to cleanse your soul from past sins. At midnight you will see many people start to throw old belongings into the flames (particularly furniture).
Water (‘Bathe on Sant Joan and you’ll be healthy all year round’) – the water of Sant Joan is reputed to have healing properties, capable of curing the body of all ills. Many people take this literally and take a midnight dip in the ocean.
Herbs (‘the herbs of Sant Joan retain their virtues all year round’) – people often collect herbs to eat on the day of Sant Joan. Legend has it that their healing powers are enhanced one hundred times during these 24 hours.
- Barcelona metro and trams are open all night on June 23 (they will be crowded!).
- Taxis charge a supplement of about five euros between midnight and 06.00 and bear in mind that it will be hard to find one.
- Be careful with your belongings and don’t take valuables out with you – it’s the ideal night for pickpockets.
- If you plan to go out for dinner on June 23 make sure you book ahead – many people will be planning on doing the same. If you are going to the beach get there early for a good spot.
- Don’t worry about finding out particular times for particular events – just head outside after nightfall and you won’t have to look far for the action.
- If you don’t like loud noises, lots of people and hangovers, this is not the festival for you.
- If you do like an electric atmosphere and crazy but unforgettable parties, dive right in.
“I really like it. Fireworks, bonfires on the beaches, parties the whole night, everybody’s up dancing!” – Nathalie
“I don’t like Sant Joan much, it’s like the devil’s kitchen in BCN.” – Karina
“There are fireworks, lots of booze, you are barely able to walk and the atmosphere is amazing.” – Luis
“Better to stay in your flat and have dinner with friends.” – Paul
Have you ever visited Barcelona during Sant Joan? What did you think? Are you planning on visiting? Let us know! Leave a comment below.