What a difference a year makes! Our experience with Fallas festivities this year has been the opposite of last year. Moving to the city during Fallas was tough. We did end up outside the city due to lack of rooms, but had wonderful and authentic paella to soften the blow. This year, having secured a new place to live, we were able to enjoy the events with a peace of mind. Here are images and facts about the Valencia Fallas Festivities. Lots of images, and even one or 2 dummies you might recognize :-) .
Fallas in Valencia Spain Experience: Q and A
What is Fallas all about?
The Fallas is to celebrate Saint Joseph. You know, the one that was married to Mary and was therefore the legal father of Jesus. A saint indeed if you ask me! A lot of towns in the Valencia province celebrate, but the Valencia city Fallas is the biggest and definitely the loudest. It was designated a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2016. A lot of locals leave the city to avoid the crowds and noise. At the same time, a ton of tourists come from all over the world to experience Fallas. I think everyone should experience Fallas at least once in their lifetime. At this point, it has nothing to do with religion. It’s all about the mingling and partying.
How do Fallas (monuments) happen?
Each neighborhood in Valencia has a Casal Faller, an organization that is active year round and whose principal duty is to raise money to build their fallas (1 adult and 1 kiddie monument). The efforts are never ending as they start working on the next Fallas as soon as the current one ends. All of the neighborhoods hope to be voted Best in Show. For the most part, one of the “richer” neighborhoods usually wins since they have more money raised. I understand some of these Fallas can cost over €180,000 ($220,000). That’s a lot of money that could be put to better use in my opinion, but that’s just the way it is.
When does Valencia Fallas happen:
The Fallas festivities occur over a 3 week period, ending on the 19th of March yearly. Most the most excitement occurs during the last week when the Fallas are moved from the museum (for display and voting purposes) to the neighborhoods. It’s almost impossible to see them all of course, as they number over 700. We limited ourselves to seeing some of the bigger ones in addition to the smaller ones close to our neighborhood. The Fallas can be of any theme, political satire is a popular one. This year for some reason, l saw a lot of Mary Poppins.
What is used to build the Fallas?
Styrofoam, soft cork, firecracker filled cardboard, paper-marche and whatever else works from what some guy was trying to explain to us.
Is Valencia Fallas noisy?
Yes! Yes! and Yes!!!! Fallas comes with a whole lot of noise. La Disperta, which means wake up, begins daily at 8AM ( I swear l have heard them at 6! ). Brass bands roam the neighborhoods playing very loud music and they are followed by Fallers, who are dressed up in fine outfits and they are, in turn, followed by merry makers, everyone throwing firecrackers. For the whole time, in addition to the daily fireworks show at 2PM ( The Mascleta) at the city plaza, there are morning fireworks, noon, afternoon, mid afternoon, early evening, late evening, midnight :-). You name it, and there are fireworks going off, in addition to the petards and others loud making bombs that the kids set off. Barking dogs add to the mix because they’re terrified. Our dogs don’t bark, but they get anxious. After Malta and their crazy fireworks for pretty much any occasion, including their Feast of St. Joseph, it’s not as big a deal to them, thank god. Every day, I’m thankful that we are not right in the center of the old city, it would have been too close for comfort.
Here is a 30 second video of one of the many pop-up street musicians we found on a side street.
What else happens during the Valencia Fallas? :
Apart from the Mascleta, and the Disperta, there are:
- Offerings of flowers to the Virgin Mary (takes place over 3 days)
- Cavalcada del Foc ( grand parade on the last day)
- Night of Fire (Insane fireworks at the old river bed, Turia over 4 nights. We were able to see the last one right from our balcony since it was the grandest of all)
- Street Disco. Yep… DJ’s play at strategic points throughout the city
- Paella cooking contests (this is the birthplace of paella after all :-) )
- La Crema (The Burning). The culmination of a year’s work reduced to ashes. All the Fallas are destroyed by burning them to the ground. Children’s first, the the bigger ones. The last burned is at the center which is done around 2AM. No, we will not be attending that. Only the Falla voted “Best” is saved from this fate. Being the last hurray, you can just imagine how insane it is.
Thoughts on the Fallas Festivities:
Something that amazes me about the Fallas and pretty much events in Spain is that, despite the insane number of people on the streets at all times of the day and night, there is minimal police presence. The ones there are usually for traffic control. You are allowed to drink alcohol openly, yet no one is staggering around drunk that l see. No fights, just people having a good time. Could this happen in the States? Nope! It could not. We don’t even think twice about stepping out at any hour of the night. Getting crushed with thousands of people while watching the fireworks and my thought was not of safety, it was wondering what would happen if l had to pee! :-), would l have enough time to make it to the nearest portapotty? . It’s a terrific and freeing feeling. I know all countries have their issues, but safety for me is a big concern and it’s nice to be able to live your life free of that drama (sensibly of course!). I remember feeling the same in Seville when we lived there.
The fire department definitely have their hands full when La Crema happens. The heat is quite intense and often, they will douse surrounding buildings so they don’t catch fire. The times of the burning are scheduled, so the trucks can get from place to place to assure safety. The good thing is that the Fallas, which also means torches in Spanish, burn very quickly.
Should you visit Valencia during Fallas?
Yes! It is a wonderful city that gets to go crazy for 3 weeks. Everyone should visit and experience Fallas at least once in their lifetime. The children will definitely love it. The younger generation will enjoy being able to drink and party in the open till the wee hours. The older people (like us!) enjoy people watching while sipping a beverage. Everyone will enjoy the Mascleta, the Fallas and the Ninots (big dolls). The best part is that the major streets are closed off and the city becomes even more pedestrian friendly. It’s fun walking from one barrio to the other checking out the various Fallas. It is a very enjoyable experience.
Tips on experiencing Valencia Fallas as a tourist:
- Reserve your room or Valencia hotel very early on. It’s almost impossible to find accommodation close to the Fallas.
- Wear your comfy shoes. There is a whole lot of walking to be done.
- Dress comfortably. This is not the time for high heels and mini-skirts. It is also still kind of cold and windy at this time of year.
- Bring your earplugs :-). You will need it.
- Download the Fallas event app which is available in the Apple store and on GooglePlay so you can plan your days accordingly.
- Use public transport to get around. The metro is crowded, but still better overall. Some of the bus routes are changed so beware. Make sure to ask the bus driver about your stop.
- Step away from the crowds. Some of the prettiest Fallas can be found on relatively “lonely” streets.
- Don’t be afraid to get lost. Valencia is safe and you will eventually find your way :-) .
- Eat! Try paella or the local favorite, churros con chocolate. There are long waits at restaurants, so beat the crowd by trying a place on the side streets.
- Consider doing a tour if you want a closer look or go inside the big Fallas displays as the general public can only get so close.
- Drink responsibly. Period.
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What do you think of Valencia Fallas? Is it something you would like to experience? Which is your favorite Falla?