Travel Guide #1: Valencia and Las Fallas experience
Updated: Jul 5, 2019
If you’ve been following me on social media you’ll have probably been spammed with videos and images of fireworks and pyrotechnics for the past month on all of my platforms. In Valencia we’ve recently just celebrated ‘Las Fallas’, the annual spring festival and religious ceremony commemorating San José, which I’ve discovered is quite divisive amongst Valencians; who either love or loathe it. Initially, I too was a member of the distrustful camp and was secretly planning my getaway; hoping to use my six-day holiday as an opportunity to secure a cheap weekend mini-break. Nonetheless as the holiday approached I had a somewhat Grinch-like metamorphosis and started warming to the idea of this hedonistic holiday.
This is the first of many guides that I’m hoping to collate this year and although I live in Valencia I’m going to impart some of my insider knowledge in the hopes that at least one person will decide to visit Valencia during Fallas.
You may be asking yourself “Hold on Tash, what exactly is Fallas?” To be succinct, Fallas is a five day festival held annually in Valencia City and its surrounding pueblos between the 15th and the 19th of March. However, the festivities begin a lot earlier than this; you will notice that the roads surreptitiously are decorated overnight with Valencian flags, children feverishly dart around clutching firecrackers and each weekend there is yet another firework display. All of these subtle changes begin during the month of February.
“Hold on Tash, what exactly is Fallas?
I must preface this article by saying that if you: a) have a weak nervous system b) are a light sleeper c) are adverse to large crowds and loud noises
then I can guarantee that Fallas is NOT for you. Thanks to this festival I have now acquired nerves of steel and am no longer unhinged at the sound of a bombardment fireworks- which are usually reminiscent of a bomb disposal unit. One thing that I have learned over these past few weeks is that Las Fallas is not only a celebration- Las Fallas is a way of life.
So without further ado here is my list of Dos and Don’ts regarding how to truly embrace the festivities that are Fallas.
Las Fallas is a way of life.
Step one: How to do Fallas the right way
• See a Mascletá
From the beginning of March at 2pm there are daily mascletás held in the Plaza Ayunamiento. This is the epicentre of Valencia and despite the spectacle only lasting on average between 5-7 minutes all hell breaks lose. I had never heard of a mascletá before moving to Valencia- but now I have DEFINITLEY heard them. They are a form of fireworks/ firecrackers during the day. The bright lights can be seen fluttering in the sky during the daytime before a screen of smoke swiftly eclipses them.
Brightly coloured smoke is used for special effects- for example the mascletá for International women’s Day used a special purple smoke in order to stand in solidarity with the movement. It’s hard to explain a mascletá- you kind of need to be there to truly experience it. I have seen people become induced with goose bumps, or become teary-eyed and overcome with emotion because the vibrations are so impactful.
o Do get there early if you want to get a good view (for the final mascletá we arrived almost two hours early- perhaps a little excessive but we also had an amazing spot). I would aim to arrive 20 minutes beforehand during the week. The first few mascletás usually aren’t too crowded but at the weekend of Fallas it’s almost impossible to see them if you don’t set off in advance.
o Do wear a hat or cap if you are in close proximity to the mascletá as debris does tend to fall.
o Do open your mouth when watching them. This sounds like an odd tip however I promise that you’ll thank me later. When I first saw a mascletá I thought ‘Wow, everyone is so in awe of the show’- well I wasn’t completely wrong. Yes, its true that a lot of people do become overwhelmed by it all but the main reason they look like goldfish is because opening your mouth helps reduce the possibility of bursting your eardrums. The mascletá is so loud that you may find your ears ringing afterwards. DO NOT cover your ears- it only makes things worse. So sit back, let you mouth hang open and enjoy the show.
• Plan in advance
o This tip goes for everything- accommodation, seeing the fireworks and mascletá, making a plan of which Fallas to go and see. Some people are die hard Falleros/as and they book their accommodation months in advance. I had heard that some places were charging €100 + per night for one bedroom apartments. Be smart and book ahead.
o Do book in advance. I would suggest booking an air bnb a few months before or a hotel if you really want to splash out. If you know someone who could host you in Valencia city- even better.
o In my opinion the best barrios (neighbourhoods) are those of Russafa, El Carmen and near Gran Via. They tend to have the best Fallas, food trucks and street parties.
• Be thrifty
o My friends and I managed to do Fallas on a pretty small budget. Of course we didn’t have to factor in accommodation however there are ways that you can cut costs.
o The “no drinking on the street’ rule kind of goes out of the window during Fallas. The roads are swarming with police however they don’t even bat an eyelid. Lots of people will be selling beers, and there are makeshift bars on nearly every corner. Spain is known for cheap alcohol anyway but if you want to save yourself a bit of money, buy your alcohol at the supermarket in bulk. A street vendor may charge you €1 for a can of beer but I can guarantee that if you pop to the supermarket the night before you can get them for half the price.
• Be street smart
o During Fallas there are plenty of opportunists preying on unsuspected tourists.
o Do wear your backpack around your front. You may feel like an idiot but its better to be safe than sorry. If you really want to be extra secure I would recommend putting a lock via the zips- that way you know that only you can get in.
o Don’t parade your phones, cameras around. Of course its fine to take photos but do be vigilant and aware of the people around you.
o Never put your phone in you back pocket. It’s there one minute and gone the next.
o Avoid travelling in large groups. I can guarantee that you will all lose each other by the end of the night. You also may be seen as easy targets.
o Keep your wits about you. Children are always running lose with petardos (mini firecrackers) and they tend to discard of them quite carelessly. Keep your eyes peeled and your ears open- I’ve seen people how have had a run in with the firecrackers and believe me- they came off a lot worse.
• General housekeeping
o During Fallas the roads get pretty congested and filled with litter. The bins do overflow and the roads have a pungent air of human urine. Don’t be a d**khead and litter- I know it can be tempting but it just adds to the problem.
o Public transport is often very temperamental during Fallas- I can assure you that you’ll be doing a lot of walking. The final day alone I walked 40,000 steps! Do wear close-toed comfortable shoes- one to avoid the pee stained streets and two to avoid getting blisters.
o The roads are usually lined with port-a-loos however they aren’t always the most hygienic. Do carry extra tissues and hand sanitizer just in case you’re caught off guard.
o Fallas is a lot of walking and waiting around- bring something along to keep you entertained- between the fireworks, la crema and mascletás- whether that be a book, headphones or even some cards.
o Download the official Fallas app! It has lots of information- including a map listing all the nearby Fallas as well as details about parades and different stages for the street parties.
o Chances are you’ll be out for most of the day so don’t do what I did and drain your phone battery- bring along a portable charger- or make frequent stops to places with outlets.
o I would recommend napping during the day. Fallas is a strange holiday and you tend to lose sense of time. It’s totally acceptable to schedule an hour long nap at 9pm if it means you can keep on partying until 4am!
o Learn a few Spanish phrases- even if they are just the basics as it does go a long way and the locals do appreciate it. They may even give you insider knowledge about the best stages and where to find the after parties too
Now that I’ve inundated you with all of this information here is a selection of some of my favourite Fallas that I saw throughout the holiday.
This Falla won the main prize- it was based in Campanar. The winning Falla is usually the last one to be burned.
This Egypt inspired Falla was situated in Russafa.
Things to do amongst the fireworks and the mascletás:
o Visit the niñots exhibition. Each year there is a niñots exhibition in Valencia before la planta (the act of ‘planting’ the infantil fallas in their location). You’ll be able to see them all together before they are released to the public. The entrance fee was €3 and it was based at the City of Arts and Sciences.
o I would also recommend a visit to the Museo Faller. It has a permanent exhibition featuring niñots from previous years. It is full of information all about the history of Fallas, why it is so significant ad special to the Valencia people. It’s also only €1 entry fee for all students too.
o Visit the Plaza de la Virgen on the 17th and 18th March to see la ofrenda de las flores. You will see the copious floral arrangements that each Falla organises as an offering to San Jose. The plaza is a beautiful sight to see and it smells amazing too!
o Rent a bike and wander through different neighbourhoods on a scavenger hunt for hidden Fallas.
**Remember Fallas is a holiday after all- you don’t want to tire yourself all the time. Take a day to head to the beach or perhaps to a pueblo. I wouldn’t recommend cramming everything into one day as it is really tiring- spread it out, take your time and enjoy it.
I am now a converted fallera and I would definitely love to come back and see the festival again- after having experienced it like a local. I’m so sad that it’s over but also ready to hibernate and re-calibrate my sleeping pattern! I would definitely recommend seeing Fallas at least once in your lifetime- it is so unique to Valencia and the craftsmanship of the statues as well the community spirit which is shared by both young and old is extremely endearing to see.
My favourite Falla of them all- located near Plaza del Toros. The won third prize overall- it is an homage to musicals.
For more information on this holiday I’ll leave a few links down below: