Festival Fever: Why La Merce is the best time of year to visit Barcelona
La Mercè festival is a thrilling time to visit the Catalan capital, and it doesn't have to cost a fortune, says Arlene Harris.
Set the mood
The air is thick with smoke, the night sky illuminated by fireworks of every shape and colour. The streets are filled with exotic, noisy and vibrant performers. Barcelona's La Mercè Festival is in full swing, and every corner of the city is alive with music, dance, theatre and - of course - food, glorious food.
In the city centre, around Las Ramblas, there are fire-breathing dragons, mounted cavalry and several serene but ostentatious religious parades. Wander around a street or two, and you'll stumble upon a classical orchestra or a jazz band with jivers dancing en masse. Head down any side street and you'll find street theatre, dancing, drumming and pyrotechnic displays.
There's so much going on, you'll be completely spoilt for choice.
Apart from the sunshine, atmosphere and cuisine, the best part of visiting Spain is the price - everything seems like good value. During La Mercè, the best option is to nab a spot in a tapas bar along a parade route. For the uninitiated, eating tapas involves choosing a selection of small dishes - like patatas bravas or fried sardines - that your waiter keeps a tally of, or tots up based on the number of little skewers on your side-plate. From around €1.50 per dish, it will take a lot of eating to break the bank.
Barcelona's crowds can lead to pricey hotel rates, but staying somewhere central is my guilty pleasure. I checked into the Barceló Sants Hotel (barcelo.com), which is literally above the main train station in the city. Uber-chic and minimalistic, this hotel is smart, clean and, most importantly, within easy access of everywhere I wanted to be.
Barcelona is a vibrant, bustling city and its many street fiestas reflect that. I can't pinpoint anything negative apart from the usual advice about keeping your belongings close to hand because, like any major city, there are always people willing to lighten your wallet when you least expect it.
Get me there
La Mercè takes place over several days toward the end of September. Flying to Barcelona couldn't be easier, with both Aer Lingus (aerlingus.ie) and Ryanair (ryanair.com) flying from Cork and Dublin to El Prat - about 16km from the city centre. Most of the festival events are free of charge, so you will be royally entertained without having to spend a penny. See also barcelonaturisme.com.