Semana Grande Festival in Bilbao

The Semana Grande Festival celebrates the very essence of Basque culture. This 9-day festival on the soils of Bilbao is a varied exhibition of the diversified aspects of the age old culture that Basque is. 

The Semana Grande Festival was originally staged in the 1970s in the form of some paid-for events which included concerts, orchestras, bullfights, etc. Then, in 1973, El Corte Ingles, one of the largest departmental stores in Spain, hosted a Basque rural sports week with events such as wood- cutting stone lifting, etc. Started thus from such humble origins, the Semana Grande festival evolved to be what it was today when the aforementioned events were merged together in 1978. The Semana Grande festival is also known as AsteNagusia. From 1978, this festival continues to be celebrated by the people in August to celebrate their rich heritage.

This festival is essentially a celebration of the rich Basque culture and also honours the Virgin de Begona. The nine-day long festival is one of the most important and enjoyable festivals of Bilbao. It consists of a host of events ranging from concerts to parades and competitions.  The Festival usually kick-starts on a Saturday with the lighting of the Txupinazo rocket followed by the mascot of the event, Marijaia appearing in front of the crowd. The Marijaia is a puppet-like figure that appears on the balcony of the Arriaga Theatre with her hands in the air to gesture the beginning of the 9-day long PARTY!

Some of the events that are a part of the festival are:

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The concerts are usually hosted on the street. These concerts include various shows and musical performances. The performances generally pertain to the traditional Basque culture, including folk songs. You can also enjoy the native style of dancing from these concerts. Enjoy them while munching on some traditional Spanish food from one of the street-side stalls.


Colourful parades form an important part of the Semana Grande festival. The streets are filled with various performers marching along merrily with the beats of drums and other instruments. The parades are a hub of activity which can be enjoyed by both kids and elders. One of the most popular parts of these parades is the large Gargantua Monster that marches down the street gulping down children from the streets. No! Do not be afraid. It is a fun game where the children slide down the tail of the monster and race forward to get eaten one more time.


How about getting turned into the live batter? The egg and flour throwing event is as much fun as terrifying it sounds. Basically, you get out on street and throw eggs and flower on each other’s face. The pure joy in the event is contagious. On one of the days of the festivals you will see people laughing and throwing eggs and flour on each other’s face and you will think,” Huh, why not?”. It is a traditional event where everyone starting from kids to elders take part and have fun with their friends and family.


The traditional sports of this region include stone lifting, wood chopping and the famous bull-fighting. Many competitions are held where the people participate to prove their excellence in the aforementioned sports. In wood chopping, the participants are judged on the basis of their skill in chopping a piece of wood quickly and perfectly. Stone-lifting is basically weight lifting with more crude equipment. Bull- fighting is another popular sport amongst the people.

5. FOOD!

No Spanish festival is complete without food. In the Semana Grande Festival too, the streets of Bilbao are lined with food stalls selling traditional Spanish food. You can get authentic Spanish food here at the lowest possible price. Many stalls also organize contests on fast one can eat a given amount of food. Bottom line is, one of the main attractions of this grand festival is the grand food at low prices.

Other than all these attractions, the Semana Grande Festival of Bilbao also hosts other activities and events to jazz up the 9 day festival. Each day ends with a spectacular show of fireworks. On the last day of the festival, the Marijaia doll is burnt in front of a he crowd. This doll is built one week before the festival every year.

The Semana Grande Festival captures the true spirit of the Basque culture in the most colourful and fun way possible. Book your next holiday to Spain keeping in mind the dates of this festival to enjoy 9 days of pure Spanish spirit. 


Happy-go-lucky gourmand met boho femme met snoozy miss, proud of her playlist and closet; very particular about her chai, sleep and movies ...