Enjoy Barcelona’s Carnival 2023 by watching colourful confetti float through the air while people dressed in bold masks and costumes parade down the streets. This special tradition has lasted hundreds of years, dating back to ancient Roman times of worshipping the gods. Today, Carnival symbolises a time of freedom where people can indulge in the best things life has to offer and be whoever they want to be. Although Carnival is celebrated in different forms around the world, Barcelona's Carnaval - that's how it's said in both Catalan and Spanish - has an incredible array of activities and customs for all families and friends to enjoy. The 2023 celebration will last from February 16 until the 22, but it fluctuates every year based on the lunar calendar and Lent. Follow along with this guide to all important Carnival events so you can make the most of your experience!
Barcelona Carnival Traditions
One of the most important parts of Carnival is the Rei Carnestoltes or the Carnival King. The king’s arrival marks the start of Carnival which is also known as Fat Thursday. At 6 p.m., the king will parade with other characters dressed in colourful costumes from Plaça Reial down La Rambla. His arrival represents his bringing joy to the community. He will travel alongside seven ambassadors who represent the seven historic towns: Gràcia, Horta, Les Corts, Sants, Sant Andreu, Sant Martí and Sarrià. During this event, the king will make a comedic speech to the public remembering the past year. This parade is a great way to begin the Carnival festivities!
Carnival cannot be celebrated without the presence of food. Fat Thursday, the start of Carnival, is dominated by food. In Barcelona, torrijas are very popular dishes that consist of slices of bread soaked in soy milk, sugar and egg and then fried. A unique Spanish treat served on Fat Thursday is the coca de llardons, a pastry made using pork cracklings or scratchings, pine nuts, sugar and egg. This is the perfect sweet and savoury combination to snack on during the festival. Traditional food from Barcelona is also consumed like truita, a Spanish omelette of potatoes and eggs, as well as botifarra, a type of sausage very common in Catalan cuisine. Botifarra d’ou i truita is a combination of the sausage and egg in an omelette that is also very popular during Carnival.
On Sunday, la Taronjada or the Battle of the Oranges is celebrated, creating an explosion of orange balloons and confetti between the Carnival characters and the crowd. This event occurs at the end of the parade in the Ribera and Born area of Barcelona and represents the actual orange fights that used to take place in the 14th century. In 1333, the Consell de Cent, a Barcelona government institution, established a ban on throwing oranges, so the city has found other ways to create a beautiful display of orange in the sky.
Burial of the Sardine
The burial of the sardine is a tradition that takes place on Ash Wednesday, signifying the end of Carnival. This ritual dates back to the 18th century when king Carlos III of Spain ordered a shipment of sardines as a gift for his servants before the start of Lent. Unfortunately, the sardines had gone bad, so the king decided to burn them to protect against health issues. To remember this event, this tradition of burning and burying the sardine continues today. People in Barcelona will dress in black funeral attire to perform a satirical funeral for the sardine as a symbol of rebirth and new life. After the burial, many people will come together to eat sardines.
Activities to celebrate Carnival 2023 in Barcelona
The concurs de truites or tortilla contest occur in many neighbourhoods around the city on February 16. The goal is to show off the most creative versions of this classic Spanish dish. Contestants can enter their uniquely decorated tortillas to be judged with prizes awarded to the best ones.
The big sarau masked ball usually takes place late on Sunday afternoon and evening after la Taronjada. It is very common for people to dress up in fancy attire and attend a masked ball or party with friends or at one of the clubs. There are shops around the city that sell masks and costumes that you can buy or rent for Carnival. Many children will also dress up as fictional characters such as superheroes and animals.
Enjoy all Carnival has to offer by shopping around the city markets for fun souvenirs and snacks to take a piece of Carnival home with you. After all, this is a time to indulge! Many markets will also be decorated specially for Carnival. Each neighbourhood has its own special traditions and events, so take this time to explore.
Dates and Times
Carnival Barcelona 2023 is made up of so many incredible events. Here is a guide to all of the dates and times available for the different parades and celebrations during the week of Carnival. This list will be updated as more dates and times are announced closer to the week of Carnival.
Dijous Gras – Fat Thursday
February 16: This day of indulging in Barcelona cuisine occurs all over the city.
Arrival of the King
6 p.m. February 16: Plaça Reial and Carrer La Rambla
February 17: Parades are held all around the different neighbourhoods in the city
Taronjada – Battle of the Oranges
- February 19: Ribera and Born areas of the Barcelona old city
Dimecres de Cendra – Ash Wednesday – Burial of the Sardine
February 22: Ciutadella Park
Carnival in Sitges
Less than an hour away from the city of Barcelona is the coastal town of Sitges. Although it is smaller than Barcelona city, Sitges makes the perfect day trip, especially during Carnival. Sitges is known for hosting some of the most extravagant Carnival festivities in Spain.
Similar to Barcelona city, Sitges has large parties to celebrate Fat Thursday and the Burial of the Sardine, but there are also many other special parades throughout the week. On Sunday, Sitges has a Debauchery Parade which is a more risqué procession of over 2,000 people throughout the town. There is an Extermination Parade on Tuesday which involves many drag queens dressed up in all black to mourn the end of Carnival. There are so many different ways to celebrate Carnival, and Sitges makes a great day trip where the festivities will not disappoint!