Enjoy the magic of San Juan in A Coruña

Enjoy the magic of San Juan in A Coruña

Every 23 June, the city of A Coruña is transformed. The smell of roasted sardines fills the streets from midday onwards, the locals come out in force to meet up with friends and family and planks of wood inundate the beaches on the peninsula of A Coruña, just like in the lead-up to a bonfire night. This is the magic of San Juan, which for almost a decade has been a Fiesta of International Tourist Interest on this part of the Atlantic.

The tradition goes that with the arrival of the summer solstice, on the shortest night of the year, fire has purifying properties. On the Noite Meiga (magic night), A Coruña’s festivities par excellence, thousands of people come together on the sands.

Whilst the festival begins with the first plates of sardines and grilled meats at midday, the main course arrives around midnight by the bay. The festivities burst into life with the firework display that lights up the Bay of Orzán and the burning of the falla, or effigy, when the clock strikes midnight.

san juan coruña

And only then can the bonfires be lit by the crowds of families and friends on the beaches.

The design of the falla installed on Riazor Beach changes from year to year. Every June it updates its figures to relate to the affairs of the last few months in the city, with frequent references to sports teams such as R.C. Deportivo and H.C. Liceo, as well as other symbols of the city, such as the Tower of Hercules lighthouse. So this is one of the most sought after photos towards the end of the month.

falla san juan riazor 2022

A festival of food

“Polo San Xoán, a sardiña molla o pan”, as the famous saying goes (roughly translated as “At San Juan, sardines soak the bread”). And in A Coruña you can’t imagine a celebration without its corresponding delicacies. In this case, all you need is a good loaf of bread and the sardines that arrive in the early hours of the morning at the fish market, the Lonja, to enjoy the traditional “sardiñada”. As per usual in the Atlantic Diet, the quality of the ingredients makes any dish shine.

sardiñada san juan coruña

It is also customary to find churrascadas on the grills (pork and beef, normally accompanied by potatoes) and original reinterpretations of these two delicacies.

Another classic is the ‘queimada’, a drink made from a blend of aguardiente de orujo (a local brandy), sugar, coffee beans, orange and lemon. But to make it properly, you can’t just put these ingredients together. It needs to be made outdoors in a clay receptacle, once night has fallen, and most importantly, whilst reciting alongside the blue flame that burns the alcohol, the corresponding ‘conxuro’, or spell, which begins like this: “Mouchos, curuxas, sapos e bruxas” (“Little owls, barn owls, toads and witches”).

San Juan beyond the bonfires

But it’s not all bonfires and sardines. San Juan is celebrated throughout the streets of A Coruña with an extensive programme of activities, starting before the 23rd arrives. Concerts, parades, performances of traditional dance and theatre, as well as workshops for the whole family, fill the city in the days leading up to the special night. San Juan reaches all neighbourhoods of A Coruña, with residents organising in their streets (many of which are now pedestrian, such as Pardo Bazán) popular sardiñadas and concerts.

concierto riazor san juan

One of the epicentres is, of course, the street of San Juan. Hundreds of people gather in the bars to celebrate the first days of sun and warmth in this area where people normally relax, very close to the Campo da Leña. This was the very square in which the bonfires of San Juan were erected between the 19th and 20th centuries, in an area close to the old church dedicated to this saint.

Nowadays, on Noite Meiga itself, the light from the bonfires that illuminate the beaches of Riazor, Orzán and Matadero accompanies the concert held on the esplanade next to the Palacio de los Deportes sports arena. But the spirit of San Juan can be found in all corners and on all beaches of the city, not just on the central beaches of Riazor and Orzán, which inspired the young Picasso, whom this year we are celebrating on the 50th anniversary of his death.

This is also the night when we can rid ourselves of the curse by saying “meigas fóra” (away with the witches), because we know that “habelas, hainas” (they do exist!). To do this, you need to jump over the bonfire (the number of times varies per house), on which everything you want to leave behind is also burned.

salto hoguera san juan

And the following morning, tradition dictates that you wash your face with the water of the seven herbs of San Juan: fennel, fern, codeso (a yellow flowering shrub), St. John’s wort, mallow, rosemary and lemon verbena. This ritual wards off witches and the evil eye, cleansing the spirit of whoever performs it.

Summer in A Coruña

Although summer technically starts a few days earlier, on 21 June, anyone from A Coruña will claim that spring is not over until Noite Meiga has passed. This festival marks the official beginning of summer in A Coruña.

For weeks on end, as the sun sets late over the Atlantic Ocean, the beaches fill up with bathers and surfers, and the streets get ready to host concerts, musical performances and more festivals. The Morriña Fest, Atlantic Pride and the Feira das Marabillas in July, and the fiestas of María Pita with the Festival Noroeste Estrella Galicia throughout the month of August, pick up the baton from San Juan for a summer of celebration in the city.

hoguera falla coruña san juan

In A Coruña we have so many reasons why San Juan, or San Xoán, is a unique and unmissable experience, a definite date in the diary of anyone who loves to travel, and the best way of welcoming summer again. Come and join us for the most typical fiesta of our city and be amazed by Noite Meiga on the Atlantic coast.

Search flights
Underground Naples: discovering the subterranean city
Underground Naples: discovering the subterranean city
Summer festivities in Ajaccio
Summer festivities in Ajaccio
Elphomega, our Local Hero from Southern Spain
Elphomega, our Local Hero from Southern Spain