Bilbao is the perfect destination to combine fine cuisine with tradition and leisure. Everyone who visits the city falls in love with it, and if you add the chance to experience its most popular festival during your visit, you’ll definitely spend an unforgettable few days there. Have you heard about Bilbao’s Semana Grande?
Bilbao gets all decked out for Semana Grande
Bilbao, a city renewed
It’s clear that in recent years Bilbao has been able to reinvent itself to become a bright, modern and attractive city for all types of travellers.
Although everyone knows about famous landmarks like the Guggenheim Museum, the popular San Mamés football ground or the ancient seven streets of the Old Town, I’m certain that discovering the secrets of its most famous festival of the year is going to make it even more appealing to visit.
About Bilbao’s Semana Grande
Bilbao’s Aste Nagusia festival (“Semana Grande” in Spanish or “Great Week” in English) begins every year on the Saturday after 15 August; for nine days and nights the city is decorated to honour the Virgin of Begoña, with guaranteed fun for all those involved.
This popular festival is aimed at all audiences: children, adults, older adults, including tourists from all over the world who join in on this great celebration, listed as a Cultural Heritage event.
So now you know: if you love beautiful cities and revelling in their festivals, you should know that this one is one of the most popular and most visited festivals in the Basque Country. Below are some of the events you can expect this August, which tend to be staples of every year’s festivities. Let’s get going.
Where is Semana Grande held?
As you can imagine, most of the city’s streets take part in the year’s most popular week, although the main event can be found in the Arenal district.
Everything kicks off with the chupinazo, a firework launched from the balcony of the beautiful Arriaga Theatre, followed by the reading of the pregón (the speech that opens the festival, always given by a local celebrity) to once again welcome our symbol of the festival: the famous Marijaia, in the figure of a fictional woman who appears on the balcony of the Arriaga Theatre to launch the celebrations.
You’ll recognise her straight away, she’s four metres tall and always has her arms up in the air, ready to dance and ready to party.
Should we start singing her favourite song? It was composed by none other than Kepa Junkera, a Basque musician who has turned it into the festival’s most popular tune.
Programme of Bilbao’s Semana Grande 2023
Every year the programme of Bilbao’s Semana Grande is packed with activities, events, concerts and a host of other attractions for you to enjoy.
Have you ever heard the word “Txosnas”? Well, brace yourself because you’re going to hear it a lot over the next few days. Txosnas, as well as being an icon of these festivities, are temporary taverns filled with a great atmosphere and featuring typical dishes, drinks and music. Each Txosna is different, and there’s something for everyone, so just take a stroll around the area where they are set up, mainly in the Arenal neighbourhood, and pick the one you like best.
There are lots of activities for all tastes, including events, theatre performances, large concerts, open-air dances, spectacular and eye-catching fireworks, dance performances, exhibitions, a large fairground area and much, much more.
Concerts are an essential part of Bilbao’s festival and the programme features well-known singers from all over the world. Every year we look forward to August to find out who will be performing here. Keep your eyes peeled as tickets sell out very quickly.
As you can imagine, there are some private concerts held in the venues prepared for these long-awaited events as well as many public ones, which you can find dotted around the city in venues such as Doña Casilda Park, Plaza del Gas, Abandoibarra, Europa Parkea, Kiosko del Arenal and the list goes on.
Each year, Aste Nagusia hosts its traditional fireworks competition, a deep-rooted tradition celebrated every day of the week that no one will want to miss. Europe’s best pyrotechnicians will be competing, so get ready to enjoy an open-air spectacle bursting with colour. The fireworks are launched from Etxebarría Park and from my experience, one of the best places to see them is from the park itself.
The people of Bilbao reserve at least one afternoon of that week to enjoy the special performances in the city’s different theatres, like the legendary Arriaga or the more modern Euskalduna, which, for the second year running, will open its terrace/rooftop to enjoy a few drinks, dance to DJs and, of course, take in spectacular views of the city.
Aste Nagusia features many activities to enjoy with the kids; something they love and that you shouldn’t miss are the Giants and Big-Heads parades, as well as puppet shows and the funny “Gargantúa” sculpture that swallows children through its mouth and sends them down a slide to its “backside”. You will also find a huge area in Etxebarría Park full of fairground stalls for both children and adults to enjoy. As you can see, Bilbao’s festivities also have plenty of fun in store for the youngest members of the family.
The end of Semana Grande in Bilbao
As you’ll be able to see for yourselves, Bilbao can be enjoyed to the full if you visit around this time, but everything that starts must come to an end, and on the last day of the festivities, Marijaia will go back to rest in the Arriaga Theatre square, marking the end of a great week.
She’ll be resting for many months, because she knows first-hand that in a year’s time, she’ll awaken again to liven up the city, so get your calendar and take note: Bilbao’s Semana Grande has to be on this year´s bucket list. You’ll love it!