In this week’s edition of Soñando Sunday, we will be taking you to the Feria de Málaga, or the Málaga Fair, which takes place each summer in celebration of the city’s incorporation into the kingdom of the Catholic Kings (back on August 19, 1487). The exact dates of the fair vary, but this year the celebration has been extended by a day to make up for shorter celebrations in the past and to incorporate the 19th. In 2018 the festivities will take place from Saturday, August 11th to Sunday, August 19th.
As we mentioned in the introductory article on Spanish ferias (which you should definitely check out for more details on what these types of celebrations tend to involve), the Feria de Málaga is one of the fairs that takes place in two different places. You have the celebration in the city center and the festivities at the fairgrounds, or recinto feria, which is located a bit outside the city center. You’ll find yourself in a very different setting depending on where you go and when, so let’s break down what you can expect in both locations.
In the city center
Day time: The city of Málaga essentially shuts down during the week of feria* and so you can expect everyone and their grandmother to be out and about, pretty much all day long. The center will be decorated with lights and other feria paraphernalia and the open bars and restaurants will likely have feria specials (more than anything, to limit the menu and make the service more manageable as the flow of customers never stops).
Expect to find some people in traditional sevillana dresses and most women with a flower in their hair and abánico, or fan, in their hands. Live music can be found frequently throughout the winding roads and plazas so I don’t recommend trying to get to any one specific performance—as you get closer to music, the crowd usually becomes so packed that it’s difficult to get past or move closer, just enjoy wherever you. You’ll also find plenty of people drinking in the streets at this time of year, most likely with a bottle of Cartojal and matching pink polka dot ‘shot glasses’ to share it with their group.
Pro-Tip: Cartojal is the official drink of the Málaga fair (you’ll see signs everywhere reminding you) so don’t miss out on this part of the tradition and be sure to grab a bottle for you and your friends. Just be careful drinking in the sun—it’s sweet and therefore stronger than you think. Order a water as well!
Night time: Come 7pm or so, you’ll really notice things die down in the center as the music tends to finish at 6pm and people who have been celebrating in the center will begin to drunkenly stumble home. If you’re not in town to enjoy the feria and you go out in the center in the evening you may be a bit put off by the dirty deserted-ness you’re sure to find there. If looking for a cleaner place to enjoy the evening (sans feria) I recommend trying out the Muelle Uno port.
Pro-Tip: Don’t miss the kick-off celebration and fireworks on the Malagueta beach the very first night (midnight between Friday and Saturday)!
At the fairgrounds
Day time: During the day, you can find the most traditional aspects of a Spanish fair at the fairgrounds, or recinto, also known as the Real de la Feria. Throughout the afternoon you can enjoy dancing-horse shows and competitions, espectáculos de flamenco, musical concerts, special activities organized for kids, and all of the food tents and rides you would expect at the fair. This is a great opportunity to really get a feel for what the feria is all about in terms of its cultural origins.
Pro-Tip: Although also the busiest time, a great day to enjoy the fairgrounds is on the first Saturday when free paella is available to all.
Night time: As the party in the city center calms down, things start to heat up at the fairgrounds! You have a number of options for getting out to the fairgrounds, but be aware that this will be a more difficult task at night time as many more people will be heading out around the same time to enjoy the party. If you’re open to buying (pricier) food at the fairgrounds, you might want to head over around 8pm or so to avoid the rush. (The real party won’t start until at least midnight.)
As with all Spanish ferias, you can expect everyone to be dressed in their party clothes, dancing to loud music at the casetas and perhaps enjoying the fair rides and games too. Action at the fairground will continue until the early hours of the morning, so don’t be surprised if your Spanish friends suggest leaving for the feria long after midnight. You will still be able to enjoy the rides until 3 or 4am and the party scene even later.
Pro-Tip: Between about 9pm and 11pm the lines at the bus stops in the center to reach the fairgrounds will grow to epic proportions. Taxis will become an absurdly scarce resource, literally fought over by drunk people. Try to catch the bus ferial at an earlier bus stop on its route, so you are already aboard by the time it reaches the center. Alternatively, the C1 train to Victoria Kent drops you off just a short walk from the fairgrounds and is also a sensible option—just follow the crowd from the station and you’ll get there.
*I am not exaggerating, we had no water for two days last year as a pipe broke in our kitchen and we couldn’t get in touch with half of the “emergency” plumbers we called!