9x typical Catalan traditions in Catalonia

Freshly arrived at the airport, you pack your bags, walk to the salida and confidently ask the security man in your best Spanish: Hola, donde puedo coger el autobus a Barcelona centro? You see the best man blink briefly and he talks back in a weird mix of Spanish, French and do you hear a bit of Portuguese there? Confused, you take another look at your boarding pass, Barcelona: they only speak Spanish there, right? Read all about all the typical Catalan traditions in Barcelona and, of course, throughout Catalonia.

Nope, Barcelona is the city of the region of Catalonia. And one of the most striking things is that they speak Catalan. Of course, they also speak “just” Castellano (Spanish), but most Catalans prefer to talk in their own language: Catalan. They not only have their own language in the province of Catalonia. There are also a lot of their own customs regarding food and celebrations. So I asked Barcelona native Marta Rubio of Catalonia with Marta what exactly those typical Catalan customs and festivities are. So that you too will soon come to Barcelona well prepared!

The Catalan language

Catalans have their own language, Catalan, a Romance language that sounds a bit like a mixture between Spanish and French. And although Catalans are generally bilingual and can switch effortlessly between Catalan and Spanish, Catalan is the language of instruction in schools and government buildings, and for many Catalans, their mother tongue. If you want to make a good impression, don’t say “muchas gracias” here but “moltes gràcies” and “adéu” instead of “adiós” for example.

Typical Catalan food

Catalans follow what is known as the Mediterranean diet, which means lots of fruits and vegetables (especially whatever is in season), in addition to meat and fish, grains and beans cooked in olive oil and spices such as sweet paprika, nyores and saffron.

Unfortunately, my experience (Danique) is that it is often difficult to eat vegan when eating at typical Catalan restaurants. Although fortunately there are many vegan restaurants in Barcelona, so you won’t starve anyway!


What is special in Catalonia, however, are the many food festivals centered around a particular ingredient. Take the calçotada as an example. These are feasts where people gather with large groups of friends to cook calçots (a type of spring onion from Valls) on the barbecue and eat them together with romesco sauce.

Danique’s Tip: For vegans: The romescos sauce is tomato and almond-based, so you can join in a calçotada and eat the calçots just fine. Just be aware that often meat is also put on the barbecue, so be sure to ask for a separate “piece” on the grill.

Addition Danique: often a calçotada is organized in so-called masias. Houses outside the city where you then go with friends. You can also when you do not have green friends in Barcelona or Catalonia, just go to a restaurant to eat calçots. I have also experienced Barcelona residents organizing it in their own street for the neighborhood.


One of the other typical Catalan traditions (in which, as a vegan, you can also participate!) is that of castanyades, an autumn feast where roasted chestnuts and sweet potatoes are eaten. Panellets (All Saints’ cookies) are also eaten with these chestnuts and sweet potato; these are not always vegan. So check that beforehand.

Non vegan typical catalan food feasts: the xatonades, where the xató (a salad of anchovies, cod and frisée lettuce with a special nyora sauce) is consumed. And for the kids are the xocolatades, parties where hot chocolate with churros are consumed.

Are you getting hungry yet? Then start ahead with this vegan tortilla and the typical pimientos de padrón.

Catalan tradition the dance: Sardanes

If you want some exercise after all that food, you always score points with the Catalan dance the sardana. This circle dance is danced in all village festivals in Catalonia, always to the rhythm of the cobla, a musical ensemble of instruments typical of the region. It is therefore one of the most important dances of Catalan culture, but certainly not the only one: take as an example the ball de bastons (dance with sticks) or the esbarts (dance groups that perform Catalan folk dances in front of an audience).

The Man Towers

Nothing more impressive than a group of Catalans building a tower. Most human towers are made during a village or neighborhood festival and bring with them a large crowd who come to watch the colles castelleres build a castell. This spectacle is additionally accompanied by a musical group, which provides additional atmosphere and excitement.

Catalan Havaneres

Catalan traditions, of course, include musical traditions. You will find all kinds of repertoires, from the modern rumba catalana to the traditional caramelles or the somewhat melancholy havaneres. The latter are very beautiful to experience. During a cantada d’havaneres, a group of singers sing ancient songs originating from the Catalans who migrated to the New World in the 19th century. The concerts are always accompanied by rom cremat, a hot drink made of rum, sugar, cinnamon, some coffee beans and lemon peel, and which, like the music, was brought from Cuba.

Danique’s tip: If you would like to hear live Rumba de Catalana (or Cuban music), in Gracia I regularly went to Gracia Latina. Nice little crammed up (pre-covid) but lovely atmosphere with live music. One of the best-known Rumba de Catalana singers is Peret (born in Mataro). You probably recognize it right away and if not…enjoy the music! Below is one of his most famous songs.

Giants or Gegants

Most towns and villages in Catalonia have a set of giants (gegants) with which they parade and dance during village festivals. Besides giants, big heads (capgrossos) and other fantastic creatures often walk along. With this, the cercaviles (parades) are always a great success, especially with children, who love seeing the giants.

Fire runs better known as Correfoc

No party has ended in Catalonia without fires being lit. Crazy are the Catalans about it. Every neighborhood festival features parades of fire-breathing dragons and scary figures. Either in the form of a real fireworks spectacle or a terrifying fire run (correfoc). Fire running is a unique spectacle recommended only for the real dare devils, since here you play with fire. The participants of a correfoc dress up as dragons and devils and are armed with sparking pitchforks that spit fire everywhere as they dance and run to the rhythm of the drums.

Danique’s Tip: Go to the opening of Gracia Festival or La Mercé for correfoc spectacles. Below is a video I made during La Mercé in September 2019.

Caga Tió: defecating tree trunk

Long before Santa Claus existed, the Tió de Nadal, the Catalan Christmas tree trunk, was bringing presents to Catalan children. To make that happen, children took good care of the Tió with food and drinks a few weeks in advance. On Christmas Eve, the time comes and after singing Caga Tió songs and giving the Tió a few sticks, the Tió poops out all kinds of nice presents and candy for the little ones.


And it doesn’t stop with shit because there is another crazy Christmas tradition that you only have in Catalonia, that of the caganer. A figure of a defecating man that people hide in the nativity scene because it is said to bring good luck. Although the typical caganer wears the costume from Catalonia (a white shirt, a black velvet vest, a wide belt, black pants, white socks, espardilles, and a hat, the red barretina), nowadays all famous people are also portrayed as caganers, and there are even pixaners, piss men, who you can also put in your nativity scene.

Day of love Sant Jordi April 23

While people in the rest of the world celebrate the day of love on Feb. 14, Catalans prefer to do it on April 23, on the day of its patron saint Sant Jordi. Then the streets are filled with stalls where people can buy roses and books. With this, Catalans surprise their loved ones on Sant Jordi: women buy a book for her husband, and men buy a rose for their wife. Danique: By the way, Jordi is one of the most popular names in Catalonia for men, similar to Jan in the Netherlands.

So plenty of Catalan traditions! Can’t wait to come to Barcelona? You can do that by plane, of course, but if you prefer the more sustainable option, you can also come by train!

In this blog: How to take the train to Barcelona, I explain everything about how it works.

Should you want to know more about learning Catalan check Marta’s website.

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