Your Essential Guide to Sitges Carnival
This is your essential guide to experiencing the best of Sitges Carnival! From where to find the best parties, parades and where to stay!
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When is Sitges Carnival 2024?
Sitges Carnival always starts on the Thursday prior to Ash Wednesday. Sitges Carnival officially begins when the King of Carnival arrives into town and ends when he leaves on Ash Wednesday the first day of Lent.
When is the Sitges Carnival? Sitges Carnival 2024 will start on Thursday February 8 until Wednesday February 14, 2024. The two main parades will take place on Sunday February 11, 2024 and Tuesday February 13, 2024.
What is Sitges Carnival?
Sitges Carnival is considered to be one of the greatest carnivals in the world! Once a year the small and beautiful town of Sitges goes crazy for carnival throwing one of the biggest carnival celebrations in all of Europe. For seven magnificent days the Sitges Carnival features:
- 50 Floats
- 3000 participants
- 300,000 people attending
- 24/7 non-stop partying
Not only is this carnival considered to be one of the biggest and best in the world, it is also one of the wildest. Sitges Carnival is the last chance before the onset of Lent to give in to all your temptations. It is the perfect place to let your hair down, get your freak on and party your cares away.
Sitges Carnival, is popular with the gay community, largely due to the reputation Sitges has as being a gay capital of Europe. While Sitges Carnival isn’t specifically a gay event, you cannot deny the influence that this community has on the local celebrations. The town takes pride in throwing such an open and diverse celebration.
Where is Sitges?
Sitges Carnival takes place in Sitges which is a very cute seaside Spanish village located in the Barcelona province in the autonomous region of Catalonia, Spain. In fact, Sitges is located about 35km (22 mi) south from Barcelona. So not only can you party away at Sitges Carnival, but you can also visit Spain’s most popular city – Barcelona.
How do they celebrate Sitges Carnival?
Sitges Carnival is called the greatest party in Spain because during carnival week the city transforms into a non-stop, 24/7 fiesta. Everyone both young and old hop into crazy costumes and take to the streets, socializing, singing, dancing and partying the night away. Bars and nightclubs host endless parties all week long from night until the wee hours of the morning.
Carnival is filled with loads of exciting events and activities. But the two most popular are the Debauchery Parade and the Extermination Parade. These are both massive events with thousands of participants and over 50 floats. There is also a pretty spectacular children’s parade that is worth watching.
There are lots of fun and unique events like the very popular Bed Race where competitors evade obstacles with hay. There are also drag shows, contests, concerts, fireworks, cultural events, traditional dances and so much more going on.
Many carnival activities take place in the cultural societies of the Casino Prado and El Retiro. Also, the King Carnestoltes will visit different schools and parts of the town each day, along with the Carnival Queen.
Shrove Tuesday, also known as Mardi Gras is the biggest day of celebration during Sitges Carnival. This is the final day before Lent officially begins and because there are no neighboring towns that celebrate carnival, everyone heads to Sitges.
Sitges Carnival also places a big emphasis on live music and heavily features live music groups such as Markatú Batucada and Sabor a Xocolat. There are lots of sound systems set up around the town, with loads of free concerts and entertainment you can enjoy.
Sitges is the Gay Capital of Europe
Sitges is the self-proclaimed gay capital of Europe and follows a single law which is ‘in carnival, anything goes’, so throw all your inhibitions out the window because this is a community that knows how to party.
Sitges is famous for its tolerance so everyone is welcome to join the party. Four days prior to the official Sitges Carnival Celebrations there is even a Gay Pride Parade where the streets are filled with colour, music and dance.
Sitges Carnival celebrations have a reputation for debauchery and it is one of the reasons why Sitges Carnival is so unique. So, don’t be fooled, while it may be Winter time in Europe, Sitges is the hottest place in Europe!
Sitges Carnival Key Events
- Dijous Gras (Fat Thursday) > Feb 8, 2024
Today the carnival officially kicks and the King of Carnival – King Carnestoltes opens the carnival with a vibrant and colourful celebration.
- La Cursa de Llits (Annual Bed Race) > Saturday, Feb 10, 2024
One of the funniest events at carnival is the Race of Dressed Up Beds. One participant sits on the bed and is carried by his teammates. It is not a serious competition with lots of jokes and laughter,
- Rua de la Disbauxa (Debauchery Parade) > Sunday Feb 11, 2024
As the name implies, this is a risqué, and larger than life parade. It features 150,000 spectators, 3,000 participants and 50 floats.
- Rua de l’Extermini (Extermination Parade) > Feb 13, 2024
This is another massive parade with 150,000 spectators, 3,000 performers and 50 floats.
- The Children’s Parade Feb 11 and 13, > 2024
There are two Children’s Parades that they place on Carnival Sunday and Tuesday. They take place during the day and feature 1000 participants, 20 floats and 20,000 spectators.
- Ash Wednesday – The Death of the King > Feb, 2024
Officially the first day of Lent, this event symbolizes the end of the good times and the start of abstinence and fasting. A large effigy is carried to the beach and burnt.
Sitges Carnival Schedule 2024
Here is the 2023 Sitges Carnival Programme:
- Saturday February 3, 2024
Election of the Carnival Queen
Children’s party- Palace of the Moorish King
- Sunday February 4, 2024
Gran Quinto Carnavalero- El Retiro Theater Hall
Xatonaires Masters Contest- Jardines del Prado
Drag Queen Gala 2024- La Fragata
- Thursday February 8, 2024
Official start of carnival and arrival of the Carnival King Carnestoltes
Xatonades Populares in Prado, Retiro and Agrupació de Balls Populars
- Friday February 9, 2024
The Kings of Carnival visit different schools in Sitges
- Saturday February 10, 2024
The Kings of Carnival visit the Municipal Market
Bale Dance- Paseo de la Ribera
Xatonada and carousel show
- Sunday February 11, 2024
Sitges Carnival Children’s Parade
Rua de la Disbauxa in Sitges (Parade of debauchery)
- Shrove Tuesday February 13, 2024
Sitges Carnival Children’s Parade
Rua de l’Extermini (Extermination Parade)
- Wednesday February 14, 2024
Death and burial of the Carnival King
Arrival of Lent
Dijous Gras Sitges Carnival
While the date of Sitges Carnival changes every year it will always kick off on Fat Thursday. It is a tradition that the King of Carnival known as King Carnestoltes opens the carnival and gives the town permission to have unlimited amounts of fun during carnival.
With his arrival is a critical-satirical commentary on the public events of the town. Each year this event is organized by a different colla, which are local carnival groups. This ensures that the celebration will be new and original every year.
The Queen of Carnival is also selected in a competition. The winner gets dubbed the Queen of Sitges Carnival and has the honour to accompany King Carnestoltes in all his official acts and celebrations throughout the week. This competition is taken very seriously and the winning candidate is chosen by who has the best costume.
La Cursa de Llits – The Annual Bed Race
This is one of the funniest events you will see at carnival. Each team has 5 members, and one team member sits on a bed. They steer a bed on wheels to the finish line. It is not a serious competition with lots of jokes and laughs along the way. The Teams are always dressed up in funny costumes.
There are obstacles placed along the way that the teams must steer the beds around, like massive hay bales. Teams can win for coming first, but there are also costumes for the best dressed group and best bed.
This event will take place on the following route: Victor Balaguer, Salvador i Forment, Pepe De Garraf, Joan Martínez i Sardà, and finishing at Víctor Balaguer.
Rua de la Disbauxa – The Debauchery Parade
Rua de la Disbauxa also known as the Debauchery Parade certainly lives up to its name. It takes place on the Sunday of carnival and is one of the biggest carnival parades not only in Spain, but in the whole of Europe. The parade has around 150,000 spectators, 3000 participants and 50 floats and gets a lot of international media attention.
The Debauchery Parade is one of the highlights of carnival and it is not hard to see why. King Carnestoltes and the Carnival Queen open the parade. This parade is a celebration of colour with the most incredible costumes and floats. It is a vibrant and sensual performance that features a lot of risqué floats with some rather daring participants.
There is a fierce rivalry between the competing carnival groups that participate in the parade, especially between the Sociedad Casino Prado Suburense and the Sociedad Recreativa el Retiro. The groups go to great lengths with their costumes and performances to outdo each other every year.
Rua de l’Extermini
Rua de l’Extermini also known as the Extermination Parade always takes place on Shrove Tuesday, which is the biggest and most emblematic day of Sitges Carnival and officially marks the end of carnival.
It is one of the most popular carnival events and just like the Debauchery Parade you have thousands of participants and spectators turning up. The parade features spectacular floats, insane costumes and plenty of live music groups. The performers prepare their costumes and performances for months.
The Children’s Parade
Why should the adults get to have all the fun! At Sitges Carnival, the Children get a parade of their own! The Children’s parades also take place on Carnival Sunday and Tuesday. The Children parade in the afternoon and the adults are at night.
The Sitges Children’s Parade features around 1000 kids, 20 floats and over 20,000 spectators. The kids get to dress up in some pretty epic costumes. It is a colourful, creative and joyous event and fun for the whole family. The Sitges Children’s Carnival ensures that the tradition of carnival is passed onto the next generation.
Ash Wednesday – The Death of the King
Ash Wednesday, is the first day of Lent and King Carnestoltes is tried and sentenced to death. A giant effigy of the King is carried to the beach. The King is accompanied by a procession of townspeople and his entourage. Drag queens dressed in black, pretend to mourn the King and cry.
At the beach a testament is read before they burn the effigy to symbolise the start of Lent. The carnival character Mrs. Cuaresma arrives and puts an end to the weak of excess, declaring the start of Lent. There are lots of barbeques up and down the beach with people enjoying a quieter celebration to mark the start of Lent.
Where to Stay in Sitges?
There are plenty of hotel options for all budgets and levels of comfort in Sitges. The best area to stay in Sitges for carnival is right in the town centre! Not only are you close to all the carnival activities but you are near all the main attractions, restaurants, nightlife and urban beaches. See accommodation close to carnival in Sitges City Centre.
Here are some great options close to all the carnival action:
- Hotel MiM, 4 Star: This hotel is in the heart of Sitges and is very sophisticated and stylish.
- Kalma Sitges Hotel: Overlooks the beachfront promenade
- Hotel Medium, 3 Star: Located in the heart of Sitges seconds from the town centre.
- La Casita del Mar: A luxurious hotels in Sitges
- Elite Hotel – Gay Men Only: This is a fun hotel for gay men only.
However, if you would prefer to stay close to the beach then the coastline offers great accommodation options. See accommodation near the beach in Sitges.
Also, you can easily stay in Barcelona because of the short commute to the carnival. See accommodation in Barcelona.
Where is the Sitges Carnival Parade Route?
Below is a Map of the Sitges Parade Route. The Sitges Carnival Parade Route goes from La Fragata, through Paseo de la Ribera, Av. Sofía, Calle Mossèn Llopis Pi, Plaça Pou Vedre and then reaches Espalter. Upon reaching Carrer Sant Francesc, the floats head towards Paseo de Vilafranca and the Corsódromo.
What to do at Sitges Carnival
Here are some of the best things to do at Sitges Carnival:
- Party like there’s no tomorrow! – The Spanish Dictator Franco banned carnival parties in Spain for over 40 years. However, Sitges was one of the few places that ignored this decree, and carnival continued throughout his entire reign. So, you know that this is a town that likes to party and boy do they live up to their reputation. Wild parties with lots of drinking and dancing, rage day and night throughout the duration of carnival.
- Watch the Race of Beds – This is one of the most popular events at carnival. Teams of 5, dress up in some amazing costumes and each has a decorated bed. They race other teams by pushing their bed along a race course filled with obstacles. It is not a serious competition, as the competitors stop several times throughout to have fun with the audience.
- Watch the Parades – Do not miss either of the parades, they are the highlight of Sitges Carnival and the local Carnival groups spend months making their costumes and practicing their routines. And of course, wild parties follow after both parades.
- Taronjada – This has become a key event at carnival! A battle with confetti, balloons and streamers takes place. This carnival tradition dates back to the Middle Ages when people used to throw oranges at each other. The King dresses up in a rainbow outfit, which represents the 7 deadly sins (7 colours of a rainbow) and it is meant to be a confrontation between the monarch, his subjects and the ambassadors.
- Try Xató – Sitges Carnival closes with the traditional Xatonades. Xató is a sauce made with typical ingredients from the Garraf region including almonds, bread crumbs, garlic, vinegar, salt and chilli. The sauce accompanies a green salad with tuna, cod and anchovies. This is an important carnival food you must try!
- Dress up – People love getting all dressed up for carnival. You will see people of all ages wearing crazy costumes. While you don’t have to dress up, it certainly makes your carnival experience more fun!
- Watch a concert – Live music is at the heart and soul of this carnival! Music accompanies all the celebrations. There are lots of live music performances occurring all over town with plenty of soundstages set up.
- Tequereque – On Saturday afternoon of carnival is the Tequereque festival where a group of batucada travels through the historic center of Sitges to rhythmic drums. It is a pretty entertaining event.
- Shrove Thursday – The opening of the carnival with the King is a fun and colorful celebration.
- Death of the Carnival King – This is such a unique tradition that you won’t see anywhere else in the world.
History of Sitges Carnival
What is the history of carnival? Carnival in Spain is a celebration that took place before the Catholic tradition of Lent. During Lent, no parties were held, and people refrained from eating meat, dairy, fat, and sugar.
Carnival in Spain became a giant celebration that involved the whole community. You would indulge in rich food, drink and sexual desires all of which were supposed to be suppressed during the following period of fasting.
Sitges Carnival is over 100 years old! However, carnival traditions in the area date back much further with the oldest documented evidence of carnival in Sitges, dating back to the 15th century.
Urban legend says that the origins of Sitges Carnival stems from a man who lived over 700 years ago called Carles de Can Torras. Carlos died on Ash Wednesday but the people of Sitges continued to remember him. Over the centuries his name was continuously mispronounced and he became known as Carnestoltes.
Carnestoltes became the King of Sitges Carnival. He is resurrected each year to officially open the Sitges Carnival. He becomes so tired and burnt-out from all the carnival partying that he dies at the end of carnival and a procession is held to mourn him.
What to Wear to Sitges Carnival?
Everyone both young and old, dresses up in colourful carnival costumes. In fact, if you don’t dress up you will feel a little left out so we highly recommend that you do too! Carnival here is similar to American Halloween, so you can dress up however you like. People go all out in Sitges and you will see plenty of colourful, over the top, fun costumes.
The Sitges Carnival costumes that you see in the parade are more like the ones seen at Brazilian or Caribbean carnivals then the more satirical carnival costumes featured in other Spanish or European carnivals.
What to Know Before Attending Sitges Carnival?
Here is a quick rundown of all the things you should know before attending carnival in Sitges.
- Book accommodation early – 300,000 people attend carnival in this small seaside village, so accommodation gets booked up early!
- It’s cold – While Sitges has mild winters in comparison to the rest of Europe, it is still winter in Sitges and all-night parties can get chilly. While you probably won’t notice the cold too much when you’re dancing away in big crowds we still suggest layering up.
- Bring supplies – We recommend bringing some snacks, water and booze with you because it can sometimes be a nightmare to buy things with the big crowds and long queues.
- Commuting Delays – If you are staying in Barcelona and commuting to carnival then be prepared for long wait times! Also note that some of the trains will only stop at one Barcelona stop – Sants. You will then have to switch to the metro or NitBus to continue your journey.
- Comfy shoes – You will be on your feet all day! So, while your high heels might look pretty with your costume, your feet will hate you if you wear them.
- Watch out for pickpockets: Watch your valuables! Unfortunately, carnival is known for pickpockets. Leave your valuables at home and just bring cash. Also be careful who you ask to take a photo of you, because there have been incidents where people have run off with the camera.
- It’s busy – Sitges Carnival attracts 300,000 people during carnival, so if you don’t want to be around big crowds then this is not the celebration for you.
- Go to a party on the beach – The night time parties are wild and we recommend partying on the beach until the break of dawn. There are loads of glittery, glam costume parties on the beach that last until the sun comes up.
What to Do and See in Sitges?
Sitges is a very picturesque Catalonian town that sits on the Mediterranean Sea. Sitges is one of the most popular tourist destinations in this part of Spain.
Visitors come to Sitges because of its crazy nightlife, mild temperatures and long beautiful beaches. Also, because Sitges is known as one of the most gay friendly places in all of Europe.
Sitges also have a lot of culture to enjoy. You can explore the historical part of Sitges, which oozes charm. You will be impressed by the stunning Sant Bartomeu Church that stands on the shore, guarding the town. If you climb the stairs, you will have the most gorgeous view over the beach.
Sitges feels like a typical Southern Spanish village because most of the walls are white. There are narrow streets that you can explore, with charming treasures appearing around every corner.
- Tarragona & Sitges Full Day Tour with Pickup
- From Sitges: Wine Tasting at a Winery with Snacks
- From Sitges: Cycling Tour with Winery visit and Tasting
- Guided Sitges Coast 3-Hour Kayak Tour
- Sitges: Food and Natural Wine Tasting
- Paella Masterclass with Drink and Bike Ride
How to Get to Sitges Carnival?
If you are coming from overseas then you should fly into Barcelona Josep Tarradellas Barcelona-El Prat Airport and then make their way to Sitges which is only 30 kilometers away.
There are three ways to get to Sitges from Barcelona:
- By Car: It is a half hour drive from and the C-32 toll road connects Barcelona with Sitges.
- Bus: MonBus runs services between Barcelona and Sitges. Their website has times and prices.
- Train: Renfe railway company has train connections between Barcelona and Sitges that take around 40 minutes. Their website has times and prices.
Is Sitges Carnival Safe?
Sitges Carnival is regarded as one of the safest street carnivals celebrations in Europe. Sitges is a very open-minded town that welcomes everyone. Of course, big crowds and lots of alcohol can mean that the occasional fight or two break out but there is a really big police presence. Pickpocketing does occur though so be aware of your valuables at all times.
Should I take the kids to Sitges Carnival?
Yes of course, lots of people take their kids to carnival. There are loads of family friendly carnival activities for everyone to enjoy. The children’s parade is the highlight and the kids will love it. Most people will bring their kids to the parades and leave before the all-night parties kick off.