Lleida, Spain Travel Guide - What to do and Fiestas
Lleida has plenty to offer its visitors, including culture, nature, architecture, history and good food, is close to Barcelona, Tarragona and Girona and provides easy access to the ski resorts in the surrounding Pyrenees.
If you're thinking of visiting Lleida, are going to travel through it or just want to know more about Lleida, I hope this travel guide will be useful to you!
Table of Contents
When is the Best Time to Visit Lleida?
The best time to come to the city of Lleida is in May or September, which is when it celebrates its fiestas. May is best because it coincides with Lleida's Aplec del Caragol, the world's biggest snail festival. However, there are plenty of things to see and do all year round in the city and the province.
However, bear in mind that in the city of Lleida and nearby, in July and August the weather is extremely hot and dry (like in many parts of Spain) but the rest of the year it is pleasant. In the winter it can be foggy, though this lends the city a special extra charm!
Lleida's Biggest Fiestas and Festivals
Festa Major de Lleida - Lleida's Biggest Fiestas
The second week in May
In the second week of May, the city of Lleida celebrates its Festa Major (or Fiesta Mayor in Spanish) de Sant Anastasi and is a great time to visit as the city and the locals really come alive to take part in a jam-packed calendar of activities, concerts (depending on the year, some very popular Catalan and Spanish groups come) and get-togethers.
Sant Anastasi, Lleida's patron Saint's Day is on the 11th of May, so the fiestas are always around this date.
Lleida's fiestas are great way of experiencing Catalan culture. Make sure you catch at least these four cultural events!
1. Castellers - You may have seen pictures or heard about these before but seeing them live is an truly unforgettable experience. In English, they are often referred to as "human castles". Basically, the "colles", the people that form Castellers groups, each colla being from a different city or town, climb on top of each other in different formations to create "castles". The aim is to build and disassemble the highest and most difficult towers without anyone falling down. All this accompanied by traditional Catalan music.
They take place in the square courtyard in front of the Paeria, the city council, while the mayor and his staff watch from a balcony. At the end of the performances by the different "colles", the local Lleida colla does one more, spectacular, castle where the Anxaneta (the child who climbs to the top of the castle), the child below, and sometimes even the person below him/her are hoisted up into the city council balcony using only one of the long cloths the participants have wrapped around their waist during the rest of the castles.
2. Correfocs - A spectacular mix of fireworks, smoke and music which is said to originate from medieval times. Truly unmissable! In English, the translation of "correfocs" would be "fireruns" and consists of groups of people ("colles de diables" - "groups of devils") dressed up as devils brandishing tridents that dance to the sound of loud, mostly percussion-lead, music while setting off fireworks. Spectators should watch from some distance or if you want to get close, or even participate in the dancing, cover yourself up well with cotton clothing so as not to get burnt!
3. Sardanas - A relaxed alternative to the Correfocs, the Sardana is a folk dance where participants raise their arms, hold hands and dance together in a circle formation. To onlookers, the steps may look very simple but it is actually quite a lot more complicated than it looks! Feel free to join one of the circles and see for yourself!
4. Giants and Lleida's pet dragon - One of the highlights of Catalan fiestas is the giants' or "Gegants" procession where people "wear" big, hollow structures with huge paper maché painted heads and representative clothes that symbolise different figures in Catalan society, past and present, including kings and queens, Moorish and Christian nobles, members of the bourgeoisie and peasants. They are paraded through the city, including a stop-off in front of the Paeria or town council building (below), and "dance" as best as their weight allows to traditional Catalan music.
This is a prime opportunity to catch Marraco, Lleida's pet dragon! He always makes several appearances during Lleida city's fiestas. Before the Roman invasion of Lleida, he represented God for the people in Lleida. The current Marraco dates from 1957 and is 8.5 metres long, 2.90 metres wide, 3.75 metres tall and weighs over 2 tonnes so make sure you keep out of his way or he might fire fireworks at you ;)
Aplec del Caragol - Lleida's Snail Festival
The end of May
If trying out local gastronomy is your thing, make sure you don't miss Lleida's Aplec del Caragol, the world's biggest snail festival or "escargolade" that takes place towards the end of May. It's a three-day festival attended by over 200,000 people including many people from other countries that is held in the Camps Elisis, a large area in the centre reserved for big events such as this.
The main attraction is the snail feast - an amazing 12 tonnes of snails are eaten during the festival and are shipped to Lleida from the rest of Spain, North Africa and South America especially - but the event also includes other activities such as concerts, castellers, competitions and performances.
When you get to the Camps Elisis, buy a ticket at the entrance which will allow you access to the "colles" - social clubs that eat (and drink!) together throughout the three days - so that you can enjoy delicious meals with them, enjoy the concerts and other activities and be given a commemorative T-shirt and neckerchief.
More information on the Aplec's official website.
Festes de Sant Miquel, Lleida's Second-Biggest Fiestas
The end of September, just after Barcelona's "Festes de la Mercè"
The 29th of September is Sant Miquel and from the day before to the day after, Lleida celebrates its second-biggest fiestas, the Festes de Sant Miquel, also known as Festes de la Tardor ("Autumn Fiestas"). It's very similar to Lleida's Festa Major with traditional events such as the Castellers, Correfocs, Sardanas and Gegants described above.
As Barcelona celebrates its biggest fiestas, called "Festes de la Mercè", just before, on the days around the 24th of September, make the most of it and enjoy both fiestas in the same visit to Catalonia - Lleida is only an hour away by train from Barcelona!
Músiques Disperses folk festival
Músiques Disperses is a folk music festival that takes place every year in Lleida, Barcelona and Guissona (near Lleida) throughout March, although the majority of the concerts are in Lleida as the festival has its origins in the area.
The eclectic program includes national and international folk artists. 2011's offer included performances by Manel, Maria Rodas, Refree, Elliott Murphy, Gasion and Corizonas. Check the official website here for more details.
Jazz Tardor is a jazz festival held every November in Lleida featuring national and international artists that combines big names on the jazz scene and up-and-coming figures. 2011 featured performances by the Jesse Davies & Joe Magnarelli Quartet, the De Diego Brothers, the Tina May quartet and Big Band Lleida.
Visit the official website here for this year's program.
What to See and Do in Lleida
Seu Vella, Lleida's Cathedral - The city's defining monument
The Seu Vella ("Old Cathedral") is Lleida's most emblematic monument and presides over the city from the top of a hill located in the centre of Lleida, so it can be seen from anywhere.
The cathedral is one of Catalonia's most visited monuments and is considered as one of the most representative works of 13th-century Catalan architecture. It is classed as a Romanesque cathedral, though it also has many Gothic features.
The most impressive features of the Seu Vella are the beautiful cloister with its elegant arches, the exceptional stonework of its doorways, its 15th-century bells and the outstanding views enjoyed from the bell tower over the city and the surrounding countryside. Also, don't miss the permanent collection of 15 Flemish tapestries inside the cathedral that date from the 14th-century.
Admission: under 5 euros, Tuesdays free. Closed on Mondays.
La Paeria Palace (Town Hall), Lleida
La Paeria palace, or Lleida's Town Hall, is a charming Gothic palace dating from the 13th-century that has housed the city's council since 1384. It is located on the Carrer Major ("High Street") around a pretty courtyard.
Inside you can visit a Gothic altarpiece, a prison in the basement and the city archives. Outside is where Lleida holds its Castellers (the "human castles" described above) and Sardana dances.
Admission: free entrance
Institut d'Estudis Ilerdencs - The former Hospital de Santa María
The Institut d'Estudis Ilerdencs is an institution that promotes culture and investigation in the Lleida province. It includes an archeological museum, a modern art museum showcasing works by contemporary local artists, a paleonthological collection and a library of books about Lleida. The building itself is medieval and photo-worthy and used to house the Santa María Hospital.
More information on their website. Admission: free. Closed Sunday afternoons and Mondays.
Catedral Nova de Lleida - Lleida's "New Cathedral"
The Catedral Nova de Lleida or Seu Nova (the "New Cathedral" to contrast with the Seu Vella, the "Old Cathedral") is an 18th-century neoclassical cathedral on the Carrer Major, or Lleida's high street. It's considered the oldest building in the neoclassical style in Catalonia.
Admission: Free entrance.
Recommended Travel Guidebooks
Useful Phrases in Catalan and Spanish
As you may know, there are two co-official languages in Catalonia - Catalan and Spanish. In Lleida, you will find yourself hearing both languages, so before your visit it would be a great idea to brush up on a few of the basics at least in Spanish. However, foreigners almost invariably get a huge smile from the locals for trying anything in Catalan!
- Hello - Hola (both)
- Goodmorning - Bon dia (Cat) - Buenos dias (Sp)
- Goodafternoon - Bona tarda (Cat) - Buenas tardes (Cat)
- Goodbye - Adeu (Cat) - Adios (Sp)
- Yes - Si (Both)
- No - No (Both)
- Please - Sisplau (Cat) - Por favor (Sp)
- Thank you - Gracies (Cat) - Gracias (Sp)
- You're welcome - De res (Cat) - De nada (Sp)
- Sorry, I don't understand - Ho sento, no entenc (Cat) - Lo siento, no entiendo (Sp)
- I'm from the States - Soc dels Estats Units (Cat) - Soy de los Estados Unidos (Sp)
- I'm from the UK - Soc del Regne Unit (Cat) - Soy del Reino Unido (Sp)
- Where is....? - On es? (Cat) - Donde esta? (Sp)
- How much does it cost? - Quan val? (Cat) - Cuanto vale? (Sp)
- What time does it open? - A quina hora obre? (Cat) - A que hora abre? (Sp)
- What time does it close? - A quina hora tanca? (Cat) - A que hora cierra? (Sp)
If you want to impress the locals even more, get hold of a Catalan and / or Spanish phrasebook and try something more flash!
- Lleidatur - Official Lleida tourism website - the province of Lleida
Information on the whole Lleida province.
- La Paeria - Official Lleida tourism website - the city of Lleida
Focusses on Lleida city (the Lleidatur website, above, is better for the province in general).
- Official Lleida events calendar (in Catalan) provided by the city council
There's always something going on in Lleida! It's a shame it's only in Catalan but if you're having difficulties, try Google Translate.
- Aplec del Caragol website
Official website for the Aplec del Caragol, the world's biggest snail festival, in Lleida.
- Lleida Airport website
Check arrivals and departures for flights to or from Lleida.
- Renfe - Train times and train tickets in Spain
Lleida is only one hour away by train from Barcelona and two from Madrid and the route is serviced by very comfortable, new trains. Train tickets for major events should be bought in advance.
- UDL - University of Lleida
University of Lleida website.
- Immobles Lleida Nova - Pisos en alquiler en Lleida
Immobles Lleida Nova is an estate agency in Lleida if you're interested in renting, buying or selling property here.