San Isidro Festival: Madrid’s most representative celebration

Every year, during the week of May 15th, the city of Madrid has an appointment with some of its most important traditions: San Isidro Festival. It’s when all “madrileños” fill the streets of the capital with their typical costumes of “chulapos” and participate in multitudinary festivities in different places near the city center.

Madrid became a big metropolis with the help of thousands of immigrants from different parts of Spain and the world, that have taken their residences in a centenary village, a “villa”, as Madrid is still called. This makes San Isidro festival particularly important, because it’s a way for locals to reaffirm their old traditions and identity, frequently diluted in a myriad of cosmopolitan cultures.

The background of this festivity is to honor San Isidro Labrador, the patron saint of Madrid that lived in the 11th century considered to have a deep relation with water and crops. That’s why there is a tradition to visit the hermitage of this saint and drink the water of the font nearby, considered to have miraculous properties. The festivities of San Isidro date back to the 14th century, and they changed a little bit along the time with the incorporation of non-religious traditions, but the existing celebrations have been very alike during the last five hundred years.

Pradera de San Isidro por Goya

Nowadays it is an exciting occasion to discover Madrid’s deepest culture, to learn about their people, and to enjoy several parties, concerts, folklore representations, typical food and costumes, with many outdoor events, when the weather is fine. Although it’s possible to live this holiday in different parts of the city, San Isidro festival is usually celebrated in 3 different places:

1 – Pradera de San Isidro (San Isidro prairie): The park where the hermitage of the saint is located. Most festivities are held here, with the traditional picnic on May 15th, and hundreds of people spend the day out with their families and friends.

2 – Jardines de las Vistillas: a set of gardens close to La Latina district, that holds most of the concerts and nightlife during the festival. You can find similar attractions in the Pradera at the same time, but Vistillas is more crowded because is start point for the night in Madrid during the holidays, and it is near many pubs and discos.

3 – Central Madrid: Mainly at Plaza Mayor, with concerts and folklore and Retiro Park, with fireworks during the key days of the events. But you’ll see a colorful city with the fiestas on all over the downtown. So if you just wander by any streets, you may have amazing surprises at different points.

Must-see on San Isidro festival

Besides the mentioned events and the costumes of “chulapos”, there are many religious acts for those interested in this aspect. It is one of the most important dates for the fans of bullfighting, and the arena of Las Ventas offers an intense schedule of spectacles.

Jardines de las Vistillas San Isidro pradera de San Isidro

But if you want to choose only a few parts of the festival to have something cool to remember, and friendly for people of all ages and taste, here are a few suggestions:

1 – Try the typical San Isidro’s donuts. Delicious sweet bagels, also called “tontas” (silly), “listas” (clever) or “de Santa Clara”, depending on the ingredients they use.

2 – Watch a performance of “chotis”, a typical dance of Madrid

3 – Spend the May 15th in the Pradera, having lunch in some of the booths with grills, paella and other typical food.

4 – Watch the Parade of Giants and Bigheads, usually around Plaza de la Villa. Especially fun for children.

5 – Watch the fireworks in Retiro Park.

San Isidro cabezones Feria San Isidro

You’ll find more information about what to do in San Isidro festivities in our events page, or directly through the San Isidro Festival’s official website.

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