Memories of Ferias Past
Sometimes here in cosmopolitan Madrid I feel like I am living in a completely different country than only a few years ago, when I was happy residing in Seville, a mid-sized city in southern Spain. I especially feel the difference this week, when much of Seville shuts down for the Fería de Abril, the Seville April Fair, which is nothing short of Seville’s most beloved April celebration (unless of course Semana Santa also falls during April, then people would have a tough choice to make!).
When I lived in Seville I went to the Feria at least a few times each year, but since I was working in a small city nearby (Carmona) I didn’t have the week off like most Sevillanos. Yet despite the fact that Seville’s fair is so popular, I’ll tell you a secret.
I’m not a fan of Seville’s Feria.
You might be asking why I wouldn’t enjoy sexy gorgeous flamenco dresses, crisp glasses of Manzanilla sherry, delicious fried seafood and hand carved jamón, and nights filled with music and dancing. Sounds amazing, right? Not quite.
Here we go:
I think that this is the number one reason I don’t enjoy the Seville April Fair so much. Unlike other town fairs, in Seville the majority of the casetas (fair tents) are private. Families, businesses, and social groups pay dues throughout the year to be able to have the privilege of their own caseta come the Feria. Waiting lists are long for new groups, and a lot of times getting what you want is all about who you know.
So what do you do if you aren’t a member of a tent?
Well, you make friends with people who are! In fact, this also bothered me, because it felt like those of us without a tent and without any close friends or family with a tent had to truly shmooze and suck up to other people to be invited into their caseta. For anyone who knows me, they know that this is really not my thing!
Sevillanas, Sevillanas, Sevillanas!
You also feel a bit out of place if you can’t dance Sevillanas, the typical folk dance that almost any Sevillano knows the basics of. A people’s version of flamenco, Sevillanas seems simple enough, but despite a few lessons I could never get the hang of it. Since the Feria in Seville plays little else than Sevillanas as far as music is concerned, you may find yourself sitting out of most dance numbers.
It depends on the day (weekends are the worst) but the Seville April Fair can get extremely crowded. I’ve been in some tents that were definitely far above capacity, with nowhere to sit and rest your feet, and with bathrooms that were beyond disgusting. Imagine the crowds and the heat that often plagues Seville at this time of year (yesterday it reached 86°F) and you’ll understand how it can be truly unbearable.
Let’s imagine the average Feria situation. Despite being a town fair (with origins as a cattle fair!), with dirt floors and horses crapping all over the place, people dress up. Men wear suits and nice shoes, and women wear flamenco dresses with an array of accessories. And an inexpensive flamenco dress will still run you around 250€, without the shoes and accessories. Most fair loving Sevillanas own at least two or three (and some have one for every day of the week-long Feria!). Add to this the inflated price of the food and drinks you consume (unless you shmooze really well, and are “invited” to snacks in each tent you visit), and you’ll be running to the ATM before you know it. And if you would like to take a ride on a horse or take your kids to the amusement park area, you can just imagine how your expenses continue to climb.
Now, this being said, I have friends and (practically) family who adore the Feria. They love Sevillanas music, dance their hearts out, and down rebujitos (the typical Feria drink made with Manzanilla sherry and 7-Up) until the sun comes up. They finish their night with churros and chocolate, sleep a few hours, then do it all over again. I respect their passion for the fair, and almost envy it to a certain degree, but I also think it is important to recognize when something just isn’t for me.
Honestly, if I had this week off I think I would prefer to travel outside of the city. It is such a gorgeous time of year all around Europe, I’d take advantage of some pre-season deals and offers.
Tip: I much prefer other town fairs in Andalusia that, while very similar, have a few key differences:
- Casetas are mostly public
- Music is a mix of Sevillanas, Spanish oldies, top 40, electronic, reggaeton, etc.
- Food and drink is more varied
- While many people do dress up, many don’t and there isn’t so much pressure to look like a doll!
The two fairs I would recommend as alternatives to Seville’s are in Jerez and in El Puerto de Santa María. I’ve also heard amazing things about Cordoba’s fair (and I’d love to check it out) but haven’t yet been myself.
Sometimes tourists tell me that they are specifically going to Seville to attend the fair, and I really don’t think this is wise. Unless you have a connection it will be very hard to get into a caseta, and the rest of the city is a bit “off” this week, with many businesses closed and large crowds for public transit.
That said, if you are a photographer you absolutely must go. It is a photographer’s dream, as flamenco dressed women takes to the streets of already photogenic Seville, and the fair itself is a gorgeous backdrop for anyone to snap away.
Take a look from behind my (amateur) lens of 2010:
Now that I live here in Madrid, I really feel like the Feria de Sevilla is lightyears away. And although it was never my cup of tea, writing this does bring back a bit of nostalgia.
Have you ever been to the Seville April Fair? What were you impressions?
More great information about the Feria in Seville:
The Do’s and Dont’s of the Feria de Abril of Seville (Sunshine & Siestas)
Insider’s Guide: Feria de Abril in Sevilla (Explore Seville)
Polka Dots And Peinetas: 7 Tips For Seville’s April Fair (Spain Scoop)
Looking for the best of food and tapas in Seville? Check out my best bites in Seville articleand try one of my food tours in Seville for the best intro to the amazing food Seville can offer! I’d love to have you along!
It’s a photographer’s dream if you’re really into photographing women in their dresses, which I’m not. I would have liked to photograph some attractive guys but everyone was wearing the same boring suit, at best. It’s a shame the men don’t get even a bit more creative (the carriage riders did have more traditional clothes, however). I’m glad I read this blog before going because it really is for Spaniards. Yes, there are the paper lanterns and the lights (at night) and the horse carriages (during the day) but you walk and walk…and it’s more of the same – rows and rows of private casetas. There were plenty of people (maybe mostly tourists) in sneakers and shorts during the day and it didn’t seem to be a problem. There are the carnival rides nearby, so no need to dress up for that! I found Holy Week much more amazing and impressive (I loved taking pictures of the processions), and the crowds weren’t so aggressive either. It’s worth seeing I suppose, but once was enough for me.
I, also, have been to the April Fair………..in 1963/4/5! My dad was in the USAF and he was stationed at Moron AFB, about 60 K’s outside of town. But the American housing was just outside the city, across from the beer manufacturer Estrella del Sur. I was 13 for my first Feria and I absolutely loved it, but for a 13 year old it was wonderful. Of course, I remember some things more than others, like the pellet gun shooting area. If you could hit the nail on the keg, it would open up and present a shot of creme de menthe. That’s when I found out that I was a good shot. I remember the ques for the bumper car area and the ferris wheel that had it’s speed was controlled by electrodes that varied their distance from each other in saltwater.
When I was 15 I didn’t shoot as much and spent more time at the casetas. Of course, the Americans would have 4-5 casetas divided by rank rather than familial connection. And when we walked around the tents, many families would talk to us and, occasionally, ask us in.
There were no fair grounds back then, so the casetas were in grass areas up and down the main paseo of Sevilla and I well remember the people on horses wearing the costumes that set them apart from the rest of us.
I have been able to take my family back to Sevilla for Semana Santa but have not yet been able to take them back for Feria. I’m not sure that I would want to take them anymore since it is now at the fair ground (which wasn’t there in the 60’s). I’m afraid that it would not measure up the the memories of a 15 year old boy who was in awe of both the culture and the people.
Thanks for sharing! I’ll bet it would still impress! Though matching a 15-year-old’s experience would be tricky!
Cool article! It’s nice to read an article that acknowledges the less than perfect sides of Feria. I studied abroad in Sevilla last spring of 2017, and was lucky enough to live right on Calle Asuncion right next to where Feria took place! Tips to anyone looking for cheap flamenco dresses -the several weeks before Feria, lots of paces sell used flamenco for super cheap! I was able to find a stunning almost new dress for only $30 or 40 euro, I forget. 🙂 Much better than 250 euro!
I greatly enjoyed walking around and seeing the horses, the beautiful dresses, and the energy in general, but I agree Feria in Sevilla is very cliquey. I got invited to a caseta, but things didn’t work out and I didn’t get to visit. But I think this year was one of the first years that we had public casetas! The public casetas were super crowded but still fun. I also agree it’s hot and sweaty, and if you’re not invited to a caseta it can get kind of boring.
I also agree, it’s a good time to travel during Feria. I stayed for 3 days in Sevilla then left the rest of the week for travel. But I am glad I got to experience several days of Feria, such a beautiful festival.
Cool article! And that’s awesome that you’re living in Madrid now. Are you from America? If so, how did you end up living in Spain? I kind of want to live in Europe one day but am not sure how (am from California).
Hi there! Thanks for the comment 🙂 I’m originally from Massachusetts but have lived in Spain for many years. I own a tour company here called Devour Tours. I recommend looking into the Auxiliar de Conversación program– it’s a way that many Americans come to Spain for a couple of years as an language assistant!
Hi. I’m from Massachusetts too! I’ve been reading all the comments on this discussion as I am traveling to Spain for 10 days in April – coincidentally during the April fair dates in Seville. I’ll be traveling with my 15 year old daughter. We would like to see Seville and I’m trying to decide if we should go during the festival or purposely try to miss it.
Any advice? Also a question is, if we do go to the festival, what should we as a 42 year old dad and my 15 year old daughter, wear? (Assuming we do not buy the dresses)
Hi there! It’s a really cool festival, just a bit difficult if you don’t know anyone there. If you don’t have the traditional clothing, just dress up as much as possible. Seville is awesome, don’t miss it!
I couldn’t agree more with your opinions on Seville Feria!!
My late husband and I travelled a lot in Spain,and had , as which as I still do,a great love of the
But,as you say,and one of your previous replies . What a disappointment!!
Very clannish,not at all friendly,even though it was spectacular.
Give me the village ferias,with no pretension,open arms, and the same “joie de vivre!” Sorry,don’t
the Spanish for that!!
You missed the best part of the feria – the fiesta brava. Some of the best Spanish figuras are on the cartel at La Maestranza during the feria. And La Maestranza is a spectacle in and of its self.
I will definitely give that a chance the next time I’m in town for feria!
Looks like we were both at Feria in 2010, small world! I agree, this week is hectic and a bit snooty toward non-natives. I spent three months learning Sevillanas, determined to blend in a little more and make new friends. It made a world of a difference – I’m a HORRIBLE dancer, but I was accepted into casetas and had a blast twirling clumsily alongside the locals. Or, maybe I just had a great time because of all the rebujitos! 🙂
Haha too funny! I wish I enjoyed dancing Sevillanas, but just couldn’t get into it!
You should try the feria in Jerez. So far it’s my favourite. All the casetas are public and the horses are exquisite. It’s not too big and is prettily situated in a park (not a massive parking lot like the Sevilla feria).
I don’t like the Sevilla feria either, and I speak from 20 years of attending it in various ways, either with lots of invitations to private casetas or on my own. This year I went twice and – weirdly – ended up being invited to the same caseta by two different people (thanks Cat!). But I don’t dance sevillanos and can’t stand the music – a schmaltzy version of flamenco on a never-ending loop, sounding like the same song playing over and over and over. And after a couple glasses of sherry and a snack, well, what else is there?
I went to the Córdoba feria last year and enjoyed it. Was impressed that the huge tents had A/C! But they were also huge and impersonal. After a couple of hours my friend and I had had enough.
Will maybe check out El Puerto this year, and will definitely be going back to Jerez in May – haven’t been to that feria in five years. Looking forward to it.
Cat of Sunshine and Siestas
Reading this post again, Lauren, and I agree with Shawn – the Feria de Jerez is really good fun (and there is Mexican food!!). Had a great time with you and Ale in El Puerto all those years ago, too!
Jessica of HolaYessica
The Feria wasn’t my thing, either! I hated the cliquey-ness too, and I had good connections. But being so obviously foreign-looking (blonde with blue eyes, and I didn’t wear a traje de gitana), quite a few people aggressively questioned me about what I was doing at their private party.
A lot of people rave about the Feria, but it’s seriously overrated in my book.
The Feria is a beautiful experience. Dear Jessica, everywhere you go in Spain, you will find blonde , blue, green or hazel eyes native Spaniards. Please do not bring that Hollywood cliche. If you were “obviously foreign-looking which I highly doubt ” it was not because of your physical appearance, instead it was because of your accent or your manners.
I visited in 2010 and agree with your points. Most of the designated areas are very private and so paradoxically its not overly-communal. Its a series of parties happening behind closed curtains. I soon tired of peering into tents like some sort of pervert. Without my Lumix i’d have left much sooner feeling out of place with nowhere to reside (baking in the heat, dodging steaming horse muck, emptying my wallet for takeaway cans of cold coke) But then the idea of roasting in a tent doesn’t appeal to me either, besides, not speaking Spanish would have been absurd. Amusingly it was one euro to use the public toilet. The people are friendly, the city is enviable. The feria is best viewed with the backdrop sitting in the main park watching the groups and horses pass. If you are going – hire bicycles for the city, lock them up outside the feria- you see so much more.
Some interesting alternatives to Sevilla, that I didn’t know about. I did go once, many years ago, but I was with a friend who was local and a producer of flamenco records so I got to see a side of the feria foreigners rarely see – not just the casetas but traveling far and wide to listen to groups celebrating the feria off-site. I don’t think I slept in four days, and while I’m glad I did it, I wouldn’t do it again. If you do happen to have good connections, I do think it’s a unique experience and to me, mostly because of the music and the food, it felt as though I was having an essential experience. I love your post and absolutely agree with the points you make, except one: the feria is for sevillanas. I can’t imagine any other kind of music!
Wow, your Feria experience sounds awesome! I think it can definitely be unforgettable if you have the right connections, or maybe if you just drink enough rebujitos! I do like Sevillanas music, but as I can’t dance it I find myself craving something to dance to (my fault!) lol!
This makes me even more excited for feria in El Puerto (and Rota and Jerez)! I’ve never been to feria in Sevilla, but after hearing over and over how exclusive it is, I don’t really feel like I’m missing out. Seems like feria here is more relaxed and just about having a good time. And much less expensive – I have two dresses and they didn’t cost 250 combined! Yikes!
You will have fun! Definitely check out Jerez. Where did you get your flamenco dresses? Super good price!
One is from Marilo and the other I bought second-hand. There’s a pretty big market for gently used dresses here, since lots of Americans from base buy one, wear it for a day and some pictures and then sell it. It cost almost as much to get it tailored as I paid for it! Can’t wait to get decked out fully – dress and complementos, in only a couple days!
I live in rota and trust me you cant compare sevilla fair with the one we have here.Sevillas fair is great you just need to now some people to get into a caseta if not there a lot of public casetas which are great. What I like about sevillas fair is that most of the girls wear a traje de gitana something you dont see in other fairs and they put the typical music of andalusia if you want to hear other type of music you can go to a discotecas
I have to disagree– in Jerez and in El Puerto they also wear trajes de gitana, but I think that those two fairs are more fun than Seville’s!
As only been once to Feria de Sevilla and being lucky to get in to more than handful of casetas, with both luck and connecting with folks before I arrived, I really had a great time!! Maybe it was just first time beginners luck… If I lived in Sevilla I’d likely be more aware of how it’s all about “who you know,” which can get the best of me and maybe it would change my opinion. I’ve also only been to Jaen’s and Sevillas, which you clearly can’t compare!
I went without the traje de gitana nor with any idea how to dance Sevillanas but had a blast… hope to go again sometime. Maybe that next time will paint a different picture for me…
Loved this piece – you’re right, unless you know someone in Seville, and can get into a casetas, it’s not the same – but Seville is all about elitism!!
Cat of Sunshine and Siestas
You know I’m as feriante as they come, and Kike and I belong to a caseta, but I have to recognize that I’m extremely lucky with the connections I have. My friend Susana’s family treats me as one of their own and allow me to invite whomever I please. I learned sevillanas, I save up for the fair and I have enough enchufe to move around, but definitely agree with the points you make. But I abhor fairs that play disco music!!!
I’m currently writing a blog post about the exact same thing…I swear I’m not stealing your idea! Seriously, the fair is gorgeous and rich in history, but other than that, it is kind of lame. I don’t feel comfortable going out of my way to schmooze my way into a caseta, and none of my current Spanish friends have them….so what to do? Head directly to Calle Infierno…it’s more fun, anyway.
Haha I didn’t even plan on writing this post yesterday, but I’d just gotten off the phone with family in Seville and started to think I should mention the Feria… then a post came out! I’m sure many have already written similar content somewhere too! I’m going to check out your post now, and I definitely agree– Feria is gorgeous but I hate schmoozing! Never made it to Calle Infierno… kids and canis turned me off lol!
Haha, I should have been turned off by the amounts of kids and canis, and yet, like a moth, I see the shiny lights and automatically walk towards them. That and the fact I thought the noria would be a good place to get a view of the entire fair.
You look so beautiful, Lauren!
Great info. I could never get Sevillianas down either, so I always felt a little out of place when those songs come on too. Luckily, Algecira’s feria is much more laid back and they played all sorts of music.
I feel I would have fun watching all the women dressed up and walking around and just taking it in (like you said, great photo op!). But probably for no more than a day. HolaYessica wrote a post that echoed many of your complaints. The fact that it is very exclusive just turns me off. It reminds me of American country clubs–I live in an area of the US where there are some very exclusive, very snooty country clubs where you need “recommendations” from current members in order to apply. My parents never saw the need to join one. The Feria de Abril reminds me of this in a lot of ways.
Great post! I couldn’t agree more. I tried a few times to make it to the Feria de Sevilla, but it ended up being more expensive and complicated than we could afford at that time. I did go to Feria del Puerto de Santa Maria and had an amazing time!! I really recommend it!
Interesting take on Sevilla’s feria and amazing photos. You look gorgeous! I went in 2005 and loved it, but I was lucky enough to be invited to a few casetas. My biggest regret was not having a traje de flamenca to wear. (Last year when I took students to Sevilla, they bought be one as a gift which I now proudly wore yesterday to school to celebrate Feria.) After hearing how much you enjoy the other town’s versions more, I have ganas to try some other fairs.
Love this post Lauren and I agree 100%. I have never been to the feria in Sevilla and I don’t really feel the need to, just the fact that the casetas are private bothers me. It has always seemed about who you know. Cordoba’s feria is great because it’s so chill, I’d say less than half the girls dress up and you can go anywhere. Is that your dress? I want to try one on so badly but I couldn’t justify paying more than my rent for one in Cordoba haha!
I’m not into dressing up, so I’ll try Cordoba next time! 🙂