The elegant architecture, the history, the vibrant flamenco, the late-night tapas—Madrid's energy is addictive. Sprinkle in a few days of Fiesta de San Isidro, and you have a Spanish adventure you’ll never forget. 

Whether you’re starting your adventure in the lively Spanish capital or you’ve ended up in Barcelona after following your tastebuds through Spain and Portugal, why not combine your Intrepid trip with Fiesta de San Isidro – Madrid’s largest festival – to celebrate the city's culture, both old and new. Join locals on a pilgrimage to the Hermitage of San Isidro, watch Madrileños dance the chotis in traditional costumes, and party the night away at open-air street concerts in Plaza de las Vistillas. If you thought Madrid could party, just wait until you experience Fiesta de San Isidro.

What is the San Isidro festival?

Fiesta de San Isidro is a Catholic festival to honour San Isidro Labrador, the patron saint of Madrid. San Isidro was a farm labourer who lived in Madrid in the 12th-century, but it's also believed he was a miracle worker, particularly those related to water. One of the most famous miracles he performed was when he saved his son from a well by asking God to fill it with water so he could float to the top.

Over the centuries, Fiesta de San Isidro has evolved to become an all-encompassing celebration of Madrid’s traditional and modern culture, from the stories of San Isidro's life to live folk music to delicious street food. 

How is the San Isidro festival celebrated?

Fiesta de San Isidro is celebrated on and around 15 May. This year, it will be celebrated between 6-15 May. The main event is the Feast Day of San Isidro when throngs of locals and tourists go on a pilgrimage to Pradera de San Isidro (San Isidoro’s Meadow) where the saint installed a miraculous fountain. It's believed that drinking the holy water from the fountain can answer your prayers and bring good luck. Afterwards, families and friends gather in the meadow to listen to music, dance and enjoy picnics. Traditional foods include rosquillas (sugar doughnuts), entresijos (lamb mesentery), gallinejas (fried lamb intestines) and limonada. 

You’ll also see Madrileños (local people from Madrid) dressed in traditional costumes – known as the ‘chulapos’ and ‘chulapas’ – taking to the streets, parks and squares to dance the chotis, a traditional 19th-century folk dance that involves two partners taking turns to spin around each other. We get dizzy just thinking about it, but it’s really beautiful to watch.

Madrileños know how to have a good time, and the days leading up to Feast Day are jam-packed with parades, open-air concerts, street performers, dancing, live music and fairs. The festivities spill into all corners of the city and you'll stumble into pop-up bars (known as 'chiringuitos') and street parties where you can spend a whole day (and night) eating, drinking and having fun with your new amigos. Concerts, shows and plays are held in iconic places like Plaza de las Vistillas, Plaza de San Andrés, Puente de Segovia and Plaza Mayor. The icing on the cake (or should we say, the rosquilla) is the spectacular firework display in Pradera de San Isidro. It's safe to say this is one of the best times to be in Madrid. 

Highlights of Fiesta de San Isidro

The parade of giants and big heads at Fiesta de San Isidro

See the parade of giants and big heads

The start of the Fiesta de San Isidro is marked by the parade of Gigantes y cabezudos (giants and big heads). Starting at Plaza de la Villa, follow the crowds as you watch a procession of stilt-wearing giants wearing traditional dress and characters with giant papier-mâché heads march through Madrid’s most iconic boulevards to the beats of a brass band. The characters represent the zaldikos (horsemen), cabezudos (the good people in society) and the kilikis (the bad people). 

A woman wearing traditional chulapas clothing at Fiesta de San Isidro

See the chulapos and chulapas

It’s like stepping back in time when you see the streets of Madrid filled with locals donning traditional chulapos/chulapas costumes. ​​The original chulapos were proud working-class people from Madrid that wanted to distinguish their social class with this elaborate style – the term ​​chulapos comes from the word chulo, meaning “cocky” or full of confidence”. Chulapos wear trousers, a cap, a shirt and a waistcoat with a carnation on the lapel,​​ while chulapas wear a long skirt or dress, a fringed mantilla (traditional shawl), a hand fan and a carnation placed on their head.

Traditional doughnuts eaten at Fiesta de San Isidro

Eat traditional food

Traditional dishes eaten at Fiesta de San Isidro include pintxos, calamari sandwiches, entresijos (lamb mesentery) and gallinejas (fried lamb intestines). If you have a sweet tooth, you have to try barquilleros (rolled wafer pastries), churros and rosquillas (a type of doughnut either plain, sugared, glazed or topped with meringue and almonds). Stay hydrated as you dance the night away with a big glass of iced limonada, a traditional drink made with wine, lemon, sugar and chopped fruit.

Women dancing in the streets at Fiesta de San Isidro

See locals dancing the chotis

Chotis is the traditional music and dance of Fiesta de San Isidro. It comes from the word “schottisch”, which means Scottish person in German, but strangely enough, it has nothing to do with Scotland. The dance originated in Bohemia and is similar to German polka dancing where one partner spins while the other keeps their feet perfectly still in one spot. After it came to Spain in the 19th century, the Madrileños mixed it up slightly and came up with a version we now know as chotis. Watch from the sidelines or give chotis a go yourself!

Fiesta de San Isidro FAQs

Everyone travelling on an Intrepid trip must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of carriage. 

All travellers are required to produce: 

  • Proof of COVID-19 vaccination
  • All children aged 5 to 17 years old must provide proof of vaccination (if eligible), proof of recovery or a negative COVID-19 test.
  • If you are unable to be vaccinated for medical reasons, you may apply for an exemption. Exemptions will be assessed on a case-by-case basis. To apply, you must provide a medical certificate from a medical professional. 

In all cases, you must be fully inoculated. This means you must receive the full dosage of the COVID-19 vaccine and allow enough time for immunity to take effect. Each COVID-19 vaccine has different dosages and timeframes for inoculation, so please check the relevant medical advice associated with your vaccine.

Learn more about Intrepid's COVID-19 proof of vaccination policy

Fiesta de San Isidro is celebrated on or around 15 May every year. In 2022, the festival will be celebrated on 6-15 May 2022.

Fiesta de San Isidro is a completely free event put on by the City of Madrid. You’ll need to buy your own food and drinks, but all concerts, shows and parades are free to attend.

The weather in Madrid in May is comfortable with average highs of 22°C and lows of 11°C. Madrid shines even more brightly during Fiesta de San Isidro and you’ll be doing lots of walking as you go to various events around the city. A comfy pair of shoes is a must, as well as a day bag, t-shirts, shorts, long pants and a couple of smart casual outfits in case you wanted to go to a restaurant or party in the evening. It's also worth bringing a lightweight waterproof jacket in case it rains.

Intrepid is committed to making travel widely accessible, regardless of ability or disability. That’s why we do our best to help as many people see the world as possible, regardless of any physical or mental limitations they might have. We’re always happy to talk to travellers with disabilities and see if we can help guide them towards the most suitable itinerary for their needs and where possible, make reasonable adjustments to our itineraries.

Learn more about accessible travel with Intrepid

 

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