How to Get the Most out of Madrid’s “Fiestas de San Isidro”

Part of what makes Spain so appealing to both locals and tourists alike is its passion for festivals. You can find Spaniards and unwitting foreigners running from bulls in Pamplona, join in on a town-wide tomato-throwing fight in Buñol, and in almost every corner of Spain, be it village or city, you can find fiestas honoring the patron saint of the area. Having visited Madrid for the first of many times over the San Isidro festival weekend in 2010, I was transfixed by the image of rosy-cheeked children wearing the traditional chulapo outfits all over the city—but I definitely didn’t know where to really celebrate and enjoy the holiday fully. If you find yourself in Madrid around mid-May next year, here are some ways to make sure you truly soak in the atmosphere of San Isidro!

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1. Watch out for chulapos. In Madrid, during the San Isidro festivities, parents often dress their small children up in the traditional chulapo outfits, which resemble the famous outfits that people in Sevilla wear during their festival, Feria de Abril. The little boys in their very grown-up-looking vests and caps dance nervously with precious girls in their fancy dresses and red flowers, and older people also sometimes wear the outfits. You can usually find them dancing sweetly together to the…

2. Chotis. You can find Madrileños, especially an older, more traditional crowd, doing these elegant dances all over town—and tourists wandering the center are likely to run into these chulapos in Plaza Mayor, Puerta del Sol, or…

Photo May 16, 12 14 43 PM

Mmmmmm

 

 

3. La Pradera de San Isidro. To me, La Pradera is like the Spanish equivalent of state fairgrounds in the US. Each year Madrileños flood the “meadow” for the parties honoring the patron saint of Madrid. You can find just about anything here, from big-headed cartoon figures marching through the crowds, to ham leg auctions (yes, really), and every Spanish gastronomic delight you could dream of. Meat-lovers will be in heaven as they glide through the stalls selling chorizo, Iberian ham, blood sausage, and the San Isidro delight entresijos, fried pig intestines. If you aren’t a fan of meat, check out the giant platters of steaming huevos rotos—scrambled eggs with potatoes and veggies. It does have Iberian ham in it, but that still makes it basically vegetarian for Spaniards. Rosquillas de San Isidro are small, donut-like treats enjoyed for dessert, and they come in several different varieties (with or without icing, lemon-flavored, etc.). And for your liquid libations, try…

Photo May 16, 12 23 57 PM

Meat, meat, meat

 

 

4. Kalimotxo/Calimocho. Though plenty of Madrileños I know drink this year-round, it seems especially popular during the San Isidro festivities. The festival drink consists of red wine and cola, a combination that may sound odd to those who’ve never tried it, but strangely, it just works. Go in on 3 minis with friends (which are actually are quite large and not “mini” at all) and spend about Є10 total. If all the fun at La Pradera sounds tempting, be forewarned about…

Photo May 15, 2 25 58 PM

Ham-leg Auctions

 

 

5. The Metro. The metro stop for La Pradera is “Marques de Vadillo” and it is always overrun with people arriving and leaving the festivities; this year, as my friend and I exited the metro, we saw police actually regulating how many people could enter the metro at a time to head away from the festival, with lines stretching up the stairs and out of the metro station onto the street. My advice: plan ahead and research bus routes and schedules near where you’re staying. My friends and I happened to see a bus stop that took us to roughly where we were heading after the fair, and it was gloriously, beautifully empty. If less bustling events are more your pace, make sure you check out the…

 

 

6. Feria de la Cacharrería. The small Plaza de las Comendadoras hosts this welcoming artisan craft fair that focuses on Spanish terracotta and crockery items. With extremely reasonable prices and beautiful pieces, this is the perfect place to find a thoughtful gift for family back home or even a gorgeous piece to remind you of your adventure in Spain. For fun later in the night, head to…

Photo May 15, 9 04 55 AM

Feria de la Cacharrería

 

 

7. San Isidro concerts. I attended the “Noche Hip Hop” at Las Vistillas Saturday night and had a great time—but be warned, if crowds aren’t your thing, you should stick to the tamer events. Crowds fill up and spill into the street away from the venue, even for relatively unknown acts, which makes leaving early a huge pain. The well-known Manu Chao put on a great show (or so I heard from friends, since I was out of town) in Plaza Mayor on the Monday following the festival weekend. Above all, whatever you decide to do this weekend, remember that…

 

8. Consuming alcohol on the streets is technically illegal, though it will hardly seem so if you stroll along any of the aforementioned events of the weekend. If you really want to play it safe, remember that legally you should only consume alcohol in appropriate venues, and ignore those street beer vendors!

 

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Though I tried to experience as much of San Isidro as I could, there are so many more events that I could never cover in this post even if I tried. Of course, the best way to experience the weekend is with locals, but if you want to get a more thorough idea of what you can do on your own, check out Madrid’s official San Isidro guide from this year here.

 

 

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