Spain may as well be known as the country that never sleeps. The party culture and nightlife here is world-famous, with clubs staying open until practically the crack of dawn the next day. And there’s no Spanish party quite like an Andalusian feria.
While Seville’s iconic April Fair is the best-known of these extravagant celebrations, every single city and town in the region has one. The feria de Córdoba is often touted as an alternative to Seville’s famously private (for the most part) affair, where you have to know someone or be a member to get access to the majority of the 1,000+ tents. The fair here in my adopted hometown is the last event on a packed calendar of spring festivals in Córdoba, and the perfect way to enjoy the last bit of tolerable weather before the infernal heat of summer sets in.
Ready to make the most of your time at the fair? Here’s everything you need to know.
History of the Feria de Córdoba
What is today one of Andalusia’s biggest parties started off centuries ago as a humble livestock fair. It wasn’t until the late 1800s when the event began to grow into the festive affair we know and love today. At that point, it took place along Paseo de la Victoria, with the centerpiece being the caseta, or tent, belonging to the Real Circulo de la Amistad cultural center.
A century later, the fair had grown too large for the Paseo de la Victoria space. In 1994, it was moved to its current location at El Arenal, in the area surrounding the Arcángel soccer stadium. The wrought-iron structure that formerly hosted the Real Círculo tent has since been converted into Mercado Victoria, Andalusia’s premier gastro market and one of my personal favorite spots for eating in Córdoba.
The Feria de Córdoba Today
When & where is it?
Córdoba’s fair takes place the last full week of May at the Arenal fairgrounds. Tents and attractions usually open every day that week around lunchtime and stay open until late.
2019 Feria de Córdoba dates: Saturday, May 25–June 1
The fair officially begins with the alumbrado on Friday night (midnight on Saturday) with a fireworks show, after which the fairy lights switch on all throughout the fairgrounds to mark the official start of the event. The best place to see the fireworks is at the far end of the fairgrounds outside the caseta municipal, but if you stay close to the entrance, you’ll get to see the portada (the fair’s large main gate) light up.
What is there to see and do at the fair?
The Arenal Bridge leading into the fairgrounds is lined with food trucks selling churros and waffles, along with local merchants hawking clothing and accessories.
Once you make your way through the portada, you have two choices. You can turn left towards the soccer stadium and make your way to the calle del infierno, which is where all the rides, carnival games, and fair food stands can be found. Carnival rides personally scare the crap out of me and I suck at the games, but I still usually head this way first in order to get a glass of sweet wine or rebujito (more on that in a bit) to start things off.
Or, you can continue straight through the portada and go directly to the casetas, or tents. Casetas are owned by local businesses and associations, and here in Córdoba, all 100 or so of them are completely free and open to the public (this isn’t the case at Seville’s more famous fair, which has 10 times as many casetas, but most of them are private—you have to either belong to the association that owns the tent, or score an invitation in order to get into the majority of them).
Some casetas are similar to traditional Andalusian restaurants. They serve food and drinks, with tables where you can sit and enjoy your meal, and many also have live performances. Other casetas are more like pop-up nightclubs, with a bar serving drinks and a DJ spinning (do they do that anymore? It’s more like pressing buttons on a Macbook) everything from sevillanas to reggaeton to pop tunes as revelers dance until dawn.
Quick tip: Caseta bathrooms—more like glorified port-a-johns—are disgusting. Make the 10-minute walk from the fairgrounds to the Arcángel mall and do what you’ve gotta do there instead. A lot of people have had the same idea as me so there may be a line (especially for the ladies’), but the restrooms are clean and regularly stocked with essentials like soap and TP.
Food & Drink At the Fair
With all the walking and dancing you’re going to be doing, knowing where to find food and drinks is key to enjoying the fair. Here are a few different options to look out for.
- Fair food: This is the kind of stuff that, as an American, I grew up seeing at state and county fairs: good-smelling, artery-clogging stuff hawked from stands around the fairgrounds. But whereas in the US we lean towards deep-fried everything (from Oreos to literal sticks of butter), fair food in Spain is almost quaint in comparison: kebabs, burgers, bocadillos (Spain’s answer to sub sandwiches) and loaded baked potatoes. For those with a sweet tooth, you’ll find churros, waffles, crepes and ice cream. I usually don’t eat at the fair (overpriced kebabs that aren’t even as good as the ones I get from my go-to spot? Por favor), but can never resist grabbing a Nutella waffle as we head home at whatever-o’clock-a.m. after a night of drinking and dancing.
- Caseta food: While stands selling most of the above food are found in the area with the rides and games, many of the tents also double as eateries, as I mentioned above. The food here is more typical Spanish and Andalusian fare, served in a sit-down restaurant setting.
- Sweet wine: You’ll find stands selling the fair’s signature sweet wine all over the place, often with flashy light-up marquees and slightly creepy animatronic mannequins stomping “grapes” behind the bar. It’s made with Pedro Ximenez grapes, comes in an ebony color, and usually gets served with a straw-like wafer cookie dunked into the glass.
- Rebujito: It’s not feria until you’ve had at least one of these, either. A seemingly unassuming mixture of manzanilla or fino wine and 7Up, it’s more potent than you’d expect—and the perfect way to beat the heat that tends to hit Córdoba in late May.
Food & Drink Near the Fair
Eating and drinking at the fair itself can burn a hole in your wallet, so many locals often opt to eat somewhere nearby before heading to the festivities. Yes, many bars and restaurants in the area do hike their prices a bit for the week, but still provide a much better deal than you’ll find at the fairgrounds.
- Restaurante El Tema: This is my boyfriend’s family’s go-to place. Every year we try and pick one day to go to the fair all together (miraculously, we always manage to find a day that works for all eight of us) and always head to this family-style restaurant that’s just a five-minute walk away to fuel up on fried fish and pinchitos beforehand. Portions are generous and the service is always fast and attentive.
- Mirador del Rio: This laid-back waterfront restaurant is less than a two-minute walk from the main entrance to the fair, and they’re even offering special feria menus this year full of great local food. (They have a few different locations throughout the city; you want the Balcón de Córdoba location.)
- Plaza Santa Teresa: Not just one bar or restaurant, but rather a whole square full of them right in between the Roman Bridge and the fairgrounds. Places here serve up typical Andalusian pub fair that ticks all the boxes: bueno, bonito, barato (“tasty, nice and cheap”).
- Sabor Moreno: It’s May in the hottest city in continental Europe. You’ll need ice cream. Just listen to me on this one. (This family-run bakery also serves generous toasts and sandwiches if you’re in the mood for something savory.)
- There are also a few food options in the Arcángel shopping mall nearby, including a handful of local establishments as well as chains such as McDonald’s and 100 Montaditos.
If you’re making your way to the fair at night, you’ll inevitably notice the massive horde of drunk people hanging out in the area just below the Arenal Bridge (to your left as you reach the end of the bridge near the fair entrance). This is the feria‘s infamous botellón, a Spanish word which can only be translated as something like “massive public alcohol gathering.” While Spain has strict open container laws, this spot is one of the few areas where botellón is permitted, and only during the fair. Young people bring their booze here to pregame with their friends before heading into the event itself. If you do decide to go, please pick up and throw away your trash as you leave (every year the local news outlets publish a picture of the garbage left behind in the area the morning after the biggest botellón, and it always makes me sad), and remember that no outside alcohol is allowed in the fair, so get rid of it before you step through the portada.
Dress Code for the Córdoba Fair
If you’ve seen any pictures of other Andalusian fairs, you may have noticed the women dressed in colorful frilly flamenco dresses (called trajes de gitana here in Spain), and dashing men decked out in traditional clothing as well (or at the very least, a suit and tie). It’s true that at some fairs such as Seville and even Jerez, the vast majority of attendees tend to dress to the nines. A friend of mine who had lived in both Seville and Córdoba once even mentioned that “you look weird if you don’t wear a traje” at Seville’s fair.
Here in Córdoba, the vibe is much more laid-back, as is the dress code. In fact, I’d venture to say that most twentysomething women don’t wear one, and instead opt for a nice sundress or something similar. When I was trying to decide whether or not to buy a traje before my first fair, my Córdoba-born-and-bred boyfriend mentioned that the majority of people who wear them here are either little girls (and occasionally their mothers, who dress up to match them), and older women. When we got there, I saw that he was right.
I’ve never worn a flamenco dress to the fair and have never felt out of place. Although I’ve considered doing so in the past and may purchase one in the future, it’s just not a huge priority for me, personally. The dresses are expensive, and knowing me and my clumsy self, I wouldn’t be able to make it through the whole event without spilling something on it, and then there’s the simple fact that I’ve tried a few on and have never found one that was “me.” For now, I’ll stick to admiring the flamenco flair from afar.
If you do want to join in on the traje fun, Sunshine and Siestas (one of my favorite Spain blogs) has a great post about buying a flamenco dress in Seville as well as a ton of other useful info about the fair there, including how to enjoy the Feria de Sevilla as a tourist.
Men also have a more relaxed dress code for Córdoba’s fair, with most opting for polos or button-downs with khakis or nice shorts.
One piece of fashion advice: Choose your footwear wisely, and avoid wearing flat sandals (broken glass and horse poop are both very real things at the fair). Try and stick with closed-toed shoes, or if you absolutely need to let your feet breathe, make sure your sandals have some kind of heel or platform on them.
How to Get to the Fair from Around Córdoba
If you’re thinking about renting a car (or bringing your own): don’t. Traffic is extremely restricted in the Campo de la Verdad neighborhood during the fair, with many streets cut off and parking areas accessible to residents only.
Taxis, on the other hand, are plentiful and nonstop. If you need to get to the fair, you can call a cab in Córdoba at +34 957 76 44 44, or head to one of the many taxi stops around town.
If you’re already at the fair and ready to head home, just get in line at the designated taxi stop (exit through the portada and head straight back, slightly to the right—you can’t miss the giant fluorescent lights reading TAXI).
Córdoba’s city bus network also serves the fair quite extensively.
- Special fair buses run between the fairgrounds and various neighborhoods around town. You can find schedules and information on the Córdoba tourism website. (Yes, I know that link says 2017 and 2018, but once they add the 2019 info, it’ll live there as well.)
- Most of the city’s regular buses also keep their normal routes during the fair. For more information and stop locations, check their website.
- Take bus line 12 from the city center (Gran Capitán, Ronda Tejares/Calle Caño, Claudio Marcelo, Diario Córdoba) to the stop Avenida Campo de la Verdad, which is just across the Arenal Bridge from the fairgrounds and a five-minute walk to the portada.
- Line 6 from the center (Colón Norte, Ronda Tejares/Doce de Octubre, Ronda Tejares/Gran Capitán) or Ciudad Jardín (Republica Argentina, Glorieta Media Luna, Vallellano Juzgados) arrives in the neighborhood at Avenida de Granada/Plaza de Andalucía. This stop is a bit further out (about a 20 minute walk from the fairgrounds), but the bus will almost certainly be less crowded than the 12.
- Line 1 from the center (San Lorenzo, Realejo, San Pablo, Claudio Marcelo, Diario Córdoba) stops at Cuesta de la Pólvora, 15 minutes away from the fair.
Have a fabulous feria!
Have you ever been to the Córdoba fair, or do you plan on attending in the future? Let me know if you have any other questions I didn’t answer here!