As it is customary, on the Saturday after the Feast of the Assumption–August 15–Marijaia returns to Bilbao. She is the symbol of the Biscayan capital’s festivities and the main protagonist all throughout Aste Nagusia, a nine-day week (as it could not be otherwise knowing that everything is grander in Bilbao) full of celebrations and fun.

The annual Bilbao festivities start with an opening speech followed by the txupin–the launching of a firework rocket. Packed full of events of all sorts, their epicentre is located on the banks of the Estuary and its surroundings–especially between the Arenal and the City Hall bridges, where temporary bars called txosnas are set up, and in the Casco Viejo streets.

Most of the activities organised for Aste Nagusia take place there, including among many others children’s games, folk sports that combine skill and strength, traditional dances, parades led by memorable Processional Giants and Cabezudos, municipal band concerts performed in the charming Arenal Kiosk, and local produce markets.

This is also one of the best areas to admire the pyrotechnic displays and competitions that give colour to the Botxo’s sky each night, one of the most popular events. However, there are many different spots you can choose from if you want to see these stunning spectacles of light, colour and sound: the bridges on the Estuary, Artxanda’s lookout points, the waterfront by the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, the esplanade in Abandoibarra, or the quays of the bohemian neighbourhood of San Francisco, for example, offer great perspectives.

Etxebarria Park is not only an excellent location to watch the fireworks too, but also the place where the fair is held, featuring rides of all types for children and adults alike. The circus, one of the most typical attractions in Aste Nagusia, can also be found there.

The Whale Parade has become a must in the Semana Grande of Bilbao, featuring huge colourful balloons that go down Gran Vía accompanied by music played by the comparsas, dancers and street performances. The Whale leads the parade followed by an Octopus, a Spider Crab, and a Clam providing fun for the whole family.

Music is equally important during Aste Nagusia, you can see txistulari bands walking through the city streets, enjoy relaxing concerts a park, or listen to the comparsas while you eat a few pintxos in the evening. After dark, the entire Bilbao turns into a stage where big bands and soloists fill every corner of city with all kinds of music styles.

Theatres also have an important role during Aste Nagusia since some of the best acting companies perform at major venues across the city such as the Arriaga Theatre, the Campos Elíseos Theatre or the Euskalduna Palace. Of course, food is present too and several competitions are organised in which people prepare our most traditional dishes.

Sports, street theatres, folk dancing gatherings, bertsolaris–extemporaneous Basque singers–and bilbainadas–local songs about the city–complete the events programme. The longest week of the year in Bilbao comes to its end by bidding a final farewell to Marijaia, which is also the moment the countdown for her return next year begins.