A Guide to Celebrating Semana Santa in Spain
Easter in Spain is a big deal! Known as Semana Santa, the Spanish holy week is undoubtedly one of the biggest religious celebrations in Spain, if not the biggest, usually celebrated in the month of April, starting a week before Easter.
Dating back to the 16th century, the Easter celebrations in Spain are steeped in history and religious significance and vary largely from region to region. Some towns and cities host more elaborate and colourful festivities and processions compared to other more pensive and sombre celebrations. Either way, experiencing a true Spanish Easter is one of those things you absolutely have to do at least once in your lifetime.
Throughout the holy week various processions and other religious events take centre stage. During these processions different ‘Brotherhoods’ (known as Cofradías), dressed in their traditional ‘Capirote’ and robes will carry elaborate floats (known as Pasos), usually depicting imagery of Jesus or Mary, through the streets from their churches to the cathedral. Women also dress in black with a black laced veil (known as a Mantilla).
If you are looking to visit Spain during this Easter period and wondering where to celebrate Easter in Spain, then look no further. I’ve asked a few of my fellow travel blogger friends to share their top place to spend Semana Santa whilst in Spain, to hopefully help inspire you to plan your next Easter holiday to Spain.
2020 Spanish Easter Update: Do be mindful that due to current world events, many parts of Spain are currently in lockdown with most (if not all) cities having cancelled Semana Santa celebrations for 2020.
By Wendy from The Nomadic Vegan
Of all the Semana Santa celebrations that take place throughout Spain, the holy processions in Seville are the most famous by far, and for good reason. Semana Santa in Seville is one of the most important events of the year, and the locals who take part in the festivities spend all year preparing for it. Seville’s Semana Santa can be traced back to at least the 16th century, although it probably began even earlier than that.
Keep in mind that, with more than 1 million visitors descending on the city, it does get very crowded and a bit chaotic. Some of Seville’s restaurants, bars and museums will be closed, and it will be very difficult to get inside the Cathedral or the Alcazar Palace, as this area is the focal point of the festivities. Instead of trying to hit all the typical tourist sights while you’re there, just go for the Semana Santa experience and embrace the chaos.
While processions run throughout the week from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, the most important day (or night, rather) is Holy Thursday, when processions run all night long. The most popular one, La Macarena, involves upwards of 3,000 participants and is worth staying up for. As you can imagine, the best vantage points for viewing the processions are in high demand. People will line up for hours to get a spot around the Cathedral or La Campana, where all the brotherhoods pass by.
If money is no object, you can buy tickets for grandstand seats, though these sometimes sell out months in advance. Alternatively, grab a spot along the riverbank near the Puente de Isabel II bridge, which connects Seville with Triana. Many of the brotherhoods cross this bridge on their way to the Cathedral.
By Joanna from The World in My Pocket
Easter is a very important holiday in Spain, with celebrations that last for an entire week. In Malaga, the processions start seven days before Easter, with hundreds of Brotherhoods taking over the streets of the city, carrying statues of Jesus and Virgin Mary. The processions go from each local church to the main cathedral in Malaga.
Watching the Easter processions is one of the free things to do in Malaga during the Holy Week. For the best views however, people can reserve their own seat in the front row, right next to the streets on which the parades pass by. The cost of a seat for the entire week is around 60 euros. There is a free area where people can watch the processions for free by sitting on the stairs, called “Tribuna de los Pobres” (The Poor People’s Tribune), which is located on Calle Carreteria, but you have to get there early to get a spot.
Some processions are more spectacular than others. It is worth mentioning that people taking part in the processions wear the traditional capirote, which is a tall cone hat that covers their faces, whilst dressed in purple belted robes. They are followed by women wearing black clothes and lace veils. The men are carrying large floats covered with flowers and candles, depicting different sculptures of Jesus and Virgin Mary but also giant thrones.
Sometimes, you might get a chance to spot the locally born actor Antonio Banderas, who often shows up and takes part in the big events in Malaga.
Looking to combine both Seville and Malaga into your Easter in Spain itinerary? Read my guide on how best to travel between Malaga and Seville.
Semana Santa Toledo
By Norman from Annees-de-pelerinage
I love traveling to Spain for the Easter holidays. But whenever I’m there, I try to stop in Toledo. I’ve been there in April four times already and it was always perfectly sunny with warm and pleasant temperatures. It’s also a time when the UNESCO World Heritage site is not as crowded yet. Most international tourists will arrive starting from May onwards.
Now, Toledo is very famous for its Corpus Christi festival, but they also have a very amazing Easter procession and it might actually be my favourite spot in Spain.
You see, the historic old town with its impressive cathedral and the mighty Alcázar is abutting a hill above the Tagus river. This dramatic setting is the main reason so many people come to visit the ancient city in the heart of Castilla-La Mancha but during the Easter holidays, it’s extra special.
Then the believers will carry those gigantic and incredibly heavy floats all the way up the hill through the narrowest and steepest medieval alleys. It’s quite a sight to behold! The best part: The processions last the whole Holy Week. So, it won’t put a big stress on your itinerary. And after you’ve seen your share, you can go on exploring the amazing old town, which is certainly worth a visit all year round.
I usually don’t stay in Toledo but visit on a day trip from Madrid.
Semana Santa Segovia
By Paulina from Paulina On The Road
One of the most scenic Easter getaways to Spain is the Semana Santa in Segovia. Located at only 1 hour from Madrid, Segovia is perfect for those who want to enjoy an authentic, less-touristy Easter break.
Indeed, whereas the towns of Seville, Malaga and the beaches near Valencia tend to be very crowded during the Easter holidays, the Semana Santa of Segovia is mostly visited by locals only.
The Christian Easter Week festivals in Segovia have been declared of National Tourist Interest because of their scenic setting in the old town center. The festival and the processions are made up of ten confraternities and brotherhoods. The festivities usually begin on Palm Sunday, which commemorates Jesus Christ’s arrival in Jerusalem, and finishes on Easter Sunday, the day when Jesus rose from the dead. Easter in Segovia stands out thanks to cultural interest in the religious customs and history of our country.
Even if you are short in time, a day trip from Madrid to Segovia is the perfect way to spend your Easter holiday in Spain.
Semana Santa Salamanca
By Sally from Sallyflint.com
Salamanca in Spain is a wonderful city to visit at any time but, in the lead, up to Easter it takes on extra spiritual and historical significance. During the preceding ‘Holy’ week the Casa de las Conchas (known as the House of the Shells) and the Clercia Churches hold moving religious services, with professors from the Universities in attendance, dressed for full pomp and ceremony. Following the services traditional chocolates and sweets are shared.
Salamanca is about 200 miles from Madrid; whether the streets are busy or empty it is a beautiful heritage site to visit. It is manageably sized to wander around in a couple of days.
The cathedrals, churches and architecture are a feast to the eyes. Locals and visitors visit the numerous eateries and cafes enjoying the traditional tapas and Chanfaina – a meal made up of rice and steamed pork. The religious reverence of Easter reveals itself in colour, music and fun as it transfers itself into the streets and squares of this historical city. The death of Jesus Christ is commemorated with processions and music through the Plaza Mayor and University Square.
During challenging times when life can feel jaded and an uphill battle a trip to Salamanca acts as a tonic. Visitors leave feeling revitalized and energized. Culturally and historically replete and full of the kindness of strangers, the world begins to feel just a little bit magical again.
Easter in Tenerife
By Paulina from Paulina On The Road
For those who are not a fan of religious ceremonies and might find the processions a bit obscure, I recommend heading to the sunny Canary Islands. My favourite island is definitely Tenerife as it seems to have it all: beaches, hiking trails and excellent food!
If you are staying in the south near Playa Las Americas, you can spend every day on the beach and you won’t notice anything of the legendary Spanish Easter celebrations. However, if you want to immerse into local culture, I recommend heading to Adeje. It is here on Good Friday, that the town hosts a spectacular two-hour action replay of Christ’s last hours and his crucifixion.
If you love the scenic Easter processions, you should head to the north of the island. One of the most important processions in Tenerife is the Magna Procession in La Laguna. Made up of solemn brotherhoods dressed in different coloured long robes and carrying large crosses, this is definitely a must-see in Tenerife.
If you are looking for a unique place to stay in Tenerife, I recommend the Parador de Tenerife near the Teide volcano. Its location is unique and it’s considered one of the best Paradores in Spain.
Zamora Semana Santa
By Lucile Hernandez Rodriguez
If you want to witness beautiful Easter processions in Spain, I believe there’s no better place than Zamora. Semanta Santa (Holy Week) is one of the most popular and historic celebrations in the city as it gets super festive during this time. This would also be a delightful opportunity for a gastronomic experience in restaurants nearby.
Not sure what to eat? Try Spanish torrijas, which is a popular bread snack during the Holy Week in all of Spain. You can also have a taste of aceitadas, which is our olive oil and aniseed-flavoured pastries.
Joining the faithful during the parades makes for a perfect excuse to explore Zamora. The city’s day and night processions during Semana Santa are perfectly in contrast. The daytime processions are marked by light and music while the solemn night-time or early dawn processions are perfect for meditation.
If weaving through the crowds to see the procession is not your cup of tea, you can always find a spot from where you can view the event. For me, I stayed in this lovely medieval hotel called Parador de Zamora, where I got the best viewing spot of the celebration on the square just outside of their doors. After which, you can also enjoy some refreshing drinks in the hotel bar.
Semana Santa Montserrat
By Oksana & Max from Drink Tea & Travel
Montserrat near Barcelona is a fabulous place to visit anytime of the year but it is particularly special during the Easter Holiday. As one of the most religious places in Spain, thousands of pilgrims make their way to the Montserrat Monastery each year to pray and repent.
There is a festive air in Montserrat over the Easter weekend as people go to visit the religious sites of the Black Virgin and Santa Cova. The latter is said to be a place where many religious visions have come to people throughout history
The Montserrat Choirboys will perform twice on Easter and other religious holidays at Montserrat Monastery’s Basilica. So, don’t miss a chance to see these world-renowned singers perform.
However, when the town center begins to get too much we would suggest going for a hike in the Montserrat mountain range. There are a number of great trails which will take you into the valley past gorgeous flora and fauna, away from the excitement.
We would suggest you find a place to stay in Montserrat for the weekend if you plan to visit over Easter. You can try to take a train from Barcelona however, they can be very crowded and running on reduced hours.