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Semana Santa in Spain is nothing short of a culturally rich and religiously significant celebration that every year draws in upwards of approximately 1 million visitors from around the world (in Seville alone, the unofficial Spanish capital for Semana Santa/ Spanish Holy Week festivities).
Of course, these numbers reflect pre-pandemic times, as just like with many other celebrations worldwide, Semana Santa festivities had to take a pause from being celebrated in their grandeur, for safety reasons until further notice.
However, according to esmadrid.com, Semana Santa celebrations and processions will be resuming this year (2022) in Madrid – yay!
So if you find yourself in Madrid during Semana Santa, which goes from Palm Sunday (April 10th) to Easter Sunday (April 17th) – then stick around to see the places where you can participate in this cultural and religious event without having to leave Madrid too far.
Although there are many places within Spain that are famously known to do it big during Semana Santa – places such as…
- Castile & León
- La Rioja
The truth is, there are so many other places, especially in or near Madrid, that are also worth checking out!
Plus, if you’re wanting to avoid huge crowds in Andalucia, sticking around the Madrid region may mean slightly fewer people to maneuver around.
In today’s post, I want to highlight these 3 destinations, and I want to also share 2 bonus cities that may not be within or near Madrid, but would be good if you’re looking for a bit of an adventure that’s under 3 hours away.
What is Semana Santa?
Semana Santa in Spain is as much a religious event as it is cultural at this point.
I am sure that if you’ve heard anything or seen anything related to Semana Santa in Spain or Holy Week, you’ve most likely seen pictures of men dressed in purple or white robes.
Men covering their faces and wearing pointy caps (capirotes) that resemble the attire of a notorious racist hate group in the U.S. but have nothing to do with each other, carrying a very decorative, religious float on their shoulders.
Semana Santa in Spain is a Catholic week-long event that goes from Palm Sunday (April 10th) to Easter Sunday (April 17th), in which in many cities across Spain, people participate in the homage of the Passion of Jesus Christ.
During the different days of Holy Week or Semana Santa, you’ll notice that there is a different ambiance in the air.
The first few days mainly consist of processions of these hooded men, often referred to as brotherhoods, and they carry together very ornate “floats” that resemble altars with religious figures. From Jesus to the Virgin Mary.
“Nazarenos” which other people that participate in the procession, are the ones to carry the candles, crosses, and other religious objects along with the brotherhood, as they do a tour around a designated route throughout the town, to return back into the church.
Women also participate in the procession, as they are dressed typically in a black veil, further adding to the somber, serious, and “painful” ritual which symbolizes the sentiment towards Jesus’ crucifixion.
As the days pass during Semana Santa, towards Easter, the ambiance will feel a bit more joyful and lighter, and that is when you will see and feel more of a festival vibe.
Semana Santa in Spain is supposed to ultimately be a representation of what Jesus went through from the moment he was crucified to the moment he was resurrected.
Who celebrates Semana Santa?
Semana Santa in Spain is celebrated by most Spaniards, regardless of religious belief or not, as it’s a large celebration that draws in many visitors from all over the world.
Many people see Holy Week in Spain as a cultural event as much as it is a religious one.
Aside from Spanish people celebrating this event, many other Spanish-speaking countries celebrate their own version of Semana Santa.
Countries such as Mexico, and various other countries in South America such as Colombia, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Peru, and other countries that were colonized by Spain and brought with them the Catholic belief at one point.
Interesting facts about Semana Santa
- Semana Santa is not only celebrated in Spain, and other Spanish speaking countries, but also in Portugal.
- The ornate float that is carried to honor Jesus, The Virgin Mary, or depict a scene from the Passion of Jesus Christ, can weigh around 1000 kilograms.
- Jail inmates are allowed to released from jail on Easter Sunday in order to carry the ornate float, and it’s been a tradition ever since 1759 when a plague struck the city of Malaga. Instead of cancelling the procession, the inmates volunteered to risk the illness in order to keep the procession and celebrations going. It’s been going ever since.
- Different regions within Spain add a bit of their own cultural mix into the traditional Semana Santa. For instance, in Barcelona, you’ll see the Danza de la Muerte instead of the scene of the Last Supper. Malaga celebrates Semana Santa in a more uplifting, colorful, and vibrant way, which is different in comparison to Seville where it’s more serious. In the city of Valladolid, there are reenactments, and people dressed in medieval clothing on horseback announcing various different events as they happen.
Semana Santa traditions and food
Some traditional foods that you will experience if you go to Semana Santa in Spain, will be food items such as…
- Torrijas: (pictured on the left) resemble french toast, these syrup drenched bread, that are a cross between bread pudding and french toast, and are most common in Madrid (although you can find them anywhere during this time). In Mexico, this would resemble the popular dish Capirotada, which is kind of similar to Spanish Torrijas, and is also enjoyed during Semana Santa in Mexico.
- Bacalao (cod) Croquettes: (pictured on the right) little fried balls of cod fish, flour, butter, breadcrumbs, egg, and onion. You’ll notice that a lot of the popular Semana Santa food is usually fish or veggie centered, as eating meat on holy days is not accepted by the religion.
- Buñuelos de Viento: this delicious dessert treat are like mini donut holes, and are friend in olive oil, and dusted off with powedered sugar – you cannot go wrong with this combination!
- Bacalao (cod) and Potato Stew: Another fish dish mixed with hearty potatoes, which is very popular around this time because as you may know, you are not allowed to have any kind of red meat during this time.
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Experience Semana Santa in Spain without leaving Madrid
Just an hour bus ride from Madrid’s Plaza Eliptica Station, you can take an ALSA bus and arrive at the City of Three Religions – Toledo.
Toledo is a very beautiful and interesting city, as it is a city that throughout time, was heavily influenced by three major religions – Judaism, Catholicism, and Islam.
It is also a city that drips in medieval-style architecture, with beautiful, big doors that look thousands of years old, a big river that goes along the walled city, and so much more.
A trip to Toledo, Spain is definitely a must any time of the year, but especially during Semana Santa where the locals and visitors come together for this holy event.
Take a day trip during Semana Santa, and experience the procession which goes around the beautiful cobblestone streets of old town Toledo.
Read More: 11 Of The Best Day Trips From Madrid, Spain
In a little over an hour, taking an ALVIA train from Chamartin station, you could be standing beneath one of Madrid’s most iconic Aquaducts that dates back to the Romans and experiencing Semana Santa Segovia style.
Experience everything from the religious processions that depart from the church, and go throughout town, including the iconic aqueduct, and other beautiful sites, as well as observing local culture and delicious Semana Santa favorite dishes and treats.
Madrid – Spain’s capital of course has its own Semana Santa celebrations that are oftentimes great to experience if you want to avoid the masses that congregate in Andalusian cities like Seville or Cordoba.
The procession goes around Plaza Mayor, and the restaurants and bars nearby are buzzing with people – both locals and visitors wanting to catch a glimpse of the hooded brotherhood carrying the ornate floats.
While you’re experiencing Semana Santa in Madrid and you try typical dishes and desserts of the season, don’t forget to try Madrid’s famous bocadillo de calamares – which is basically a fried calamari sandwich that is very popular in Madrid.
BONUS CITY: Salamanca
Salamanca has to be a city on your list of places to visit in Spain because of its history, culture, and beautiful red-roofed buildings you can see from the top of the church cathedral.
Just about a little under 2 hours on the high-speed ALVIA train from Chamartin Station, you can get your ride to Salamanca, a city that is home to the oldest
Experience the colorful way in which Salamanca celebrates and brings to life this event through its streets, as crowds of people follow the brotherhood carrying the ornate floats, taking you through streets you may have never seen before.
Enjoy more torrija and buñuelos de viento, as you look at visitors and locals coming in and out of the bars that line the famous Plaza de España.
BONUS CITY: Ávila
Around a little over 2 hours on the train from Chamartin station, you can catch a ride to the beautiful walled-in city of Ávila, located west of Madrid.
Known widely for its grandeur and strong walls, this city welcomes its visitors for all events, including Semana Santa.
Make your way to Ávila to experience the processions and the brotherhood making their way around the walled-in city, and enjoy learning about how they decorate the city, and how the people of Ávila share and explain the story of the Passion in their plays and displays.
Concluding thoughts on 3 beautiful cities to experience Semana Santa in Spain – in and near Madrid
I hope this post gave you a good idea of places to experience Semana Santa in Spain, especially if you wish to stay close to Madrid.
I experienced Semana Santa in Madrid when I lived there, and I got to see the procession as it was making its way into Plaza Mayor, and as a Latina who is no stranger to Semana Santa, it was so interesting to experience it in Spain and see the traditions there.
I also know that if you’re an English Teacher living in Spain, you want to see what are your options in terms of where you can experience Semana Santa.
Although Andalucia is very popular for this event (and totally worth a visit at one point!) experiencing Semana Santa a little near the capital (if that is where you live) is also a great experience.
Let me know in the comments below what your experience was like if you’ve participated in a Semana Santa event before, or if you haven’t yet, which city caught your eye!
I’d love to know, so don’t forget to leave me a comment!
To many more travel moments like these,