There aren’t many European capitals that can boast an array of cultural events and shows equal to those that Madrid puts on for its residents and visitors all year round. When Semana Santa rolls around the city comes to life in a totally different way. The streets throng with people, who are both there for religious reasons and there to enjoy the party.
You’ll hear the sound of trumpets and drums wherever you go, have clouds of incense waft over you, and have to be careful not to slip on the wax from the thousands of candles that are processed around the streets of the capital as part of Easter celebrations in Spain.
Semana Santa in Madrid
Whilst in many countries in the world these days Easter is only celebrated with chocolate on Easter Sunday, chocolate lovers will be disappointed here. Culture lovers, on the other hand, will be bowled over by Semana Santa.
Holy Week runs from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. Whilst this is obviously a religious festival, it’s also a holiday time when Madrileños get together with friends and family and have a party. For international visitors, it’s an amazing time to come and explore and enjoy the city’s landmark attractions, art, bars and restaurants – and really get an insight into the culture of this beautiful city.
Semana Santa in Spain reflects the strong Roman Catholic traditions in the country – but in the capital the bars and clubs are as full as ever and shops remains open as usual. Quite simply, Easter in Madrid is a revelation for anyone who loves holidays in Spain and is on the hunt for an authentic cultural experience.
As Holy Week in Madrid also draws a flock of national visitors from around the country, book your hotel in Madrid now as things fill up really early on.
Once you’ve got your accommodation sorted, check out our round-up of ten exciting things to see and do in the Madrid at Easter…
1. The most important of Semana Santa traditions: watch the parades
From Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, Madrid fills to the brim as people come in their thousands to the parades, either steadily walking their saints through the city’s decorated streets or watching the many different Easter processions from the side-lines.
The scene is sea of bright religious costumes. The atmosphere vibrates with the pounding of feet, drums, and trumpets accompanying each parade that commemorates the Passion and death of Jesus Christ.
The numerous church brotherhoods that take part in and lead the processions prepare all year for this special event – and it shows.
The biggest draw is the famous Cristo de Medinaceli (Christ of Medina) procession, which takes place on Good Friday, (19th19th April this year). It sets off from the parish of Jesús de Medinaceli and wends its way through all the main streets of the city. The many other holy processions that also take place on Good Friday include the Jesús Nazareno ‘el pobre’ (Jesus of Nazareth ‘the poor’), Alabarderos (Yeomen of the Guard), and the procession of silence.
For visitors from overseas, the procession of silence can be the most extraordinary experience as brotherhoods and worshippers all walk in silence. It’s also an extremely moving sight.
2. Get up high and look down on the Semana Santa celebrations
Don’t want to be in the thick of all the Semana Santa madness? Then head up to Faro de Moncloa, also known as “La Torre de Iluminación y Comunicaciones del Ayuntamiento de Madrid” for a bird’s-eye view of the whole city.
The Faro de Moncloa is a former communications tower with a 110m -high observation deck, built by architect Salvador Pérez Arroyo in 1992, the year in which the city was named European Capital of Culture.
Now a popular tourist attraction, it offers unrivalled views of the city: you’ll be able to spot La Almudena Cathedral, The Royal Palace, and the Telefónica building on Gran Vía. You can even see the peaks of the Sierra de Guadarrama mountain range in the background. Getting up high is a fun experience but not for the faint hearted as you ride in two glass lifts.
3. Fill your boots with traditional Semana Santa treats
The array of special sweet and savoury traditional dishes rolled out especially for Easter make Semana Santa extremely appealing to foodies.
The star attraction served up in bars and restaurant across Madrid is the torrija, a sweet treat made from bread soaked in milk and beaten eggs sprinkled with cinnamon, then fried and sprinkled with sugar. As you might expect, it looks and tastes a lot like French toast.
Many venues put their own special twist on this Spanish Easter food. If you fancy a boozy version, you can sink your teeth into torrijas with Baileys, rum, vodka or bourbon at Vait Pastelerías, or go traditional and eat them at La Casa de las Torrijas, one of the city’s oldest taverns.
Too sweet? Savoury delights for Easter include Soldaditos de Pavía (crispy fried chunks of cod), and potaje de garbanzas (chick pea stew), as well as stunning medleys of tapas dishes.
4. Go to church to get under the skin of Holy Week in Spain
For those who want to experience religious Easter services during Semana Santa, many of which feature special sacred music, the major cathedrals and churches, including the Almudena Cathedral, Basilica of Nuestra Señora de Atocha, the Parish Church of Santa Cruz and the Pontifical Basilica of San Miguel, are among the major centres for the Madrid Easter celebrations.
Whatever your beliefs, this is a time to marvel at the city’s magnificent ecclesiastical architecture and all churches big and small are beautifully adorned in honour of the Easter holiday.
5. Get an insight into another of the football
Soccer is hands down the most popular spectator sport in Madrid- and, for dedicated followers of the beautiful game, it’s a form of religion. Any Brit who dreams of ‘bending it like Beckham’ will want to make a bee-line for the hallowed ground of the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, home to Real Madrid FC.
Whilst you can buy tickets on the day of the game, it pays to book in advance for the major matches. Do so direct from the stadium rather than from ticket offices that charge higher prices.
If your Semana Santa trip doesn’t time with an actual game, at least take a tour of the stadium’s museum, which proudly celebrates Real Madrid’s seven European Cup triumphs.
6. Enjoy the Semana Santa in Spain with a glass in hand
With so many venues to choose from, it’s a case of figuring out the style and vibe you’re after, whether you’re looking for a relaxed hideaway to quietly sip your rioja or party places with live bands and DJs to make a night of it before heading back to your hotel in the early hours.
One thing’s for sure – gorgeous tapas are on tap in most bars, which means a bar crawl can double up as a tapas tour. Check out the Madrid Tourism guide to the most popular bars, which also has details of flamenco shows for extra frills.
7. Max out on culture during the Easter celebrations in Spain
Come and feast your eyes free of charge from Monday to Friday (except Tuesdays) from 7pm to 9pm, on Saturday from 2.30pm to 9pm, and on Sunday from 10am to 7pm. The mighty Museo Del Prado also offers free entry times – Monday to Saturday between 6pm and 8pm and on Sundays and holidays from 5pm to 7pm. Just be prepared to queue.
Check their respective websites for details of permanent collections and events calendars for special exhibitions to make sure you don’t miss out on anything.
8. Turn your Easter holidays into the best kind of history lesson
Get a fix of Spanish regal history at The Royal Palace of Madrid. This stunning baroque dream of a palace with 3,418 opulently gilded rooms, is the official home of the Spanish Royal Family. However, they actually reside at Palace of Zarzuela and this is used for state ceremonies only.
Here, you can peruse the vast Royal Collections of art, artefacts and sculptures, including paintings by artists from Goya to Velázquez, and the Royal Armoury of Madrid’s collection of fine porcelain, furniture. You’ll also see the world’s only complete Stradivarius string quintet.
Or if majestic ships float your boat, step inside the glory days of the Spanish Armada at The Naval Museum.
9. Take a break from the madness of Semana Santa in Spain and get back to nature
Ready to chill out and smell the blossom? Take a stroll through the beautiful 21.5 -acre park of La Quinta de los Molinos, situated in the in the El Salvador district.
Here, you’ll find a charming lake and fountains, but the biggest treat is to walk amongst the almond trees that, in springtime, burst into a flurry of pink and white flowers and give off a gorgeous heady scent. Just in time for Semana Santa. Pack a picnic and enjoy the tranquillity – it’s a secret gem.
10. And don’t forget, the Easter weekend is still a great time for shopping
While some smaller boutiques may close their doors during some of the key Easter procession days, the main thoroughfares of the shopping hub that is Gran Via, and Serrano – home to a wealth of international and luxury designer brands – are ready and waiting for you.
If bargain hunting is top of your shopping wishlist, head to Las Rozas Village, an outlet shopping centre situated on the outskirts of the city, easily accessed via a regular bus service. Bag some Burberry, Dolce & Gabbana and labels galore at prices you’ll love, just be aware that bus services might be slightly limited during Semana Santa.
If you’ve been looking at last minute Easter breaks – and want a real cultural experience – then make it Madrid. Easter late this year meaning the weather will be warmer, and the party even bigger! Good Friday falls on 19th April, but Semana Santa kicks off the Sunday before, on Sunday 14th March.