Easter is an irresistible time to visit Spain, with the country erupting into vibrant celebrations for a full week

Easter is an irresistible time to visit Spain, with the country erupting into vibrant celebrations for a full week. Called Semana Santa, or Holy Week, this fascinating cultural fiesta incorporates brightly coloured traditional costumes, gloriously ornate artworks and special musical forms, from rythmic drumbeats accompanying parades to Gregorian chants. Here's how to experience the very best of the festivities.

Thrill the senses in Andalusia

Plaza de Spana, Seville

Seville is a joy to visit year round, but the city's atmosphere hits new heights during the Holy Week festivities (Photo: Getty Images)

During Seville’s famous Semana Santa celebrations, the warm spring air is scented with orange blossom and spiked with incense and candle wax, while the streets fill with processing nazarenos (members of the Catholic brotherhoods) wearing peaked white capes and accompanying vast Baroque sculptures of Christ and the Virgin. Thousands join the processions here, with some of the groups astoundingly silent and others accompanied by celebratory brass bands

In Granada, the popular Borriquilla (“little donkey”) procession on Palm Sunday kicks things off, while dozens of floats take to the narrow, cobbled streets of the Albaicín on Maundy Thursday, the fifth day of Holy Week. Also that day, Córdoba flings open its elegant, plant-decked patios for free visits. Don’t miss tasting the delicious potaje de Semana Santa, either, a chickpea and spinach stew with bacalao (cod)

In Seville, the AC Hotel by Marriott Ciudad de Sevilla offers a pleasant al fresco pool, while the top pick in Granada is the Hotel Palacio De Santa Paula, Autograph Collection, with its extraordinary convent-style architecture and location in the city’s historic centre. In Córdoba, it's hard to see beyond the sleek, contemporary AC Hotel by Marriott Cordoba

Sample torrijas and La Tamborrada in Madrid

One of the joys of visiting Spain during Semana Santa is to sample the special foods that are traditionally enjoyed at this time of year, such as deliciously sweet torrijas (Photo: Getty Images)

Madrid marks Holy Week with daily parades, culminating in La Tamborrada at noon on Easter Sunday. This showstopper sees dozens of purple-robed drummers marching into Plaza Mayor, sending a beat reverberating around its ancient walls and closing the city’s celebrations in style.

Easter is also the perfect time to view some of Madrid’s most famous artworks, many of which depict Christ on the cross. Head to the Prado Museum to see The Crucified Christ by Velázquez, which dates from the 17th century, and don’t miss El Cristo de la Sangre by Basque artist Ignacio Zuloaga at the Museo Reina Sofía. The Thyssen-Bornemisza also has some superb representations of Christ at Easter, including works by El Greco and Zurbarán. 

Torrija is a traditional Easter treat and Madrid has some of the best. Made from bread soaked in eggs and milk, then fried and topped with sprinkled sugar, it can be enjoyed at La Casa de las Torrijas, which dates from 1842. 

The palatial Hotel Palacio del Retiro, Autograph Collection or the chic JW Marriott Madrid Hotel both lie within easy walking distance of the museums and Plaza Mayor. Other great choices include the modern and centrally located AC Hotel by Marriott Recoletos, the sleek AC Hotel by Marriott Atocha, close to the city's largest train station, and The Madrid EDITION which has has an oasis-like al fresco swimming pool and rooftop terrace with city views.

Follow tradition in the Canary Islands

Colorful houses in La Orotava, Tenerife, Spain

Tenerife could hardly be more scenic, yet somehow the island's Easter celebrations bring an even greater allure to this spectacular destination (Photo: Getty Images)

The epicentre of the Canary Islands’ Easter celebrations is La Laguna in Tenerife. The streets of the island’s ancient capital are lined with historic buildings and the city is so beautiful it was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. It’s a glorious backdrop for the processions of Semana Santa, including the poignant Procesión de Madrugada, which takes place early on Maundy Thursday and sees the ornate wooden figure Cristo de la Laguna carried from San Francisco Church to the Cathedral, accompanied by traditional music.

On Good Friday, visitors can watch the Procesión Magna, which winds through the city’s ancient streets to a rhythmic drumbeat. Stay at the AC Hotel by Marriott Tenerife and you’ll be in the heart of the action. Alternatively, book into The Ritz-Carlton Tenerife, Abama, where the best rooms come with panoramic Atlantic views.

On neighbouring Gran Canaria, the main Easter event is La Burrita, which takes place on Palm Sunday in Las Palmas and features a float depicting Christ on a donkey, followed through the streets by dozens of local children carrying palm leaves. Check in to the AC Hotel by Marriott Iberia Las Palmas for gorgeous views across the city, a rooftop pool and the highest bar in Las Palmas. 

Experience Easter year-round in Castile and León

Zamora Spain

Visit Zamora during Holy Week to experience its streets filled with processions and music (Photo: Getty Images)

The Holy Week celebrations in Zamora date back to the 13th century and are known for their immersive music and atmospheric processions. Here, you’ll see hundreds of nazarenos processing through the streets in a rainbow of colourful hooded robes, carrying impressive statues, some of them several centuries old. On Good Friday, La Congregación's procession is a highlight, with applause breaking out when the statues congregate to pay reverence to the Virgen de la Soledad on Tres Cruces Avenue. Stay at the AC Hotel by Marriott Zamora for a stylish base close to the old town.

During Holy Week, Valladolid also sees numerous spectacular processions and the city is known for the quality of Castilian religious sculpture on display. Thanks to the National Sculpture Museum, you can view many of these important artworks year-round, as well as works by notable Spanish baroque artists including Alonso Berruguete and Gregorio Fernández. The AC Hotel by Marriott Palacio de Santa Ana, in a quiet spot just outside the city centre, offers elegant rooms and an indoor pool. 

Enjoy a unique Semana Santa in Palma de Mallorca

Cala Portals Vells cove in western Mallorca, Balearic Islands, Spain

For once, the Balearics' famous beaches take a back seat during Semana Santa, when the islands have a quite different focus (Photo: Getty Images)

In the Balearic Islands, the largest Holy Week processions take place in Palma on Maundy Thursday, when participants called caperutxes parade through the island capital wearing pointed white hoods. The highlight is the evening procession Crist de la Sang, when a wooden statue depicting Christ on the cross travels from the Iglesia de la Anunciación to the city’s Cathedral. Visitors can also watch a re-enactment of the Passion at midday on Good Friday in front of the Cathedral, as well as feasting on frito de Pascua, an Easter stew made with lamb and potatoes. 

Plan a stay at the AC Hotel by Marriott Ciutat de Palma, with an unbeatable location in hip Santa Catalina, or choose the Hacienda Son Antem Golf Resort, Autograph Collection for a retreat surrounded by gardens and golf courses. Just along the coast lies the The St. Regis Mardavall Mallorca Resort, where the rooms offer contemporary flair and the al fresco swimming pools, surrounded by lush gardens, step down towards the Mediterranean.

Experience la 'Dansa de la Mort' in Catalonia 

Plaça Reial square (Plaza Real) in Barcelona city center

During Holy Week, Catalonia's centre of gravity shifts a little from Barcelona towards places like Verges and Manresa, where historic traditions play out to this day (Photo: Getty Images)

Few spectacles are as memorable as the Dance of Death, a haunting but beautiful historic dance that was once performed across Spain as part of Holy Week, but is now only seen in Verges and Manresa in Catalonia. The dance features five skeletons leaping to a drumbeat and is performed after dark in the Plaça Major in Verges before the town’s procession moves through the streets until the early hours. 

Verges is an easy drive from Barcelona, where you’ll find the stylish AC Hotel by Marriott Diagonal L’Illa and the AC Hotel by Marriott Barcelona Forum with its large al fresco pool. Alternatively, check in to The Barcelona EDITION for smart, elegant rooms in the heart of the city's Gothic Quarter. 

Published: March 06, 2024

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