If you’re visiting Madrid over Easter, follow our guide so you don’t miss the sights, sounds and spectacle of this popular celebration.
During Semana Santa, religious brotherhoods around the city organise processions, in which penitents carry pasos – huge floats holding sculptures depicting scenes from the Passion of Christ. The floats are usually housed in churches around the city and are brought out once a year in the run-up to Easter.
The processions are practised for months leading up to Holy Week and are intricately choreographed, with music playing an important part. Marching bands often parade alongside the processions, with trumpets, drums and cymbals a common sound.
Most of the members of the brotherhoods wear nazarenos, or cloaks, with a long, pointed hood called a capirote. Despite their unfortunate similarity, they have nothing to do with the cloaks worn by the Ku Klux Klan. The colours of the cloaks worn depend on the brotherhood.
Some women taking part in the procession often wear the traditional mantilla, a lace veil, and rosary beads.
Where to see processions
Palm Sunday (Domingo de Ramos)
Nuestro Padre Jesús del Amor procession begins at the Almudena Cathedral at 4.30pm and will go down Calle Mayor.
The Cristo de la Fe y el Perdón parade starts at the Basilica of San Miguel at 7pm.
Holy Wednesday (Miércoles Santo)
The Cristo de los Gitanos procession starts at the Parish of Nuesta Señora del Carmen (Calle de la Salud, 2) at 8.15pm.
Maundy Thursday (Jueves Santo)
The Jesús Nazareno El Pobre procession starts at the Church of San Pedro El Viejo (Calle del Nuncio, 14) at 7pm.
The Jesús del Gran Poder y de la Macarena procession starts at the Colegiata de San Isidro (Calle de Toledo, 37) at 8pm.
Good Friday (Viernes Santo)
The Divino Cautivo procession will parade through Madrid’s literary quarter, the Barrio de Las Letras, starting from Calle de San Sebastián at 6.30pm
The procession of Jesús de Medinaceli will set off at 7pm from the Basilica de Jesús de Medinaceli (Plaza de Jesús, 2). The procession will pass Spain’s lower parliament before making its way to the Puerta del Sol.
The procession of Santísimo Cristo de los Alabarderos en Madrid will start from the Royal Palace at 7pm and traverse central Madrid including Calle Mayor and Plaza Mayor.
Easter Saturday (Sábado Santo)
Procession of Solitude will set off at 4.30pm from the Church of the Concepción Real de Calatrava (Calle de Alcalá, 25).
You can check out where and when every procession is taking place (in Spanish) in Madrid’s official Holy Week programme.
A season of sacred music – Sacred music to accompany Easter – will take place in churches across the city. Churches hosting the concerts include the Basilica of Nuestra Señora de Atocha, the Pontifical Basilica of San Miguel and the Parish Church of Santa Cruz. Entry is free
On Good Friday (March 30th) at 8pm, four Spanish flamenco singers will perform from the balcony of the Casa de la Panadería on the Plaza Mayor as the parades cross the famous square. The four women will sing saetas, a traditional flamenco song.
At midday on Easter Sunday religious brotherhoods will take part in the annual Drum Parade (Tamborrada), which will bring the Easter celebrations to a close. Make sure you get to the square early to get a good position – it is usually packed by midday.
If there was one food that was, above all others, associated with Easter in Spain it would be torrijas. The French toast-style sweet snack is made by soaking bread in milk and egg then frying with sugar and cinnamon. The Casa de las Torrijas (House of the Torrijas) specialises in the Easter treat.