Way before I had a better camera, I booked a trip to Spain and was fortunate enough to experience their incredible Holy Week (Semana Santa) celebration. The city of Seville definitely shines when it comes to Holy Week. We didn’t notice much activity in either Madrid or Barcelona, which made way for a quieter adventure. Below I’ve listed our favorite stops, eats, and memories of that celebration. Please forgive the potato-looking iPhone pictures.
We flew into Madrid because it was the cheapest route. Even when I searched Spain flights recently (for my parents) Madrid was still the cheapest airport to fly into from Chicago.
This city was my favorite of them all. It’s big but more compact than Barcelona, so it’s easier to get around and explore by foot.
Favorite Eats in Madrid
1. Chocolatería San Ginés– This is probably the most famous churro shop in Madrid, and it’s open 24 hours. However, there are many smaller, less “Instagrammed” places to get your churro fix and they’re well worth a visit. The churro originated in Spain, they’re a lot lighter and don’t bloat you like the US versions. I say you create your own churro tour and try as many places as you can! Skip the dipping chocolate to save room for more churros. My favorite ones were from Las Farolas.
2. Botín– It was founded in 1725, and it holds the record for the oldest restaurant in the world! You’ll need a reservation. The times never worked out for us, so we didn’t get to try it! But it has raving reviews, and I’m ready to go back to Madrid just for Botín (and some more churros of course).
3. Mercado de San Miguel– This is a great market near the center of town where you’ll find all the Spanish goodies you can think of! We loved going here for tapas and wine.
Favorite Stops in Madrid
1. Check out the beautiful Palacio de Cristal in Retiro Park
2. Did you know that Madrid has a vertical garden?
-Apparently, sangria is for tourists. To blend in more and get charged less, order tinto de verano, very similar concept to sangria.
-Don’t leave Spain without trying their paella.
-Save money on wine tours by doing your own. Some wine shops will let you try any wine you’d like and they’ll just charge you per tasting. Use the money you saved to buy full wine bottles instead.
-We loved our stay at Hotel Regina! Great location with clean rooms. The pillows were amazing, and we had THE BEST sleep. I even emailed them later on trying to get the name of their pillow company lol yes, I really did.
-Most everyone speaks English, but if you know Spanish they’ll probably like you even more. I’m fluent in Spanish, but it was funny because they’d still ask me where my accent is from.
-If you’re there on the weekend, know that they party harder than any other country we’ve experienced yet! They hung out in this plaza till 7 am the next morning.
Woke up extra early to get these clear streets:
Holy Week in Seville
Then we made our way down to Seville by train. The ride is 2.5 hours from Madrid. Seville is one of the more “traditional” Spanish cities. It’s colorful, it’s beautiful, and I wish I had captured it better.
Like I mentioned, Seville shines when it comes to Holy Week, and we’ve never experienced anything like it! The town transforms into a number of story-telling processions and late night celebrations. The scenes seen in the processions are from the story of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The hoods they wear are called “capirotes” and symbolize repentance and grief. The floats they carry are very heavy, but the participants consider it a great honor to be a part of the processions. It’s a beautiful thing to see.
At one point we were walking down the street and they were dancing and celebrating as the procession passed by. Then we turned the corner and the street was packed with people but it was completely silent. You see, when they’re carrying the float with Jesus Christ, that crowded block will stop moving or talking and just stand there respectfully until they pass.
So we stood there silently watching them pass with Jesus, and not a peep could be heard. It was a crazy cool experience. Then once they passed onto the next street, the street we were on started cheering and celebrating, and the following street became quiet.
Though the celebrations are great, they can be exhausting. If you want to escape the crowds, which at some point I’m sure you will, go take a peaceful boat ride at the Plaza de España.
If time allows, rent a car and take a day trip to Ronda. It was in our plans, but it didn’t work out for us this time around. Ronda is a town built on the edge of the mountains and less than a 2-hour drive from Seville.
Barcelona is a huge city and more spread out than Madrid, but it’s easily connected by public transportation. With all of Gaudi’s gems to see, and the incredible food, there’s plenty to do in this exciting city.
Favorite Eats in Barcelona
1. Cera 23– Our favorite in Barcelona!! The drinks were amazing and the food was excellent. The service was so great that we became friends with the servers and visited again before we left town!
2. B Burger– This place was a little out of the way, definitely more of a local spot, but it was soooo good! That night there was a big soccer game happening (Barcelona vs Madrid) so the restaurant was filled with locals watching the game and cheering like crazy. I don’t even like sports, but that was a fun experience.
3. Mercat de la Boqueria– A very popular market in Barcelona where you can sample a little bit of everything.
4. Boadas– The oldest bar in Barcelona, and one of Hemingway’s favorite places.
Favorite Stops in Barcelona
1. Parc de la Ciutadella– It’s a relaxing place to visit and watch all the dogs play. So many dogs! And of course, you can also see intricate fountains like this one. But also the dogs!
2. Gaudi’s buildings– Definitely try to see all of Gaudi’s masterpieces. We only had the time to visit the Sagrada Familia, Casa Mila, and Parc Guell. Seeing the sunset from Parc Guell is on many lists, but know that they charge you to get into the viewing spot.
3. Montserrat Mountains– For a great day trip, take a train to the mountains of Montserrat. It’s super easy to get there and only takes about an hour. Once you arrive, you can either hike your way up or take a cable car to the top. Either way, you get quite the view.
We loved this country so much, and clearly have a lot of reasons to go back!
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