Monday, 30 March 2015

Semana Santa in Madrid: What to do

Madrid is known for many things: its art galleries, its nighlife, its football teams. It is not, however, known for its Semana Santa. While parts of the rest of the country spend this week gripped by procession-watching fever, Madrid carries on doing its own thing.

If you're in Madrid this week and hoping to catch a paso or two though, fear not: a few processions do pass through the city centre. And if you're enjoying a week's holiday in the capital, there are plenty of other things going on to keep you amused.

Staying in the city


See a procession

The paparazzi couldn't get enough of Mary

If you've never experienced Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Spain before, it's worth making the effort to see a procession. It's also worth securing a spot early: make as the Spanish do and stock up on drinks and snacks. During the week, there are 13 processions in Madrid's city centre, most notably on Thursday (Jueves Santo) and Friday (Viernes Santo) evenings. Note that processions move very slowly and take several hours: this website has maps of the routes of each one so you can try to calculate the best time to arrive at your chosen spot. To find out more about Semana Santa in general, read this post. The Madrid Town Hall has set up a website specifically for Semana Santa, so if you fancy trying any more traditional activities such as concerts and exhibitions, check it out (Spanish only).

Eat torrijas

Honey-soaked torrijas with ice cream: Hello, heart attack!

During Semana Santa, it's traditional to eat torrijas, a sugar-high inducing dessert that marks the end of Lent (cuaresma). Made with bread, milk, eggs, cinnamon, honey and plenty of azúcar, this recipe came about as a way to use up hardening bread. Nowadays, you'll find torrijas on offer in cafés,  pastelerias and restaurants all over the city during Semana Santa. The most famous place to tuck into torrijas is La Casa de las Torrijas (Calle Paz 4), which has been cooking up these treats since 1904. They're hearty and delicious – perfect procession-watching fuel. Other typical Semana Santa sweets include pastry flores and pestiños, although these are more common in Andalucía.

Go sightseeing


If you're a Madrid resident who's staying put for the week, use this opportunity to sightsee and visit those places that are closed at the weekend, such as the Real Fábrica de las Tapices, or those with limited opening on Saturdays and Sundays. If you're on a budget, you can find a list of museums with free entry here. It's worth bearing in mind that Patrimonio Nacional sights like the Royal Palace and Convento de las Descalzas Reales offer limited free opening times on Wednesdays, so if you usually work during the week, now's the time to visit.

Getting out of town


If the idea of staying in Madrid for the whole week is too much to contemplate, plan an easy day trip.

Traditional: Alcalá de Henares


The pretty town of Alcala de Henares


An easy bus or train ride from the capital, Alcalá de Henares is best-known as the birthplace of famous Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes. His birthplace is open to visitors, and those interested in theatre can also book a guided tour of the Corral de Comedias, a historical theatre. The ancient university is well worth a visit too, but if you feel more like wandering than ticking off the sights, Alcalá's pretty plazas and streets won't disappoint. The town also goes in for Semana Santa in a big way, so if you'd like to get closer to a procession than you could in Madrid, check out the programme.

Relaxing: Manzanares el Real


The castle at Manzanares el Real


For some time out of the city, catch the bus from Plaza Castilla to the pretty sierra town of Manzanares el Real. With a picturesque reservoir, medieval castle and easy hill walks, Manzanares el Real is the perfect day trip when crowds become too much to handle and a breath of fresj air is needed. It's also filled with restaurants and cafés with prices that put central Madrid's to shame.

Different: La Catedral de Justo, Mejorada del Campo


Don Justo's Cathedral: A work in progress


La Sagrada Familia isn't Spain's only cathedral-in-progress: the other one can be found outside Madrid in the town of Mejorada del Campo. Rather more impressively than Gaudí's design, this place of worhsip is being constructed by one man, using only materials he finds or receives as donations. Don Justo has been working on his cathedral since 1963, with only occasional help. It's a bonkers building site of half-finished walls, staircases that lead to nowhere and roofs that only partly cover the essentials. It's also an impressive testament both to one man's faith and his building skills, and is well worth a visit. Full details here.

What will you be doing this Semana Santa?

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