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Southern Spain during Holy Week

We are in the very early stages of planning a group trip for March of 2021. This will be five couples. Two people in the group are teachers so we have to go when they are on Spring break. It's the two weeks preceding Easter, which in 2021 is April 4. Because March can be chilly and rainy in many parts of Europe, we want to travel to southern Spain, or perhaps spend a week in that area and spend our other week in Portugal (or maybe divided between Madrid and Barcelona).

I've heard and read that Holy Week is one of the most important times of the year in southern Spain, with daily processions in the streets and other celebrations. Is it too intense and chaotic there that week, lots of crowds in all the sites and restaurants, etc.? So that we should spend our first week in southern Spain and then move on to Portugal (or Madrid/Barcelona) for Holy week? Or is Holy week a really special time to be in southern Spain, so that we should specifically plan to be there then despite the crowds?

Posted by
2173 posts

If one goes to Andalucia during Semana Santa, for the purpose of enjoying the processions and taking part in the general festivities you will be fine. However if you plan to just do the regular tourist things during Semana Santa, and are not really interested in the local festivities, you may find a bit of a difficult time, due to reduced opening times/higher prices. The Semana Santa revelers won't be especially going to see the Alhambra etc., if that is a concern, so you don't have to worry about extra crowds actually at the tourist sties, just everywhere in between.

However, you can do both, enjoy the processions and see the sights, though know you might not see everything on your list, but for an opportunity to see such a passionate manifestation of the local culture that is Semana Santa, I think it is well worth it. Madrid and Barcelona are less impacted by the Semana Santa holiday.

Posted by
1524 posts

Carlos - Can tourists participate in the Semana Santa processions and take part of the celebration? Since I am catholic, I would love to do that. I was just an observer 2 years ago in the crowded streets of Seville as I watched the pageantry of this spiritual festival.

Posted by
2173 posts

Hi Rjean, unfortunately I don't believe so, these people who take part in the processions (the ones with the pointy hats) are of local brotherhoods and fraternal religious groups, many go through training all year in order to take part in this very special event.

Posted by
1524 posts

ah ok, how unfortunate. Have you ever participated in one?

Posted by
2173 posts

When I was much younger, I participated in the processions at Cuenca, with some members of my family, who were members of a local fraternal order, though I don't remember much, only the funny pointy hats and a lot of walking lol. These particular processions are famous throughout Spain.

Posted by
18746 posts

I was in Andalucía last April for about a month, beginning on April 10. I agree with everything Carlos said but would like to emphasize that you really should allow extra time in the cities you'll be visiting during Holy Week because of four factors:

  • You'll want to spend at least a bit of time observing the processions.
  • The processions will sometimes significantly slow your progress from sight to sight; for me Seville was where this was the biggest issue.
  • Some sights will have additional closing days or will open late or close early on one or more days, narrowing your sightseeing window. You may need to visit the same part of a city two or three times because of the odd schedules (happened to me in Cordoba), which makes for less efficient sightseeing.
  • Although not mandatory, it will be a good idea to go by the tourist office in each city you visit during Holy Week to pick up the list of opening hours of all the sights. That will allow you to plan your time with more precision, but it may take a bit of time to get to the T.O. I suspect you won't be able to find that information on the internet before you leave home, though it would be worth trying to do so. I have a feeling those schedules don't get finalized until right before Holy Week.

Last year was my first visit to Andalucía in decades, so I have no idea whether any sights were more crowded than usual. The only ones for which pre-purchased tickets seemed necessary were the Alhambra, the Alcazar in Seville and the Cathedral in Seville. As you will see if you search earlier threads on this forum, buying advance tickets for those sights is always recommended. The Allhambra is capacity-controlled and sells out--at least for daytime visits--just about every day, so I don't think it will be more crowded than usual during Holy Week. I suppose the number of nighttime visitors might be higher than usual.

There is crowding along the processional routes and crossing them can be very difficult, especially in Seville, but I wouldn't call it "chaotic". If you have someone in your group who will freak out if he/she gets separated from the others, that person may need a bit of extra attention, because I think it might happen at some point if you're moving around as a group of six (again, probably in Seville).

So my recommendation is definitely to go, but don't try to cram in too many cities. I would spend all the time in Andalucía, not tack on Portugal, which deserves its own trip. My suggestion for rock-bottom minimum times in the three key cities:

Seville: 4 nights
Cordoba: 2 nights
Granada: 3 nights*

  • I like 3 nights even outside Holy Week, but will grant that if you go to Granada before Holy Week and are really pressed for time, I guess I'd recommend cutting a night from Granada rather than from Seville or Cordoba. It's likely to be a bit cooler in Granada, too, due to altitude.

I'd suggest 5 nights in Seville and 3 in Cordoba if possible, but you'll have to weigh those allocations against your desire to see Cadiz and/or Jerez, Ronda, the white villages, Malaga and Ubeda/Baeza. I think Ubeda/Baeza are likely to be cooler than the other places I've listed at the time you're traveling. I had a couple of cold mornings there (one of them also very wet) at the beginning of my trip (April 10 and 11).