Holy Week in Spain: Visiting Seville and Barcelona During Semana Santa

by | Mar 31, 2024

Sevilel Spain pasos during Holy week in Seville
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Last updated on April 14th, 2024

Featured image: The Seville Cathedral during Semana Santa in Spain  | Photo by Manual Focus 94 on Shutterstock

Semana Santa in Spain is unforgettable

By Carolyn Ray 

Celebrated since the 16th century, Holy Week (or Semana Santa) in Seville is one of the world’s most well-known festivals. As a frequent traveller to Spain, I’ve wanted to witness this seven-day festival and see the processions for years. Even if you’re not religious, Semana Santa in Spain is awe-inspiring because it shows the importance of community and the power of faith.

I arrived in Spain on Good Friday, or Viernes Santo, which is a solemn day during Holy Week. Every day features different activities so it’s wise to check the schedules for the city you are going to.  In Spain, every church has a brotherhood that is responsible for organising, financing and delivering Semana Santa, along with countless other social, cultural, religious and traditional celebration.

Each brotherhood has its own ‘pasos’, which show Jesus and Mary in different scenes from the Passion. They are all beautifully decorated and incredibly heavy, weighing up to a ton. Jesus is shown in gold, and the Virgin Mary, usually in tears, is surrounded by silver and white roses. As part of the procession, priests and altar boys carry lit candles and incense. There are also musicians and hooded ‘nazarenos, sometimes barefoot, who walk in silence. The men carrying the heavy pasos for hours to and from the Cathedral are called ‘costaleros’. I counted over 40 men underneath one of these immense structures, totally hidden except for their shoes.

easter in seville holy week procession spain
The Holy Week Procession outside the Seville Cathedral / Photo credit Carolyn Ray

Easter in Seville

Seville is the epicentre of Easter in Spain. During Holy Week in Seville, there are an estimated 71 brotherhoods and religious guilds of penitence, the thrones or paso, carried by costaleros through the cobblestone, winding and narrow streets and around 50,000 Nazarenes, who wear hooded gowns, some with chains around their feet.

When I arrived in Seville on Friday afternoon, I was not expecting to see any processions but was immediately greeted by a large parade near the train station. However, when I arrived at my hotel, I learned that all of the processions from Friday had been delayed to Saturday. I made my way to the cathedral, blending with hundreds of people making their way to the main route. There were also viewing stands where people were seated to watch the entire procession. Fortunately, the police had set up pathways so that you could cross the street. Even then, I was caught in the flow of the parade while trying to cross the street.

Near the Seville Cathedral, watching the processions felt like being on a movie set. The tall pointed hats of the nazarenos, the golden lights of the cathedral and the steady beat of the drums created an otherworldly essence. What’s even more amazing is how these floats are carried through the streets for hours. Guided by ‘navigators’ on each corner, the pasos stop every few minutes to allow the men carrying them some rest. With three clicks on the metal outside, the lowered pasos is raised again, often to cheers of ‘ole’ (bravo!) and claps of gratitude and appreciation.

Things to do: Find day tours in Seville by clicking here
Easter Holy Week in Seville Spain cathedral and procession
The Giralda Tower in Seville as the backdrop for Semana Santa processions / Photo by Carolyn Ray
People crowd the streets in Seville during Holy Week in Spain, 2024
The streets of Seville on Saturday for the processions / Photo by Carolyn Ray

Easter in Barcelona

In Barcelona on Good Friday, I unexpectedly found myself standing on the steps of Barcelona Cathedral next to the Archbishop of Barcelona. Amazingly, although there were police present, there was no ‘show of force’. The police simply cleared a path for the religious leaders to make a speech, as a group of us stood just a few feet away.

Here, there were three pasos – Jesus on a cross, Mary on a throne and Mary holding Jesus, all carried on men’s shoulders through the streets of Barcelona. I watched as 10 feet away, a woman sang her heart out to Mary and Jesus which brought tears to my eyes. While I couldn’t understand everything being said, I felt honoured to experience this moment – it was an opportunity to believe in something bigger than myself.

Men standing on the steps of the Barcelona Cathedral during Holy Week Easter
On the steps of Barcelona Cathedral on Good Friday / Photo by Carolyn Ray
Carrying a cross in Barcelona spain holy week
The somber Good Friday procession in Barcelona, Spain / Photo by Carolyn Ray

The last night of Holy Week

On Easter Sunday, the last night of Holy Week in Seville, I visited to various churches to see the pasos, which are inside for public viewing. Afterwards, I walked over to Plaza de la Encarnación to watch the final two pasos return home to their neighbourhoods after being carried back from the Cathedral. Even though it was cold, overcast and late at night, people crowded the streets, in silence and reverence. Fresh flowers rained down from the rooftops, covering all of us in rose petals. In that moment, I felt inextricably connected to the people around me, feeling their emotions and pride as the pasos returned home until next year’s festival. Easter is always about rejuvenation, but in Seville it’s even more profound and powerful. This is the gift of travel — to connect us, build understanding between cultures and cultivate gratitude for experiences like this. Gracias, Seville, and Felices Pascuas. 

Virgin Mary in a church in Seville, Spain

Mary in tears, surrounded by silver and white flowers, in Seville / Photo by Carolyn Ray

Jesus on the cross in a church in Spain

Jesus on the cross, in a scene from the Passion, in Seville / Photo by Carolyn Ray

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If you go to Seville

There are many tourists in during Holy Week in Seville, so if you go, book your hotel well in advance and expect to pay higher rates. While not all the bars and restaurants are closed, you will want to make reservations. Find a hotel here.

Join the Expat Sevilla group on Facebook (it’s in English) and download the El Penitente app for timetables (it is in Spanish). You can also rent balconies for viewing; I noticed some of 60 euros including tapas. Television station 101 Sevilla has live broadcasts of the procession.

Safety tips for Seville 

When the streets are crowded, make sure you keep your cross–body bag in front of you, and consider using Wise for ‘tap and pay’ rather than using actual currency. Be caurious posting your current location on social media, particularly your hotel; it’s always better to post when. you get home. Find more cybersecurity travel tips here.

How to get to Seville and Barcelona

Spain has a very good train network. I took the OUIGO high-speed train from Barcelona to Madrid (about 2.5 hours), and then a Renfe train to Seville, which was less than three hours.  (Note: the Wifi doesn’t work well on either, so make other plans!)   

Believe it or not, it was cheaper to fly into London than Madrid from Toronto and to take the train from London to Seville. From there, I took the Eurostar train from London to Lille and then went through to Barcelona. The train easy and pleasant, giving me time to catch up on sleep and some writing.  My route was London St. Pancreas to Lille, Lille to Lyon and then Lyon to Barcelona.  Book your train trip here on Trainline.

Where to stay in Seville and Barcelona

There are so many beautiful hotels in both Seville and Barcelona but I prefer bed and breakfasts and smaller boutique hotels. In my many trips to Seville, I’ve never found a neighbourhood I didn’t enjoy, including Santa Clarita and Santa Cruz, which is most often visited by tourists. Triana, just across the river, is also becoming more popular. In Barcelona, I usually stay in the Gothic Quarter but have also spent a few weeks in Saint Antoni and nearby Sitges and Girona which I’ve found can be cheaper than staying in Barcelona. To look for hotels recommended by women in Spain, click here or check Booking.com.

More About Spain

As the CEO and Editor of JourneyWoman, Carolyn is a passionate advocate for women's travel and living the life of your dreams. She leads JourneyWoman's team of writers and chairs the JourneyWoman Women's Advisory Council and Women's Speaker's Bureau. She has been featured in the New York Times, Toronto Star and Zoomer as a solo travel expert, and speaks at women's travel conferences around the world. In March 2023, she was named one of the most influential women in travel by TravelPulse and was the recipient of a SATW travel writing award in September 2023. She is the chair of the Canadian chapter of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW), a member Women's Travel Leaders and a Herald for the Transformational Travel Council (TTC). Sometimes she sleeps. A bit.


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