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Easter across Europe: How to celebrate Holy Week like a local

March 26, 2018
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There’s more than chocolate treats and egg-hiding bunnies to Easter — and in many Christian European countries, Holy Week and Easter weekend are the biggest celebrations of the year. From pagan traditions celebrating spring, to throwing water on your crush to secure her affections, to holy processions honouring the resurrection, and fireworks and feasts of all sizes, here’s how 14 different European cities celebrate Easter — and how you can join the festivities as a traveller in town.

Prague, Czech Republic

Local tips from Misa, our local tour guide in Prague

decorated easter eggs in a basket

Czech artists use ancient, regional techniques to decorate Easter eggs | Photo by Prague Urban Adventures

The annual Easter markets take place on three of Prague’s most famous squares: Old Town Square, Wenceslas Square and the Square of the Republic, as well as on lots of the smaller ones. At Old Town Square there are more than 90 stands offering traditional Czech products, such as beautifully decorated Easter eggs, lace works, wooden toys and puppets, and various Easter decorations. There’s also a stage with a cultural programme, including music and dance performances, old arts and crafts demonstrations and Easter egg decorating, as well as a children’s workshop the in Old Town Square where you can try some of the crafts yourself.

What to eat and drink

Most of the restaurants will have lamb on their menu — usually roasted with mashed potatoes, but the recipes vary, so go on and experiement. Every family also bakes a sweet cake in the form of a little ram. And of course eggs in all forms can’t be missed anywhere!

Lots of alcohol is drunk during Czech Easter, so go for a shot of slivovitz (plum brandy) or hot mead (especially if the weather is cold!). There’s also the production of green beer, which is only produced once a year — so look for it in a pub in the evenings.

What to buy

The decorated eggs that are called kraslice. The name comes from the old Czech word meaning ‘beautiful.’ Some eggs are coloured in red to symbolise the blood of Christ, and most are decorated with geometrical, floral or religious motifs. The artists use ancient techniques and patterns that vary region from region.

And don’t forget to also buy a pomlázka (willow branches decorated with ribbons) — you’ll need it for Easter Monday. (Keep reading to find out why…)

sticks decorated with ribbons

Men, grab your pomlázka for Monday… | Photo by Prague Urban Adventures

Other tips

If you are a woman, don’t be scared when men try to give you a gentle wacking on Easter Monday with a pomlázka (those decorated willow branches) — the tradition says it’s for your good health in the following year. The closer you are geographically to Slovakia, the more likely men will accompany the wacking with throwing a bucket of cold water over you. Yeah, we know…

Boys and men visit friends and relatives in as many houses in their area as possible. Girls and women stay at home and will usually scream, shout and run around, but in the end everyone laughs, so don’t be concerned. This tradition can seem a bit shocking if you’re not used to it, but it is all done in good spirit and with lots of fun. Afterwards, the women reward their male visitors with a shot of slivovizt and an egg, and add another ribbon to the branches. But men, watch out — you only have this right until noon; afterwards, no more wacking until next year!

Copenhagen, Denmark

Local tips from Mie and Lars, our local tour guides in Copenhagen

platter of open-faced sandwiches in Copenhagen

#localsknow that smørrebrød are best at Easter | Photo by Copenhagen Urban Adventures

What to eat and drink

The classic national Danish dish of smørrebrød — open-faced sandwiches on rye bread — are at their best at Easter time.

The traditional Danish Easter lunch consists of a big buffet of open-sandwich toppings. First, the fish varieties: several types of pickled herring, fried plaice, smoked eel and salmon. And of course, the Easter specialty, skidne æg. Don’t let the name, which translates into ‘filthy eggs’ fool you — these soft-boiled eggs in creamy mustard sauce are delicious!

After this comes the more meaty dishes: liver pate, boiled ham, salami and chicken salad are all served cold but often accompanied by warm dishes such as frikadeller (Danish meatballs), Medister sausage and roasted pork fillet in mushrooms a la crème.

If there is room for more — and often even if there isn’t — varieties of cheese and crackers are put out after this.

And to drink? Beer and schnapps. And then some more beer and schnapps! Extra strong and dark beer are brewed for Easter celebrations, and there is an aquavit (or schnapp) for all occasions and dishes. Light or golden ones for the fish, darker, stronger ones for the meat, and ones made from walnuts or sloe berries for the cheese.

To try a Danish Easter lunch, go to any restaurant serving traditional Danish cuisine. They will have it on the menu.

What to buy

There are basically only three things you need for Danish Easter: schnapps, schnapps and schnapps!. Okay, jokes aside, it is also a good idea to buy a chocolate egg for the children.

Other tips

In the weeks before Easter, many Danish people will get peculiar letters in the mail. These letters, often cut out in intricate patterns, contain a rhyming riddle and are signed with a number of dots — corresponding to the number of letters in the sender’s name. If you receive one of these gækkebreve (‘jesting letters’), you had better start finding out who sent it. Because if you don’t, you owe the sender a chocolate egg come Easter Sunday!

Crete, Greece

Local tips from Rebecca, our local tour guide in Crete

candles lit in a Greek church

Locals bring their lambades, or Easter candles, to church on Great Saturday | Photo by Crete Urban Adventures

Orthodox Easter in Crete is a family celebration — the greatest of all feasts for Greeks, religious or not. Usually, the Greek Orthodox Easter period occurs later than the Catholic Easter period.

On Great Thursday, Easter preparations begin when red eggs are dyed, representing the blood of Christ, and the traditional Easter bread, called tsoureki (and of which the three braids represent the Holy Trinity), is baked (or bought if you are lazy). In every village, a traditional symbolic crucifixion takes place during the church service while women mourn through the night.

The Epitaph procession (mourning for the death and burial of Christ) takes place on Great Friday when church bells ring all day, and a shrine representing Christ’s tomb is carried in the streets and people participate in a quiet procession. If you visit a Cretan village, you will feel the devout atmosphere of the procession through the village’s cobbled streets and narrow laneways.

On Great Saturday, all people go to church before midnight, carrying their Easter candles, called lambades for the Eternal Flame. Just before midnight all the lights are switched off and when the clock strikes 12, the priest announces “Cristos Anesti!” (“Christ is risen!”) and people greet each other while fireworks and crackers are set off. After midnight, people carry the Eternal Flame home, making a black cross on their house door with the flame. Later they crack their eggs and eat the traditional magiritsa, made from lamb offal.

Easter Sunday is a fun day of celebration when families and friends gather before noon to roast a whole lamb, and then have a long lunch along with drinking and dancing.

What to eat and drink

You should try magiritsa, the traditional dish which symbolises the end of the 40-day Lent. It is prepared by boiling the offal of the lamb with vegetables such as lettuce, onion and dill.

But the king of all Easter dishes is, by far, the roasted lamb. Thanks to the great Mediterranean weather, people set up cooking fires outdoors where the whole lamb is roasted for many hours. It is accompanied with side dishes such as tzatziki, roasted potatoes and Greek salad.

Of course, you will also eat many dyed red eggs and tsoureki, the Easter bread. And during the feast, be sure to try some Cretan red wine and local raki, the Cretan grape-based brandy.

What to buy

Typical gifts during Easter are tsoureki, the Easter sweet bread, and the special Easter candles, called lambades. What makes lambades so special is their decoration, which varies with each designer’s imagination. You can find handmade lambades decorated with natural materials or even ones with superheroes or toys, which are given as gifts to children from their parents or Godparents.

a display of candles at night

In Argyroupolis, giant torches are made of reeds and carried through the village | Photo by Crete Urban Adventures

Other tips

If you visit Chania town on Great Saturday, you can attend the ‘burning of Judas’ tradition, which takes place in Chalepa, a suburb in Chania, when the clock strikes midnight. Be prepared for big flames as locals burn the effigy of Judas.

On Great Friday, you can visit Argyroupolis village near Rethymno town to attend the unique custom of Lambades (not to be confused with the candles), which dates back to the period when the village had no electricity. Giant torches up to six metres tall are made by the villagers using reeds, and carried by at least three people in order to lighten the route of the Epitaph procession. (Pssst! You can also experience Great Friday in Argyroupolis on our Easter pop-up tour!)

Budapest, Hungary

Local tips from Livia, our local tour guide in Budapest

tour guide standing in line for food at a market

Be sure to visit the Easter Market in Budapest | Photo by Budapest Urban Adventures

Most Hungarians stay at home and around the neighbourhood at Easter, as it’s a family holiday. In the countryside, people maintain old-school traditions more so than in the city, but all of us still eat and drink a lot during this time! And the most typical tradition still carries on, although it is based on an old practice that has changed today.

The tradition of ‘watering the women’ refers to actually pouring a bucketful of cold water onto girls on Easter Monday morning, and historically was a way for a young man to show his interest in a girl. The watering always went along with a rhyme and a question at the end: “May I water you?” The only answer accepted was YES.

The ‘watered’ girls offer coloured eggs for the boys/men in return for the watering, with different colours representing their response: red means ‘I like you,’ blue means ‘I like you as a friend,’ green means ‘you might have a chance’ and yellow means ‘I don’t like you.’

Today, men still ‘water’ the ladies (along with a modern version of traditional rhymes) with soda water or a perfume is sprayed on their hair (imagine how we smell at the end of the day!). Along with the symbolic eggs, chocolate, money or alcohol is also offered in return.

There are two traditional ways to prepare the eggs: (1) Hard boil the eggs and when cooled off, soak them in a vegetable dye gained by boiling onion for yellow-brown, beetroot for red, dark cabbage for blue, etc. Leave in the dye for hours then dry and leave it as it is or carve patterns on the surface. Or, (2) Empty the eggs by making two holes at the two ends and blow out the white and yolk into a bowl. Draw lines and decorations on the surface with wax and put the eggs into a lukewarm dye. These two methods can also be combined.

What to eat and drink

We prepare different cakes, and kalács (braided sweet bread) is always on the table along with boiled eggs, cooked ham and fresh spring onions, peppers and tomatoes. We also offer some good Hungarian palinka (a fruit brandy) to our visitors.

On Good Friday, locals eat pasta, dried fruit and eggs. No meat is eaten at all. On Saturday, we don’t eat meat until after sunset, at which point dinner is ham with boiled eggs and horseradish. On Sunday and Monday, hard-boiled eggs, smoked ham and kalács are the most typical foods to eat. We also drink a lot of wine, beer and palinka over the weekend.

tray of baked desserts

At Easter, its all about the cakes and sweet breads | Photo by Budapest Urban Adventures

What to buy

Chocolate eggs and chocolate rabbits are everywhere! You can also buy beautifully painted eggs made out of wood or real eggs, and which families use to decorate their gardens. We also decorate our homes with barka, a grain that is a symbol of spring.

Other tips

On the main square (Vörösmarty Square) there is a beautiful spring market from the 23rd of March to the 22nd of April. On April 1, between 10am and 1pm, you can try out the Hungarian traditional egg painting techniques here. In the afternoon from 2pm to 6pm, you can make some Hungarian honey bread. On April 2, from 10am to 1pm is a traditional Easter egg decorating workshop, using only natural ingredients.

Venice, Italy

Local tips from Simona, our local tour guide in Venice

decorated chocolate eggs on display

Chocolate eggs from Vizio e Virtù, an amazing chocolate shop in Venice | Photo by Venice Urban Adventures

The Italians say “Christmas with your family, Easter with whom you please!” and in fact, Easter is usually the holiday when Venetians leave for vacation or simply just a day out of town (“gita fuori porta”), especially on Easter Monday. All events during Holy week and Easter day are religious-related, starting from Holy Thursday when all the churches are open for prayers. Various processions (Via Crucis) are held on Friday, with the most attended one being at the Basilica of San Marco, usually celebrated by the Patriarch of Venice. Easter Sunday is when we celebrate the resurrection, with morning mass and a huge lunch with family or friends. A staple meal is torta Pasqualina, a sort of savoury cake stuffed with veggies and eggs, and a symbol of the upcoming spring. It’s usually a homemade dish that can sometimes be found in family-run restaurants like Osteria Da Marisa or Ai Canottieri.

What to eat and drink

You cannot be in Venice during Easter and not try a slice of our fugassa, a typical Easter round-shaped cake. Similar in shape to the Christmas panettone but with a slightly different taste, we often have it paired with a glass of Malvasia dolce (sweet dessert wine). Ask for it at a restaurant or buy one for yourself at our favourite bakeries Rosa Salva, Colussi or Tonolo. You won’t regret it!

What to buy

We usually give everyone (not only kids!) decorated chocolate eggs stuffed with a surprise; you will find them in any size and everywhere. We suggest buying some artisanal ones at any good bakery such as Dal Mas or at family-run chocolate shop like Vizio Virtù.

Other tips

On Easter Monday do like Venetians do and go for a walk on the beach at Lido. Or take the vaporetto to a more secluded island like Sant’ Erasmo, where you can hire a bicycle at B&B Lato Azzurro and go for a ride among the artichokes fields, with stunning views of the Venetian lagoon. Or go to Vignole, our favourite island, for a stroll among wild nature and a great lunch at a family-run restaurant overlooking the water.

Vilnius, Lithuania

Local tips from Kestas and Vilija, our local tour guides in Vilnius

coloured Easter eggs in a bowl

The most beautiful eggs will be used to decorate the Easter Tree | Photo by Vilnius Urban Adventures

On the first day of Easter celebrations, all of Vilnius is buzzing with Easter events. In the morning, locals go to church for mass and then join celebrations in the Old Town. The Vilnius Ethnic Cultural Centre hosts the “Heaven in Easter egg patterns” event in Vinco Kudirkos Square (Gedimino Ave 9). Starting at 11am, locals and visitors, individuals and families are all welcome, with many events planned particularly for children.

Easter eggs are decorated for the Easter Tree, with everyone called to bring their most uniquely painted, knitted, felted, molded and decorated Easter eggs to be placed on the tree.

From 12pm onwards, everyone is invited to join the various Easter festivities, starting with the contest for the most beautiful, most original, and most traditional margutis (Easter egg). There are also Easter egg rolling competitions, and opportunities to visit with Grandma Easter (unlike in other countries where a bunny hides the eggs, in Lithuania, it’s grandmothers!).

This year, the square will feature entertainment by actors from MASK ACADEY, who will be creating characters of animals, along with a performance by folk groups.

As well, in 2018, Easter falls on April Fools’ Day, so be prepared for holiday characters to be making jokes about themselves and you! (It’s also the Republic of Uzupis Independence Day, so you may want to hop on our Uzupis pop-up party tour for the celebrations!)

What to eat and drink

After Easter morning church services, people return to their homes to dine on a sumptuous breakfast with the contents of the blessed food basket. The meal starts with an egg that can be sliced and shared by the entire family as a sign of unity, or each person can have their own egg and toast by clinking it against another’s. If your eggshell remains unbroken after the “clinking,” you are destined to have a long life.

Then, for dinner, all the stops are pulled with a groaning board of delights that were forbidden during Lent and are now eaten in celebration of Christ’s resurrection: eggs in every conceivable form, pig’s head or roast pig, roast goose, roast chicken, baked ham or roasted lamb, bread, cheese, sausage, potato sausage, bacon, horseradish and more.

There are blynai (panckakes), koldūnai (dumplings), kugelis (grated potato pie), salads galore and mushrooms in almost every dish. And then comes an incredible assortment of desserts. They include Easter bread (Velykų pyragas), Easter gypsy pie (Velyku pyragas čigonas), log cake, poppyseed roll (pyragas su sguonomis), mushroom cookies (grybukai), Easter cake (kaimak), a molded cheese dessert (pashka), poppyseed cookies (aguonu sausainiukai) and so much more. And to wash it all down, good strong coffee and homemade gira, which is similar to kvass (a rye-based alcohol).

family gathered around a table outside

Say goodbye to Lent with a family Easter feast in Vilnius | Photo by Vilnius Urban Adventures

What to buy

Any products or dishes suitable for Easter dinner, wooden handmade Easter eggs and verbos (colourful Easter bouquets made from dried flowers and herbs) are all great Easter souvenirs.

Other tips

There are quite a few Easter superstitions in Lithuania, such as that if it rains on Easter morning, young children will let it pour on their heads to ensure quick growth. Or, if on the way to Easter mass you pass a woman, you’ll have an accident. To take the ‘curse’ off, you’ll have to retrace your steps and take another road to church.

After mass, it’s said the person who arrives home first will be successful all year. So watch out for pushing and shoving, and be careful — they say if there is an accident on Easter, the rest of the year is destined to be fraught with bad luck.

Lastly, if Easter morning is sunny and beautiful, the summer will be fair. If it rains or snows, bad weather is to be expected for the rest of the year.

Krakow, Poland

Local tips from Monika and Tomasz, our local tour guides in Krakow

handpainted Easter egg

Buy beautifully decorated eggs at the Krakow Easter Market | Photo by Krakow Urban Adventures

On Easter Sunday, locals attend a morning resurection mass — if you go, you will see people in folk costumes as well as a huge, joyful procession. The best places to attend are the Royal Cathedral on the Wawel Hill or St. Marry’s Basilica on the Main Square of Krakow. If you can, go to a Polish family home for a real Easter breakfast. It will be your longest. Breakfast. Ever.

Monday is a good day to go out for a long walk and rest after all that heavy eating on the previous day — but it is a also a day you have to be very careful not to end up totally wet. The pagan tradition is to attack anyone you see with water. The meaning behind it was purification and preparation for the spring to come, but over time, the significance has shifted towards commemoration of baptism. It’s also even sometimes interpreted as an old game to help young men to find a wife! Boys would be allowed to pour water on women as an opportunity to start a conversation. Or to see your dream girl in a wet shirt or dress, but that’s another topic…

You can consider yourself lucky if only a child has poured water on you from a plastic toy. Less lucky is meeting a group of teenagers with full buckets. As there is nothing you can do about it, my advice is to hide your electronic devices, relax and come back home to change if you become totally wet. The good thing is that you will never forget Easter in Poland thanks to this little adventure. The best place to go is Zwierzyniec, where the Easter Market is celebrated (take tram #6 and go to the last stop).

On Easter Tuesday, some locals will go to Krak’s Mound to attend a pagan feast called Rekawka, which is celebrated every year to welcome spring.

What to eat and drink

Eggs, eggs, eggs! They are a real symbol of Easter in Poland. You also have to try white borscht with sausage, meat with homemade horseradish, vegetable salad and some Easter cakes — round rum baba and richly decorated mazurek full of dried fruit and nuts.

What to buy

There is a huge Easter market at the Main Square of the city, where you can buy everything connected to the holiday: painted eggs, wooden decorations, flowers and traditional foods. Another place to go for shopping on Wet Monday is the Zwierzyniec neighbourhood. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday, you can also join our Made In Krakow shopping tour to browse some of the Easter-themed work being doing by local artisans.

pink flowers blooming on a tree

Go for a walk to welcome spring… just don’t get wet! | Photo by Krakow Urban Adventures

Other tips

If you’re in Krakow during Holy Week, be sure to drive two hours south of Krakow to visit the small village of Chocholow, located at the bottom of the Tatra Mountains. Here you can see women dressed in traditional folk costumes and cleaning their beautiful wooden houses in the week leading up to Easter.

On Palm Saturday, go to the church to see richly decorated Easter baskets with traditional foods like painted eggs (pisanki), special sausage, homemade horseradish, baba or mazurek cakes. You can also see the symbolical grave of Jesus. The best places to go are the Transfiguration of Christ at 2 Pijarska Street and St. Bernardine at 2 Bernardynska Street. Alternately, you can visit the small city of Lipnica Murowana, a 1.5-hour drive from Krakow, to attend a huge competition of palms and visit a beautiful wooden church that’s a UNESCO Heriatge site.

Bucharest, Romania

Local tips from Doru, our local tour guide in Bucharest

Easter display of eggs and cloths

Shop for traditional Romanian clothes, homemade sweets and painted eggs at the Easter fair | Photo by Bucharest Urban Adventures

Easter in Bucharest is usually celebrated with a big lunch that gathers the whole family together. Prior to that we all (well, most of us) go to church on Easter Eve (the night of Holy Saturday) to enjoy the Easter candles ceremony (so beautiful to watch as the entire city is lit up from all those candles). So if you’re visiting, wandering in the old city centre around midnight is a good idea, as it is packed with some of our most beautiful churches and you can watch the light service even from distance (it’s actually better this way as it tends to get really crowded).

If you are looking for some entertainment on Easter, there is a lovely Easter fair that takes place in our biggest and most charming park, Herastrau (recently named King Michael I). From March 30 to April 9, this is the place where locals will head for traditional goodies, shows and concerts, and creative workshops for kids. They will even have a cool exhibition of lambs and rabbits — fluffiness overload!

What to eat and drink

Having lunch or dinner in a restaurant serving traditional dishes has to be the best idea for Easter. The most craved dishes Romanians serve on Easter are lamb borscht, lamb steak or lamb haggis (called drob). If you are not a big fan of lamb dishes, maybe the dessert will win you over: sweet bread with a delicious filling of chocolate, raisins, nuts or Turkish delight, which we call cozonac and/or pasca — the Romanian cheesecake that is traditionally baked for Easter.

What to buy

The Easter fair held in Herastrau Park and a trip to Dimitrie Gusti Village Museum (placed right in the heart of Herastrau) will help you get the one-of-a-kind souvenirs you’re looking for. With all the authentic Romanian clothes (you should look for beautiful handmade ie, which is the Romanian blouse), homemade sweets and mind-blowing painted Easter eggs, you will feel just like a kid in a candy shop. Just make sure to have some local currency ‘cause you’ll be spending big time!

Other tips

Romanians love to play ‘egg cracking’ on Easter, so don’t be surprised if you see Romanians playing it in restaurants. What is it all about? Well, each player holds a boiled and painted egg (most Easter eggs are painted red to symbolise the blood of Christ shed on the cross, and then decorated with lovely traditional motifs) and taps his or her egg against the end of the other player’s egg with the goal of cracking it. The first player will always say “Christ is Risen!”, while the second player answers with “Indeed He is risen!”. This is actually the way Romanians greet each other on Easter and even shortly after.

Barcelona, Spain

Local tips from Alicia, our local tour guide in Barcelona

Day of the Dead-themed Easter cake

An elaborate Easter cake in progress | Photo by Barcelona Urban Adventures

In Barcelona, Easter is not as popular as in other cities in Spain. Many locals take a short break and go on vacations to other places. Even so there are a couple of important processions like La Burreta, which is celebrated on Sunday and commemorates the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem. During this, palms and palmones branches are distributed between people, and palm branches are also hung on balconies to bless homes. Another important procession takes place on Friday, the Nuestra señora de las Angustias y Jesús del Gran Poder. Both processions are concentrated in the Gothic Quarter and Las Ramblas.

Interestingly, one reason for the recent rebirth of processions in Barcelona was increased immigration to the city from other parts of Spain  in the 1980s.

What to eat and drink

On Good Friday, meat is prohibited, so one of the most typical dishes is esqueixada, which is a cod salad dressed with tomato, red pepper, onion, black olives and olive oil.

The sweets that you cannot miss are buñuelos de cuaresma, which are sugary round balls. However, the most important sweet to give is the Mona de Pascua Catalana; this is a cake decorated with chocolate eggs and figures of famous people. Traditionally, godparents would give these to their godchildren.

What to buy

Palms and palmones, which are handcrafted palm fronds. The tradition is to bring them on the Sunday before Easter, when the traditional blessing of palms and palmones is celebrated. A godmother will give her goddaughter a palm, and a palmon if she has a godson. Today, palms and palmones can be bought in florist shops and supermarkets.

Other tips

Unlike in other cities, on Easter Thursday the shops and museums are open. However, on the Friday, Saturday and Monday of Easter, the shops and museums are closed.

Madrid, Spain

Local tips from Cecilia, our local tour guide in Madrid

Easter is usually when people in Madrid leave the city, as it is the main break before the summer holidays — making it a good time of year for those who want to explore Madrid when it’s quieter and slower paced.

The main events in the city are masses and processions, such as the Palm Sunday procession, where you collect olive or palm branches to later place in the entrance of your house as protection or a blessing — just as when Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem. The favourite procession of our team is the one departing from Basilica de San Miguel.

There are several processions during the entire week, but one of the most interesting ones is on Holy Friday. The ‘Silence procession’ covers a the neighbourhood of Barrio de las Letras, due to its significance in gaining lots of followers during the recent years.

What to eat and drink

During Lent and Holy Friday, stricts Catholic avoid eating meat, so the traditional meal is potaje de vigilia, a stew made with chickpeas, spinach and codfish. As with any other celebration in Spain, Easter brings special dessert recipes with it. The most famous are torrijas, made of bread, milk or wine, honey and sugar. It’s similar to sweet bread and butter pudding in the UK or French toast in North America. Famous ovens like El Riojano, near Puerta del Sol, produce homemade torrijas during Easter week. Enjoy them for breakfast with a nice coffee. Another traditional sweet is huesos de santo, which translates as ‘saint’s bones’ and was created back in the 17th century for Easter and All Saints’ Day. They’re shaped like a bone, copying religious relics, and are made of marzipan, egg yolk and lemon.

What to buy

The main thing to buy are Easter sweets such as the aforementioned huesos de santo, as you can take these home without worrying about them going off. The place where everyone in Madrid buys them is La Mallorquina, right in the heart of Puerta Del Sol. Just note that you might need to queue for them!

Other tips

On Holy Friday, around 8pm and coinciding with the processions passing by Plaza Mayor, four flamenco artists perform a saeta. This is a traditional flamenco performance for Easter. With ancient moorish roots (inspired by the call to pray at mosques) and a mix of influences from Jewish and Catholic religious songs, the performance became a way to thank and ask favours of the figures passing in the procession.

Mallorca, Spain

Local tips from Marialaura and Damía, our local tour guides in Mallorca

hooded church figures walking in procession for Holy Week

Members of the brotherhood walk the streets of Palma during Semana Santa | Photo by Mallorca Urban Adventures

In Palma and other towns of Mallorca, we have Catholic processions during Holy Week, when members of the local brotherhood walk through the town centre, hooded and carrying holy images of Christ and the Virgin Mary on their shoulders. The processions take place on different days, but the most important are the ones for the Holy Thursday, Friday and Sunday. These processions are very touching and traditional; locals really get involved, and when the holy images pass by, spectators will clap their hands and say someting to the Virgin. The brotherhood members sometimes walk without shoes for hours, but for them it is an honour to be there.

What to eat and drink

All Mallorcan families cook and eat a lot to celebrate Easter. The most important dish in Mallorca is a simple food called panade, which is a meat pie with peas and Mallorcan sausage (called sobrasada). You can find panades in every traditional bakery in Mallorca, expecially at Easter (or you can make them yourself with this panades recipe!). On Sunday, Mallorcans usually eat frit, which is a traditional stir-fried meat dish with vegetables and seasoned with wild fennel. The meat can be pork meat or lamb, depending on family traditions.

But in Mallorca, we don’t stop at savoury food! We also bake a lot of sweet traditional pastries, such as robiols and crespells. Robiols are sweet dough half-moon pasties seasoned with lemon skin and filled with custard, fresh cheese from Mallorca (called brossat) or cabell de angel (pumpkin marmalade). Crespells are cookies with different shapes (stars, trees, hearts…).

cookies in bowls for Easter

Expect to eat a lot of these goodies during Holy Week | Photo by Mallorca Urban Adventures

What to buy

Panades, robiols and crespells are easy to find in any traditional bakery around the island. Be sure to try them!

Other tips

The following Sunday after Easter (for 2018 it will be April 8), locals in Palma celebrate the Pancaritat festival at Castell de Bellver, with beautiful views of Palma Bay. ‘Pancaritat’ literally means ‘charity bread,’ and the tradition was that on Angel Sunday, people give bread and other foods to the poorest families in town. Today, the festivity focus much more on having a nice day outside with your family, and sharing your last panades, crespells and robiols with others. During Pancaritas, there are organised activities such as traditional dances and music.

Beyond Palma, this tradition is practiced all around Mallorca, and in every village they celebrate at a special place just outside the town, such as in hermitages on the top of the hills.

San Sebastian, Spain

Local tips from Tomasz, our local tour guide in San Sebastian

Compared to the south of Spain, there are not too many Easter activites in the Basque Country; instead, Basques tend to travel during this time and it’s less of a family event here. During the last 40 years, the Catholic processions have practically disappeared from the streets of San Sebastian. However, there are some cities in the area that still organise them (namely, Azkoitia and Hondarribia). You can participate in them on Holy Friday and Sunday.

The most interesting event in the area of the Basque Country is the Vía Crucis Viviente, in the town of Balmaseda. About 500 neighbours actively take part in this event on Thursday evening and Friday morning.

Seville, Spain

Local tips from David, our local tour guide in Seville

Probably the most important festival of the year in Seville is Easter. Locals are very passionate about Holy Week — even non-practicing Catholics will follow the traditions. We have processions daily in the city centre, going from every church/brotherhood to the cathedral. Most of the displays are images from the Bible, of Virgin Mary and Christ, but some of them are like museum art because they were carved in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. Many people are involved in the processions, while others just watch them from the best spots they can find (on corners, at crossroads, visiting other churches, etc.) or renting sits (chairs) on the streets, offered as part of the official itinerary of every procession. Every day is special but the most important time is from Thursday night to Friday morning, when the most famous images are on the streets.

What to eat and drink

Everything except meat, and especially the cakes and pastries from the convents, such as torrijas (sweet toasts), pestiños (deep-fried dough that is glazed in honey or sugar) and alfajores (a soft corn flour cookie).

What to buy

Local souveniers with images from the processions, medals from different brotherhoods, holy cards, incense, traditional music and, the most important for kids, balls made from the wax the penitents carry during the procession.

Other tips

During the mornings you can visit the churches to watch the floats and images, or go for tapas in the local bars in every district outside of the touristy areas. During the afternoons and evenings, just look for the processions. There are a few apps with the itineraries and information on the best places to watch every procession — or just ask the locals.

Valencia, Spain

Local tips from Lenny, our local tour guide in Valencia

baked breads topped with walnuts

Expect to eat lots of baked delights like coca de nueces y pasas at Easter | Photo by Valencia Urban Adventures

In Valencia, many locals like to take the long break from work to go to their country house outside of the city, but those who stay like to participate in local festivities such as Holy Week Marinera events that take place in the Maritime neighbourhoods close to the beaches (El Grau, El Canyamelar and El Cabanyal). For example, you can watch street processions with the reenactment of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. These are held on Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday and are considered the second-most important events observed by Valencians. Full schedules of the activities and explainations of them are usually available in an English brochure at the local tourism office or you can download one from the Semana Santa Marinera website.

What to eat and drink

There are many Easter sweets and cakes to try in Valencia. First is mona de Pascua, a ring shaped sweet bread with either a real hard boiled or chocolate egg in the middle. This is typically eaten on Easter Sunday or Monday. Or you can have some fun like the local kids by observing the tradition of surprising a friend by smashing the egg on their forehead!

Another treat is Panquemao (or known as Panquemado), a big and delicious round cake like a brioche, that is sweet and fluffy like sponge cake on the inside. And finally, there’s also coca de nueces y pasas, a delicious cake typically with walnuts, raisins and sugar on top, and a filling of cabello de angel, which are carmelised pumpkin fibres. All of these treats are available at any local supermarkets and panaderias (bakeries), especially at the ones in Valencia’s famous Mercado Central.

families flying kites at the beach

Join the locals and go fly a kite at Easter | Photo by Valencia Urban Adventures

What to buy

Besides the treats you can eat, how about something to play with? Buy a traditional Valencian paper kite called el cachirulo, which is a star or hexagonal-shaped paper and cane kite — it’s also what you’ll need for Easter Sunday and Monday kite-flying!

Other tips

Typically Easter Monday is the day to enjoy with friends and family. One of our favourite Valencian pasttimes is kite-flying, particularly with a traditional cachirulo paper kite. Get one and join the locals down by our beautiful Turía Gardens or our city beaches (such as at La Playa Malvarrossa) on the Sunday and Monday, or simply enjoy the sun, have a picnic of Easter treats and watch a local kite-flying competition in action!

If you are looking for non-Easter activities during Holy Week, join us on Saturday the 31st down by Valencia’s Marina area, where you can enjoy a free concert by the Pergola from 11:30am to 2:30pm. Or enjoy our regular sites and landmarks, which are open during Holy Week (with shorter hours but they may offer free entry!). For example, a visit to Valencia’s architectural marvel, the City of Arts & Sciences district, is always a delight, inside the various ticketed theatres and museums or outdoors for free!

Or explore outside of Valencia city, where you’ll find many beautiful towns and villages just a hour or two away by train or car. Our pick would be to include a stop at a magnificent medievel castle in Xàtiva or Chulila for a leisurely hike or mountain climbing.