Sundays or ‘Domingos’ in Spain can be a tricky day for first-time visitors to the country. Our Totally Spain guide to a Typical Day in Spain gives some advice but to make it even easier, here’s our guide on what to do in Spain on Sundays, based on more than 20 years of designing custom trips here.
What To Do in Spain on Sundays
1 Breakfast in Spain on Sundays
The best part of Sunday is often the slower pace. If you’ve booked your hotels through us, we’ll have advised whether you opt for the buffet breakfast or not. If you have a coffee machine in your room, you might be happy to pop out for breakfast to one of Spain’s typical cafes. If you’re travelling with a group, it’s often easier to breakfast at your hotel and layer up on the wonderful jamon, cheeses, fresh pastries and coffee on site.
When we have breakfast out on Sundays, we enjoy a mix of sweet and savoury – starting with a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice and a baked roll smeared in a tomato compote and drizzled with olive oil – plus some optional wafer thin slivers of jamon iberico. Fresh churros they can be hard to resist. Ditto some fresh tortilla. And coffee – lots of it!
If you’re anything like us, as you enjoy your breakfast, you’ll already be thinking about what you’re going to do for lunch. Remember the Spanish don’t eat on Sundays before 2pm. If you find Spanish mealtimes puzzling, read our guide here.
2 The Park in Spain on Sundays
Those travelling with children have it easy – the first place to go after breakfast is the park. In a place like Madrid, you have many options but the best known is the Retiro. It’s an enormous space with playgrounds, space for skating and lots of shows with puppeteers, magicians and other acts setting up shop here.
Outside Madrid, you’ll still find lots of parklife – although it might not be busy until after 12 noon when the local families are out and about. In some of the larger parks such as Valencia’s Turia Gardens – you can hire bikes and cycle from one end to the other. What a great and healthy way to experience Spain on Sundays!
Read about Spain’s best parks and gardens here.
3 The Plaza in Spain on Sundays
After you’ve strolled around the park, you might feel the need for another dose of coffee. We rarely dine at the plazas or squares but they are a great place to refuel caffeine levels and do a bit of people-watching. Read about Spain’s best plazas here. The squares are also where you’ll find lots of trading taking place on Sundays with stamp collectors setting up temporary stalls and children swapping ‘cromos’. These are trading cards (often football-related) and it’s very sweet to see the young kids learn to barter to get their favourite striker or goalie! In Madrid’s Plaza Mayor on Sundays, you’ll find a small flea market for old coins and stamps under the arches but you’ll need to go to the Plaza de Quintana in Madrid to see the cromo-trading in high volume! Ask at your hotel if you want to find where these stalls are outside Madrid.
4 Markets in Spain on Sundays
If you live for a bargain, you’ll want to find the best flea markets. The most famous in Spain is the Rastro in Madrid which takes place on Sundays – and it’s a real mixed bag of junk with some original items in the mix. We like it for the atmosphere but are constantly reminding clients that pickpockets are in action here so be extremely careful where you stash your cash and documents. If you are keen to pick up some antique furniture, check out the Galerias Piquer near the Rastro.
Barcelona’s best known flea market is on Las Ramblas which is open every day– but you’ll probably browse rather than buy anything unless you are after flowers. ( FYI The Mercat del Encants on Placa de les Glories Catalanes which is the city’s largest market, doesn’t open on a Sunday). Outside Barcelona and Madrid, you’ll find plenty flea markets and farmers’ markets held in towns and cities – ask your hotel to recommend the best. Remember at Christmas to ask about Mercadillos de Navidad.
NB Food markets are closed on Sundays – yes , even the world-famous Boqueria in Barcelona. If you want to read more about food markets, see this guide. Interested in what to buy in Spain? Read our guide on the best shopping in Spain.
5 Church in Spain on Sundays
Although Roman Catholic Masses in Spain are quiet affairs with the aging demographics reflecting the declining attendance, it’s worth stepping inside the local church or cathedral on a Sunday because so many of these buildings are locked for security reasons outside of service hours. And even in the most-popular churches that are open all day, it can be interesting to witness a service at the main altar. Take for example the Sagrada Familia – you can attend a 9am mass in multiple languages every Sunday – see here for details. The Mezquita in Cordoba has masses at 12 at 1.30pm on Sundays – see details here. And in Madrid, Almudena Cathedral has masses at 10:30, 12, 1.30 and at 6pm and 7pm – more info here. Seville’s cathedral holds 9 masses every Sunday – check here for details on times and chapels. Read our post on the main churches in Spain to see just how special, architecturally, historically and spiritually, these spaces are. If you are travelling during Easter, you’ll see the churches’ iconry spill out onto the packed streets during Semana Santa in Spain.
NB Whatever your faith, we are very experienced at working alongside restaurants and hotels to meet any special requirements. For example, we’ve designed many itineraries for clients visiting Jewish heritage sights in Spain and can accommodate observance of the Sabbath in many of Spanish cities.
6 Monuments & Museums in Spain on Sundays
Sunday is often the day when the Spanish have time to visit their country’s top attractions – often facilitated by the free or reduced fees on a Sunday. If you’re travelling with us, we will already have pre-booked your tickets to avoid standing in the lengthy queues – read why it’s so important to pre-book here. If you don’t pre-book, our advice is to get going early to any of the top sights especially in Spring and Summer. NB Going early isn’t good enough for the Alhambra in Granada – you must pre-book tickets – read our tips to getting tickets for the Alhambra here.
Apart from the Alhambra, if you are visiting Spain on a tight budget over the Autumn and Winter months when things are a little quieter, you could chance the free slots – eg Reina Sofia Museum is free all day long on a Sunday. We are big fans of this iconic space and the café which featured in our guide to the best museum cafes. The Prado Museum is also free on Sundays from 5-7pm and between those two museums, you’ll get to see a great many of Spain’s most famous paintings!
Spain’s secondary cities also boast wonderful museums – for example Malaga is home to two Picasso Museums, the Carmen Thyssen Museum, the Russian Art Museum and the Pompidou Malaga on Muelle Uno – which is the re-generated harbour area with dozens of bars and restaurants. Throughout Spain, you’ll find excellent cultural spaces with large outdoor areas – that are perfect to visit on Sundays – such as the Tabacalera in Madrid, the Guggenheim in Bilbao and the Centro Botin in Santander. In a sense these architectural spaces have become the new cathedrals of the 21stcentury – a we highly recommend you include a few of Spain’s architectural highlights on your trip.
7 Day Trips in Spain on Sundays
There are so many wonderful daytrips from Madrid and Barcelona if you want to escape the city on Sunday. This is especially welcome in July and August when the city seems to empty as residents seek some respite from the heat.
From Madrid, we recommend Toledo, Chinchon, Salamanca, Cuenca and another six towns or cities which you can read up on here. From Barcelona (where you’ll obviously want to see Gaudi’s urban creations), we recommend visiting some of Dali’s old haunts in the region in places such as Cadaques, Figueres and Port Lligat as well as the Costa Brava.
From Bilbao we recommend visiting the medieval walled town of Laguardia in the Rioja Alavesa and its nearby wineries such as Marques de Riscal and Ysios. Read about the best way to take the trip here.
From Seville we highlight Ronda which is an easy drive from Malaga, and Granada also. Half of Europe’s bird species can be spotted Doñana National Park at one time or another. Read our post on national parks of Spain. And if you’re interested in Jewish heritage, then places like Cordoba, Lucena & Granada will be high up on your list! Read up on the significant Jewish sights in Spain (many are in Andalusia). If you want to take in some wineries, why not visit Jerez for its sherry wineries? Check out our guide to Andalusia for more great day trips.
From Valencia – best known as the home of paella – you can visit the Albufera National Parkland – one of the largest freshwater parks in Spain – to learn about the ancient cultivation traditions still in use such as the flooding of the fields. Afterwards eat some wonderful paella at El Palmar – read up on paella here and this region here.
8 Lunch in Spain on Sundays
If a three-course lunch sounds like a special event – that’s just Monday to Saturday. You’ll need to brace yourselves for the Sunday lunch. If invited to a friend or family members house or apartment, you’ll want to pick up a bottle of wine or some pastries at one of the local delis that open on Sunday for that exact purpose – eg in Madrid one of the Mallorcas or why not the vegan-friendly Celioso for something a little different. In Barcelona, you could try Pasteleria Hofmann where you’ll find the most elaborate and elegant classic and international desserts to go.
If you’re eating out – you’ll need to book a table especially if you are in a busy area. Read our guide on El Tenedor which makes finding and booking a table very easy in Spain. While you wait for your table, you can order a drink at the bar. This is the ‘aperitivo’ and consists of a vermouth or something else refreshing to whet your appetite. In Cantabria, you would usually order a platter of ‘rabas’ which is squid in batter. (In fact, sometimes you get so engrossed in the ‘aperitivo’ that you never actually take up that table for lunch – and just keep going with the shared platters called ‘raciones’.)
When you do sit at your table, you need to pace yourself. Sunday lunch is a social act to be savoured. From Monday to Friday the menu-del-dia is king (read about this set-price experience here) but at weekends you either order ‘a la carte’ or from a special weekend ‘menu-del-dia’. This typically involves three courses after which you have a coffee or a liqueur or a large ‘copa’ which is a digestif with a mixer. See what the people are having near you and order the same. Restaurants rarely operating more than one sitting for Sunday lunch so if you arrive at 2pm you can easily expect to be there until 5pm or even later.
NB If you do want something quick – please do specify this and you waiter will be able to advise what is quickest to order and eat.
9 Merienda in Spain on Sundays
After such a large lunch – and the obligatory stroll called a paseo – you might be wondering how you’ll fit in a snack in the afternoon. Really this is something to tide you over until breakfast – as tapas bars are pretty quiet on Sunday evenings – in fact – many don’t open and close on Mondays also.
Merienda is a snack that is typically consumed from 5pm up until 7pm and can consist of something sweet or savoury. If you didn’t manage any churros at breakfast – it’s a good time to snaffle a few. Perhaps an ice-cream or iced-sorbet might tempt you. Or maybe a waffle or pancake to go – there are lots of these places popping up around the towns and cities. If you didn’t eat a large lunch, you will find it extremely difficult to find anything other than snacks and fast-food until 9pm – as kitchen staff will have just finished their shift at 4-5pm.
Sunday evening is a quiet night – and it might be a good evening to go to the cinema. Your hotel can advise where you’ll find a cinema that screens movies in English. Or perhaps a pre-booked flamenco show might be a good idea. If you’ve been out sightseeing all day and know you’ll want to sit down to some tapas at night, you could also pre-book an evening tapas tour. Not sure? See what happens on our behind-the-scenes food tour here. And read our guide to the unwritten rules of tapas in Spain here.
10 What You Can’t Do in Spain on Sundays
Very few stores open in Spain on Sundays with the exception of a few streets in the city centres of Madrid (eg around Callao) and in Barcelona (eg the MareMagnum shopping mall by the port). If you are in a mid-sized city such as San Sebastian for example, you will not be able to buy much more than souvenirs, newspapers and food on most Sundays (there are about 8 Sundays a year when the stores can open and many of these are over the Christmas period). That said, museum gift stores are open on Sundays and you’ll find souvenir stores and culture-centred stores open too.
Not only are the food markets closed but the supermarkets are ‘cerrado’ too – so if you need to buy food – you’ll have to ask for the delis and bakeries (open on Sunday mornings) and the convenience stores that open also on Sunday afternoons. Other shops and services such as hairdressers, opticians and most pharmacies are also closed. The state-run medical centres and private doctors consultancies are closed and you will be directed to your nearest hospital for A&E.
Make sure to buy whatever you need for the weekend on Fridays or Saturday mornings – because in mid-sized cities, stores close at 1pm on Saturday and don’t re-open until Monday morning. Although it can take some forward planning, it creates a very civilised and relaxed atmosphere on Sundays as the Spanish spend time in the parks and squares, take a day trip, visit the museums or have a long lazy lunch with friends or family followed by a leisurely stroll.