This blog post was originally posted on November 7, 2013 and was updated on October 25, 2018.
Forget the mental image you may have of warm, summer days in Spain—it’s time to embrace the holiday spirit and winter festivities!
Yes, you’ll need a winter coat, but no worries—temperatures here are quite mild compared to northern Europe, and there’s still plenty of sunshine. Plus, December through March is tourist low season, meaning you’ll be able to immerse yourself in Spanish holiday traditions (including plenty of traditional Christmas sweets) without fighting off nearly as many crowds as you would in the warmer weather. Get ready to experience an unforgettable winter in Madrid!
What to do during the holiday season (November-January)
Wander around holiday markets
You can’t have Christmas in Europe without festive Christmas markets lining the streets, and Spain’s colorful capital is no exception. Usually in late November, all of our favorite Christmas markets in Madrid will start to set up shop around town, with the biggest and most famous taking place in Plaza Mayor. The vast majority stay open until after the new year, which means you’ll have plenty of time to browse stalls selling everything from nativity scene pieces to handcrafted toys.
Marvel at the Christmas lights
We can’t get enough of the magical twinkling holiday lights that line the streets. In fact, winter in Madrid wouldn’t be nearly the same without them! As dusk falls, the streets light up in a brilliant display of holiday cheer. Enjoy a festive walk beneath the lights as you make your way from Gran Vía to the Royal Palace, then duck into a cozy chocolatería to warm up with some churros.
Join the fun in the Puerta del Sol on New Year’s Eve
If your itinerary for winter in Madrid includes December 31, you’re in luck. We might be biased, but we like to think we have one of the most epic New Year’s Eve parties in Europe. Join the crowds in Puerta del Sol to watch the clock strike midnight and ring in the new year with thousands of new friends. And, of course, you can’t forget the essential 12 grapes!
The holidays are over. Now what?
No worries. While the festive cheer may have left the air, you’ll still be able to experience a wonderful winter in Madrid as locals get back into the rhythm of everyday life.
Keep warm in the museums
Any guidebook will tell you that Madrid is home to dozens of world-class, awe-inspiring museums. From the Golden Triangle of Art to the lesser-known yet equally fascinating museums scattered around town, you could easily spend a full day (and then some!) exploring these priceless treasures.
Enjoy a show
Madrid’s nightlife scene is unparalleled, and one of our favorite aspects of it is the unbeatable selection of live music venues here in the city. They also provide the perfect refuge from the cold on a chilly winter’s night. Make your way to the bar and order a cocktail, then, drink in hand, settle in and enjoy some great tunes.
Feed the soul with flamenco and tapas
Looking to experience something undeniably Spanish on your night out? You can’t get much better than flamenco! While it doesn’t have its roots here in the capital, flamenco still enjoys a thriving presence throughout Madrid. Check out an authentic flamenco show this winter in Madrid and get ready for a display of color, passion and music unlike anything you’ve ever experienced.
Go to the movies
After spending the entire day experiencing winter in Madrid and checking the most iconic sights off your list, it might feel nice to sit and enjoy a movie for a few hours. Luckily, there are plenty of great theaters showing films in their original languages, which in many cases is English! Check out what’s showing at one of our favorite English-language cinemas in Madrid and take your pick—options range from the latest Hollywood blockbusters to niche independent films.
What to eat
Winter in Madrid calls for soul-warming, hearty plates of traditional food made from recipes that have been passed down through generations. We’re getting hungry just thinking about the delicious options available this time of year!
By far, the most typical dish found during winter in Madrid is the city’s eponymous stew, cocido madrileño. It consists of warm broth, hearty chickpeas, and plenty of meat such as pork and chorizo. It simmers for hours, letting the flavors soak together perfectly. Order it for lunch and you’ll have all the energy you need to explore the city in the afternoon.
We love tucking into a delicious bowl of lentils at any time of the year, but they taste even better during winter in Madrid. The piping hot dish usually includes plenty of vegetables and at least one type of meat, like chorizo, to make it a filling and delicious meal.
Tender, flavorful and all-around perfect, carrillada (also called carrillera) is a hearty dish of stewed pork or beef cheeks cooked to perfection in a delicious wine-based sauce. Here in Madrid, they usually serve it over homemade french fries or mashed potatoes for the ultimate comfort food perfection.
Roscón de Reyes
No matter where you find yourself in Spain this holiday season, you’re almost sure to find locals chowing down on this ring-shaped cake come January 6. Roscón de Reyes is Spain’s answer to kings’ cake, traditionally enjoyed for breakfast on Three Kings’ Day as children open presents left for them by the wise men. Pop into any pastry shop in Madrid to pick up your own!
Hailing from nearby Toledo, marzipan is available year round, but you’ll find it at its best around the holidays. The sweet treat takes on whimsical shapes to celebrate the season, making it a particularly delicious souvenir that’s almost too pretty to eat (but too delicious not to).