Looking for the best ways to celebrate Christmas in Madrid?
Well, you’re in the right place.
The holiday season can be a lot of fun here in Madrid (and, I suspect) in other places in Spain. There are plenty of ways to eat, drink and be merry, whether your family is here or far away.
Here you’ll discover some of the best holiday traditions…
So you can celebrate Christmas like a local – a Spanish local!
Here goes – all my best suggestions…
See some Christmas lights in Madrid Center
The Christmas lights around the center of Madrid are pretty well-done, if you’re into that sort of thing.
I can’t compare them to New York or London or anything – ’cause I haven’t spent Christmas in those places – but I always enjoy them.
There are even buses that take you specifically around the areas with Christmas lights… check out Navibus right here (although it seems to be pretty hard to get tickets).
Here’s a pic of a past year’s Christmas tree in Puerta del Sol…
There are other trees and light displays in major plazas and roundabouts around the city center starting at the end of November and going all the way until Epiphany on January 6th.
And if Christmas lights aren’t your thing, you can always…
Push through the crowds in and around Puerta del Sol
Start prehabbing your elbows…
Because all through December and the first half of January, the shopping streets downtown are going to be crowded – especially on weekends.
To me it’s bizarre how hard it is to move 50 meters on a Saturday night in the city center. But hey – if you like big crowds, it’s one of the best times to find them.
The area around Plaza Mayor, Calle Arenal, Sol and Gran Via is the busiest. And I guess, at times, the area around Goya and Serrano is probably pretty packed.
If you want some real Spanish “fun” check out Cortylandia – the back side of the Corte Inglés department store on Calle Preciados puts on a bizarre spectacle complete with animatronic elves and lots of recorded singing.
To find it, follow the families with small children – it’s one of the big events in many Spanish kids’ Christmas season.
(Just watch out for pickpockets. I’ve heard the pickpocket mafias send reinforcements all the way from Italy for Madrid’s festivities.)
And if huge crowds aren’t your cup of pumpkin-spice Christmas tea, you can also…
Head to one of Madrid’s many Christmas markets
There are a lot of different Christmas markets around town, and they all have different dates.
And okay, some of them will be crowded at times.
Many markets are only a weekend long, and some are at the beginning of December, so they’re not all convenient for late holiday shoppers. Anyway, you can get more info here.
The most famous (and longest) are the big market on Plaza Mayor – from late November to late December – and the Mercado de Artesanía on Plaza España (starting early December). But if you look around you can find others.
Of course, they’re not quite the same as the Christmas markets in Germany or Austria.
But any excuse to do some people watching and have some wine on a cold day.
Get your turrón on – have some typical Spanish foods
There are plenty of opportunities to stuff yourself on local cuisine around Christmas.
If you’ve got a job, your coworkers will probably be getting together for a Christmas dinner. Same thing for your gym, your English class, your barber shop, your club of bullfighting aficionados.
Your whatever… Spanish people love being social, and Christmas is one of the best times to do it.
Some of they typical foods around the Christmas season are ham (of course), turrón (AKA nougat), king prawns and sea bream.
I’ve never actually had sea bream – besugo – but from what I can tell it’s a kind of expensive red fish.
Other holiday favorites include Cava, otherwise known as “Spanish Champagne” from Catalonia.
Whether or not you’re boycotting Catalan products is up to you, of course. Many people are, and sales of non-Catalonian cava are through the roof in certain years, depending on the political climate.
In any case, by the new year, I’m predicting everyone will have forgotten about Catalonian independence… and if history is any guide, I’m probably wrong.
Or if you’re on a really low budget, try some cider. The most popular brand is Sidra el Gaitero – official slogan: absurdly sweet and not even that alcoholic… so why bother?
More about Christmas in Madrid
In the 8 or so years I’ve been blogging about Madrid, I’ve written some other articles about the local traditions.
Here’s the most complete one, about 8 things that might surprise you about the holidays in Spain.
And if you want to waste your money due to social pressure and guilt, check out my article about the Christmas lottery: crazy for El Gordo.
There’s also more to do.
As I mentioned in those articles, you can also celebrate New Year’s by stuffing your mouth with green grapes and having yet another prawn and cava dinner.
The Christmas season is also known for nativity scenes – the biggest one in Madrid should be in the City Hall building. And the town of El Escorial has a “belén viviente” with life-size figures… if you pop belén viviente into Google you’ll find other mountain towns that do something similar.
There’s also the whole Epiphany thing that falls on the night of January 5th – you can see the “cabalgata de Reyes” parade that evening in the center, eat King Cake with your friends and family, and much more.
In any case, I’m wishing you a wonderful holiday season.
Happy birthday, Jeebus.
P.S. What’s your favorite way to celebrate Christmas in Madrid? Let me know… Right here in the comments. Thanks! And have a happy holiday season.