Spain is not sleeping during the winter months as many would think. On the contrary, the country’s big cities are well and alive, the Spanish Pyrenees make for great skiing, and the Canary Islands have plenty of sun to melt away the winter blues.
Winter in Madrid means lower prices, fewer crowds, and culture galore. During the day, the average temperatures drop to a few degrees Celsius above freezing, but the skies remain bright blue. Nevertheless, the capital takes on a festive look, with brightly decorated boulevards, open-air ice rinks, spectacular Belenes (Nativity Scenes), and charming Christmas markets set up in the main squares.
Events are plentiful, ranging from Puerta del Sol’s vibrant New Year’s Eve party and the widely popular Three Kings Day parade to Gastrofestival Madrid (January 24th- February 9th), Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week (6-11 February), and Madrid Carnival, which takes place at the end of February.
Winter is also an excellent time to take in the local culture, cozy up in the lovely cafes, and spend hours admiring world-class art at Madrid’s magnificent museums and galleries. Spanish Christmas foods such as Roscón de los Reyes (King’s cake), marzipan, and turrón will add a festive touch to your visit, while the city’s hearty, traditional stews will keep you warm, energized, and ready to venture yourself into the Spanish capital’s legendary nightlife.
From exhibitions and live music concerts to peculiar traditions and colorful festivals, there’s always something going on in Barcelona. And wintertime is no less worthwhile. Temperatures range from 5° to 14° C; the city is decked out in sparkling Christmas lights and decorations; and its 228-year-old Fira de Santa Llúcia Christmas market is brimming with lovely handcrafted gifts.
Additionally, there’s a wonderful life-size nativity scene in Plaça Sant Jaume, and BarGelona (world’s largest mobile ice rink) is set up once again in Plaça de Catalunya. Some interesting happenings include the Shopping Night Barcelona on Passeig de Gracia, the fun-filled Buff Epic Run on Montjuic hill, Els Grans Del Gospel festival (December), the annual Copa Nadal de Barcelona (Christmas Day Swim), La Cabalgata de Reyes Magos (Three Kings’ Parade), and Les Festes de Santa Eulàlia (February), when the city celebrates its patron saint with thousands of events and fun activities for children.
But Barcelona is not the only place you should visit during your winter trip in Catalonia. Some 35 km further down the coast, the stylish, gay-friendly town of Sitges plays host to one of Spain’s wildest and most flamboyant parties – the Sitges Carnival, while the Catalan Pyrenees are packed with fresh powder, scenic beauty, great ski resorts, and winter snow sports galore.
Granada and Sierra Nevada
Granada is one of Spain’s most distinctive and cherished cities, and for good reason. Along with its magnificent Alhambra, this lively Andaluz city charms visitors with genuine flamenco venues, awe-inspiring Moorish sights, and a free tapas culture that’s impossible to find anywhere else.
However, what really makes Granada one of the best winter destinations in Spain is its privileged geographic position at the foot of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains, yet only 30 km from the sunny Costa Tropical. Consequently, travelers have the opportunity to indulge in sightseeing, hit the slopes of the nearby Sierra Nevada, and warm up in the city’s fabulous Arab baths.
Situated 21 km southeast of Granada, Sierra Nevada is Europe’s southernmost ski resort and prides itself with bright sunny days, a lively après-ski scene, and around 2,500 hectares of skiable area.
The stunning natural beauty and diversity, the fabulous food, culture, and sunny beaches, along with the excellent year-round climate make Spain’s Canary Islands the best winter sun destination in Europe.
To make the most of your winter escape in the Canaries, hit the white, sandy beaches of Fuerteventura (the closest island to North Africa), explore the animated nightlife and dramatic natural parks of Tenerife, or go to soak up some culture and history in cosmopolitan Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.
With its spectacular singing, dancing, and costumed parades, the Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife is a not-to-miss event.
Whatever Spanish destination you choose to escape to for your winter break, count on a wonderful experience filled to the brim with delicious local food, unique activities, and awe-inspiring sights. And don’t forget that Christmas in Spain is a delightful mix of traditions and festive cheer.