Wafts of hand-made candy spill out of Madrid’s pastelerías onto the cobblestone streets. Christmas carols can be heard playing as shoppers frantically search for the perfect gifts — it’s truly the most wonderful time of the year! The Spanish capital is the ideal place to soak in the holiday spirit with non-stop celebrations, decorations, culinary delights and more. Read on to find out all the reasons why you should visit Madrid this Christmas season.
The holidays season lasts forever
Spain typically celebrates the holidays for almost a full month and a half. This year, the holiday season in Madrid starts November 24th — that’s when thousands of sparkling lights and festive decorations will be switched on, illuminating the city of Madrid into a magical holiday paradise.
In between the Christmas and New Year’s festivities, Spain even celebrates its very own version of April Fool’s Day called Día de los Inocentes on December 28th, so beware, practical jokes may ensue. With the decor up in full force and so many different celebrations going on, you can’t help but join in on the holiday spirit all the way through January 6th, the Día de los Reyes Magos (King’s Day), celebrated with presents galore, special desserts and even a parade, but more on that later.
See all the shiny lights
The aforementioned holiday lights are a reason in itself to visit Madrid and many people come from around the world to see these glittering decorations. Some of the most popular spots to see the illuminated holiday decor are Gran Vía street, the Plaza Mayor, the Puerta del Sol and Cibeles. Family travelers should take their kids to Cortylandia which is an interactive holiday playland for the little ones.
If a walking tour seems overwhelming, don’t worry, you can hop on the Naviluz for a ride. This double-decker bus, which actually celebrates its 70th anniversary this year, leaves from the Plaza de Colón and takes visitors on a 40-minute ride circling Madrid to see all the holiday cheer. More information and ticket purchase can be found here.
Besides the lights, a big part of Madrid’s Christmas decoration includes Belenes, which are Nativity scenes. Most families will have one of these set up in their homes next to the Christmas tree and there are several larger scenes set up around the city in spots like the Ayuntamiento de Cibeles, the Almudena cathedral, the Puerta del Sol and the Iglesia de San Gines.
Play (and hopefully win) the Spanish lottery
The Christmas lottery is a big deal in Spain and all the locals dream of winning El Gordo, which literally translates to “the fat one” — meaning a grand prize of €4,000,000. The typical way to participate is to go in on a ticket number with co-workers or friends where you’ll each pay €20 for a number and have a chance to snag El Gordo. Prepare to be guilted into purchasing a ticket (or a few) as Madrileños love to explain to you how you’ll feel when they all win and you don’t!
If you happen to spot a very long line of people around the Puerta de Sol, it’s likely to be the line for the Doña Manolita shopfront. This store is forever popular as it has sold the largest amount of winning tickets over the years, so try your luck there if you’re willing to wait in the queue. Make sure to watch local television on December 22nd, as the winning number are announced by enthusiastic pupils from the San Ildefonso school, chosen with the honour of actually singing the winning numbers.
Indulge that sweet tooth
The Spanish have a whole range of sweets they love to eat over the holidays, and Madrid is no exception. Marzipan and turrón (a type of nugget) are fan favorites, and polverónes are powdery treats made of ground almonds with a touch of cinnamon. Visitors should definitely try the sugary sweet roscón de reyes which is a special cake eaten to celebrate Three Kings Day. Hopefully you’ll discover the small figurine in your slice which will bring you luck, but not the dried fava bean — finding that means you’ll have to pay for next year’s cake!
Shop til’ you drop
Each year, Black Friday becomes more and more popular in Madrid for shoppers on the hunt for holiday bargains, and this shopping spirit continues well into January. In fact, it’s not unlikely to see locals waiting until after the New Year to shop, because most gifts in Madrid are actually given on January 6th, the Día de los Reyes Magos. The night of the 5th January is when the three Wise Men arrive with presents, though with plenty of international influence, presents also come from Santa on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Rebajas, or the bi-annual sales usually start in early January, some as early as January 2nd, so get ready for bargains. Although Madrid isn’t known for its holiday markets, perusing the nativity scenes, ornaments and prank gifts found at the market in Plaza Mayor underneath the holiday lights is a must-do. There are also some smaller holiday markets in La Latina neighbourhood and the squares; Plaza Jacinto Benavente and Callao.
Eat grapes on New Year’s Eve for a lucky 2018
New Year’s Eve is a happy occasion celebrated by partygoers gathering in the Puerta del Sol square to eat twelve grapes, one for each chime of the clock as it strikes twelve at midnight. Don’t miss sharing in this tradition as it’s supposed to bring you luck for the year ahead. The celebration has become so large that now the city does a rehearsal called the ‘pre-uvas,‘ or the pre-grapes celebration, usually the day before. It has become which is now just as popular as doing the same thing on December 31st. Keep in mind the underground metro won’t stop at Sol station around midnight on December 30th and 31st, so plan accordingly.
Celebrate the Kings Day with the locals
It’s clear this is an important day in Madrid for presents and cake, but Madrileños take it very seriously. The parade, affectionately known as the Cabalgata, occurs on the January 5th at 18:30 in Nuevos Ministerios, but you may want to head there or along the route earlier to secure the perfect spot. Expect to get a lot of candy tossed off the floats and see many smiling children, and don’t leave before the big fireworks display in Cibeles Plaza.
If you happen to be in Madrid over the holidays, consider Insider’s Madrid for a private food, shopping or flamenco tour — you’ll surely see many lights and decorations in the city along the way.