Monday, 22 December 2014

Visiting Spain in Winter: Where to go, what to do

December 2014 in Spain may have been mild, but it's now officially winter. This may not be a season when many people plan to travel (unless you're keen on winter sports), but if you don't spend up at Christmas, you can find some real bargains in January and February, when flights and accommodation drop in price.

Where to go in Winter

Temperatures can get pretty chilly in Spain's heartland during winter, so you may want to skip Castilla-León and Aragón and opt for a coastal city instead. Valencia, Alicante and Málaga are usually sunny at this time of year, and winter can be a good time to visit Barcelona, with prices a little lower than the rest of the year. Andalucía in general is a safe choice at this time of year, with plenty of sunny days and mild temperatures. You can get great deals at some top hotels in winter, such as the Reserva del Higuerón in Fuengirola. Although the sun's likely to shine, it won't be tanning weather, so go for a hotel with plenty of facilities to keep you entertained or enough nearby to visit. The best bet for off-season sun has to be the Canary Islands though: sunbathing's possible there even in the depths of winter.

A bright January day in the Alcazar gardens, Sevilla

If you prefer a country escape to a city break, winter's a great time to get friends and family together and rent a casa rural. And if you like it cold or enjoy winter sports, head to the Pyrenees, the sierra around Madrid or the Sierra Nevada in Granada.

Winter fiestas

Caga Tio, the Catalan Christmas log. Photo from

In Spain, the main Christmas celebrations take place on 24 December, when families get together in the evening for a big meal. Cataluña has some particularly curious traditions, including the Caga Tió ('poo log', to put it politely), a cute tree trunk with a smiley face who children 'feed' during December so that he erm, produces gifts for them when they bash him with sticks and sing to him on the 24th. I kid you not. The Catalans are a fan of scataological humour, with their figure of the 'Caganer' common in nativity scenes around the province. This figure of a man doing his business has become something of a collector's item, with controversial figures (often politicians) on sale every year. You can find both the Caga Tió and Caganers during December in markets around Cataluña, including the Fira de Santa Llúcia in Barcelona. You can find more details of Christmas and New Year activities in Barcelona here.

Christmas lights in Madrid

New Year is usually celebrated with family in Spain, with a characteristically late dinner followed by eating 12 grapes as the clock strikes 12. If you want to share your grape-munching with thousands of others, head to Puerta del Sol in Madrid, which fills with revellers in time for midnight. The main Christmas and New Year event in Spain is traditionally January 6th, or Reyes, when the three kings give children their presents (or a lump of coal if they've been naughty). Towns and cities around the country host a Cabalgata de Reyes (three kings' parade) on the evening of the 5th, with huge floats bestowing sweets on the gathered crowds. On Reyes itself, it's traditional to tuck into a cream-filled, fruit-topped cake known as Roscón de Reyes.

Carnaval in Cadiz. Photo from losmejorecarnavalesde.blogspot,com

Once the holiday season is over, the fiestas continue (hey, this is Spain). The next big event is Carnaval in February, marking the beginning of Lent. This is celebrated on a grand scale in both Cádiz, Sitges and Tenerife. If you enjoy fancy dress/costume parties, this is the fiesta for you.  If you fancy something more cultural, the Flamenco Festival in Jerez runs from 20 February–7 March 2015.

What to do in Winter

It's definitely not the season for tourists' top activity: tanning. However, if you're into skiing and snowboarding, Winter is a great time to visit Spain.

Snow in Cotos, Madrid

There are ski resorts around the country, most notably in the the Pyrenees in Aragón and Cataluña, the Sierra Nevada in Granada and the sierra outside Madrid. In Madrid, it's possible to take day-trips by bus or train to a number of the resorts, including Puerto de Navacerrada and Valdesqui. If you fancy some snow but aren't a skier, it's still worth trying a mountain escape even if only for a few snowball fights and some sledging. Most resorts rent all manner of mountain gear, from boots to sledges, and you can often join organized snowshoe walks (raquetas de nieve) where all equipment is provided.

And if you'd rather stay in the city, Winter can be a good time to try out some indoor pursuits such as cookery lessons. Taller Andaluz de Cocina in Sevilla and Cooking Point in Madrid both offer a range of cooking classes and foodie events. And if you'd rather just sample the goods than get involved in making them, try a food tour in Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla or San Sebastián.

Chinchon all decked out for its Feria Medieval

Several towns in Spain also host ferias medievales during winter, with stallholders in period dress selling a range of 'olde-worlde' products and fun and games for all the family. Chinchón, a little town outside Madrid, usually holds its Medieval Fair in February. 

Will you be travelling in Spain this winter? Where's your favourite winter destination?

You may also be interested in:
Visiting Spain in Autumn
Visiting Spain in Spring


  1. So many awesome recommendations. I'll be searching for cheap flights today, if only for the daydreams. Cheers :)

    1. Thanks Marie! Go for it - it really is a cheap time to visit, especially in January and February.

  2. I've just got back from a week in Ibiza. Temperature between 16 and 18 degrees every day and sunny with clear blue skies almost all of the week. Definitely the right time to visit the island. There are some photos here to whet your appetite.

    1. Sounds like the perfect winter break! Beautiful photos too. I'd love to return to Ibiza off-season when it;s a bit quieter (and probably a touch cheaper than in the height of summer too!). Thanks for your comment, Steve!


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