Saturday, 12 December 2015

Festive fun in Madrid: Christmas 2015

Last year's Christmas post proved pretty popular, so here's an updated version for those who'll be in Madrid over the 2015 festive season. In Spain, the holidays last longer than many other European countries, culminating in the traditional present-exchanging on 6 January, or Three Kings Day. If you're around on the 5th, be sure to check out the Cabalgata de Reyes (parade) which runs down Paseo de la Castellana – but only if you don't mind the crowds!

What else can you do in Madrid during the lead-up to Christmas?

Seeing the Christmas lights

Christmas lights seen from the Navibus. Photos from my Instagram feed

Madrid puts on a good show in the evening (until the oddly early hour of 11pm). All around the centre, streets are illuminated with glitzy lights, some of which were dreamed up by top Spanish designers. Most of the conical Christmas trees which pepper the city's plazas are unfortunately sponsored, with the names of multinational companies festooned in lights, but the huge gold tree in Puerta del Sol is sponsorship-free. Sol looks particularly good at Christmas, and Gran Vía and Cibeles to the Puerta de Alcalá are also festively lit. If you want to get a good look at the city's best displays, take the Navibus from Plaza Colón (opposite Calle Serrano 30); an after-dark tour of the city's Christmas lights. Costing €2 for adults and €1.50 for children (under 7s go free), the trip on an open-top bus runs daily from 6–11pm until 6 January. The route takes in Puerta de Alcalá, Cibeles, Calle Alcalá, Gran Vía up to Santo Domingo where it doubles back and follows the same trail in reverse, adding in some of barrio Salamanca on the return journey. The tour lasts about 40 minutes and is fun for kids of all ages.

Christmas shopping: Markets, pop-ups & local brands

If high-street Christmas shopping isn't for you, you might want to check out some of the many markets and pop-up stores on offer in Madrid this month. There's a very comprehensive list (in Spanish) over on Madrid Diferente, but a few highlights include the Mercado de Motores (12 & 13 December) and the  Mercadillo del Gato from 11 December–2 January with vintage goods, jewellery, cosmetics, artisanal products and more. 

The Hovse: Pretty but pricey

On the pop-up front, the much-hyped (and stupidly-named) The Hovse is back for another year. Cute and very Instagram-worthy it may be, but unless you spend triple-figures on Christmas presents, it's best for a browse, a drink and a snack from Olivia te Cuida's pop-up area. All the independently-designed goods are beautifully presented, but their price tags are not within reach for your average mil eurista. If you're looking for similar gift items, clothes and jewellery at a more reasonable price, try boutiques La Intrusa and Nest instead. Nest also sells Christmas cards.

More traditional outdoor markets selling artisanal goods, food and jewellery among other gift items can be found around Plaza Mayor, near the Palace and in Plaza Santo Domingo.

If you're more of an online shopper, check out some homegrown brands such as jewellery label Tartesia (25% off with the code TARTESIAFRIEND) and the cute Mr Wonderful.

Spanish-made Tartesia jewellery

Ice skating

Although you can glide on the ice year-round at Palacio de Hielo, a few outdoor ice rinks pop up in Madrid during winter. They're usually not quite the grand rinks in prime locations that London and New York have to offer, but they're fun for a quick spin, especially for kids. This year however, there's a new offering that could challenge other cities: the Hola! (yes, the magazine) rink at Plaza Colón (until 6 January).You can find another central rink at the normally borderline salubrious Plaza de la Luna, and if you venture a little further out of town, you'll find one at Parque Berlin

Seeing some real snow

Although snow rarely falls in the city, the sierra of the Comunidad de Madrid features several little towns where you can rely on a good ground covering of snow, and even some ski stations such as Valdesqui in Rascafría. If you enjoy a good train journey, try Los Cotos, which is accessed from Cercedilla by a two-carriage train that chugs up the mountainside through a pine forest. Visiting this weekend, we saw the odd patch of snow for the first twenty minutes or so, and were starting to feel a little disillusioned until the train entered a tunnel. Emerging from the other side, the ground was coated in thick white powder, and the higher we climbed, the better it got.

Visiting Cotos in the Sierra de Guadarrama

You can rent all manner of mountain equipment from Todoaventur inside the train station, such as cross-country skis, boots and sledges. They also organize showshoe walks and offer accommodation, and their website features several deals including the train fare from Madrid. We rented a two-person sledge for the day for €10, and made our way to a snow-covered slope a few minutes away. 

If you fancy a different day trip from Madrid, Cotos is definitely worth a visit. Even if you're not feeling active or don't have any mountain-appropriate gear, the train ride from Cercedilla is beautiful and there are a couple of good spots to eat, including La Cantina inside the train station. To get there from Madrid, take the C2 cercanías and change in Cercedilla. The trip costs €17.10 return and takes around 2 hours each way (including waiting time at Cercedilla).

What's your favourite festive activity in Madrid? 

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