Spending Christmas in Madrid is the opportunity to see the capital shine with thousands of lights, to admire its illuminations and to marvel at the beautiful stores’ window displays.
It also means strolling through the Christmas markets to find the perfect gift or enjoying a magical parade with the family… Above all, it is the perfect opportunity to treat you to a relaxing break full of everlasting memories.
Here are a few ideas of cool and fun things that you can do if you intend to spend Christmas in Madrid.
Follow a self-guided walk to admire Madrid Christmas lights
In recent years Madrid has made an important effort to reduce electricity costs allowing the Council to increase the number of illuminated areas. Moreover, some of the best architects, artists and designers have been recruited to create original and cutting edge displays.
So why don’t you discover Christmas the way Madrid does it walking along the best illuminated streets and avenues?
Enjoy this Madrid Christmas lights walk and take lots of pictures of the city’s original festival lights.
Get lost in a Christmas market
Madrid is no short on Christmas markets (mercado de navidad). The most famous and popular is the one located at Plaza Mayor and attracts thousands of visitors every year. However, if Plaza Mayor is very crowded you can always go to Plaza de Santa Cruz or Plaza del Carmen located nearby.
And while you are there, buy your own Belén. It’s a lovely souvenir that will always remind you your special Christmas in Madrid.
The Nativity scene or Belén (Spanish for Bethlehem) has special significance in Spain. Every family, shop and office has it’s own one. The size and complexity varies from a mere three figures of the Crèche to a whole town with rivers, lights and hundreds of figures.
Try some Spanish Christmas sweets
If you have a sweet tooth, tasting the traditional Spanish sweets is one of the things that you should do while you’re spending Christmas in Madrid.
The smell of the typically Spanish Christmas sweets simply and wonderfully surrounds you and it will surely makes your head go around in circles!
Turrón (a kind of nougat), mazapán (a yummy marzipan), polvorones (a kind of floury delicious sweet) and mantecados (a sort of shortcake but with that special Spanish touch) are all a part of the Spanish Christmas tradition.
All of them are seasonal sweets and can only be found in Christmas. So you would find it hard to see a Spanish home without a platter full of these absolutely fabulous Christmas sweets at this time of the year!
You can buy them in any pastry shop or at El Corte Inglés and bring them home as a gift for your friends and relatives.
Forget about calories for a few days and enjoy the Christmas season to its full!
Enjoy Christmas in Madrid visiting a public belén
One of the typical Christmas activities that Madrileños enjoy is to visit Nativity scene exhibitions (known as belenes). Many public displays, contests and even “living nativities” (with real people dressed up!) are on everywhere during Christmas. Organizations, groups of co-workers, families and students across the city work together to elaborate re-creations of the scene of Jesus’ birth.
There are thousands all over the city, in every church there is one and in almost every office of any organization, both private and public, another one is exhibited.
Most have expanded visiting schedules and free entrance throughout December and until January 7th. In many cases, the exact opening dates of each belén are not officially confirmed until the same day the visits begin, usually by December 1-15.
Moreover, bear in mind that in some cases, you’ll find long lines formed to enter, so I recommend you to come first time in the morning or afternoon.
Here’s a list of my favorite nativity scenes in Madrid:
- Ayuntamiento de Madrid (Plaza de Cibeles). December 23 to January 5, Monday to Sunday from 10:30 to 19:00. December 24 and 31, and January 6 from 10:30 to 13:00. Closed on December 25 and January 1.
- Museo de San Isidro (Plaza de San Andrés, 2). December 12 to January 21, Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 to 20:00. Closed on Mondays, December 24, 25 and 31, January 1 and 6.
- Museo de Historia de Madrid (Calle Fuencarral, 78). December 1 to February 4, Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 to 20:00. Closed on Mondays, December 24, 25 and 31, January 1 and 6.
- Real Casa de Correos (Calle del Correo, 1). November 30 to January 7, Monday to Sunday from 10:00 to 22:00. November 30, December 4 and 6 from 14:00 to 22:00. December 24 and 31, and January 5 from 10:00 to 18:00. Closed on December 25 and January 1.
- Palacio Real de Madrid (Calle Bailén, s/n). December 6 to January 4, Monday to Saturday from 10:00 to 18:00 and Sunday from 10:00 to 16:00. December 24 and 31 from 10:00 to 15:00. Closed on December 25, January 1, 5 and 6.
- Plaza Mayor de Madrid. November 24 to December 31, Monday to Sunday from 9:00 to 21:00.
- Imprenta Municipal (Calle Concepción Jerónima, 15). December 19 to January 10, Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 to 20:00.
- Consejería de Cultura y Turismo de la Comunidad de Madrid (Calle Alcalá, 3). December 13 to January 7, Monday to Saturday from 10:00 to 20:30 and Sunday from 11:00 to 14:00.
- Plaza de Callao. November 21 to January 6, Monday to Sunday from 9:00 to 22:00.
- Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales (Plaza de las Descalzas, 3). December 14 to January 7, Tuesday to Saturday from 10:00 to 13:45 and 16:00 to 18:15, Sunday from 11:00 to 14:45.
- Monasterio de la Encarnación (Plaza de la Encarnación, 1). December 5 to January 7, Tuesday to Saturday from 10:00 to 13:45 and 16:00 to 18:15, Sunday from 11:00 to 14:45.
- Monasterio de Santa Isabel (Calle de Santa Isabel, 48-46). December 12 to January 7, Tuesday to Saturday from 10:00 to 13:45 and 16:00 to 18:00, Sunday from 11:00 to 13:45.
- Monasterio Jerónimo del Corpus Christi (Plaza del Conde Miranda, 3). December 8 to January 9, Monday to Sunday from 8:30 to 13:00 and 16:30 to 19:00.
- Hermandad del Silencio (Calle Atocha, 87 bis). December 4 to January 5, Monday to Friday from 18:30 to 20:00, Saturday and Sunday from 11:00 to 13:00 and 18:30 to 20:00.
- Iglesia de Las Calatravas (Calle Alcalá, 25). December 20 to January 6, Monday to Friday from 9:00 to 13:00, Tuesday to Friday from 18:00 to 20:00.
Celebrate New Year’s Eve at the Puerta del Sol
Have you thought about spending New Year’s Eve in Madrid?
Well, there are tons of things that you can do during this special day, but the most traditional and fun activity is to eat 12 grapes at midnight at the Puerta del Sol square.
Thousands of people converge in front of the clock in Puerta del Sol to eat the 12 grapes and see the arrival of a new year. The tradition consists of eating one grape with each bell strike just after midnight, about 36 seconds before the end of the year, if you do so a year of luck will be yours!
The idea is to eat them all in time, and then wash them down with a glass of cava – a Spanish sparkling wine similar to Champagne. After the last chime, the square turns into a great party with a fantastic atmosphere.
Join the crowd and eat your 12 grapes!
Check these unique Christmas present ideas from Madrid
It’s time to start your Christmas shopping!
And the best idea for this year is to buy Christmas gifts for your friends and families that will reflect on the time you spend in this beautiful city.
You’ll find no shortage of inspiration for your Christmas shopping in Madrid. From the dozens of shops along Gran Via to all the side streets covered in Christmas lights, the center of Madrid is an incredible source for everyone on your list. And don’t forget to stroll around the Barrio de Salamanca, where all the high-end, designer couture shops are.
Whether you’re looking for an easy stocking stuffer, or something to really impress that special someone with, I’m sure that this list of the most original gift ideas to bring back home from the Spanish shores this holiday season will help you find what you’re looking for.
Go with your family to the Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos
Spanish children believe that the Reyes Magos (Three Wise Men) Melchior, Gaspar and Balthazar are responsible for bringing Christmas presents instead of Santa Claus.
The Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos is celebrated each year on the evening of January 5th, the eve of the Catholic feast of the Epiphany, when the Magi of the Orient gave the Child Jesus gold, incense and myrrh.
So the Cabalgata recreates the arrival of the Magi in Madrid and marks the beginning of the distribution of gifts that will take place that night.
This massive parade weaves through one of the city’s main avenue, Paseo de la Castellana, and during that time children hurry to catch candy thrown from the floats. The centerpieces of the parade are 3 elaborately decorated floats carrying the Reyes Magos and lots of gifts.
If you’re spending Christmas in Madrid with children, you should definitely taken them to experience this fabulous event that happens once in a year!