As the December days trickle down and the holidays approach ever faster, one cannot help but feel the excitement that accompanies this time every year.
The Spanish people are not one to take their holidays lightly. Madrid hosts a variety of fiestas throughout the year but nothing can compare to what happens during the Christmas and holiday season.
These celebrations manage to spread to every corner of the city as millions of foreigners and natives alike come together to celebrate one of the most wonderful and joyous times of the year with food, drink and merriment all around.
For some, staying home will be the highlight of the vacation season but for others who are lucky enough to make it overseas, we’ve compiled a short list of the best activities and events in Madrid, Spain.
Things to do in Madrid during the holidays
1. The first stop in any Spanish city should always be a visit to la Plaza Mayor.
This is generally the main square and gathering spot of a city. Madrid’s Plaza Mayor around the holidays is always filled with a vast array of Christmas markets and necessities, anything from figures for Nativity scenes to decorations and Christmas trees of any size imaginable.
The central square is also the departure point for guided tours around the city.
I’d highly recommend partaking in a tour early on in your visit because they tend to be a great way to discover the secret and special spots of Madrid.
2. If you’re traveling with children, both you and they will enjoy an entertaining tour made especially for kids called “The Adventures of Raton Perez and King Buby.” The Ratoncito Pérez or Ratón Pérez is the Spanish version of the tooth fairy and originated in Madrid in 1894. Christmas bike tours or “Christmas on Skates” are two tours great for exercise while still enjoying the holiday festivities and atmosphere.
A more expansive list of Madrid’s Official Guided Tours can be found on the entradas website.
Tours last approximately two hours and tickets can be purchased ahead of time through the website or by phone (902 221 424) or the day of at Casa de la Panadería Tourist Center (Plaza Mayor, 27). Prices rarely exceed 7 euros per person and tours are free for children under five.
3. No holiday season is complete without shopping, whether it’s for yourself or your loved ones.
The city center between Sol, Gran Vía, Plaza Mayor and Callao is a prime location for shopping and offers a vast array of stores and shops. Entertainment for children is available as well; Father Christmas collects letters from children and the Corte Inglés (Spain’s most popular department store) puts on a show entitled Cortylandia in the entrance to the Corte in Calle Maestro Victoria.
4. If you’re sticking around for New Years, two of Madrid’s biggest events happen on the last day of the year.
The evening is dominated by San Silvestre Vallecana, a 10 km race that both athletes and non-athletically inclined individuals can enjoy. 8 of the 10 kilometers are downhill, a fact that encourages many more people to participate because they see the course as less demanding.
The race departs from the city’s financial center Calle Concha Espina (next to Paseo de la Castellana) and passes by various tourist hot spots such as Puerta de Alcalá, Cibeles and the Art Walk. The city wishes to encourage as many people as possible to take part in the race, not just professional athletes, which is why the race is split into two competitions.
The “fun” competition includes participants as young as 16 and has no prerequisites or requirements for participating. The professional race requires participants to provide evidence that they have run a 10 km in the past year in under 38 minutes, 45 for women. This year will be the 36th edition of the race and it starts at 5:30 pm.
This event is truly unique because it combines athletic ability with holiday celebrations and spirit. Artificial snow, costumes and other Christmas-spirited accessories are always a nice touch to the festivities.
The international competition starts at 8 pm and puts the emphasis on star athletes such as Carlos Lopes, Ondoro Osoro, Paul Bitok, Martin Fiz, John Brown, Chema Martínez, Benita Johnson and Tadesse Tola.
5. After the race, Puerta del Sol becomes the epicenter of Madrid’s New Year’s Eve celebrations. Be sure to partake in the Spanish tradition of eating 12 grapes for good luck at midnight, one for each month of the year.
Every eye is turned to the clock on the Real Casa de Correos as the new year is ushered in and soon after, parties rage all over the city, showing no signs of dissipating until the early hours of the morning. Some of the city’s best clubs and bars tend to go all out for New Years, providing customers with parties where all drinks and food are included so keep an eye out for great deals and specials.
The Spanish culture places heavy emphasis on enjoyment of traditional holidays treats, sweets and delights.
6. No visit to a Spanish city is complete without trying a polvorón (a type of heavy, soft and very crumbly Spanish shortbread made of flour, sugar, milk and nuts), roscón de reyes (traditional ring-shaped cake) and turron (nougat made of sugar, egg whites and honey with toasted almonds or other nuts).
Why stop celebrating when you don’t have to?
The Spaniards have adopted this mentality to its fullest because even after Christmas and New Years have passed, they refuse to let the calendar put a damper on their continued merriment.
7. Dia de Los Tres Reyes or the Day of the Three Kings begins on the evening of January 5th with a parade that crosses the city center.
The Three Kings lead the parade through the streets and throw sweets to the children.
Los Tres Reyes is especially exciting for children because they don’t get to open their presents until the morning of January 6th! And you thought Christmas built up anticipation. A typical Tres Reyes food is the previously mentioned roscón. A plastic toy is buried inside the donut-shaped bread and the finder of the prize gets good luck for the New Year.