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Travel to Barcelona During the Winter Holidays

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At Christmastime cities and towns decked out for the holidays are at their most beautiful, everyone is in good spirits, and it’s a perfect opportunity to discover how holidays are celebrated elsewhere. Visitors to Barcelona, Spain will discover an interesting mix of Christian celebrations and Catalan traditions during the winter holiday season. Mild Mediterranean weather, fewer tourists than in summer months, and special holiday events make December and January a wonderful time of the year to travel to this coastal city. Here are just a few reasons to visit Barcelona during the winter holidays.

Christmas market, Barcelona

Barcelona’s Fira de Santa Llucia Christmas Market (Photo by Jordi Delgado, purchased from

Celebrate winter holidays in Barcelona

Instead of a visit from Santa Claus, families in Barcelona celebrate the season with Tio de Nadal, a burning log which is placed out on December 8 and nurtured until Christmas Eve, when treats are dispersed. Christmas Day and New Year’s are celebrated in Barcelona, but much more significance is given to the Feast of the Three Kings on January 5 and the celebration of the Epiphany on January 6. On the Feast of the Three Kings there is a procession through the streets of Barcelona and sweets are handed out to children. Later that evening children set out their shoes to be filled by the kings and young ones wake up to gifts the following morning.

Barcelona's La Boqueria Market

La Boqueria open-air market off Barcelona’s famed La Rambla (Photo by Colleen Lanin)

Sightseeing in Barcelona during the winter

Even during the holiday season, a tour of Barcelona is a wonderful way for visitors to take in the city’s main tourist attractions, such as the Gaudi-designed Sagrada Familia Cathedral and Park Guell, La Boqueria open-air market and the famous tree-lined pedestrian walkway known as La Rambla. All of the typical tourist attractions can be experienced while enjoying the holiday atmosphere and seasonal activities.

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

Barcelona’s La Sagrada Familia cathedral (Photo by Sioda, Creative Commons)

Shop the Christmas markets

One of the best parts of traveling to Europe during the holiday season is visiting the traditional markets that spring up in cities across the continent. The best known market in Barcelona is Fira de Santa Llucia which dates to 1786 and runs from late November until December 23. Another popular market is Fira de Nadal, which sets up in front of La Sagrada Familia. The markets are the fabulous place to shop for all types of handmade crafts and Christmas greenery as well as nativity scenes and figures.

Barcelona's fountain

The Magic Fountain of Montjuic (Photo by ferguweb, Creative Commons)

Other seasonal attractions and activities

Els Ilums de Nadal—the Barcelona Christmas lights—are turned on by the mayor during a ceremony near the end of November. The lighting ceremony coincides with Barcelona Shopping Night, when shops are open late. Once the lights have been illuminated, there is a festive spirit in the air and visitors will enjoy strolling the streets along with Barcelonians, admiring the enchanting lights and doing some Christmas shopping.

Another seasonal activity is ice skating at the open air rink in Plaza Catalunya, the biggest ice rink in Europe. During the winter holidays, visitors enjoy viewing nativity scenes at Sagrada Familia and at the Barcelona Cathedral and viewing Christmas water and music show at visiting the Magic Fountain of Montjuic.

Ice skating rink Barcelona

Ice skating at Plaza Catalunya (Photo by Jordi Delgado, purchased from

Although not reserved for the holidays, anyone coming to Barcelona must sample churros with chocolate at least once during a visit to this Mediterranean city. Chocolate shops here serve up a delicious hot chocolate (so thick that it requires a spoon) along with cinnamon-dusted churros for dipping. This is a great treat during the cooler winter weather and the perfect way to cap off a day of shopping and sightseeing in Barcelona.

What is your favorite European city to visit during the winter holiday season? Let us know in the comments!

A Note from Travel Mamas: Thanks to for making this post possible.

About Lisa Goodmurphy, The Spunky Travel Mama

Lisa Goodmurphy is a lawyer turned family travel writer and a mom of two daughters. She grew up in small town Northern Ontario and now resides near Toronto, Canada. Badly bitten by the travel bug years ago, she considers herself fortunate that her family is equally enthusiastic about her mission to explore the world—one trip at a time. Lisa shares her travel adventures on the blog that she founded in 2011 and now contributes to many online media publications as well. You can read about her family’s travels on her blog, Gone with the Family, on Google+ or on Twitter as @GoneWithFamily.

  1. The Christmas Markets over Europe are one of my favorite parts of spending the winter holidays over there. I have yet to visit one in Spain, but I will be adding this to my travel to-do list, thanks!

  2. We are particularly fond of BERGAMO, (Italy)for the lights, markets and gourmet yet child friendly food options.
    Merry Christmas,

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

      Rebecca – Oooh, that sounds lovely! I’d love to be in Italy at Christmastime some year.

  3. Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

    Lisa – I can’t believe I never had the hot chocolate and churros when I was in Barcelona 5 years ago. A reason to go back!

  4. I love this!! Your post makes me miss Barcelona, especially during Christmas! I spent 6 months there about 6 years ago, and was lucky to be there during Christmas. I loved the Fira de Santa Llucia…I still have the little caganer figure (little man pooping!) I bought…such an interesting tradition 😉

  5. Lisa, the Spunky Travel Mama says

    Colleen, The caganer is also a Catalan tradition – he is a little figure squatting with his pants around his ankles that appears tucked away in all the nativity displays – it’s apparently a symbol of fertilizing the earth as well as a funny little addition to the nativity scenes. Modern day caganer may have the faces of famous people.

  6. Lisa, the Spunky Travel Mama says

    Allison – how wonderful to be able to live in Barcelona for six months! I would love to be able to attend the Fira de Santa Llucia someday – being able to participate in celebrations like that is always such a memorable experience.

  7. Lisa, the Spunky Travel Mama says

    Shanen & Rebecca – I have a tendency to spend most of the month of December dreaming about European Christmas markets – I want to visit them all!

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