While Spain is typically thought of as a summer sun destination in Europe, there’s much to be said about discovering its capital city, Madrid, during the colder months of the year. Here’s your ultimate guide to the best of Madrid in winter, including the best things to do, and what to know before visiting.
- Winter weather in Madrid
- Best things to do in Madrid in winter
- Visit the Christmas markets
- Botanical Gardens Winter Wonderland
- Enjoy the Christmas illuminations
- Three Kings Parade (Dia de los Reyes)
- Discover Madrid off the beaten path
- El Corte Inglés Christmas display
- Cosy up in a café
- Check out a museum
- Discover local food
- Go skiing (and other winter activities close to Madrid)
- Winter sales in Madrid (rebajas)
- Visit a bookshop
- What to pack for winter in Madrid
Winter weather in Madrid
While Madrid by no means experiences the kind of weather that you find in Northern European cities such as Stockholm, Gothenburg, or Oslo, there is a cold snap during the three months of winter that’s worth paying attention to and remembering when planning your visit. The coldest month of the year is January, when the weather drops down to 6ºC.
Best things to do in Madrid in winter
Visit the Christmas markets
When it comes to visiting Madrid, it’s worth noting that, while the Christmas Markets are not as big as those in places like Western Germany or Eastern France, there is still a fairly large substantial Christmas Market held on Plaza Mayor.
In 2021, the Christmas Markets in Madrid will be held from the 26th November to 31st December 2021. The event will see 104 stalls selling everything from Christmas Market food to unique gifts and souvenirs. Plaza Mayor is also where the main tourist office is located where you can pick up city guides and enjoy a beautiful frescoed façade.
Botanical Gardens Winter Wonderland
The first time that the Botanical Gardens launched their winter wonderland in Madrid was in 2019 and today, Madrid in the winter wouldn’t be complete without the magical display of the Gardens! In 2021, the Real Jardín Botánico is illuminated with the theme of “Naturaleza Encendida“ which sees the entire garden is lit up with fairytale themed lights.
Enjoy the Christmas illuminations
The botanical gardens of Madrid are not the only place which offer people the chance to enjoy illuminations in Madrid. Instead, most of the main touristic parts of the city are lit up by giant baubles, overhead street lights, and more.
One of the best places to see illuminations is by heading to the Metropolis building where a 12 metres wide light ball is lit up from the 26th November 2021 onwards. Those who want to enjoy a view of the Metropolis building from above should consider heading to the adjacent rooftop bar Azotea del Círculo.
Three Kings Parade (Dia de los Reyes)
An annual Christmas event in Madrid that is particularly well enjoyed is that of the Three Kings Parade. Typically the Three Kings Parade is held from the Nuevos Ministerios to Cibeles Palace and sees a large parade celebrating the arrival of the three wise men.
Unfortunately, in 2021, the Three Kings Parade live event is cancelled due to ongoing global events. The event will instead be televised on the 5th January (which is on the eve on Epiphany). Learn more about the Three Kings Parade here.
Discover Madrid off the beaten path
From a chapel that’s so ornate that it has been compared with the Sistine Chapel to a train station that’s home to a beautiful botanical garden, there’s no shortage of hidden gems worth discovering while in the Spanish capital city. For more inspiration, be sure to check out our guide to the best non touristy things to do in Madrid.
El Corte Inglés Christmas display
One of the top Christmas shop displays in Madrid during the winter period is at El Corte Inglés, which is a famous department store with branches across Spain. The Calle Maestro Victoria location has window displays featuring puppets and sing-along songs.
Cosy up in a café
Madrid has no shortage of beautiful coffee shops which are perfect for cosying up in when the weather gets cold and the nights draw in. Some of the top cafés in Madrid include Bianchi Kiosko Caffé and HanSo Café. For speciality coffees and delicious brunch food at a reasonable price, I personally recommend Pum Pum Café (C. de Tribulete, 6, 28012 Madrid).
Check out a museum
You can’t visit Madrid and miss out on a visit inside some of the most beautiful and interesting museums in all of Spain. This is especially true during the winter months when rain is pretty common and the weather is less than ideal for wandering around the city streets. Even if you’re only spending 24 hours in Madrid, I highly recommend visiting at least one or two museums.
One of my favourite museums in Madrid is that of the Naval Museum which features historic maps, old boat models, and other naval related paraphernalia. What’s more is that the museum is completely free to visit.
If you’re planning on visiting some of the biggest museums and cultural centres such as the Prado Museum or the Royal Palace of Madrid, then be sure to buy your entrance tickets in advance to save time queuing. Purchase your Prado Museum Direct Entrance Ticket and your Royal Palace of Madrid Fast-Access Ticket here in advance.
Discover local food
If there’s one cosy winter warmer that you must sample while in Madrid, it’s churros with chocolate. For those who have never tried this mouthwatering treat before, churros are a long deep fried pastry that are best enjoyed when dipped into rich chocolate sauce.
One of the top places to enjoy churros in Madrid is Chocolatería San Ginés. This Churrería has become something of an institution in the Spanish capital. The building itself was constructed in 1890 as a guesthouse, but by 1890 had been transformed into a place which produced churros.
Today, the café is open every day of the year right up until the early hours of the morning. Nearby, another can’t miss destination is the Mercado San Miguel, which is a covered food market which almost exclusively specialises in small bites and drinks, making it the perfect place to head to food a light lunch or dinner.
To learn even more about food culture in Madrid, consider booking this Markets and Gourmet Tapas Walking Tour.
Go skiing (and other winter activities close to Madrid)
Madrid is situated close to a number of fantastic skiing areas, meaning that winter ski opportunities are never too far away from the Spanish capital. One of the best places to go skiing in winter near Madrid are the Sierra de Guadarrama (Guadarrama Mountains), which are around an hour from Madrid by car.
If skiing isn’t really your thing, then consider booking this 4-Hour Snowshoe Hiking tour which will show you the mountain range in a whole new light. (Please note that transportation is not included but can be arranged)
Winter sales in Madrid (rebajas)
If you enjoy shopping then you’ll be delighted to discover that Madrid is one of the biggest shopping destinations in Spain. From well-known high street brands to independent boutiques and everything in-between, Madrid really does have it all.
Each winter, the winter sales (known as rebajas in Spanish) take place from January 7th onwards. Christmas themed items and the like are discounted from the 25th December onwards. The main shopping street in Madrid is Calle Gran Vía.
Visit a bookshop
If there’s one thing that you should know before heading off to the capital of Spain, it’s that the centre of the city is bursting to the brim with beautiful bookstores, all of which are worth an explore. For more inspiration, be sure to check out our guide to the best bookshops in Madrid.
What to pack for winter in Madrid
One of the top things to know about visiting Europe during the winter is that you’ll consistently be changing environments between hot and cold ones. What I mean by this is that restaurants and public transport can be hot and stuffy while the outside itself can be pretty chilly.
As such, your best bet when it comes to packing is to opt for layers. As well as a scarf, coat, hat, and gloves, you’ll want to opt for cosy layers such as cardigans and long sleeved T-shirts. I love styling outfits with a cute pair of boots like these ones.
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