Ho ho ho! Dearest travelers! Quick heads up: If you guys are looking for a traditional and typical place to spend Christmas, just like the ones you’d see on a Christmas card, with a layer of snow on the ground and families at home in festive sweaters, eating turkey while listening to angelical children singing Christmas carols… Madrid may not be the place you’re looking for!
Don’t get us wrong!! Christmas is one GRAND OLD TIME here at CATS and we always go all out so you guys have the most amazing time here… But we do put our own twist on the holidays!
Y’all know how it is around these parts. We Madrileños see life as one big street party, and our traditions and celebrations all put that into practice!! IT’S WHO WE ARE. So, keeping this in mind, allow us to share with you our Christmas traditions, and what to expect in Madrid over the holidays.
This year Madrid’s Christmas fun has begun earlier than expected! Since November 23rd the whole city has been twinkling with pretty little Christmas lights. And what’s that we smell? Ah yes, the aroma of roasted chestnuts has already filled the streets of Madrid, it’s our favorite Christmas snack!
Believe it or not, 7.4 million (that’s a lot) LED lights were needed to piece together the array of Christmas lights that hang above our city’s wonderful streets. It’s worth a visit! If you look very closely, you’ll see that this year’s Christmas lighting design has quite the curious recurring theme… CATS! They’re everywhere! Perhaps they are paying tribute to everyone’s favorite hostel chain???(Wink wink) MADRID FULL OF LUMINOUS CATS???? What could be better?
After the ceremonial switching on of the Christmas lights, everyone feels the festiveness in the air! The best way to experience and take in the illuminated streets is to hop on the Christmas bus “Naviluz- Bus de Navidad”. It’ll take you all around the prettiest parts of town. It’s only been around for two years but is already a huge success among tourists. It’s a MUST.
CHRISTMAS MARKETS AND CUTE FAIRS
Let’s move on to another important part of Christmas time in Madrid. Vistors flock into the city by the thousands, and they all know to head to Plaza Mayor!! Everyone thrives in its wonderful Christmas market! Wigs, funny santa hats, nativity set* ornaments, you name it, they’ll have it!! Come and have a wander around the more than 100 colourful market stalls. We’d be very surprised if any Christmas visitor had ever missed out on this amazing experience!
* Nativity sets: This tradition is just about as Spanish as they get. Christmas here means lots and lots of miniature nativity scenes pop up LITERALLY everywhere. You’ll find them in people’s houses and in public spaces and buildings. Every country has its little quirks, this is one of ours!
Another thing to watch out for is the multicultural Christmas fair ‘Navideña Feria Internacional de las Culturas’, held at El Matadero, in the south of the city. Over 75 embassies from all around the world organize this fun event, offering music, workshops, food, cinema, exhibits and nativity scenes from a number of countries for everyone to enjoy and learn about. Christmas beings everyone together, right??
NEW YEAR’S EVE: THE MAIN EVENT
CATS Family, hold onto your hats! (And your drinks). New Year’s Eve in Madrid is one of those things you simply have to experience at least once in your lifetime. It’s the event that personifies the very essence of the city. Everything comes to a standstill at midnight to bring in the new year!!
Which is the most emblematic place in Madrid for celebrations? You got it, Puerta del Sol. This is where visitors and Madrileños gather each New Year’s Eve to welcome January 1st. Now, Spain has a very special way of doing this: Everyone eats one grape for every chime the clock rings for the last twelve seconds of the year! So, twelve chimes = twelve grapes! Crazy but so very true!
The clock tower in Puerta del Sol announces the change of year, and the beginning of an incredible night. Madrid errupts with laughter and joy and everyone goes out and has a ball!! Huge fiestas, small gatherings in tiny bars, house parties… whatever you feel like, there will be a plan for it! CELEBRATIONS and MAYHEM will take over the city once the clock strikes midnight!
As you can imagine, on December 31st it can be virtually impossible to grab a spot in Puerta del Sol, because pretty much everyone in Madrid has the same idea, and not everyone fits! A good trick is to head there the night before, on the 30th, to enjoy the rehearsal New Years Eve, also known as Nochevieja Universitaria. It’s a way to make sure you definitely don’t leave without the experience. But watch out!!! Don’t even think of eating the famous grapes on the rehearsal day, save that for the 31st only, otherwise, tradition says, you’ll have a whole year of bad luck!
So Madrid over the holidays just basically becomes one big party (fiesta), but you can also enjoy some quality musical performances throughout these days as well. January 1st will mark the beginning of the V Edition of Inverfest, a well-known musical festival that offers spectacular concerts (mainly Indie music) at some superb venues throughout Madrid. Some surprises also to be announced! It’s unmissable!
Ever heard of the expression, “To each their own”??. Yeah, well, Madrid caters to everyone’s needs, ESPECIALLY at Christmas! While some (most) people eat waaaaaaay too much at this time of year and enjoy being a couch potato… Other more sporty people prefer to focus on getting some exercise done. And that’s totally fine.
For this reason, each year two BIG races are held in the capital, where the physical challenge of running/jogging meets Christmassy fun and laughter. You guys should go and see the VII Santa race. Hundreds of avid runners don their Santa costumes and give their all to cross that finish line in record timing! Others just do it for the fun and hope to survive! The second running race to watch out for is the classic San Silvestre race. It’s been around for years and years and is quite the tradition now. It may look like fun and games but it’s a gruelling 10Km race to finish! It’s a great way to end the year on an adrenaline high (31st December).
Are you into winter sports? We got you covered. Madrid opens a number of public ice rinks so that everyone from all ages can skate until their hearts are content. The most impressive rink is, believe it or not, set up inside the City Council. How mad is that?
PROCESSIONS AND PARADES
We sure hope you enjoy parades because they play a key part in Madrid’s Christmas! There are two main ones you’ll need to remember to go to. On December 12th head to Madrid Río for the Winter Solstice procession. Expect a night filled with colour and lights, finished off by an amazing fireworks show at the end!
Then, the big one. The Three Kings’ Parade* of Madrid. See, in Spain the traditional day to receive gifts is on the 6th of January, so the evening before, on January 5th, The Three Kings’ parade flows through the city’s streets, with its immense and detailed floats, filling everyone with magic and excitement.
*Three Kings: In Spain, it is in fact the Three Kings, Balthasar, Melchior and Gaspar, who bring everyone’s presents on the night of January 5th. Even though Santa Claus is now also becoming a popular option, The Three Kings is a very Spanish tradition not to be messed with!
And, for the foodies, you can’t forget to try Roscón de Reyes, a classic and delicious snack for Three Kings day. It’s a large pastry in the form of a ring that can be filled with cream (or just plain). It’s so good! You gotta try it.
EUROPEAN XMAS CAPITAL
Now if you are a hardcore Christmas fan, you can’t miss out on experiencing Christmas in Torrejón de Ardoz… It’s Europe’s Christmas capital!
Yes, we’re serious. There is INDEED a Christmas capital in Europe and, coincidentally, it is right next to Madrid! Who’d have thought it?
Torrejón de Ardoz is absolutely takeon over by the Christmas spirit, lights, performances, carol singing, attractions… anything you can imagine a Christmas capital would have. Madrid is planning on launching a train ride for tourists to take a trip to the Christmas capital and have the best time.
SANTA LOVES A PUB CRAWL
Here’s one last thing to put on your Christmas wish-list!! Here at CATS we always do everything we possibly can to make sure you fall head over heels in love with Madrid. So, while the city get’s geared up for Christmas, what better plan could there be than to join our festive version of our Pub Crawl!! Are you ready for CATS Pub Crawl Christmas Special Edition??
Ok fine, it probably won’t have such a cheesy name BUT you guys will 100% love every second of it! Make sure you ask about it when you check in and come out and enjoy the Madrileño way of dancing the night away, Christmas-style!
Stay on the Nice list, boys and girls!! See you soon!