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… don’t come to Madrid or Spain! Haha. Don’t get us wrong, Christmas in Madrid, Christmas Markets and New Year’s Eve 2023 it’s a different story!
Christmas is one GRAND OLD TIME here in Madrid and at Cats Hostels 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! 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.
MADRID’S CHRISTMAS LIGHTS
This year Madrid’s Christmas season will begin early this year! The whole city will be lit up with pretty little twinkling 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!
- The Christmas lights switch-on will be on November 25th around 7.30 pm and will stay lit every night from 6.00 pm until January 6th. Last year, 7.4 million LED lights were needed to piece together the array of Christmas lights that hung above our city’s wonderful streets. It was worth a visit! Especially for CATS fans! Perhaps they were paying tribute to everyone’s favorite hostel chain??? (Wink wink) This year the design will be different… and we’re waiting to see what they’ll surprise us with!
- 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 three years but is already a huge success among tourists. It’s a MUST. The journey takes about 50 minutes and costs €4. It will run every day from November 25th to January 6th,.
- We don’t get off the bus to travel on another Christmas bus, but this one is cooler, especially for the little ones, because it’s the Three Wise Men bus. For 45 minutes you’ll be surrounded by all the magic of the season, singing carols, doing quizzes and meeting Christmas characters. Available every day for 14 euros, except for babies up to one year old travelling in arms, who will go free. Don’t forget to report it in the “order notes” section when you buy your tickets. Where does the tour start? Pío Baroja Monument – Calle Claudio Moyano, 1.
- To get into an authentic Christmas fairytale this year go and check out Las Luces del Real Jardín Botánico. A Christmas light show at the Royal Botanical Gardens. The place is already beautiful during the day, (it’s one of our favorite parks and gardens in Madrid) but at night it must be a dream come true! This Christmas Garden concept has already been very successful in other European cities. Plants, flowers, and trees from all corners of the planet will shine with hundreds of colorful lights. The inauguration will be on November 14th (this day will be free!), and then you can go every night* from 6:00 pm. to 12:00 pm. until January 6. Tickers can be bought at the box office or online for €12 (* closes on December 24th, 25th and 31th, and January 1st)
MADRID’S CHRISTMAS MARKETS AND CUTE FAIRS
Let’s move on to another important part of Christmas time in Madrid. Visitors flock into the city by the thousands, and many of them want to see Christmas markets, whether or not they are going to buy anything, it is simply a pleasure to walk through them!
- Madrid Christmas Market in Plaza Mayor: Wigs, funny hats, nativity set ornaments, you name it, they’ll have it!! Come and have a wander around the more than 100 colorful market stalls. Visit it any day of the week from 10:00 am. to 10:00 pm. We’d be very surprised if any Christmas visitor had ever missed out on this amazing experience!
- Madrid Christmas Market in Paseo de Recoletos: It’s Madrid Arts and Crafts Fair, the place to go to find handmade gifts: from decorative objects to textile items, toys, etc.
Christmas Market in Plaza Mayor
Other markets that take place throughout the year, also have their Christmas editions:
- El Mercadillo del Gato (Cats Market) is a market inside an Art Nouveau building from 1916 at Gran Vía, 13. You can walk freely on its two floors and browse the fashion, decoration, cosmetics, and jewelry of its exhibitors. Open from December 16th to January 5th from 11:00 am. to 9:00 pm. Free entry.
HOW TO CELEBRATE NEW YEAR’S EVE IN MADRID 2023-2024
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!!
What 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 seconds = twelve chimes = twelve grapes! Crazy but so very true! Tip: choose them seedless, or peel them before
The clock tower in Puerta del Sol announces the change of year and the beginning of an incredible night. Madrid erupts 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!
- December 30 at noon: Wait, what? You read it right, you can come celebrate the beginning of the year at the Puerta del Sol a day in advance! It’s when they test the clock so you can hear the 12 bells. (Some Spaniards prefer to eat 12 candies because it’s said that eating the grapes ahead of time brings a whole year of bad luck, soooo we leave this here in case there are any superstitious people around).
- December 30 at midnight: The New Years’ Eve official rehearsal is almost as popular as the night of 31st, and there are many people who celebrate with joy the “fake” beginning of the year as if it was the real one. In fact, it’s the day that many locals prefer, since the next day they usually have dinner with family or friends. But show up early as pretty much everyone has the same idea and not everyone fits!
- December 31 at noon: It’s the best option for families with children since there is no agglomeration, and for locals and travelers who simply hate crowds!
- December 31 at midnight: Now, THE GREAT NIGHT. You’ll have to queue a few hours in advance at one of the entry points provided. If you go late, it will be impossible to grab a spot. Don’t be mad about the wait: people go very well prepared with portable coolers, drinks on hand, and a lot of laughs. (Yes, you can come inside with your own alcohol as long as it is not in glass bottles).
HOLIDAY SEASONS CLASSICS
Nativity scenes are a tradition that is just about as Spanish as it gets. Christmas here means lots and lots of miniature nativity scenes popping up LITERALLY everywhere. They are called “belenes” and 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! The most famous nativity sets in Madrid are:
- Belén de la Casa de Correos: It’s one of the most popular, near Puerta del Sol and with free access.
- Belén del Palacio de Cibeles: It’s the one that assembles the City Council of Madrid and you’ll probably have to queue to enter (but if you make an online reservation you’ll skip this queue, that cost only €0.50 so it’s worth it). Better go after dark, so you see how amazing the Cibeles building is when lit.
Credit: Flickr @martius
Are you into ice skating? 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. Take note of these ones:
- The Winter Gallery: The Glass Gallery at Cibeles Palace becomes a winter passage where adults and children test their balance. There is a bar and cafeteria service inside, so get cozy in there.
- Ice rink in Plaza de Colón: Go here if you want to skate outdoors in a lovely setting. It’s located at Jardines del Descubrimiento, a park with a pond and monument commemorating the discovery of America.
- Ice rink in La Plaza de La Luna: If you want to spend an afternoon/evening skating without moving from the city center and its plans, this one in Malasaña is the best option.
- Dreams Palacio de Hielo: A skating rink not only open in winter but all year long! It’s inside a shopping center, for all of you wanting to buy Xmas gifts from Spanish brands!
And let’s not forget about the musical offers during this time of the year:
- Gospel Festival: An event that is now in its 29th year in the capital. It is a programme of concerts throughout the month of December, from the 1st to the 11th, in the Fernán Gomez Theatre. We will enjoy the performance of numerous shows, with the production of Grandes del Gospel.
- Musicals: If there is one thing visitors don’t want to miss at this time of year, it is a good musical in our mini Broadway. Among this year’s offer we have The Lion King, the musical that has broken all records since its premiere in 2011, MAMMA MIA! the fun musical that can be enjoyed at the Teatro Rialto, and you know all the songs. Peter Pan, now in its ninth season, is on its way to becoming a legend on the billboard, and with good reason. And if you want something fun and different, we recommend, out of dozens of options, Don’t Touch My Fairytale, where four fairytale princesses rebel to tell the B side of their lives, the worst side of their lives. Hey, what about IFEMA? Well, they don’t stop! Flipa with the new musical by Nacho Cano, Malinche, and with the WAH Madrid show.
- Inverfest: This is the winter festival par excellence and hosts concerts for all tastes. And it is the plan for those who stay a few days longer in Madrid after Christmas. It will be celebrating its 10th edition with more than 100 shows, including concerts by well-known artists and those from your fridge, so they can’t say that winter isn’t one of the best times to visit Madrid!
SPORTY CHRISTMAS IN MADRID
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 sportier 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:
- Santa Race: Hundreds of avid runners in their Santa costumes + some little elves (children wear green outfits) + few reindeers (yup, dogs are WELCOME and some in fancy costumes). The crowd is diverse: some give their all to cross that finish line in record timing! Others just do it for the fun and hope to survive! You’ll sing Mariah Carey, see Santa in a sled and even watch snow! This will be on December 24th, don’t miss it!
- San Silvestre Race: Another classic that has been around for years and years and is quite the tradition now in many cities and towns of Spain. And not to brag but the Madrilenian is the most famous and emblematic one! It may look like fun and games but it’s a grueling 10Km race to finish! It’s a great way to end the year on an adrenaline high, as it happens on 31st December. After this, you’ll feel like you ‘earned’ the dinner and the later drinks.
STREET ACTIVITIES AND PARADES
We sure hope you enjoy parades because they play a key part in Madrid’s Christmas! There are three FREE activities you’ll need to remember to go to.
- Fiesta de la luz:LuzMadrid will dress four representative areas of the city with art and light over three nights, from 27 to 29 October, between 20:00 and 1:00. From El Retiro, through Plaza de España and Madrid Río to Carabanchel.
- Cortylandia: a show with animated figures and songs on the façade of the Corte Inglés de Preciados (the most central department store in Madrid) this year is based on designs from the 30s and 50s. It will run from 24 November until 5 January. For 45 years it has been giving us a lot of fun. Yes, you might be thinking “ugh, that sounds like for children, but, come on, don’t we all feel like infants during this time of the year??
- The Three Kings’ Parade of Madrid: This is the big one. 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.
*The Three Wise Men are in Spain 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. Even better combined with hot chocolate. Oh! And no need to wait until January 5th or 6th: during all Christmas season, you’ll find it in any bakery!
THE BIGGEST SPANISH XMAS THEME PARK
Now if you are a hardcore Christmas fan, you can’t miss out on experiencing Christmas in Torrejón de Ardoz. It is absolutely taken over by Christmas from November 18th to January 5th. Spirit, lights, performances, carol singing, attractions… anything you can imagine a Christmas capital would have.
Madrid is launching the Magic Christmas Train to take you there, with animation on board included. It leaves from Chamartín Station and the tickets are already on sale.
Credit: Instagram @magicasnavidadestorrejon
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 gets geared up for Christmas, what better plan could there be than to join our festive version of our Pub Crawl!! Are you ready for the best pub crawl in Madrid Christmas Special Edition??
Ok fine, it probably won’t have such a cheesy name BUT you guys will 100% love every second of it! We’ll start at our bar, then hop off to a few other bars and end in a club. Picture this: a group of different nationalities starting new friendships and having the best time enjoying the Madrileño way of dancing. Everyone is welcome! Guests staying with us, visitors staying elsewhere, and local residents. The only requirement is to bring good vibes and a Christmas spirit!
Stay on the Nice list, boys, and girls!! Santa is watching!!!
Have we already convinced you to spend Christmas or New Year’s Eve in Madrid?
If so, we would love to see you at Cats Hostels!!
Tip: If you book through our own website you’ll get the best price!!!!