No matter what time of the year you visit, the many attractions Madrid has to offer will make sure you never get bored. However, there are some periods when the capital is transformed and is, if possible, even more interesting. One of those times is Christmas, when the whole city dresses up to celebrate the holiday.
During the holidays, Madrid looks even more beautiful and its atmosphere becomes unique. If you have never visited the city at this time of the year, I recommend you to book a ticket. Decorations, trees and lights will take your breath away.
1. Experience the Three Kings Parade
The kings of the east arrive in Madrid on January 5. Each neighborhood has its own parade although the most beautiful is the one that starts in Nuevos Ministerios and ends in Plaza de Cibeles.
Melchor, Gaspar, Baltasar descend the Paseo de la Castellana accompanied by the traditional throwing of candy from the floats. At the end of the route, fireworks illuminate the Palacio de Cibeles.
If you travel with children to Madrid, I recommend choosing a good place. Once you are in one place, it will not be easy to move away from there. To have a better view, some parents bring a stool or a small ladder, but I imagine that you do not want to bring one during your vacation. To avoid this, you can arrive a little earlier and take a place near the railings or move a little further away to see them from the stands.
For more info, I recommend you to consult the official tourism website of Madrid.
2. Take a tour of the Nativity Scenes
What would Christmas be without a beautiful nativity scene? Fortunately, as Christmas approaches, Madrid's main churches and public spaces are filled with statuettes of shepherds, Holy Families and Three Kings. The list below gathers the options that I like the most:
- Neapolitan Nativity Scene, a classic of the capital. Every year, if you visit the Royal Palace at this time, you will see that it hosts a historic nativity scene. Its origin is due to Charles III who, before becoming king of Spain, ruled in Naples and Sicily. It is located in the Salón de Alabarderos, the room used for the guards of the royal residence (Calle de Bailén s/n).
- Nativity scene of the Church of San Ginés, an unknown jewel. During the Christmas season, the central Arenal Street is full of people and most people pass in front of the temple without dedicating even a quick glance. If they knew that the austere façade hides the most beautiful baroque nativity scene in the capital, perhaps they would change their minds. Its life-size figures are a real gem (Calle Arenal 13).
- Nativity Scene of the Real Casa de Correos. It has more than 150 figures and the theme changes from year to year. Due to its central location, it is one of the most visited in the city (Puerta del Sol).
- Bethlehem of the Convent of Las Carboneras, the nativity from Ecuador. The spread of Christian customs in Latin America gave rise to nativity scenes with features and costumes typical of the overseas colonies. Specifically, this nativity scene was made in Quito and, after a long journey, arrived in Madrid at the end of the 16th century (Calle de Puñonrostro 2).
- Nativity Scene of the Monastery of the Descalzas Reales. It reproduces the first Christmas celebrated by St. Francis of Assisi in the cave of Greccio (Plaza de las Descalzas s/n).
- Municipal Bethlehem, a splendid outdoor nativity scene. It recreates a traditional landscape embellished with moss, stones and figures molded by artists such as Olot, Almansa and José Luis Mayo (Plaza de la Villa).
3. Do not miss the Plaza Mayor market
If you have been to Madrid in the month of December, you can see how the Plaza Mayor is full of stalls. It's worth going there to buy figurines for the nativity scene, costume masks, trees, moss, mistletoe, hats and much more.
It opens at the same time as the Christmas lights are turned on - usually at the end of November - and operates from 10:30 to 21:00 (Sunday to Thursday) and from 10:00 to 22:00 (Fridays, Saturdays and holiday eves).
This market is a historic market in Madrid. As early as the 17th century, sellers of animals, fruits, vegetables and Christmas decorations gathered in the nearby Plaza de Santa Cruz. Some 200 years later, the city council began to regulate the sale of licenses and the merchants moved to the current space.
For a 100% Madrilenian experience, you can snack on a city classic: bocadillo de calamares (squid sandwich). Near Plaza Mayor you can opt for La Ideal ( Calle Botoneras 4), Bar Postas (Calle Postas 13) and La Campana (Calle Botoneras 6).
4. Take the kids to Cortylandia
If you travel with your children, you can't miss Cortylandia, the most famous Christmas show in the city. The back façade of the Corte Inglés department store on Preciados Street is transformed into a big screen with lights, music and moving figures. The theme is different each time and the shows are repeated throughout the day. It usually opens at the end of November and is dismantled after January 7.
Although it may not look like it, Cortylandia is a historic landmark in the capital. The first stage was set up in 1979 and represented the African savannah. A locomotive from the Parque de Atracciones was used for its staging.
The owners of the shopping center decided to create the show with a double purpose: to ennoble the access to Maestro Victoria Street and at the same time create a new attraction. A few years later, Cortylandia is still an essential part of the Christmas season.
5. Let yourself be fascinated by the Christmas lights
In the last month of the year, Madrid becomes even brighter. Christmas lights embellish its streets and fortunately there is a way to see them in all comfort: Naviluz, the tourist bus that touches the most emblematic points of the capital.
The tour takes place in a double-decker open-top bus and the trip lasts between 40 and 50 minutes. In a little less than an hour, the vehicle passes through the following areas:
- Calle Serrano
- Velázquez Street
- Independence Square
- Alcalá Street and Puerta de Alcalá
- Cibeles Square
- Gran Vía
- Calle de los Reyes
- Maestro Guerrero Street
- Plaza España
- Paseo de Recoletos
6. Feel like a movie star
Skating under a big fir tree immediately takes us back to American movies. The rink under the Rockefeller Center in New York is part of our imagination, but you don't have to cross the pond to slide on the ice. Here are the best rinks in Madrid:
- Plaza España, a 450 m2 rink next to the Gran Vía and at the foot of the Edificio España. This space has been completely remodeled following the winning project of a popular poll. From the square, pedestrian paths lead to the Temple of Debod and the Almudena Cathedral. Between the end of November and the beginning of January, it is open from 10:00 to 22:00.
- Matadero, the cultural space on the banks of the Manzanares. Under the warehouses converted into exhibition centers is located a circuit of 600 m2. The ticket will give you access to the track for half an hour and includes the rental of skates and gloves (Plaza de Legazpi 8).
- Palacio de Cibeles, one of the most popular. During the Christmas season, the Galería de Cristal of the emblematic modernist building hosts an indoor rink. You will skate under a very suggestive glass vault (Calle Montalbán 1).
- Reina Sofia, to finish off a day of visits. After admiring the best works of the museum, you can stretch your legs on the circuit of Plaza Juan Goytisolo (Plaza Juan Goytisolo).
- Madrid Dreams, the city's Olympic rink. If skating is your passion, it's worth getting away from the center. It is located in a shopping center in the district of Hortaleza. For more info, I recommend you consult the official website (Calle Silvano 77).
- Plaza Colón, the space that pays homage to the world champion skater Javier Fernández. The rink is 40 meters long and 20 meters wide and next to it you will find a dj set, a merry-go-round and Christmas markets. 10% of the proceeds go to Down España, an association that facilitates the inclusion of people with Down Syndrome.
7. Feel like a child again in the Botanical Garden
Using the same way as to get to the Prado Museum, as it is just a few meters away, you are going to be able to enjoy another must-see attraction: Naturaleza Encendida. This event is a newcomer in Madrid - the first edition was held in 2019 - but it has quickly become a Christmas classic.
It is a themed exhibition that illuminates the Royal Botanical Garden with LEDs and projectors. In the first year, the Madrid park became a fairy forest while in 2021 it paid homage to the maritime expeditions of Ferdinand Magellan and Juan Sebastian Elcano. I recommend you book in advance, tickets are flying!
8. Escape to the mountains
In December, snow begins to cover the forests and ski slopes of the Madrid mountains. What better time to spend a day in nature?
Although the capital does not have facilities like those of the Alps or the Pyrenees, there is no shortage of options when it comes to skiing. With the first cold weather, locals flock to Navacerrada, a ski and snowboard resort in the Sierra de Guadarrama.
Getting here is very easy. If you have your own car or a rental car, you only have to take the A6 highway to Collado Villalba and then take the M601 Madrid - Segovia road until you reach the town. Alternatively, you can take a train from Chamartín Station to Cercedilla and, once there, take the train from Cotos to Puerto de Navacerrada.
9. Enjoy a cocido madrileño (stew)
To warm up, there is nothing better than a good plate of stew. The origins of this dish are shrouded in mystery, although it is believed to be derived from cholent, a traditional dish of the Ashkenazi Jews.
What is certain is that the recipe was very common among the less affluent classes as its slow cooking was also useful for heating homes.
In Madrid, you can find it in countless bars and taverns, often on a specific day of the week. In the center, Lhardy is a recommended option. Opened in 1839 by French chef Emilio Huguenin, it was the first restaurant to offer separate tables and a menu with fixed prices. The establishment preserves its elegant nineteenth-century décor (Carrera de San Jerónimo 8).
10. Spend a day at the Amusement Park
Between December and the beginning of January, the Amusement Park inaugurates the Christmas season. During these dates, you can enjoy activities for children, meetings with Santa Claus and the Three Wise Men, shows, Christmas carols and much more.
The program changes from year to year, but there is one thing that always remains the same: the spectacular Christmas decorations. To get there, just take the metro and get off at the Batán stop (line 10).
Tourist influx at Christmas time
In December, many Spaniards travel to Madrid before Christmas. They mainly come to the capital to shop, enjoy a city break or visit friends and family. As a result, this is one of the busiest times of the year.
Given the high number of tourists, the downtown streets are closed to traffic. You can walk freely from the Royal Palace to the Plaza de Cibeles.
Is it worth visiting Madrid at Christmas?
Despite the crowds, it is a highly recommended option. In the last month of the year, lights illuminate the streets, trees appear in the squares and chestnut vendors are installed in the main corners of the center. At Christmas, the atmosphere is simply magical.
You can also take advantage of the occasion to go shopping. The capital has an endless number of stores and a few kilometers away you will find a luxury outlet: Las Rozas Village.