Monday, 15 December 2014

Festive fun in Madrid: Christmas lights, markets, skating & snow

Callao at Christmas. I admit I added the snow.

Being from England, I sometimes struggle to get into the festive spirit in Spain without the sludge-skied days, cracker-pulling at Christmas dos, pre-Christmas mince pies and the schmaltzy John Lewis advert on TV. They do the holiday season a bit differently here, so I'm currently looking for excuses to get into the Christmas mood. If you're in Madrid over the next few weeks, here's a guide to festive fun around the city.

Seeing the Christmas lights

Christmas lights as seen from the Navibus. Photos from my Instagram feed

Madrid puts on a good show in the evening (until the oddly early hour of 11pm). All around the centre, streets are illuminated with glitzy lights, some of which were designed by top Spanish designers. Most of the conical Christmas trees which pepper the city's plazas are unfortunately sponsored this year, with the name of the sponsor festooned in lights, but the huge gold tree in Puerta del Sol is sponsorship-free. Sol looks particularly good at Christmas, and Gran Vía and Cibeles to the Puerta de Alcalá are also festively lit. If you want to get a good look at the city's best displays, take the Navibus from Plaza Colón (opposite Calle Serrano 30); an after-dark tour of the city's Christmas lights. Costing €2 for adults and €1.50 for children, the trip on an open-top bus runs from 6–10pm Monday–Thursday and until 11pm on weekends plus 25 December and 1 January. The route takes in Puerta de Alcala, Cibeles, Calle Alcalá, Gran Vía up to Santo Domingo where it doubles back and follows the same trail in reverse, adding in some of barrio Salamanca on the return journey. The tour lasts about 40 minutes and is fun for kids of all ages.

Christmas markets and pop-ups

If standard Christmas shopping isn't for you, you might want to check out some of the many markets and pop-up stores on offer in Madrid this month. There's a very comprehensive list (in Spanish) over on Madrid Diferente, but a few highlights include Diferente Market  (20 & 21 December) which will sell products from 30 independent designers and also offer a café bar and a DJ session, and the Mercadillo del Gato from 13–23 December with vintage goods, jewellery, cosmetics, artisanal products and more. 

The Hovse: Pretty but pricey

On the pop-up front, the much-hyped (and stupidly-named) The Hovse is best for a browse and a leisurely vermouth at La Vermuteria pop-up (a pop-up within a pop-up, how hipster) unless you're utterly loaded. As at the very similar, equally stupidly-named (Meaning) – their brackets not mine – at the Palacio Santa Barbara, all the independently-designed goods are beautifully presented, but their price tags are not within reach for your average mil eurista. If you're looking for similar gift items, clothes and jewellery at a more reasonable price, try boutiques La Intrusa and Nest instead. Nest also sells Christmas cards.

More traditional outdoor markets selling artisanal goods, food and jewellery among other gift items can be found around Plaza Mayor, near the Palace and in Plaza Santo Domingo. 

Ice skating

Although you can go year-round at Palacio de Hielo, a few outdoor ice rinks pop up in Madrid during winter. They're not quite the grand rinks in prime locations that London and New York have to offer, but they're fun for a quick spin, especially for kids. The most central are at Plaza de Oriente by the Palace and at the normally borderline salubrious Plaza de la Luna. There will also be a rink at Cibeles from 21 December to 7 Jan. From the 23rd December, there's a rink in the 'Ciudad de los Niños' at Conde Duque.  

Seeing some real snow

Although snow rarely falls in the city, the sierra of the Comunidad de Madrid features several little towns where you can rely on a good ground covering of snow, and even some ski stations such as Valdesqui in Rascafría. If you enjoy a good train journey, try Los Cotos, which is accessed from Cercedilla by a two-carriage train that chugs up the mountainside through a pine forest. Visiting this weekend, we saw the odd patch of snow for the first twenty minutes or so, and were starting to feel a little disillusioned until the train entered a tunnel. Emerging from the other side, the ground was coated in thick white powder, and the higher we climbed, the better it got.

Visiting Cotos in the Sierra de Guadarrama

You can rent all manner of mountain equipment from Todoaventur inside the train station, such as cross-country skis, boots and sledges. They also organize showshoe walks and offer accommodation, and their website features several deals including the train fare from Madrid. We rented a two-person sledge for the day for €10, and made our way to a snow-covered slope a few minutes away. 

If you fancy a different day trip from Madrid, Cotos is definitely worth a visit. Even if you're not feeling active or don't have any mountain-appropriate gear, the train ride from Cercedilla is beautiful and there are a couple of good spots to eat, including La Cantina inside the train station. To get there from Madrid, take the C2 cercanías and change in Cercedilla. The trip costs €17.10 return and takes around 2 hours each way (including waiting time at Cercedilla).

What's your favourite festive activity in Madrid? 


  1. I am extremely envious of your festive fun! I have been trying to feel Christmassy - Love Actually watched, a whole box of mince pies consumed and several Christmas tunes listened to/sang... but nothing!

    1. It's a struggle! I can't wait to go home & have my first mince pie. It just feels different, the run up to Christmas here. The snow definitely tipped the balance though!

  2. My husband and I are coming to Madrid on Monday, and staying through Christmas! We are very excited, and definitely like the idea of the night bus light tour! Thanks for all your great posts!

    1. Have a great time, Christy! I'd definitely recommend it if you're here over Christmas. And you're welcome, glad you enjoy them :)


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