Everything you need to know for a festive and fulfilling December trip to Spain.
As we groggily stumbled off the plane and into the streets of Madrid last December, I expected a quiet, off-peak Saturday morning stroll through the Plaza de Espana and a peaceful bite at the Mercado de San Miguel. It was the less touristy season, after all. But, as we quickly found out, a December “off season” in Spain doesn’t mean squat.
December 6 marks the national holiday, Constitution Day, and December 8 is the Immaculate Conception. That means the majority of Spain has off, so the streets are filled with hustle, bustle, revelry, party-goers and – as you’d imagine – a ton of fun.
From early December on, Spain’s major cities like Madrid and small towns like Cadiz illuminate with twinkling lights and holiday markets, which makes for a Spain experience like no other. While the number of tourists was higher than we hoped for, the majority of travelers were more so Spanish citizens taking a long weekend than tourists of other nationalities. (Which was great, because we got to meet and talk with people from all over the country!)
At about 50 degrees Fahrenheit give or take, Spain in December is perfect traveling weather. We didn’t get too hot, we may have gotten a little cold (packing properly is the bane of my existence), and each and every experience was made a little more magical (but no, not warmer) with the unique holiday charms.
A few standout Spain holiday experiences included:
Madrid’s Puerta del Sol
In December, Madrid’s popular Puerta del Sol is lined with colorful cube lights, festive music, street performances and a giant hollowed out metal “tree” that you can actually walk through. As you’d expect, Puerta del Sol and, well, all of Madrid get pretty busy during December (crowds are similar to those for the NYC holiday lights), but as long as you’re not in a rush, the holiday cheer is worth the pandemonium.
Holiday music through the streets of Ronda
Like something out of the North Pole (except, with palm trees and all), Ronda’s main streets in the new part of town are filled with holiday music and cheer. The main square, Plaza de Espana, is also decked out with holiday trees, lights and dazzling, festive displays.
Gigantes y Cabezudos procession
The “Giants and the Bigheads” procession is popular in Pamplona, but the tradition has traveled far and wide across Spain during seasons of festivity, including, of course, the December holidays. This procession consists of a group of giant papier-mâché characters that travel through town, surrounded by locals – particularly kids – trying to get an up-close-and-personal experience.
From what I can tell, this procession happens around important holidays throughout the year, but we stumbled upon it during Constitution Day in Segovia, and actually almost missed our train because we got caught behind the procession. Totally worth it for some QT with the papier-mâché giants…
Seville’s city-wide poinsettia
Seville knows how to grow poinsettia, which it boasts throughout the city with larger-than-life, beautiful displays of this bright red beauty during December. The poinsettia can be found all over town, but my favorite place to view it was in the main square — from the top of the Seville Cathedral’s bell tower.
Side note, Seville is probably my favorite holiday city in Spain – nearly every street is colored with holiday lights, Christmas trees, or a combination of both. It’ll fill you with holiday cheer, and an urgent need to tap those toes and dance to your favorite Christmas songs (or maybe that was just the after effects of some incredible Flamenco…)
Cordoba holiday market
Really any holiday market in Spain is worth checking out – and they’re hard to miss, given they’re in the center of town. My favorite were the small little shops in Cordoba because they were easy to navigate, not overly crowded and the vendors actually gave us free samples of holiday sweets… which is the quickest way to my heart.
Beyond sweets, the markets sell crafts, homemade goods, intricate nativity scenes and some unique souvenirs. Most spots we saw were cash only, so bring along those bills.
While we didn’t plan to celebrate the holidays during our trip to Spain, I’m so glad we did. Experiencing Madrid, Seville, Ronda, Cordoba and Segovia any other time would, I’m sure, be wonderful, but to watch the locals come together to celebrate my favorite time of year? Well that was nothing short of holiday magic.