Christmas in Barcelona
The best markets, traditions and parties during nadal
By Duncan Rhodes
Bon nadal, as we say in Catalonia! Welcome to our guide on celebrating the festive season in Barcelona. Below you’ll find everything you need to know about the Xmas markets, weird local traditions like the Caganer, as well as some cool things to do this time of year…
If you’re dreaming of a white Christmas click the ‘back’ button now. Aside from the odd freak snowstorm, pretty flakes falling from the sky are not Barcelona’s forte. For that you’re better off packing your bags for Central or Eastern Europe, where spicy sausages and mulled wine (hopefully) stave off the frostbite.
The Catalan capital offers much more Christmas romance than many would imagine, and blue skies to boot…
Maybe, however, you don’t feel the compulsive need to shiver your way through the festive season, and would be quite happy to enjoy all the celebrations without the ice-induced tremulations? In which case book your tickets to BCN right now!
The Catalan capital offers much more Christmas romance than many would imagine, and blue skies to boot, and whether you’re more moved by seasonal carols and nativity cribs in the city’s awe-inspiring churches, applauding the brave as they dip into Port Vell harbour during the annual Christmas Day swim, or sniggering at the cheeky Caganer figure on sale in celebrity form in many of the festive markets, then you’ll find plenty of things to see and experience at this time of year in Barcelona.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Christmas a good time to visit Barcelona?
Provided you’re not looking for snow, Barcelona is a fine choice for a festive break. In addition to bustling Christmas markets and colourful street decorations, there are a number of delicious seasonal dishes to try, and some truly memorable Catalan traditions. The abundance of year-round flights and accommodation, means prices are not significantly inflated this time of year, and if you book hotels in advance there are even some great deals.
What is the weather like in Barcelona at Christmas?
The weather during the festive season is usually pretty mild, with temperatures during the day averaging 15 degrees Celsius, but often climbing higher at midday. In the evenings it cools off to average around 9 degrees Celsius. December is usually drier than October and November, and you should see plenty of blue skies.
Does Barcelona have Christmas markets?
Markets spring up all across the city from the end of November, and the main one is Fira de Santa Llúcia, celebrated in Barcelona since 1786. You can find it on Avinguda de la Catedral, the large square in front of the city’s Gothic Cathedral. Keep reading for more markets.
What is there to do in Barcelona in December?
Gaudi, Picasso, Dali, day trips, wine tours, flamenco shows… there’s much more to do in Barcelona during December than your Christmas shopping. Check out our article for a full list of events and suggestions.
Of course there’s the fantastic decorations as well, which include towering fir trees at in Plaça de Sant Jaume and Portal de l’Angel and spectacular lights on nearly every main street… although the best are usually reserved for La Rambla.
We’ve got info on all of the above, on this very page, plus a look at the best parties thrown by local bars, clubs and restaurants. (NB: we’ve got a separate article for New Year’s Eve events!).
Broadly speaking Catalonia observes many of the same traditions and beliefs as other Catholic countries like France, Italy and Poland. Christmas Eve is considered as important, if not more important than Christmas Day, and a lavish dinner is eaten with the family, before going out to visit friends, neighbours and extended family, often bringing gifts and singing carols. However there are some traditions which are uniquely Catalan are well deserving a mention here:
Tio de Nadal
The Tio de Nadal (Christmas log in Catalan) or more commonly the Caga Tió (sh*tting log!) is just one of the region’s scatalogical oddities which is destined to amuse visitors for as long as the tradition survives. According to custom, a hollow log (usually about a foot long) is painted with a smiley face and put in the family home on the 8th December.
The children of the family are then tasked with feeding the Tio a little bit of food and drink every day in the build up to Christmas. Then, finally either on Christmas Day or Christmas Eve, the children beat the log with sticks and sing the following song:
Caga tió, caga torró, avellanes i mató, si no cagues bé et daré un cop de bastó. Caga tió
Which roughly translates to:
Sh*t log, sh*t nougats, hazelnuts and mató cheese, if you don’t sh*t well, I’ll hit you with a stick. Sh*t, log.
After the kids have given this verse a gleeful rendition, and smacked the poor branch good and proper, they should discover that some presents have magically appeared from the hollow of the log! In many ways its the Catalan equivalent of Santa filling good childrens’ stockings. Travellers will find a giant Tio de Nadal in Plaça Nova just by the main Santa Llucia market (more info below!).
Not content with one x-rated, x-crement themed, X-mas tradition, the Catalans only went and invented a second. The Caganer is a cheeky chap to say the least, because in the middle of the holy nativity scene he sees fit to drop his peasant’s breeches and relieve his bowels in the presence of the newborn Jesus and the Virgin Mother.
This however is not considered profane in Catalonia, rather it recalls pagan rituals of fertilising the soil and is considered good luck! Such is his cult status in Catalonia that you will find little statuettes of this peasant, usually squatting over his steaming new oeuvre d’art, on sale at all the Christmas markets. In fact you’ll also find celebrity versions of him for sale, in the likeness of Messi, Barack Obama, Bart Simpson, Donald Trump… you name it!
You can check out some of my Caganer photos right here.
…article continues after photo.
There are various markets, aka firas, set up around BCN at this time of year… let’s start with the biggest:
Fira de Santa Llúcia
Barcelona’s main Christmas fair has been going for over 225 years: you’ll find it camped underneath the city’s imposing Gothic Cathedral. The majority of stalls are given over to selling festive decorations, nativity-scene figures (including the infamous aforementioned Caganer in all his usual and celebrity guides!), handmade crafts, traditional zambombas (friction drums) and seasonal trees and shrubs. The Santa Llúcia market opens at the end of November / start of December, and finishes on the 23rd December, opening hours 10:30 to 20:30.
Fira de Nadal de la Sagrada Familia
Another traditional Christmas market, this time in front of Gaudi’s otherworldly Sagrada Familia church. This Fira de Nadal boasts around 120 stalls and occasional appearances from Father Christmas to collect letters from children and hand out sweets and balloons. The website is in Catalan only, but has the dates (23rd November to 23rd December in 2019) and opening hours.
Port Vell Fair
Barcelona’s newest Xmas market, the Port Vell Fair can be found at the foot of the Christopher Columbus Statue, and boasts the tallest every Christmas tree installed in Catalonia, a 31-metre high beast, lit-up with LED lights. There’s also a Ferris Wheel and a floating nativity scene. Unlike some of the other fairs, which finish a couple of days before the 25th, this one keeps going until 5th January.
Food Artisans Market
The Fira del Col·lectiu d’Artesans de l’Alimentació, to call it by it’s long-winded Catalan title, is an annual market that pops up in Plaça Santa Maria del Pi (by the church of the same name), in the Gothic District, several times a month. In the run in to Christmas, it sets out its stalls almost every other day, selling artisanal treats such as Catalan honey, chocolates, cheeses, wines and cakes. A good one for non-kitsch stocking fillers.
Naturally being Chrimbo, there’s going be a few special events taking place… here are a few favourites to check out. I also heard a rumour that the Font Magica (aka Magic Fountain) spews forth its magic light and water show to the sound of Christmas carols during this time of year.
Father Christmases Parade (mid December)
Hundreds of school children dressed as Santa Claus will be parading down L’Avinguda Madrid in the Sants District on 15th December 2019, and they will be joined by floats, dancers and giants as well as Guardia Urbana’s mounted band. The district’s fire devils will provide an explosive finish. More info here.
Harbour Swim (25th December)
Taking place at noon on Christmas Day itself, this testicle-shrinking sports event is a 200m dash across the Barcelona harbour for the brave. Even the Mediterranean is freezing this time of year! The Copa Nadal (“Christmas Cup”) has been organised every year since 1907 by the Swimming Club of Barcelona, when Edwald Poescheke won with a time of 3’17 “02. Head to the Christopher Colombus statue before noon if you want to spectate!
Three Kings Parade (5th January)
Whilst Caga Tio defecates a few pressies here and there on Xmas itself, the main present giving in Catalonia and Spain takes place when the Wise Men arrive to deliver their gifts to the Son of God, during Epiphany (6th January). The day before (ie. the 5th Jan!), in what is one of Barcelona’s most spectacular annual events, the Three Magi cruise into Port Vell by galleon, collect the letters of children, and then embark on a parade of peerless pomp on well-dressed floats around town, dishing out sweets here, there and everywhere. The action starts at around 4pm when the ship bearing the Three Kings floats into port.
Christmas Activities & Tours
Sprinkle some extra magic into the festive period with these fun and cultural activities…
1. Christmas With A Local
Make the most of the festival season by hiring a local guide to take you around. From picking you up at your hotel, your host will take you to the famous Fira de Santa Lucia market and explain the rituals behind the Tio de Nadal and Caganer. You’ll be taken to the streets with the best Christmas lights and call by the Barcelona’s nativity scene. Book via Get Your Guide.
2. Private Christmas Tour
Climb to the top of Barcelona Cathedral for epic views over the city, explore the Fira de Santa Lucia, the Food Artisans Market and the Port Vell Christmas Fair, and enjoy a warming mug of hot chocolate with churros (Catalan doughnuts!), during this private tour of the city during the festive season. There’s also an option to upgrade with tickets to La Sagrada Familia. Reserve via Get Your Guide.
3. Christmas Sailing
One surprise activity that you can do throughout December, even on the 25th itself, is a spot of sailing with the company Sailing Experience Barcelona. The weather is often surprisingly fine this time of year and whilst we wouldn’t advocate partaking the aforementioned Harbour Swim, taking a yacht out for a spin is another matter. You can get a 10% discount on any of their activities when you use the voucher code BARCELONALIFE2019, and their most affordable sail is only €39 per person (in fact it is only €35.10 with our discount!). You use the voucher code towards the end of the booking process, when you’re entering your payment details.
4. Visit The Ice Bar
If you do want a temporary blast of frost, Barcelona’s very own Ice Bar has a sub-zero chamber full of amazing frozen sculptures. Even the glasses are made of ice! The bar is right by the beach, and remains open throughout the Christmas season. Read more and get your tickets here.
5. Flamenco Shows
Catching a flamenco concert is one of the most popular things to do for travellers over the winter season, and a great way to pass those long December nights. We’ve written an extensive article on the best places to catch a show in Barcelona. Arguably the best tablao is El Palacio de Flamenco, and you can read our review and how to get tickets here, or grab tickets via Get Your Guide. They also organise a special New Year’s Eve gala, if you’re still around. Another great option is this popular Flamenco & Tapas evening, which is only €39 all included.
6. Christmas Lights Night Tour by Bus
Organised by none other than Barcelona’s official tourist board, this seasonal nighttime bus tour takes place every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night in December. You’ll hop on board one of the city’s iconic tourist buses and take a 1.5 hour ride around Barcelona’s best-looking locations – The Sagrada Família, the Arc del Triomf and Passeig de Gràcia – decked out in Christmas lights. Very affordable at just €13.50 per person. Book online here.
7. Night Photography Tour
Take advantage of the long winter nights, and colourful Christmas decorations to improve your night time photography. On this private tour, one of Shutter King’s seasoned professional photographers will accompany you around the city at night, helping you shoot iconic architecture like the LED-lit Torre Glories or Gaudi’s monstrous Sagrada Familia to incredible effect. Whether you own a DSLR or an iPhone, by the end of the tour you’ll have some stunning pics, and be able to take nighttime photos with confidence. Just email them and ask for the nocturnal version of their popular photo tours.
8. Sagrada Familia
Christmas is a busy time in Barcelona, so don’t forget to grab your tickets in advance to the city’s top sight… La Sagrada Familia. Where better to celebrate JC’s birthday, after all, than at Gaudi’s tribute to the holy trinity? Reserve fast track tickets via Get Your Guide, or check out all their different tour options.
Christmas Meals & Parties 2019
So you’ve brought your Trump-faced Caganer at the markets, enjoyed the lights on Portal de l’Angel, and watched the Christmas harbour swim… now where can you get a traditional Christmas lunch?
Flaherty’s Christmas Meal (25th Dec)
If you simply can’t stomach the thought of Christmas without a traditional turkey lunch, in convivial company and a homely surrounds, then look no further than Flaherty’s Irish Bar. The heart of Barcelona’s international scene, this is where expats, tourists and locals come together to enjoy a beer or three! Their four course Xmas meal includes stuffed roasted turkey breast and ham with cranberry sauce (or nut roast for vegetarians), a selection of starters, and complimentary glass of Cava. At €35 per head even Ebeneezer Scrooge wouldn’t flinch at forking out. Reserve your table by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org
Flaherty’s December Menu
For those that can’t make it on the 25th, but still want to indulge in some festive cheer, Flaherty’s also offer a seasonal menu throughout December to groups of 12 people or more. Perfect for large groups of friends, or companies throwing their Christmas bash. Smaller groups are invited to come by on the weekend of the 13th to 15th December for their fill of the turkey! Drop them a line on email@example.com
CocoVail Beer Hall (13th Dec)
If you’re here in the build up to the big day, and want to get into the spirit, then one of the city’s best craft beer bars will be throwing their Christmas Party on the 13th December 2019. Door open at 9pm until 2am, and you can enjoy some €2 shots and €5 mixers, as well as their usual range of Catalan brews. This bar is beloved by American expats and the Erasmus crowd, so bring your Santa Claus outfit and prepare to make merry. More info on their website.
Don’t forget you’ll find some of the best places to eat in the city in our restaurants section, along with their contact details, so you can see what else is cooking during Navidad. Whilst plenty of bars will be open as usual and in festive spirit. Find some of the best in town right here.
Private Christmas Parties
If you need to book your own private Xmas party, either for the office or for friends then the aforementioned Flaherty’s menu is available throughout December. More info and reservations via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Otherwise, you could get in contact with Marmalade, a slick bar restaurant in Raval, or Slow Cocktail Bar, a stylish cocktail bar with two upstairs rooms, two venues that are experienced in throwing private functions.