Visiting Barcelona in January
Crowd-free attractions, clement weather… and a second Christmas!
By Jessica Bowler
Want Barcelona all to yourself? Then you’ve chosen the right time to visit! January offers a little window of respite from mass tourism, making it the perfect month for those who love culture but hate crowds. And naturally, being Catalonia, there are a fair few festivals and special events going on…
Wondering if January is a good time to visit Barcelona? Though it isn’t the height of the tourist season, that arguably makes it an even better month in which to enjoy a trip to the Catalan capital.
Even without the beach, there are still more things to do and see than you can cover in a weekend
Even without the beach, there are still more things to do and see than you can cover in a weekend (you won’t be bored!), plus you get the added bonus of having fewer crowds at the city’s top attractions like La Sagrada Familia, Park Guell and the sensational Casa Batllo (a personal fave!). For much of the rest of year, the queues outside these sights resemble a rugby scrum.
If you plan on being particularly active as a tourist, then I’d recommend checking our in-depth comparison of the best tourist cards. The Barcelona City Pass (available via TicketBar), for example, gets you into Sagrada Familia and Park Guell for free, and has tickets for the Bus Turistic built into the price too.
What’s the Weather Like in January?
First, let’s talk about what to expect weather-wise. The temperature in Barcelona in January averages 16 ºC (61 ºF) during the daytime, which goes down to 10 ºC (50 ºF) at nighttime. It’s not likely that it’ll rain during your stay, as the month averages just 5 rainy days per month in January. You’re highly unlikely to see snow, though you might see some frost at night on the hills surrounding the city.
In terms of what clothes to bring, a warm jacket, sweater and scarf will keep you nice and toasty, whilst a small hand umbrella for emergencies never hurts (you can always buy one a store though if it does rain). You shouldn’t need any specialist footwear, beyond good walking shoes. Oh, and don’t forget your sunglasses because the winter sun can be quite low and bright, and a little harsh on the eyes.
Festivals & Things To Do
So, now that you’ve got that squared away, let’s talk about something a bit more fun – the best things to do here in January. We’ll take you through our hand-picked choices to add to your travel itinerary, if you’re visiting this winter.
1. Make a New Year’s Splash
Even though it’s not exactly traditional sunbathing weather in January, locals love to start off the new year by jumping into the Mediterranean at noon on the first day of the year. Head to San Sebastian beach (near the W-Hotel) to join hundreds of locals as they dive into the sea – and race back out of the chilly waters at top speed. (And if you’re also here the night before, check out our guide to New Year’s Eve parties and traditions).
Casa Batlló is just one of Gaudí’s masterpieces that you can visit in Barcelona. Nicknamed “The House of Bones” by locals because of its skeletal appearance, the house is actually inspired by the legend of Saint George and the dragon. Inside, it’s filled with colour and curved lines, as well as plenty of the architect’s signature “trencadís” work (mosaics created from pieces of broken tiles). Touring the house has a new, very modern update – you can get an augmented reality guide that brings the building to life with clever videos and interesting explanations. Get your tickets (with video guide included) via Get Your Guide.
3. And The Rest of Gaudi’s Greats…
Casa Batllo is Gaudi’s most colourful creation, but the city is replete with the legacy of the master architect. The epic Sagrada Familia church can’t be missed, and we go into some detail on its history, the best towers to climb, tour options and opening hours here. Similarly few cultured travellers leave Barcelona without paying a visit to Park Guell, the impressive gardens he landscaped above the Gracia district. We discuss opening hours and how to buy advance tickets here. If you simply can’t get enough of the man, there’s also Casa Vicens, Palau Guell and the famous Pedrera mansion.
4. Greet The Three Kings (5th Jan)
Called the Cavalcada de Reis in the local lingo, this parade happens every year on the night before Epiphany. The Three Kings (also known as the Three Wise Men in English) sail in on the waves of the Mediterranean and their resplendent ship is greeted at the shore by the city mayor, who gives them the keys to the city for the evening, so they can unlock all the houses in the city to leave gifts for children. The ship sails in around 4pm at Port Vell, and the parade sets off from the Ciutadella Park when evening falls (usually around 6 p.m.), and is filled with colourful parade floats from which the Three Kings throw sweets to the crowds of excited children. For Catalans this is the day when people traditionally swap presents, not Christmas.
5. Catch a Ride on the Bus Turistic
Give your feet a rest and hop on the Barcelona’s Tourist Bus to see the sights. There are three different routes you can utilise, all of which let you see a completely different side of the city. You get an audio-guide to hear all about the city’s history and culture as you go around. It’s a great option if you’re tired from pounding the pavement, or if you’re short on time. Your hop on, hop off ticket enables you to make as many stops as you like, from cultural icons like Casa Batllo and La Sagrada Familia, to sporting treasures like Camp Nou and the Olimpic stadium. You can buy tickets (usually with a discount) on TicketBar, although you might prefer to invest in a Barcelona City Pass instead, which includes free entry to Sagrada Familia and Park Guell (plus Aerobus tickets!).
6. Find Nemo at the Barcelona Aquarium
A great activity for a rainy or chilly day, the city’s aquarium houses around 450 different species of animals, ranging from tiny colourful sea horses to giant menacing sharks. Its collection is the biggest one of Mediterranean aquatic life in the world, so there are plenty of fascinating species to look at in the tanks. There are also lots of activities and interactive spaces for kids to enjoy, which makes it a good choice for a family outing. Buy tickets via Get Your Guide.
7. Discover Catalan art at the MNAC
The Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya is housed inside a former palace at the foot of Montjuïc hillside. Not only is the building spectacular, but it also features some of the best art exhibitions in the city. The art on display ranges from romanesque church paintings to modern art, all of which has a focus on art and artists from Catalonia. The rooftop viewing decks recently opened up, and make for an excellent vantage point to take in views of the city.
8. Take a Ski Trip to Andorra
Enjoy a wild weekend on the slopes of Andorra’s finest mountains for skiing and snowboarding. With trips running every weekend from January through March, you can go for a weekend of fun in the snow and tax-free booze for €260, including return transportation from Barcelona, meals, and ski passes and equipment. Make sure to book your trip early, because spots fill up quickly.
9. See the Sant Antoni Neighbourhood Festival
Throughout the year, each Barcelona neighbourhood puts on its own festival. January is the Sant Antoni neighbourhood’s time to shine, with the curious Tres Tombs parade as a particular highlight. Sant Antoni (or, as you may know him, Saint Anthony Abat) is the patron saint of animals, so people bring their pets to the parade to be blessed, which can provoke some bizarre and fun sights. Other than that, you can see all the mainstays of a good neighbourhood party here – castellers and correfocs, parades and concerts. The dates vary year to year, but the Tres Tombs (‘Three Turns’) parade takes place on the first Saturday that occurs after the 17th January.
10. Shop ’Til You Drop at the Rebajas
Locals love to head to the shops after Christmas to get a good deal at the sales (rebajas in Spanish). You can get steep discounts at just about any shop, and shopping hours are often extended. Of course, like at most sales, you might find the very best deals on swimwear in the middle of winter, but hey – a bargain’s a bargain. Check out our guide to the city’s shopping precincts for where to head.
11. Visit the House of Needles
If the Casa de les Punxes was designed by Gaudi, there’s every chance it would be one of the most visited attractions in the city. Instead it was built by one of Antoni’s contemporaries, the almost-as-talented Josep Puig y Cadafalch, who combined fairytale medieval elements with the trendy Catalan Modernista movement of the day. The result, as you can see for yourself, is quite spectacular. A ticket with audioguide is usually €12.5 but you can often get it for a bit cheaper on the official Barcelona Tourism website.
12. Warm Up With Chocolate & Churros
There’s no better time to enjoy a mug of hot chocolate accompanied by a helping of sweet churros (a kind of doughy pastry) than during January’s winter weather. It makes the perfect afternoon pick-me-up on a frosty day. One of the best places to enjoy them is La Granja, which has been open since 1872. You can also find a good selection of cafés serving sweet treats on Petritxol street, which is tucked away on one side of Las Ramblas.
13. Create Your Own Cava!
A great day trip if you fancy getting out of Barcelona for a few hours, Create Your Own Cava is a tasting workshop that takes place in a boutique Cava winery in the nearby Penedes region. The local hosts, Eric and Ramon, lead you through the cellars and vineyards and treat you to three different blends of their best sparkling white wine. Next it’s time to disgorge and label your own bottle! Read more about the activity and how to book here. And you can also read up on other excursions around Barcelona’s countryside.
And be sure to check out our suggestions for cool, fun and unusual things to do year-round.
About the Author
Jessica was born in England and grew up in California before moving to Seville to study Spanish. She now lives here in Barcelona, where she works in communications, studies for her masters and still finds time to update her award-winning blog Barcelona Blonde – as well as being a regular contributor to Barcelona Life!