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Wondering about travelling to Spain in winter? If you’re chasing the winter sun in Europe then it’s the perfect place to go! The bonus is, it’s also a fantastic destination for winter activities like snow sports! I first moved to the south of Spain in winter and most of my time living there was during the winter months. I loved living there and travelling at that time because it was so much quieter than during the summer months, and I got to experience some of Spain’s top places to visit without the crowds. There are plenty of other reasons to visit Spain in winter too, as you’ll find out below! Read on to see what to expect at this time of year, things to do, places to visit, and a bit about Christmas in Spain too!
Winters in Spain are not quite as cold as other parts of western Europe, thanks to plentiful sunshine, but you’ll still want to bring some form of a winter coat, especially if you’re travelling in January or February. How heavy that is depends on where you’re visiting! Spain is a pretty big country with a varying climate from north to south. Northern and Central Spain (think San Sebastian and Madrid) get fairly cold with temperatures in winter between 4 to 10 degrees C during the day. These temperatures often come with rain, so be sure to pack an umbrella or a waterproof coat. Catalonia and the Costa Brava, in the northeast region, are beautiful spots during the winter months. Only small amounts of rain and a few clouds, but overall the temps are on the warmer end of winter. In the south, there’s an abundance of winter sun, with Andalusia maintaining an average temperature of around 20 degrees during the day and is one of the warmest destinations. The warmest place in Spain during the winter is the Canary Islands, thanks to their location off the coast of northwestern Africa. They boast an average temperature above 20 degrees throughout winter. So if it’s winter sun you’re after then I’d recommend the southern regions, but that doesn’t mean that the north and central areas should be off-limits in winter. There are still plenty of things to do in Spain in winter that don’t involve the sun!
Things do in Spain in winter
Skiing, snowboarding, winter hiking and even mountaineering are popular winter sports in Spain. With elevations ranging from 1,500 to 2,700 meters, there is plenty of wintery terrain to enjoy. Spain is home to over 30 ski resorts for powder hounds and beginner skiers alike. The Neiges Catalanes ski area in the Pyrenees hosts 7 different resorts with world-class skiing and riding opportunities. There’s also the Sierra Nevada in the south, giving you the best of both worlds with ski fields just over an hour from the sunny coast. If you’re not into skiing the slopes there are a variety of other options for winter activities in Spain. Try show shoeing instead, or just soak up the luxury in a hot pool while overlooking the snowy fairytale landscape of the Sierra Nevada. You could even try ice diving in the Pyrenees (brr!), and sun furnaces. One of the best parts of indulging in the winter fun in Spain is its unique geographic location. Nowhere else on earth do you get beautiful, sunny weather, with fresh snow. The sunshine keeps winter cheery and bright, while the snow brings a sense of magic to the air.
Carnivals and Festivals in January and February
Party lovers can enjoy the festive vibes of Spain year-round! Winter in Spain is the festival season, so it’s a great time to visit to experience all the street parades and unique traditions. Of course, there’s New Year, which can be celebrated with gusto in any major city throughout the country. After that, you’ll find festivals and carnivals across the country. It’s not unusual to be travelling through the countryside and come across a small village in festival mode. I did in the Alpujarras in Almeria! I also travelled from Almeria to Cadiz Carnival to spend the night watching small bands and comedy acts amongst a huge party atmosphere. Some other examples are the Tamborrada festival in San Sebastian with it’s drumming celebration, or the 5th of January marks the Cordoba Chocolate Festival (yum!), or you can participate in a massive food fight in Caceres where you throw turnips at local men.
If there’s one thing to love about Spain above all else, it’s the food. Delicious tapas, wonderful wines, and mouth-watering staple dishes are available year-round. The best part about winter travel to Spain is you can enjoy a belly-busting food tour without the crowds. There are a variety of options in different cities, some including the price of food and others not. Here are a few options:
During the high summer season, Spain can get very busy. While you can still find quieter places and it’s still an awesome place to visit (if you can stand the heat!) it’s noticeably more crowded. During the winter months, the attractions are still open, but without the big crowds. Visiting any major site in the winter, such as Parque Guell, the Alhambra, or La Sagrada Familia is a much more pleasant experience. For example, to visit the Alhambra in winter you’ll still want to purchase advance tickets and head to the site early in the morning, but it’s much easier to do so. The views of the city and the building itself is still splendid, but do remember that the gardens won’t be in full bloom. As a trade-off though, you won’t have to worry about the endless seas of people like during the summer months. Trust me, I’ve been to the Alhambra several times in both summer and winter and the garden area especially can be super busy, with people squished together at bottleneck areas. When visiting other attractions, such as the famed Gaudi architectural sites in Barcelona, the story is similar. Gardens may not be as impressive as they are during the high season, but you’ll have a fraction of the people to contend with. Keep in mind that the days are short in winter, so in order to make the most of the daylight, head out early.
Where to visit in Spain in winter
Everywhere! Spain is a fantastic winter destination because there are so many fabulous places to see. I’ve listed some reasons to travel to the bigger cities in Spain below, but there are countless small villages in between too!
The bustling coastal city of Barcelona is well worth a visit in winter. There’s still lots of sunshine but you don’t need to wait as long at the major attractions. The famous Boqueria market becomes an actual shopping centre instead of an IG influencer’s studio. It’s also the wild mushroom season, so many of Spain’s most famous dishes get an added flair. You can also include nearby Girona (where you’ll find Game of Thrones filming locations) and the beautiful villages of the Costa Brava in your trip.
Steeped in tradition and sunshine, Madrid is an excellent place to post up for the offseason. I loved my first trip to Madrid in autumn when the city was bathed in brilliant shades of orange and yellow. In December the city streets come alive with Christmas decorations and numerous Christmas markets. Even though you’ll want to pack your warm coat, there’s still plenty of sunshine and warmer weather to be had and all the major sites to see. During the winter months, you can try traditional foods like cocido madrileño, a hearty meat stew, and then scope out a museum without the crowds.
Seville may be known for its sweltering summers, but winter is an excellent time of year to explore this gorgeous city. Say goodbye to the queues when visiting the Seville Cathedral or the Alcazar Palace. Throughout the city, you’ll find the Belén tradition of decorating windows with nativity scenes with many locals making a trip to the Feria del Belén, a market that specializes in nativity figurines located right outside the cathedral. It’s also worth a day trip to the beautiful town of Ronda, famed for its bridge over the gorge.
Granada in winter is one of the only places where you can ski the slopes of the Sierra Nevada in the morning and then travel to the coast to catch a sunset on the beach in the evening. This idyllic city is a combination of beautiful historic areas and modern street art against a backdrop of mountain scenery. The food is delicious, with plenty of tapas on offer and you can also warm up with some churros con chocolate! One February when I was in Granada it even snowed a little as we visited the Alhambra. I loved it!
I definitely have a soft spot for Almeria because it’s where I lived as an English Language Assistant in the Auxiliares program. The city itself is more popular with Spanish tourists than English-speaking ones. You’ll often find that there aren’t English menus available or information in English, so if you visit you’ll want to either know a little Spanish or be comfortable getting by without it (here are my favourite places to eat to help you get started). I definitely think it’s worth doing (I moved there without speaking any Spanish!) and always recommend it. In the summer months, many people take package holidays to the Costa de Almeria, including Roquetas de Mar, and Aguadulce to the west and Mojacar in the east. While the resorts can be quiet in the winter months (we literally stayed in huge one with only a handful of rooms occupied) it gives you an inside look into what living in Spain is really like and a chance to mingle more with the locals.
What to pack for Spain in winter
What to pack for a trip to Spain in winter depends a little on where you’re going and what activities you plan to do. But the key is generally LAYERS. You want to be able to rug-up warm when the temperature cools at night, but be able to take some layers off if it heats up during the day. Winter coats are necessary in the colder areas, but something a little lighter can be warm in the warmer areas in the south as long as your layer underneath. For example, I used to go out at night with my (fake) leather jacket and a cardigan and warmer top underneath. Many places to eat have lots of outdoor seating and not a lot inside, so even in winter, you might find yourself dining al fresco! Take comfortable footwear that you can walk in because you’ll likely be doing a lot of sightseeing! In the colder areas, boots are a good idea to keep your feet warmer, but in warmer areas, you can get away with wearing your usual shoes, which for me would be Converse or Adidas sneakers.
Christmas in Spain
The buildup to Christmas in Spain is all about the Christmas market and nativity scenes. Throughout Spain, there are a variety of craft markets in many cities. Almost all of them specialize in nativity figures as well as other handy crafts. Some markets also have ice skating rinks, carnival rides, and fantastic light displays at night. Food and drink are abundant, so come hungry! You might be able to spot the Caganer figurines in Catalonia and other parts of Spain. It’s actually a little statue of a person squatting with their pants down and…pooping. Yup. That’s right! There are a few explanations for why this figurine has been included in nativity scenes since the 17th century, including that it’s fertilising the earth and so brings good luck, or that it represents the mischief in all of us and that we are all common no matter our status, and it, therefore, adds an element of balance to the purity of the nativity scene. I remember visiting the nativity scene in Almeria and spotting this, as well as several rather gory figurines preparing animals to be eaten etc. A very different nativity than I was used to! Christmas Eve (December 24th) is quite an event in Spain, and is the main Christmas event rather than the 25th. Many families get together for a large, family meal before some head to La Misa del Gallo (or Mass of the Rooster) at midnight. After the service many people then flock to the streets carrying torches and playing the guitar and drums. It’s a sleepless affair and quite the party with sweet treats, drinks, singing, and dancing. I spent Christmas in Almeria one year and was amazed to see people out doing a fun run of Christmas Day! The Tres Reyes or Three Kings Day is a special celebration in Spain. Held on the 6th of January each year, it’s the day that most Spanish children receive their Christmas gifts. Children leave their shoes by the door in hopes that gifts will be left inside overnight. On January 6th, everyone eats a slice (or three) of king’s cake, a delicious bundt-style cake with glazed fruit on top. The cake is baked with a small figurine – either of baby Jesus or a king – and the one who finds the figure is said to have good luck for the year. Often times there’s a parade on the 5th of January to celebrate the coming of the three kings. Most people think of Spain as a summery destination. While it’s true that Spain in winter can be very sunny and warm if you head to the right place, there are also some wonderful colder places to visit too. Wherever you choose to go, visiting Spain in winter often means it’s quieter and you have the opportunity to do activities you couldn’t have otherwise. I loved my time living in Spain during the winter, and I’d definitely recommend it as a place to visit then! Sonja x If you liked it, pin it!
Sonja - Migrating Miss
Sonja is from New Zealand but now lives in Scotland with her husband and little boy, after having lived in 5 other countries along the way including the USA, Australia, Canada, and Spain. Travelling has always been her passion and she has now made it her full-time job and worked in the industry for the last five years. She shares her living abroad experiences and best tips to make your travel experiences the best they can be!