Christmas in Barcelona is a magical time. While it is not the obvious choice for a festive trip, and there won’t be snow on the ground or a Santa Clause on every corner, Barcelona is a great choice for a Christmas trip. The weather outside isn’t frightful like the old song says; it’s very mild, usually the sun is shining, and there are lots of lovely things to see.
You will hear people complaining that Christmas seems to start earlier every year, but in Barcelona, it’s just part of the holiday season. The first official holiday in the festive calendar is La Immaculada, the Immaculate Conception, which is celebrated on the 8th December. Interestingly, the 6th December is also a holiday, but not the 7th! Local people will often take the 7th as a day off work too if they can, in order to have three days off in a row.
The final day of the holiday calendar is the 6th January, known as Dia de los Reyes or the Epiphany, so it’s almost a month of celebrations. In this blog we are going to run through some fun Christmas traditions, foods and markets that you can enjoy in the beautiful city of Barcelona.
You can find delightful Christmas markets across the city for the whole of December, selling all manner of festive fare. Here are some of the highlights to really get you into the Christmas spirit.
Arguably the most famous Christmas market in Barcelona, La Fira de Santa Llúcia is located directly in front of the Barcelona Cathedral. The square, Plaza Nova, has ample space for the stalls and is filled with twinkling Christmas lights.
The first historical mention of a fair being held in this location is 1786, which means this year it is the 232nd anniversary! While it was originally a one-day event to honour Saint Lucia, whose day is celebrated on the 13th December, the fair gradually grew into the big, festive, souvenir-filled market that you will find there today. They proudly announce in their literature that even in 1860, when Barcelona was beset with a terrible case of yellow fever, the Christmas fair went ahead. This year, it will be open from Friday 30th November until Saturday 23rd December.
What to buy in this market: all things artisan and handmade – Nativity figurines, musical instruments, plants, jewelry and other pretty gifts to take home for family and friends.
Other activities: on Saturday 15th December there will be an all-day celebration with music, dancing and activities for kids. Look out for the traditional parade of the “gegants”, or giants, which will be carried around the Gothic Quarter.
Despite being located outside Barcelona’s most visited tourist attraction, the unfinished La Sagrada Familia temple, the Christmas market in this square still maintains a local feel, even selling Christmas trees to the residents of the area. Of course, we don’t recommend trying to take a tree back on the plane with you, but there are lots of other treats and treasures to be picked up in this market.
Although this market is much newer than La Fira de Santa Lucia, started in 1962, it still has lots to offer in terms of shopping. The traditional handmade figurines are here too, joined by a great selection of other handmade decorations. You will also find lots of delicious morsels to try, including local meats and cheeses, as well as candies and, the most traditional Christmas treat in Barcelona, turrón.
Turrón is a nougat-based confection, meaning its main ingredients are sugar, egg whites and honey, usually combined with toasted nuts such as almonds and hazelnuts. However, much like all traditional confections, there are now hundreds of different varieties with every flavour you can think of.
The famous brand of turrón in Spain is made by Vicens and can be purchased all year round in their shops; keep with tradition by eating some this festive season. Look out for turrón from Agramunt; this little town in Catalonia makes a turrón that has a protected geographical status, meaning this version of the treat can only be made here.
What to buy in this market: sweet treats and traditional figures.
Other activities: combine it with a visit to the Sagrada Familia, contact us for information about private tours and tickets.
The title of this one is a complete mouthful, which is appropriate as it is the food market! This market is usually open once or twice a month, but at Christmas, it has a special timetable so that everyone can have the chance to purchase something delicious from its stalls. It’s the youngest market by a large margin, having only been in operation for 15 years, but it offers high-quality and exciting treats that you won’t find in the other markets.
The translation of the name is simply “Artisanal Food Fair” (although we like to call it the fancy food fair), and that is exactly what you will find in the Placa del Pi, in front of the Santa Maria del Pi church in the Gothic quarter, over the festive period. While you will be able to find turrón everywhere, this food fair has an extensive list of local goodies to choose from: cheeses, yoghurts, pâtés, cured meats, honey (and everything that can be made with it, including beauty products), sweets, dried herbs, teas, spices, jams, marmalades, olives, conserved vegetables, biscuits, chocolate…have we missed anything? Oh yes, wine too!
This market is a foodie paradise; the hardest part will be working out how much you’ll be able to fit in your luggage. For those who love to give edible gifts, look no further than the Fira del Col·lectiu d’Artesans de l'Alimentació.
What to buy: the selection of jams is amazing, I suggest looking out for the stall selling gin-infused marmalades and tomato conserves.
Other activities: Take a look inside the church. The Santa Maria del Pi has some of the oldest “gegants” in the city hidden just inside the door and you can read about how they were protected during the civil war.
Something that you will see all over Barcelona all year round are little figurines of a gentleman…ahem…doing his business. These little guys are called “caganers” and are actually an important part of the Catalan Nativity scenes. That’s right: next to Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus, there will be the caganer relieving himself in the background.
While the traditionally dressed caganer wears a white shirt, black pants and red hat, you will now see every character, real or fictional, represented squatting and - erm, I’m running out of ways to say this politely – taking a poop. From Yoda to Obama, from Messi making a mess to Einstein working something out, these little figurines and the story behind them is sure to make everyone laugh when you present them on Christmas day.
You will find these in the markets of Santa Llúcia and la Sagrada Familia and we really do insist that you buy at least one. Then afterwards, number two. Sorry, toilet humour. We’ll stop now.
Much like every other European city around the festive season, there are Christmas trees and Christmas lights to be seen. Take a stroll around the centre to be filled with the festive spirit. There are lots of lights to see and lots more shopping to be done on the Passeig de Gracia, so be sure to take a stroll down that fantastic avenue; you’ll find everything from Gucci and Cartier to H+M and Oysho.
If you want to add a competitive edge to the sight-seeing and shopping, try our Photo Treasure Hunt – you’ll see all the pretty, festive sights of the Gothic quarter while answering questions and taking Polaroid photos.
For general ideas of what to do in December, please have a look at our What to do in December blog.