Ultimate Guide For A Great December In Barcelona
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW IF YOU ARE VISITING BARCELONA IN DECEMBER
There’s two main reasons to travel in December. Those who travel in early December want to avoid the crowds, and those who travel in late December want to experience Christmas and New Year’s Eve abroad.
Does it sound like you? Is there a reason you should consider visiting Barcelona for your December trip? Sure! And in today’s post I want to share with you the pros and cons, what to take into account and the unique things to plan that will make your trip special and personal.
This is not a post listing tourist sites and activities: this is a post about what makes Barcelona special in December. We'll discuss holiday dates you weren't expecting, quirky local traditions, food you only see this time of the year, unique winter activities and more. Enjoy!
Is December a good time to visit Barcelona?
The main advantage of visiting Barcelona in December is the experience the city Christmas vibe. I’ll dedicate an entire section of this post to discuss Christmas markets, lights, nativities and other special local Christmas traditions.
The other advantage is that the rest of the year the Spanish law forces shops to stay closed on Sunday and holidays. However there’s certain days of the year where they are allowed to open and most of the time, that includes a few December dates (keep reading for more info about them). However, beware the winter sales season doesn’t start in Spain until January 7.
But from the first weekend of December on, there’ll be crowds. On the days around December 6 and 8, crowds of Spaniards. And as Christmas approaches, it’ll be travelers from all over the world right until January 1st. And that means lines at the sites, more expensive flight and hotel rates and more difficulties to hit a reservation in the most popular restaurants.
Shorter daylight hours are another drawback. The sun sets around 5.30PM and there’s only sunlight left for another hour or so until it gets dark. And that means some sites close earlier than in the Summer: around 6PM.
And finally, the weather is colder and it doesn’t invite to spend time outside. No beach (the water temperature is around 15.4ºC / 60F), no outdoor restaurants (sure, some have stoves, but still it’s not the best plan).
The Barcelona December holiday you weren't counting on
Both are bank holidays, so it’s important to take that into account when planning to visit Barcelona in December. First of all, you need to expect more people travelling to Barcelona during these dates, because it’s a long weekend (sometimes very long, actually) and Spaniards often take a mini-vacation.
The good thing is that often December 6 and 8 are one of those days when shops are allowed to open despite being a bank holiday. So shopping is a good plan! Just take into account that this might vary depending on the year, so it’s best to double check in the calendar of holidays when shops will be open in Barcelona before planning your shopping day.
Is there anything else fun going on in December 6 and 8?
December 6th is a political celebration that celebrates the approval of the Spanish Constitution of 1978, 3 years after the death of the general Franco and the end of the Dictatorship. The Spanish Government and the Army will be holding commemorative events. Madrid is a better place to get the feel of it, since in Barcelona there’s not much going on.
December 8th is a Catholic festivity, one of the holy days of obligation. There’s not much going on in the streets, but the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception of the Cathedral of Saint Eulalia will be open for worshippers to bring flowers and candles, and there will be a special mass in her honor. If you are curious about it, it’s the first chapel to the right of the main entrance.
How is the weather in December in Barcelona?
Average weather data
At night the temperature lowers to 9ºC / 48F in December and January (46.5F in February). I know, if you live in a snowy area, that probably doesn’t sound that cold. But snow is rare in Barcelona. And when it snows it’s usually just a few flakes. There is only two big snowstorms fallen in December in the recent history of Barcelona: 1844 and 1962.
And it doesn’t rain much either: only 3 days in average… which according to the statistics is the same it rains in June! It is mostly cloudy, though: 42% of the time. And it’s windy: December 15th is the windiest day in the year according to the records, with the wind blowing at a speed of 14km/h (8.70 mph). I’m afraid Barcelona is not hot in December. Not even warm. It is cold, at least compared to other months. December is one of the three coldest months of the year in our city: The daytime average temperature of December, January and February is 15ºC / 59F.
What to pack for Barcelona in December
Locals wear a warm jacket or coat anytime they are outdoors in December. Scarf and gloves can be useful specially in the early morning and until 10AM more or less: after 10 the sun is high and warm enough to not need them unless it’s specially windy.
Sweaters are the norm for tops, and jeans and long pants for bottoms. As for footwear, ladies favor boots and ankle booties, and men go for Chelsea boots and waterproof sneakers.
If you plan to visit Barcelona for Christmas or New Year’s Eve, remember to bring something classy or party-like, depending on what your plans are. You’ll rarely be required a tie or need a tuxedo in Barcelona, though. Barcelona is a stylish city but not extremely formal.
Food to try in Barcelona in December
It's still mushroom season
The Calçots season is finally here!
Calçots are a sort of green onion that is made to grow covered in earth so it grows long, tender and white. We grill them in large patches (a portion is between 12 and 20 of them), peel off the burnt skin and dip them in a special nutty sauce. Here are detailed instructions on how to eat calçots.
The calçot season starts in December and ends late March, and with it come the gatherings of friends and relatives called “calçotades”: barbecue parties where we eat calçots, grilled meats and crema catalana for desert.
If you are a local and aren’t invited to one of them during the season… that means you probably have no social life at all! But you can just head to a calçotada restaurant and not miss them anyway!
Hot chocolate and churros
Churros and melindros (a long sponge cake) are the traditional thing to dip. And for an extra dose of richness, order a “swiss” and it’ll come topped with whipped cream. This is something we do either for breakfast or as a snack between lunch and dinner. Here is where to find the best hot chocolate and churros in Barcelona.
Christmas is the season for those with a sweet tooth. The most popular treat is the famous “turron”, a nougat bar made with almond, sugar and optional toppings. There’s many turron varieties, by while the rest of the year you can only find them in specialty turron shops, in December they are readily available in any supermarket.
But there’s more than turron to the Christmas dessert platter! There’s marzipans of all kinds, there’s polvoron cakes, there’s rolled waffle “neulas”… Learn about all these Christmas treats here.
Don't miss the local Christmas traditions
This last years the City Council has wanted to make them friendly for anyone despite their religion, so the decorations don’t revolve much about anything Christian. And things about shopping are also seen as excessively “capitalist”.
There’s a lot of geometry and stars, and the designers try to be creative – although sometimes they are a bit too modern… In any case, the best itinerary to see the Christmas lights is to start from Plaça Lesseps and walk down Gran de Gracia, then connect to Passeig de Gracia. Keep walking down until Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes, and there turn right for just one block to Rambla de Catalunya.
From there continue down towards Plaça de Catalunya, then La Rambla all the way down to Portaferrissa (third street to the left. Take Portaferrissa to the end, then turn left and walk back up Portal de l’Àngel all the way back to Plaça Catalunya.
The most traditional is the one celebrated in front of the Cathedral of Saint Eulalia. It is called “Fira de Santa Llúcia”, because it traditionally started on Saint Lucy’s day, December 13. However nowadays it starts earlier.
The other one is located in front of the Passion Façade of the Sagrada Familia Church, occupying most of the park in front of it. Both feature stalls selling nativity figurines, Christmas trees and other greenery and Christmas ornaments.
There’s also a toy market along Gran Via, and a crafts market in Port Vell. And if you are all up for a day trip, in Espinelves there’s a famous fir tree market, in Vilafranca del Penedes they celebrate their rooster festival, and in Olot there’s a famous nativity market.
During Christmas there’s a nativity set up in every house of Barcelona. But you can see some around the city too! The Cathedral of Saint Eulalia has a large-size nativity in the cloister, complete with a river, chicken and roosters. The Palau del Lloctinent has a small nativity displayed in their courtyard, too.
The Barcelona City Council always presents a huge installation representing a nativity… most of the time so modern and conceptual that locals have made it almost a tradition to head to Plaça Sant Jaume to see it with their own eyes and complain. And for traditional ones, the Church of Bethlehem in La Rambla has a whole exhibit of nativity dioramas.
Two Christmas traditions that have to do with poop
It represents a Catalan farmer in its traditional dress, crouching and… pooping. It’s become so popular that now you can also find caganer figurines with the faces of politicians, sportsmen and rock stars from all over the world. Those are for collectors or decoration, not for the nativity, though.
The Tió (pooping log) is who brings presents to our kids. A log that the family feeds fruit and leftovers over December – the more the better because you want it to poop lots of presents for you! On Christmas Day, the kids hit it with a stick singing a song that makes the presents appear under the blanket that covers the log. Apparently, it poops them!
Christmas theater plays
Another family tradition is to head to some neighborhood theater to watch “Els Pastorets”, a theater play about the birth of Jesus. There’s local companies that have been playing it for years. Some of my favorite are the Teatre de Sarria and the Centre Moral de Gracia. But there’s many more! Just beware it’s in Catalan – but if can be an interesting thing to do if you are a foreign-cultures freak.
Also, every year the dance and theater company Som-hi Dansa plays the Nut-Cracker in a child-friendly version (in Catalan). And this 2021-2022 Christmas season the Liceu Opera house is also programming a Nut-Cracker ballet.
Every December there’s some opportunity to hear Handel’s Messiah in Barcelona. Some years it’s been in Palau de la Musica Catalan, some other it’s been in the Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar, and in 2021 it’s the turn of the Auditori of Barcelona, the largest concert hall in town. It’s a one-day show only, so make sure to get your tickets in advance.
Christmas Eve "rooster" mass and the Song of the Sybil
because the tradition says a rooster was the first animal to see Baby Jesus born, and he crowed to announce it.
The Song of the Sybil is an old tradition of medieval roots, a song that announces the end of the world with the coming of Jesus. It was sang right before Christmas mass all over Europe until the Council of Trento banned it for being of “pagan origin”.
But it continued to be performed in Mallorca and the small town of Alguer in Sardinia, and nowadays it’s considered Human Heritage by UNESCO. And in Barcelona you can also hear it in the Cathedral of Saint Eulalia and the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar.
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day
And the menu is quite different: we eat escudella i carn d’olla, a very rich soup served in two parts. The starter is the broth with a local curled pasta named “galets”. The main course is platters of the beans, veggies and meats that were used to make the broth.
So as a visitor you must take into account that you will need reservations in advance for Christmas eve dinner, Christmas day lunch and… Christmas day dinner too, because some restaurants will be closed and you don’t want to have to end wandering hungry in the streets in the search of a place to eat…
You also need to know that many sites in Barcelona close earlier than usual on December 24, to let their employees get ready for dinner, and around 2PM on December 25 and they don’t reopen again that day (some don’t even open at all). Shops stay open as usual on December 24, but they are closed on December 25. Here are some fail-proof ideas for what to do on Christmas Day in Barcelona.
Boxing Day - December 26
Catalan families meet again, this time to eat the escudella i carn d’olla left overs… transformed into creamy cannelloni! Or at least that’s the explanation for why cannelloni became the typical dish to eat that day.
But I need to say that nowadays no one wants to spend the whole morning cooking cannelloni before the guests arrive. Most families order them from local eateries, buy them from supermarkets, or if they do make them themselves, they are done well in advance and frozen.
April 1st in December?
December 28 is the “Sants Innocents” day, Holy Innocents Day. For the Christians, it commemorates the day King Herod killed innocent babies hoping one of them would be the Baby Jesus.
But Spaniards celebrate it like you’d do for April’s Fool. People plays silly tricks to each other, the media release funny fake news that are hard to believe but make you doubt for a second, and kids try to stick paper dolls in people’s backs.
Planning to spend New Year's Eve in Barcelona?
Tips to celebrate New Year's Eve
And most hotels and night clubs organize parties after the countdown.
Speaking of countdown, for Spaniards it’s more of a “countup”. We count the bell tolls from one to twelve, and with each toll we… eat a grape! It’s a sure way to choke if you aren’t trained to chew fast. You are warned.
Barcelona has been organizing mass countdowns in Plaça Espanya for several years now. But it’s mostly tourists and college kids attending: most local families prefer to watch it on TV and celebrate at home unless they are going out to some restaurant.
Also, take into account that on December 31st many sites close earlier than usual, and on January 1st some don’t open and some close around lunchtime, just like for Christmas Day. More New Year tips here.
Catalan kids are told that day to look out for the “Home dels Nassos” (Man of the Noses) when they are out on the streets: but of course, he only has one nose so it could be anyone! In Barcelona there’s a traditional parade around the Old Town, led by a big-headed festival figure with a suspicious large nose.
Every year on December 31 the Barcelona City Council organizes a 10km (6 miles) race named the Cursa dels Nassos (Noses race), after the man of the noses.
Ideas for sport lovers and active travelers
FC Barcelona December matches
The Spanish league is on in December until the last weekend before Christmas, then they take a break until January. And since the teams play one week at home and one week away, that means you have at least one chance of attending an FC Barcelona match!
There could even be some friendly match or a match of the European Champions League on. And if they don’t match your travel dates, you can always at least visit the Camp Nou Stadium. Or maybe check if the other soccer team of the city, the RCD Español is playing at home. Or if they are playing away during your trip, you can at least watch a match from a sports bar.
But every Christmas there’s some temporary skating rink set up, often at some shopping mall. This information isn’t available at the time I’m writing this post, but if you don’t want to miss the fun, you can Google it as your trip approaches to get up-to-date information.
Yes, I did say before it doesn’t snow that often in Barcelona. But the Pyrenees are just a couple of hours away from the city, and in December the skii season starts officially. There’s alpine skiing as well as Nordic skiing options, but also snowboarding and other snow-related sports available.
You might want to check out my post on skiing in Barcelona. There’s destinations close enough for a single day trip, but for some other further away such as the Vall d’Aran or Andorra it’s best to plan staying overnight.
Just one important thing to take into account if Andorra is under your radar: there are some very busy dates such as the long weekend of December 6 and 8, as well as Friday evenings and December 22 in the afternoon (the day kids finish school) were there’s a lot of traffic trying to enter the country. Since it’s only one 2-lane road, the traffic jams at the border can get you stuck for an hour or more.
More things to do in Barcelona December
Things to do with kids
The Barcelona kids await December eagerly to attend the Ciutat dels Somnis. It’s a children fair featuring all kind of workshops, sports, games and other activities for children. The 2020 edition was cancelled because of Covid, but the details for the 2021 edition will be released soon.
Another thing young kids love to do in December in Barcelona is to hop on a Christmas little train. Many districts have little train itineraries along their main shopping street. The tickets are sold in local shops and they are quite cheap.
You get a ride on a train decorated with Christmas lights, animated with loud Spanish and Catalan carols, and if it’s already dark, you get the bonus of admiring the Christmas lights from the train as well.
My mom always takes my child to the one in Sarrià, and we also take her to the one of Gracia. But there are more in other districts, such as in Sagrada Familia. If you are curious, google “trenet de Nadal + the name of the district”. That should pull the most up-to-date information – but you might need to use Google Translate or something similar to read it because most district websites don’t have an English version.
Relax at a Spa
This time of the year I favor those with a water circuit with pools, water jets and waterfalls. Or spas with sauna or hammam, because the steam and essential oils used there help against colds. If you are like me, you’ll want to check my posts on the best hotels with spa in Barcelona and the Barcelona spas that are not located inside hotels.
Other Barcelona December events
Do you need more things to do in Barcelona in December? There’s many temporary exhibits to check out. And here are our favorite festivals:
- MID-OCTOBER THROUGH MID-DECEMBER. Voll Damm Jazz Festival. This world class jazz festival featuring Spanish and International artists goes on most of the Autumn months and finishes before Christmas.
- MID-NOVEMBER TO EARLY DECEMBER. L’Alternativa Film Festival. A Barcelona Independent Film Festival will Spanish films as well as international feature and short films.
- MID-NOVEMBER TO MID-DECEMBER. Drap-Art Festival is the international fair of sustainable art that has been celebrated for over 25 years already. You can see exhibits of urban and contemporary art spread around the Barcelona Gothic Quarter.
Best day trips from Barcelona in December
I’ve already mentioned a few ideas for day winter day trips: going skiing for a day, attending a local Christmas market out of town… but what if you want to do some sightseeing? Are there some destinations that are better than other in December?
Sure! I don’t recommend the Monastery of Montserrat in the winter because it’s cold, damp and foggy, and the monastery is not specially decorated for Christmas. I don’t recommend heading to the Costa Brava because most things will be closed, and the weather won’t be nice. Here is what I recommend instead:
Besides, being a city rather than a small village, it’s lively with locals all year around and shops and restaurants are open for them. Plus for some reason tourists don’t really consider Tarragona much as an option for a day trip, so it’s never crowded.
There’s suburban and high speed trains connecting with Barcelona. Or you can take our private Day trip to Tarragona from Barcelona. We also love to combine Tarragona with lunch in Sitges on the same day – but trying to organize it on your own by train would be too difficult.
Restaurants and shops are open for locals all year around, and while in the Summer you might cross groups from large tourist buses, in the winter it’s unlikely.
You can also take a suburban or a high speed train to get there, or book our Barcelona to Girona day trip. We also love to combine it with other destinations: the Dali Museum or the medieval town of Besalu are our winter favorites, but again, they are difficult to pair up with Girona on the same day unless you have a car.
Dali Museum in Figueres
If you are an art lover, this is a great destination for a day trip from Barcelona in December… with the bonus that it’s indoors. Despite being smaller than Tarragona and Girona, Figueres stays quite busy all year around, not with tourists but with locals. So while there might be some souvenir shop or touristy café closed, you’ll still find most things open.
There’s a high speed train connecting it with Barcelona, as well as a suburban train (much cheaper but veeeeeery slow). But inside the museum the information about the artworks is minimal, so if you really want to understand the secrets of Dali’s surrealist mind, you should really consider our private Dali tour from Barcelona.
Medieval Market of Vic
Vis is a less popular destination for foreigners, but a great choice if you like going off the beaten path to see the “real Catalonia”. It is reachable by suburban train only – no high speed.
Vic is a small city famous for their meat sausages and the large portico plaza where they celebrate a market on Tuesdays and Saturdays. There’s also a quaint medieval district and a remarkable Bishopric Art Museum.
And during the long weekend of December 6 and 8 they celebrate a popular Medieval Market: a festival with crafts stalls, handmade food, medieval theater plays, dressed-up characters, falconry shows, activities for kids and more.
Now you are ready to travel to Barcelona in December and have the best time ever!
Marta is the founder of ForeverBarcelona. She is a passionate tour guide that loves Barcelona and loves writing too. She is the main author of our Blog, and is committed to sharing her knowledge about Barcelona and her best tips with our readers.
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