One of the best things about Barcelona in the wintertime is just how much less crowded it is than in the summer. Mile-long queues have vanished, restaurants have tables available on the same day, the Passeig de Gracià becomes a pleasant place to wander – it’s quite simply bliss.
While the temperature will have dropped – although you can still expect a nice 12°C throughout much of November through February – the sun still shines in Barcelona even during the winter time. Crisp winter days with a bright blue sky are simply perfect for exploring Barcelona’s sights, and your pictures will look just as amazing.
As soon as the weather gets a little cooler in the back end of autumn, the market stalls of Barcelona begin to fill with wild mushrooms. Local varieties such as rovellons are much sought-after, as are more well-known ones such as ceps and chanterelles. Eat them fried with an egg or incorporated into a heartwarming rice dish for a real seasonal treat.
For much of the year, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Boqueria market was some sort of attraction that had been opened for tourists to top up their Instagram accounts. When the crowds recede though, it’s much easier to see that it is in fact a rather unbelievable food market home to some outstanding produce (much of which can be vacuum-sealed and make great gifts).
The oldest part of the city, Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter, is home to centuries-old buildings and ancient landmarks that harbour the secret of Barcelona’s history. However, there’s something of the mystique wandering through the Gothic Quarter’s streets that gets lost when you’re walking neck to neck with another 500 people. There are days in the winter, though, where you might even momentarily get a quiet moment to yourself.
Okay so the beach is probably out of the question – although you’ll see people swimming in the sea all year round – but so what? Within two hours from Barcelona, you could be on the ski slopes instead. The stations of La Molina and La Masella can be accessed by bus, and a day pass with the transport costs under €40 per person – you just need to rent your skis when you get there.
Another of Barcelona’s truly magical places, the Sagrada Família, is busy all year round but the winter at least sees the queues die down a little. Without the clamour of the crowds, it becomes easier to appreciate the solemnity of what is after all a place of worship. There’s also something about the gentle winter light pouring through the stained glass windows that is awe-inspiring.
Halfway between a spring onion and a leek, calçots are a considered a delicacy in Catalonia, and people go absolutely mad for them when they come into season around January. The traditional way to enjoy this unusual allium is to go to the countryside for a barbecue during which the calçots are cooked over flames and then dripped into a rich sauce known as romesco and dangled whole in to the eater’s mouth. Messy and delicious.
You might be able to eat churros and chocolate all year round, but there’s something special about a warming bowl of rich melted chocolate and plateful of fresh, warm doughnuts in the winter that just can’t be surpassed. The Carrer de Petritxol in the Gothic Quarter is renowned for its churrerías, and the sight of its Christmas lights leading down to the Basílica de Santa María del Mar is rather enchanting.
One of the most important celebrations of the year, Christmas in Spain remains wrapped in tradition, with many uniquely Catalan Christmas traditions only adding to the magic of visiting Barcelona at this time of year. Stare in wonder at the caganer as he stands in the nativity scene, have a go at hitting the caga tió for presents, chow down on a traditional sopa de nadal and, of course, be sure to buy your ticket for the Christmas lottery.
From a practical point of view, visiting Barcelona in the winter is likely to be much easier on your budget than the summer. While there’s not really an off-season in the Catalan capital, the months of January to March are usually considerably quieter, and as a result hotels lower their prices, and there are some great offers on tours and activities.
If a lot of the art galleries don’t have any exhibitions on during the summer, the wintertime often sees some of the most interesting exhibitions come to town. Art museums such as the MACBA or the CCCB, Barcelona’s Contemporary Culture Centre, regularly host outstanding international exhibitions, and even the permanent collections of most museums become more enjoyable and accessible thanks to the quieter atmosphere.
The smell of chestnuts roasting over open fires is pretty much the essence of winter. Now imagine if every street in Barcelona was embalmed in the smell of roast chestnuts. Every year on October 1, it’s the official beginning of the chestnut season as little stalls pop up across the city with charcoal burners, turning out dozens of delicious chestnuts to keep your hands and your hearts warm.
If December 25 is a major day in the Catalan Christmas calendar, so to is January 6, known as the Day of the Three Kings – or rather, the eve of this day is . On the evening of January 5, the Three Wise Kings descend upon Barcelona bringing treats and a whole lot of magic to the city. Greet them as they disembark at the port and then follow the procession through the city centre for your chance to fill your pockets with chocolate and sweets.
Imagine being able to enjoy all the shops on Passeig de Gracià but with discount prices. While one option is to hop on a bus to the La Roca Outlet shopping village, another is to wait for the winter sales. This is when you can find some of the best bargains in Barcelona, with luxury boutiques and independent designers slashing their prices.