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Most people think of Barcelona as a summer destination owing to its great beaches and cosmopolitan city life, but there’s much on offer during the rest of the year. From November to March, the Catalan capital enjoys a moment of relative quiet—with the exception of the festive period—when you’ll be able to enjoy fewer crowds, shorter lines and a great cultural program.
The off-season is hands down the best time to visit Barcelona’s most iconic landmark, the Sagrada Familia. The work of renowned Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí is notorious for generating hour-long queues in the summertime. But come January and February, you’ll be able to soak up the splendour of the Sagrada Familia without walking shoulder-to-shoulder with other visitors (book online to skip the queues).
The cold months are ideal for treating yourself to one of Spain’s guiltiest pleasures: churros con chocolate, or elongated donuts dipped in rich melted chocolate. And if there’s one place in Barcelona that’s famous for its churrerías, it’s Carrer Petritxol—the historic home of the chocolatiers’ guild. After enjoying your sweet indulgence, stroll down to the Plaça del Pi to admire the beautiful Santa Maria del Pi church.
From fall to spring Barcelona’s many museums and galleries host some of their most interesting exhibitions of the year. For cutting edge contemporary art and multi-disciplinary projects, check out the MACBA, Barcelona’s contemporary art museum, and the CCCB, the Centre for Contemporary Culture of Barcelona. The National Museum of Catalan Art (or MNAC) retraces the history of art in the region and the CaixaForum offers an eclectic programme which has included a Pixar exhibition in the past.
Winter is the perfect time to treat yourself to a night at one of Barcelona’s most prestigious operas and music halls. The Gran Teatre del Liceu on La Rambla has an impressive programme of opera, ballet and musical performances, as does the modernist marvel, the Palau de la Música Catalana.
Ice-skating is one thing you wouldn’t necessarily associate with Barcelona, and yet locals love to strap on their skates and take to the ice in winter. Aside from permanent ice-skating rinks like that of the Camp Nou stadium, there are temporary rinks such as the one at the La Farga shopping centre in Hospitalet de Llobregat which has a particularly festive atmosphere.
The original patron saint of Barcelona—before La Mercè stole some of her glory and became co-patron saint of the city—Santa Eulàlia is honoured every February 12. The occasion sees the city host traditional parades featuring giant figurines known as gegants as well as human towers (castellers) and traditional dancing.
One of the advantages of Barcelona’s winter weather is that even if it gets cold, it’s generally dry and you can easily take part in outdoor activities so long as you bundle up. A walking tour of Barcelona’s most iconic landmarks is a great way to get to know the city and its history. The Spanish Civil War tour is particularly insightful for those with an interest in the civil war period and takes you through the historic city centre.
If you’re looking for fun indoor activities, a cooking class is a great way to spend an afternoon and learn a skill to take home with you. There are a great variety of cooking schools in Barcelona which offer classes to teach you how to make traditional paella dishes, creative tapas or authentic desserts. These classes invariably involve a meal at the end and some local wine to celebrate your new skill.
The magic of Christmas celebrations in Barcelona is that they don’t end until after January 6, known as the Day of the Three Kings. This means you have even longer to soak up the festive cheer in the Catalan capital, admire the Christmas lights and visit the Santa Llúcia Christmas market. On the eve of the Day of the Three Kings, don’t miss the procession of the kings through the city centre when they hand out treats and sweets to children (and adults).
If Barcelona’s world-famous music festivals mostly take part in the spring, there are plenty of opportunities to catch some of the best DJs and musicians in the off-season too. Razzmatazz is one of Barcelona’s biggest nightclubs (with five different clubs, each with its own dance floor and bar) but it also has regular live music concerts by some of the biggest bands of the moment. There’s no reason to miss out on a big night just because you’re not in the city during Sónar week.