Madrid is one of the best European cities to visit in winter; the skies remain bright blue and sunny while the weather turns crisp and cold. From embracing all things Christmassy, to warming up with some legendary chocolate and churros, here are the best things to see and do this winter in Madrid.
Every December, Madrid lays on a special NaviBus (‘Christmas bus’) that takes passengers on a festive tour of the city’s incredible Christmas lights. Wrap up warm, take a seat on the top deck and prepare for a big dose of Christmas cheer as you take in the creative displays, which are made by different designers each year. The bus runs from December 1 to January 6 and tickets must be booked online in advance. It leaves from Calle Serrano in the Salamanca neighbourhood.
Madrid is close to the Sierra de Guadarrama mountain range and the ski resort of Puerta de Navacerrada. It can easily be accessed as a day trip from Madrid using public transport: the cercanías (local commuter trains) will take you to the slopes within a couple of hours. Alternatively, spend the night in the mountains and hit the slopes early the next day to really make the most of your skiing or snowboarding time.
Madrid’s best Christmas market is on the city’s Plaza Mayor, where stalls sell everything from nativity characters and baubles to wigs and funny glasses. These are donned by Spaniards on December 28 for the Day of the Innocents, the country’s version of April Fool’s Day.
Madrid’s Retiro Park is beautiful in winter: its tree-lined boulevards are filled with strollers, cyclists and joggers, while wrapped-up visitors rent rowing boats and take a spin around the boating lake. The bigger Casa de Campo park is home to Madrid’s zoo, a theme park and a cable car, as well as a lake surrounded by restaurants – a good option for a laid-back lunch.
One of the best ways to warm up during the biting winter cold is to enjoy a steaming cup of thick hot chocolate, and the perfect accompaniment would be some churros, thick fingers of fried dough that are typically dunked into the chocolate. Madrid’s most famous chocolatería is San Ginés, which has been serving up the treat since 1894. There will be queues at after-dinner hours, so do as the locals do and head for some late-night churros; San Ginés is open 24 hours a day and is a favourite stop after a night out.
From the Golden Age masters in the Prado Museum to the modernist masterpieces in the Reina Sofia, Madrid’s biggest museums are a great place to warm up when you want to get out of the cold. You can check out some hidden gems, too: the Telefónica Foundation on the Gran Vía hosts regular free exhibitions, while the Tabacalera, a converted tobacco factory in the diverse Lavapiés neighbourhood, is a great place to discover local modern art.
Sink into a comfy seat in the warm surroundings of the Cine Doré, Madrid’s most iconic arthouse cinema. The cinema was opened in 1912 and today is home to the Filmoteca Española, which preserves and shows classic Spanish films. The cinema also shows foreign films, including American and British, and hosts regular seasons dedicated to a particular actor or director. It featured in Pedro Almodóvar’s Oscar-winning film, Talk to Her (Hable con Ella).