Being in a new city for the holidays can be hard. You miss the snow, your mother’s cooking, the brick chimneys burning wood smoke into the grey sky. Luckily, Barcelona has a wide range of wonderful winter traditions to help you and your family feel the holiday cheer. Whether you’re here all season or travelling on and off, you can bundle up and join in some of these exciting winter activities.
Triple toe at Camp Nou
Skaters of all levels lace up their boots and glide across the ice at FC Barcelona’s Olympic-size rink. You can shuffle around with the whole family, holding onto each other and trying not to fall, or hone your skills in individual or group classes. Let the kids race for hours while you take a break from the fun and savour a hot chocolate or steaming bowl of soup at the cafe overlooking the rink. Aristides Maillol 12. More information about times and prices here.
Bask in Yuletide cheer at Poble Espanyol
During the Christmas holidays, Poble Espanyol decorates its winding streets and beautiful plazas with shining ornaments, brilliant poinsettias, evergreens and mistletoe. Ornate nativity scenes are scattered throughout the open-air space, and the main square is home to a bustling Christmas market. Enjoy hot food and drink from local food trucks, and take the kids to attend a magic show, a card-making workshop or for a stroll through Santa’s house. Francesc Ferrer i Guardia 13. More information here.
Be on the scene at Plaça Sant Jaume
Every year, the city erects its official nativity scene, or pessebre, in Plaça Sant Jaume. With a different creative theme each Christmas, residents eagerly await the reveal. Last year, the scene celebrated the life of Barcelona poet Josep Vicenç Foix, with large, elaborate visual representations of his poetry. The theme for this year hasn’t been released yet, but we’re all waiting anxiously. Plaça de Sant Jaume 1.
Sing ‘Hallelujah’ at Santa Maria del Mar
The tall stone pillars, Gothic arches and golden chandeliers of the Basílica de Santa Maria del Mar make for the perfect setting to take in George Frideric Handel’s renowned oratorio, Messiah. Known as one of the most famous pieces of Western choral music, Messiah is rich, joyful and teeming with holiday spirit. This year’s programme will be performed by the Orquestra de Cambra Terrassa 48 (OCT48) and the Coral Cantiga. Plaça de Santa María 1.
Run off those holiday kilos at Cursa dels Nassos
A 10-kilometre race organised by the Ajuntament, the Cursa dels Nassos takes place on December 31st every year. With an average of 10,000 participants annually, it’s one of the largest races in Spain. Runners must be at least 16 years of age, but participants of all levels are welcome, including runners with disabilities. The Fundación Deporte Solidario Internacional (ESI) will be collecting secondhand sports clothing and materials to donate to youth in need. More information here.
Venture over the river and through the woods
Further afield, you can enjoy the white mystique of the Andorran countryside on a husky-drawn sled. Hold on tight as a fleet of dogs pulls your sled along on a 30-minute trip past high mountain peaks and snow-dusted conifers. Make it a romantic evening excursion or an exciting daytime trip with the whole family, or, for the even more adventurous, organise a night ride under the stars. Bookings require a minimum of two people. Organised by Lifestyle Barcelona. More information here.
Light up the night at the Festes de Santa Eulàlia
Every year, Catalans celebrate the co-patron saint of Barcelona, Santa Eulàlia, on and around her feast day, February 12th. The festival is especially designed for children, and includes concerts, storytelling, castellers (human castle builders), and processions with gegants (giant paper mache figures). The main event of the festes is without a doubt the LlumBCN light show—a collection of light installations and various visitor routes through medieval sites in the Ciutat Vella. See Barcelona’s most historic buildings, squares and facades come to life through colourful illumination. More information here.
Wind down the winter season at the Carnestoltes
As the sun starts to set on winter and we move into spring, residents take to the streets for a week of shenanigans at the carnestoltes, or carnival. Since Roman times, the carnival has represented a time in which hierarchy and social norms could be turned on their heads, and people could break their routines and let loose. While perhaps more family-friendly now than in ancient times, the tradition remains strong in Barcelona.
The first day of carnival is dijous gras, or Fat Thursday, where the main event is eating. Festival-goers can attend food events and competitions at markets across the city. Also on that day, the Rei Carnestoltes, a paper mache king, arrives with a procession to take responsibility for the sins committed throughout the year. Parades, competitions and street celebrations take place throughout the week, ending with the condemning and burning of the Rei Carnestoltes on the last day. Various locations.
No matter your interests, this Mediterranean wonderland has the right winter activities for you. So, zip those jackets, wrap up in your best festive hats and scarves, and get into the Barcelona holiday spirit.