When I first got to Madrid in 2002 I have to say I was not particularly impressed with what was on offer in Madrid at Christmas time. Of course the city put up beautiful lights all around the center and big Christmas market in Plaza Mayor. The market though had very little variety and most of the product was pretty tacky. It didn’t come close to the beautiful German Christmas markets of central Europe. The biggest difference from back home that I noticed is that the season is a whole week longer. January 6th is celebrated, three kings day, with great anticipation. It’s really as big if not bigger than the 25th for all the kids. This is the day they open most of their presents; they even have a big parade in which the three kings ride into town and make their way down to Plaza Mayor and every year it get bigger and bigger.
But Madrid has come a long way in ten years and this year is no exception, in addition to all the monuments, museums, and activities in Madrid the city is packed with great things to do weather with or without kids. I have never seen so many different activities on offer in Madrid. Here are my top ten things to do and see in Madrid for Christmas.
1. Christmas Show at Palacio Cibeles This year the city council is transforming the façade of Palacio Cibeles (the old post office) by putting on a 3D Projected Christmas Show using the building as a giant screen. The show starts with a reading the Christmas story that won first prize at the children’s writing competition held at all Madrid’s schools. The show is truly fantastical, so if you are in Madrid on December 23rd you do not want to miss it. December 23rd at 9pm Plaza Cibeles
2. Christmas Lights Despite the recession Madrid continues its display of Christmas Lights across the city. The hours have been cut back a bit but no matter where you are downtown you cant miss them. One of my favorite spots to see the lights is the view from Plaza Cibeles looking up to Alcala.
3. Navibus, the Christmas Lights City Tour One of the newer addition to Madrid Christmas activity’s is the “Navibus” (Navi for Navidad Christmas in Spanish) This bus take you on a tour of all the Christmas lights throughout the city. The bus departs and finishes in the same stop: on Calle Serrano, in front of number 30 between Goya and Jorge Juan. (across from Plaza de Colon, Jardines del Descubrimiento) A bus leaves every 5 to 7 minutes, the tour lasts about 45 to 50 minutes and costs 2 euros per person.
The route will take you through these areas: Serrano, plaza Independencia, Calle Alcalá, Plaza Cibeles, Gran Vía, plaza Callao, Jacometrezo, plaza Santo Domingo, Calle San Bernardo, Gran Vía, calle Alcalá, Plaza Cibeles, Plaza Independencia (Puerta de Alcalá), Calle Velazquez, Calle Ortega y Gasset, y Serrano.
4. Christmas Markets Plaza Mayor has the market that has been around the longest but now you can find almost every plaza with some kind of market offering Christmas ornaments, lights, food, artisan products, crazy colored wigs and costumes for kids (I still do not quite understand why) jewelry, candles, gifts. You can find a complete list of Madrid Christmas Markets here.
5. Nativity Scenes Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! Being a Catholic country Christmas would not be complete with out a Nativity Scene. Wherever you see a line of people waiting downtown, its most likely they are waiting to see a nativity. They go crazy with building nativities from all types of materials like cork to live characters and animals. I’m surprised I haven’t seen a nativity made out of Jammon and Manchego Cheese! One of the largest is: BELÉN MUNICIPAL (MADRID CITY NATIVITY SCENE) DEC 10 2012 UNTIL JAN 7 2013 HOURS: MON-SAT, 10AM-2PM AND 5PM-9PM. SUN AND DEC 24 AND 31, 10AM-2PM. CLOSED ON DEC 25 AND JAN 1 & 6
6. Christmas Choirs Having German background I have always loved a classic Christmas and it wouldn’t be complete without a Christmas Choir. This year the public may attend a series of choir concerts held in the courtyard of Palcio de Cibeles.
Schedule of performances DEC 26 7pm – Hortaleza Choir Students DEC 27 6:30pm – Schola Cantorum of Alcalá de Henares 7pm – Alternia Choir DEC 28 7pm – Talia Children’s Choir DEC 29 6:30pm – Saint Francis de Sales Choir 7pm – Galileo Choir
7. Hot Chocolate and Churros
Churros and choclate is always popular but during Christmas its one of those long running traditions to stop for hot chocolate and churros. The lines are always long but if you love chocolate its worth the wait.
San Ginés. Established in 1894 on Pasadizo de San Gines, no. 5
La Mallorquina: C/ Mayor, 2.
El Riojano: C/ Mayor, 10.
If you find yourself up on Plaza Castilla, there is a churros stand on the southeast corner of the rotunda that has great churros and choclate.
8. Ice Skating Madrid has several temporary ice skating rinks around the city. You can find them in Plaza Callao and Plaza del Luna and City of Children in Conde Duque. Dec 14 2012 until Jan 6 2013 Dec 14, 4pm-9pm Dec 15 until Jan 6, 11am-9pm Dec 24 & 31, 11am-3p
9. Cortylandia at El Corte Ingles A traditional right of passage for every Spanish child is to visit the five story animatronic Christmas display at the department store El Corte Ingles on Calle Preciados. I originally happened across it my first year by walking a side street hoping to avoid all the Christmas foot traffic near Calloa. Suddenly I found myself surrounded by hundres of families the small children anxiously awaiting the big show that happens every hour on the hour.
10. City Of Children at Conde Duque The cultural center in Conde Duque has activities all month of December. Story telling, performances, animitronics and ice skating. See the complete schedule HERE