If you’re anything like us, you love Christmas. There is something magical about a time of celebration. It’s that most wonderful time of the year when, just for a few short weeks, everyone is just a little bit nicer. Whatever your faith, this is the perfect time to be grateful for all of the good things that we have in our lives. It’s a time to celebrate family. A time to think of others. A time to share joy, love and laughter. A time to be with the ones you love.
Image courtesy of Istock images @ https://www.istockphoto.com/photos/christmas-dinner
A Christmas appetizer before the main event
And everybody celebrates it differently. Here in Barcelona, Christmas is not the main event. That happens on January 6th, when the Three Kings sail in from the East to distribute gifts and candy to the children of the town. Christmas day itself is a more modest family affair - a warm up for the main event that is still to come.
Image courtesy of La Vanguardia.com
A city of light, all dressed up for the holiday
But that doesn’t stop Barcelona from being one of the most beautiful and festive places on earth to spend a little winter break. While the weather is chilly and there’s a nip in the air, Barcelona’s still generally bathed in blue skies and sunshine.
Wander around the ancient, twisted streets and alleys of the Gothic quarter and soak up the atmosphere. The narrow lanes are decorated with gorgeous Christmas lights strung across the sky. The windows are full of Christmas gifts and the local bakeries are crammed with hand crafted Christmas goodies and tasty treats. Barcelona may not celebrate the day itself, but it’s impossible not to feel festive in this beautiful place.
Image courtesy of El Periódico.com
Magic in the air
Many streets around town sparkle with Christmas decorations, often supported by neighbourhood associations and local communities. Lights are draped like a giant Big Top across the famous Plaça Catalunya and Plaça Espanya boasts a glorious net of light strung up like a sparkling umbrella above the extraordinary Magic Fountain.
Christmas Lights - Plaça Catalunya courtesy of The New Barcelona Post.
It’s a neighbourhood affair
Las Ramblas is bedecked with gorgeous lights and the fishing neighbourhood of Barceloneta honours fish in its Christmas illuminations . In fact all the main communities from Gracia to El Borne and from Sants to Poblenou will be celebrating in their own way. Just look up and prepare to be dazzled. Keep an eye out for the little roadside stands that start to appear on the streets at this time of year. Take in the aromas of giant sweet potatoes roasting alongside local chestnuts, all ready to warm your soul if the temperature decides to take a dip.
Image courtesy of Lugares y Hoteles Blog @ https://lugaresyhoteles.es/visitar-barcelona-navidad/las-ramblas-navidad/.
Barcelona’s most elegant street
But the star of the show is the sophisticated mile that is the Passeig de Gracia. This is Barcelona’s most elegant street. It is a grand avenue that links the old city of Barcelona to the once remote village of Gracia. Lined with elegant mansions from the early part of the 20th century, this street epitomises the new Barcelona that spread its wings across the city as the great extension created the gloriously district of the Eixample (recently voted the best neighbourhood to live in the world).
This is the avenue that’s lined with the most sophisticated hotels in Barcelona. From the fashionista hangout of the Four Seasons to the classic elegance of the Hotel Majestic, this is the place to be this winter. Its broad sidewalks are paved with hand made tiles featuring the classic Barcelona flower pattern. The wrought iron lamp posts dangle their light over beautiful handcrafted mosaic seats. Restaurants and terraces sit side by side with the highest end shops on the planet (think Tiffany’s, Gucci, Jimmy Choos).
Image courtesy of SheCodes.Io
Upmarket elegance, Spanish style
This is upmarket elegance, Spanish style. And at this time of year, it is simply stunning. Thousands of strands of gold cascade from above as far as the eye can see. Lit up with a subtle elegance, they sway gently in the breeze, while giant turquoise butterflies swing alongside offering us a little Christmas whimsey.. Crowds gather around street performers playing festive songs on beautiful grand pianos. The most prestigious hotels such as The Majestic and the Monumental are all a part of the spectacle with their grand facades lit up with matching colours and big red bows. Gaudi’s most visited house, Casa Batllo is also illuminated for the season. All in all, this is a very festive time of year - and a great time to pay a visit.
Image courtesy of El Periódico.com
A star is born
And as if that wasn’t enough, Barcelona’s most famous landmark, the spectacular Sagrada Familia has just hoisted a giant star, 140m into the sky to shine its light on the city forever. The 12 pointed star weighs more than 4 tonnes and it will be a beacon of hope to all visitors this Christmas and for years to come.
Image courtesy of The Guardian.com
Barcelona’s Christmas markets
If you fancy a little more Christmas atmosphere, visit one of the many Christmas markets that pop up all over the city. The most famous of these are in front of Barcelona’s two most famous architectural landmarks - the ancient Gothic Cathedral of Santa Eulalia in the heart of the old town, and the modernist masterpiece that is Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia. Both of these buildings are well worth a visit on their own. But even more so if you get to explore the hand crafted gifts and Christmas treats that are on sale.
Image courtesy of Radio Cope
Mulled wine and churros
Arm yourself with a hot glass of mulled wine or a plate of warm churros and chocolate sauce and soak up the atmosphere. And while you’re at it, keep an eye out for one of Barcelona’s oldest and most bizarre traditions - the Caganer. These small Christmas figures started off by making fun of famous people by depicting them half way through a number two (generally with their pants around their ankles). These days, they poke fun at traditional subjects, politicians, establishment figures etc. But you can also pick ones up that make fun of pretty much anybody. From Lionel Messi to Boris Johnson and from the King of Spain to Shakira, you can find one for you. These are the perfect stocking stuffers and are bound to put a smile on your face on Christmas Day.
Image courtesy of El Periodico.com
So, while Barcelona might not be the first place you think of for a winter break, maybe it’s time to reconsider. You might find that it’s exactly what you’ve been looking for.
Other great Christmas cities to visit in Europe:
Cologne - best for the little ones
Cologne has built a reputation for its Christmas markets over many centuries. The first Christmas markets appeared in Germany as long ago as the 14th century and since then, Cologne has been recognized as one of the cities with the the widest selections of markets in Europe. Cologne has a number of distinct Christmas markets spread out across various neighbourhoods. However, the big one is right in the centre of town in the shade of Cologne’s iconic medieval cathedral.
Image courtesy of European Best Destinations
The Markt der Engel offers is dazzling with thousands of twinkling lights floating in the sky above like a carpet of twinkling stars. If you’ve got kids with you, head on down to Nikolausdorf (Saint Nicholas’ village). This market is squarely aimed at the little ones, and sympathetically explains the story of the real St. Nick in front of the stunning backdrop of the 13th-century Hahnen gate looming behind.
Image courtesy of Dreamstime.com
Cologne even has markets dedicated to gnomes, sea shanties and pirates. And if you fancy it, slip into your skates and have a slide around the pretty ice-skating rink on Heumarkt. There’s even an LGBTQ market nearby with live performances throughout the season.
Salzburg - the Sound of (Christmas) Music
This is Mozart’s hometown - and a pretty place it is, too. You might be more familiar with it from the Sound of Music and that’s exactly what you’ll get if you head there at Christmas. Think ‘Silent Night’ (the carol was written and first performed nearby) and a trip back through the centuries to market stalls that haven’t changed much for 500 years or more. This market is a classy place, so don’t come here if you’re looking for plastic Santas. This is all about handcrafted products and high quality, so expect the best. And to make it even more festive, grab a glass of hot wine and join the Tuesday sing-alongs that are held from 6pm to 8pm in front of the cathedral. There are aso free concerts every day in the same spot every day at 5pm.
Image courtesy of Istock @ https://www.istockphoto.com/photos/salzburg-christmas-market
London - late to the party, but still spectacular
London’s a latecomer to the Christmas market scene. But it’s catching up fast. For years, Christmas markets were the preserve of the Europeans over on the “Continent”. It’s really only been the last 20 years that London has made its move into the realms of Christmas markets. The Christmas lights have always been world class in London. No expense has been spared and they veer towards elegance rather than Christmas tack. From the stunning lights of Oxford Street and Regent Street to the boutique farmer’s markets of Marylebone, the Christmas cheers is truly in the air.
Image courtesy of Londonist.com
Carols will ring out wherever you are and Salvation Army bands will play the classics while relieving you of your loose change for charity. There’s a huge Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, Harrods will be lit up like a giant Christmas tree and Borough Market will be packed to the edges with Christmas shoppers eating gruet food while stocking up on home made treats from cheese shops to pie makers.
Image courtesy of Visitlondon.com
But the biggest market stretches all the way along the south bank of the Thames, with thousands of stalls wet out against the backdrop of the London skyline. Wander down the road with a hot glass of mulled wine. Pick up a hot treat to keep you warm. Or duck into a cosy pub for a pint of beer and a warm welcome by the fireplace. London might not be your first choice for a Christmas market, but it has it covered.
Image courtesy of DanubiusHotels.com
Berlin - for cool kids and funky style
If you want a funkier Christmas, then head out to Berlin where they have a more modern approach to the holidays. In fact, this city has more than 80 Christmas markets scattered around town. And if you’re a dog lover, then you’re in luck - they even have a special market for dogs, if that’s your thing.
The prettiest market in town is definitely the Weihnachtszauber, in the magnificent Gendarmenmarkt Square. If you’re into arts and crafts, then this is the place for you, packed full of handmade items with an arts and crafts vibe.
Image courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/rainprel/11380855103
But if size is your thing, better head over to Spandau, which has the biggest market in the city with something for everyone.
And for the winter sports enthusiasts out there, Potsdamer Platz is your place. At Winter World, shopping takes second place to tobogganing, curling and ice skating - the kids even get free lessons. This place is quietest first thing in the morning, so head there at 10.00 am if you want to avoid the queues.
Image courtesy of Berlin.de