How I ended up in Madrid out of the blue? Is Christmas Madrid beautiful and where are the best places in the city to find the holiday spirit? – Read this post to find out all the answers.
Christmas in Madrid: The story behind my trip
My spontaneous trip to Christmas Madrid
You know that I always share on Instagram my Spain Travel Plans for the upcoming year, right? – Well, planning is essential to make our dream adventures happen. But, come on, there´s always a place for a few spontaneous trips along the way. If life does not always give us a bunch of pleasant surprises, we should be the ones making it happen.
So, waking up in a new city out of the blue? – Why not. I wished to get into the holiday mood before Christmas and set my eyes on Madrid.
This was the short version of how I ended up on this unplanned trip to Christmas Madrid. Unannounced, unplanned, and unexpected mini-adventure of 2022 on my blog. To fully get what brought me to this point you´ll need to read the long version below – sorry. There are no easy answers to simple questions in travel – you should have figured it out by now.
Christmas Markets Obsession
So, you know how much I love visiting European Christmas markets in December. Honestly, who does not?! – I mean years ago I visited Vienna for the winter holidays and the cab driver was complaining for 30 mins about the fact that his city was flooded with people from Southern Europe in search of the Christmas spirit. “Vienna is overcrowded, overbooked, and overpriced” – he said and then asked where we came from. After he found out we were from Spain (e.g exactly those nasty southern – Europeans aiming to annoy him over the next few months) the broken ice between us returned to its place and the rest of the trip went on in complete silence. Ok, this guy was most likely not a cheerful and noisy Christmas market fan, but that´s one person. Most of us do fall for these cliche holiday experiences, don’t we? – It literally runs in our DNA.
I love Christmas markets, decorations, and all the other known and unknown attributes of the holiday spirit.
Even though with small kids and pandemics the last years on my blog were mostly focused on the local travels (which, by the way, were also amazing and revealing in their own way), every year around the winter holidays my soul still craves some authentic Christmas mood. It is a constant thing for me and I try to embrace it.
Cheerful Christmas songs, cozy time by the fireplace, markets full of holiday lights and smells, Christmas jumpers, roasting chestnuts, wrapping presents … No wonder I´ve set a special section on my blog where one can read all my Christmas posts in a row. There´ll be more of them for sure.
Not enough Christmas mood in Valencia
But despite all the inspiration I do get from Christmas, the truth is that for a few years in a row, I could not experience it entirely the way I wanted.
Being an expat in Castellon/Valencian Community for 10+ years has mostly been a joy – a time full of new experiences, adventures, and hidden gems. I often fail to describe disadvantages of the life in Spain, because my personal life has mostly been full of perks: the Spanish winter sun and mild climate of Valencia, numerous sunny hikes and escapes with nature (all winter long), delicious local foods… Nevertheless, when it comes to Christmas markets and decorations in the Valencia Region, in my opinion, it still has a long way to catch up with places like Colmar or Lucerne. Let´s say Valencia Region for Christmas is way less inspiring than I´d wish it to be.
Why?! – My mind often rolls around a theory that the absence of snow and cold doesn’t give locals this holiday driving force to create something authentically festive and unique. You don´t enjoy the fireplace, the hot bakery, or the Gluhwine the same way when it’s +20C outside on Christmas Eve. As you have already imagined, over the years I have visited lots of Christmas markets in the Province of Valencia … If I am completely honest with you – all of them could be better defined by the word “market”, rather than by the word “Christmas”. Seriously, even the medieval fairs in Spain look more appealing to me.
Finding Your Christmas Inspiration
For a few years in a row (involving the pandemics, small kids, and moving to a new house) heading to one of my favorite Christmas destinations in Europe was not an option at all. Personally, I fully accept the fact that we can’t always pack a bag right away and take off somewhere we are dreaming of. And this is perfectly fine.
Doing so sounds easy as part of inspiring travel quotes, lessons, and mottos of travel bloggers. But the truth is that it often ends up putting a lot of pressure on all of us as well. You find yourself cornered and disappointed: “Why can’t I leave everything behind and go where I want to go right now? We only live once, right? Why me, why do I have all these obligations and bills to pay while the life of my dreams seems to escape me? – Relatable, right?
But at the same time, I strongly believe that if you really enjoy something – you need to find a way to experience it. We all owe it to ourselves. Maybe, not straight away to the fullest, but simply the best way you can for now. End of the story.
If your travel dream is not an option right now, face it – go find the second best thing, or the third one, or the fourth one… You need to keep going step by step to end up where you aim.
Visiting Madrid for Christmas: Top Places to Get into the Holiday Spirit
This was all a long preview of how I ended up buying budget OUIGO train tickets on one Saturday evening, waking up my husband and kids the next day (Sunday, 6 am), just to catch up a regional train from Castellon to Valencia, and then another high-speed one from Valencia to Madrid.
Madrid felt like my best option to find a holiday spirit in Spain. The following trip will forever stay marked in my 2022 Spain Travel Review as the most spontaneous decision I never regretted.
Let´s talk about all the places you can´t miss if experiencing Christmas Madrid somehow ends on your bucket list as well.
All-in-one Christmas in Madrid Experience
If your time in Christmas Madrid is limited, set your eyes on one of these places to get an all-in-one Christmas experience: Mananatial de Los Sueños, Articus, Torrejón de Ardoz. By “all-in-one Christmas experience”, I mean that all of the following places have their own Christmas decor, lights, shows, and activities incorporated within one set.
As my trip to Madrid was spontaneous and overlapped with Monday, it made my choice much easier – only Mananatial de los Sueños was open.
Mananatial de los Sueños
Mananatial de los Sueños offers an immersive Christmas experience with a touch of magic and fairytale, including a Fairy Walk, ice-gorges, dazzling lights, parades, a skating rink, a holiday market, Santa´s and Elf houses, and a beautiful show set on ice.
I really enjoyed an evening spent at Mananatial de los Sueños. This place was relatively small, but it had a bit of everything and the show was simply gorgeous. I believe it´s a great match for both adults and kids.
Torreón de Ardoz
Torreón de Ardoz is a small town, located 30 mins away from Madrid. Usually, from Nov 18 till Jan 6 the city opens its doors to the Christmas-themed park Parque de la Navidad. Aside from the decorations and shows, visitors can enjoy the first in Spain Ice Figures Festival.
Articus is a new Spanish Holiday Theme Park, inaugurated in 2022. It was supposed to be the ultimate holiday spirit destination of Christmas Madrid. But unfortunately, the opening was a complete disaster with huge lines. So far, it got lots of negative press and reviews. Not sure how the situation has evolved since then.
There’s no Christmas Madrid without ice-skating rinks. Check Galleria de Cristal/ Palacio de Cibeles and Matadero Madrid. Christmas market at Plaza España also had an ice-skating rink, as well as Manantial de los Suenos.
Around 16-18 December you might get a chance to attend Spanish Figure Skating Championship at Pista de Hilo de Madrid.
As Spain has such a long-rooted Catholic tradition, taking time to enjoy local church music might be an interesting idea. Check Parroquia de Nuestra Senora del Perpetuo Socorro and Parroquia de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe for upcoming events.
Creating Nativity sciences in Spain (also called Belen) is an old and treasured by the Spaniards tradition. There’s no Christmas Madrid without visiting at least one nativity exposition: Museo de San Isidro, Museo de Historia de Madrid, Palacio de Cibeles, Palacio Real, Museo de Americas. Personally, I’m not a fan when it means waiting in line for at least 30mins. Therefore, I’ve only visited Belen at Plaza de Colon once, and by accident, saw another one this year, while visiting Madrid Royal Palace.
Madrid is always a great cultural destination, but around Christmas, you can find more holiday-themed shows. These often vary every year. Check Auditorio de la Cultura Contemporanea Condeduque, La Filarmonica, and El Retiro Puppet Theatre for seasonal shows.
Also, this year the temporary ones are Navidad en La Villa/ Teatro Fernando Gomez, Teatro Circo Price, Cuento de Navidad / Teatro Pavon, El Cascanueces/ Teatro del Canal (not sure which ones will stay for the next holiday season).
El Corte Inglés de Preciados offers Cortylandia since 1979, which is not much of a big deal, but it´s very dear and traditional to the locals.
The biggest event of Christmas Madrid is Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos on January 5, also called Three Wise Men Parade in English. It’s a very special spectacle for all the kids across the country, as traditionally in Spain, Reyes Magos (or the Three Kings) are those who bring presents (and not Santa). Although, most of my Spanish friends and relatives today do exchange presents on Christmas Eve. Mainly because this way everyone has two weeks of holidays ahead to enjoy the presents, otherwise school/work usually begins only a few days after Reyes Magos.
Christmas markets in Madrid are quite average, in my opinion. The one at Plaza España is ok, although it has not enough market stands to stay around for a while. You´ll see it all in 5-10 min.
But the holiday market at Plaza Mayor is honestly so tacky. Don’t even want to waste time describing it. It´s a bunch of stands selling exactly the same cheap-souvenir stuff, most of which are ugly colorful hats, which have nothing to do with Christmas at all.
On a more positive note, there are some pretty Christmas lights and decorations in Madrid. You can simply walk around the city center to enjoy them or take a Naviluz Christmas bus tour around Madrid, available till Jan 6. I haven’t taken it myself, as I always prefer walking, but the Google reviews suggest the price is too expensive for what the experience actually is. Anyway, it might still be an option for people with kids or those who can´t do the long walks for health reasons.
Small-town Christmas Charm
If at some point you get tired of a city buzz, consider taking day trips to experience the small-town-Christmas charm at Alcala de Henares, Navacerrada, Chinchon, San Lorenzo de el Escorial, Bustaviejo/Casa del Rey Mago. Al of these can be perfect Madrid day trip ideas.
Food of Christmas Madrid
If food is an essential part of your travels, welcome to the club. What do you need to try in Christmas Madrid? – Turron (Casa Mira,, mantecados, polvorones (Antigua Pasteleria del Pozo), hot chocolate+churros (San Gines), mazapan (La Mallorquina, El Riojano), Roscon de Reyes, pannetone. All of the following are always the best when artisan or homemade, but keep in mind that these are also available in every Spanish supermarket during the months of December and January.
By and large, we really enjoyed the holiday spirit in Madrid, despite a few obvious drawbacks I’ve highlighted to you above. Compared to the rest of the Spanish cities, Madrid definitely has a larger Christmas event portfolio. The lights and decorations of Christmas Madrid felt inspiring, and the kids really enjoyed Manantial de los Sueños.
For me, Madrid is still not in line with Christmas in New York, for instance. But on the other hand, I love traveling across Spain all year round anyway – so visiting Madrid was definitely the best choice across the Iberian Peninsula and the next-best thing after the European Christmas markets of Northern Europe. You can check my Madrid IG Stories to see how it went.
What about you? Have you ever experienced Christmas Madrid or Christmas markets in Spain?