10 Things to Do in Barcelona in the Winter
Are you looking for things to do in Barcelona this winter? You may think of Barcelona as a summer destination, but except for the beach, the city doesn’t change much between seasons. In fact, the offseason in the Catalan capital has its own unique appeal. In the winter months, the tourist hordes go home and the city is friendlier and more laid back.
Popular destinations that are overrun during the summer turn calm and more authentic come winter, with the added touch of holiday festivities. Whenever you visit Barcelona, you’re pretty much guaranteed to have a good time.
To help you get started, here are 10 things to do in Barcelona that are particularly fun to do in winter.
1) Visit a Christmas Market
It wouldn’t be winter in a European city without a Christmas market and Barcelona doesn’t disappoint. There are two big Christmas markets located in front of the two main cathedrals, the Sagrada Familia and the Cathedral of Barcelona. The markets are pretty much identical, so don’t feel like you have to go to both. Unlike Christmas markets in the north of Europe, Barcelona doesn’t get that cold, so you can linger without fear of frostbite. Grab a warm drink and get your Christmas shopping done, Catalan-style.
2) Buy Pooping Christmas Statue
Speaking of Catalan Christmas, there are some unique traditions here you should know about. For example, it’s a local tradition to give small statues of people pooping for the holidays. All over the city, and especially at the Christmas markets, you’ll find these statues of people pooping for sale. The statues are called caganers, which quite literally translates to “poopers” in Catalan. The traditional caganer features a Catalan man in a red hat squatting over a pile of poo. These days you’ll also find all sorts of famous people with their pants around their knees. Bonus points if you manage to slip one into a nativity scene when you get home.
3) Catch a Show
Barcelona is home to the Liceau, one of Europe’s most prestigious opera houses, which puts on popular shows throughout the year. The Liceu dates back to 1847 and the building itself is worth a visit, even if you’re not into opera. Across town, the Palau de Música Catalana is equally stunning and offers a variety of musical performances. Both put on holiday shows, and while tickets aren’t cheap, the performances don’t disappoint. Whichever performance you choose to pick, you’d be wise to buy tickets beforehand. Plan ahead and dress to impress.
4) Play in the Ocean
Sure, the water is a lot warmer in August, but even in December, the Mediterranean is still pretty mild by North American standards. The winter chill puts a stop to the city’s sun worshipers, but water sports remain popular year round. Walk along the beach you’ll find a ton of places happy to rent you a wetsuit and any sort of aquatic sports gear you might want to play with. If you get lucky, you might visit on one of the rare days where a storm pushes in surfable waves. If not, windsurfing, kayaking and standup paddleboarding are all available.
5) Drink the Day Away at a Sidewalk Cafe
Barcelona’s cafe culture is one of its big draws. Practically every street and absolutely every public square are filled with sidewalk cafes. It often feels like the entire city has breakfast, lunch, dinner and evening drinks outside. When the temperatures start to dip, many cafes pull out industrial heaters, blankets and sometimes even tents. No self-respecting Catalan would ever cede their outdoor seating to the weather. Pull up a chair, cozy up with a blanket, order a bottle of wine and watch the day slip by.
6) Head to the Slopes
You can almost see the snow-capped peaks of the Pyrenees from the beach. There are at least 14 ski resorts within a 3-4 hour drive of Barcelona offering some of the best skiing you’ll find in Europe. The resorts of Masella, La Molina and Grandvalira are all accessible via public transportation. While they’re close enough to make a long day trip feasible, you’d be better off doing an overnight if possible. If you do head to a resort in Andorra, don’t forget your passport.
7) Enjoy the Gothic Quarter
Barcelona gets mobbed in late June, July and especially August. Businesses close, locals rent out their apartments and flee the city in mass. This leaves especially popular neighborhoods like Gotica (the Gothic Quarter) feeling more like Disneyland than Barcelona. During the winter months, the neighborhood springs back to life and is one of the most charming areas of the city. Get lost in the area’s winding streets, do some shopping or plop down in a square for a beer.
8) Head to a Museum
As the streets thin out, so too do crowds at popular museums. Tickets to the Picasso Museum, a main stop for any visitor who reads their guidebook, are easy to come by in the winter. The Sagrada Familia is busy year round, but there are fewer busloads of tours in the winter. The National Art Museum, Parque Guell and the Maritime Museum are all solid bets in the offseason as well.
9) Celebrate Three Kings Day
Spain doesn’t do Christmas, at least not like the United States. The big day of the holiday season is Three Kings Day on January 6th, when children open their presents. On the night of the 5th, children leave their shoes by their doors, hoping that the three kings will fill them with presents. Processions fill the streets and bakeries do brisk business in ring-shaped cakes, which bakers decorate to look like a king’s crown. If you do buy a cake, chew carefully as they almost all have a small baby Jesus baked inside. If you happen to get the slice with Jesus in it, tradition dictates that you’re in for a good year. Just don’t swallow him or you’re in for a rough couple of days.
10) Go to Church
Even if you’re not religious, Barcelona’s cathedrals are awe-inspiring and even more so during religious holidays. If you can get tickets, the Sagrada Familia holds mass on Sundays and most religious holidays. Check their website for details, as space is limited. If you can’t get in there, the Cathedral of Barcelona and the Santa Maria del Mar Cathedral seem to hold mass daily, if not multiple times a day. When you go, be respectful: dress conservatively, keep quiet and put your camera away.
Anthony is a Barcelona-based writer and photographer focusing primarily on travel and technology. Originally from the US, he’s always up for a trip somewhere fun. If he’s not on the road you’ll likely find him hunting the streets of Barcelona for somewhere weird and unique.