And of course, eating out. Christmas Eve is the main celebration in Spain, which means you'll find a lot more restaurants open on Christmas Day than in Britain or the United States. However, restaurants all take bookings months in advance, so if you plan on eating out on Christmas Day, book your reservation as soon as possible.
There are several Christmas markets (mercados de navidad, mercadillos de navidad or mercado navideno in Spanish) in Madrid, running for various durations over the Christmas period. Christmas markets tend to open at around midday and close around 9 or 10 p.m.
- Plaza Mayor Christmas Market: The main Christmas market each year in Madrid is in Plaza Mayor. Its stalls usually open in the last week of November. Stalls usually spill over into nearby Plaza Santa Cruz.
- Plaza Callao, Plaza Santo Domingo, and Plaza del Carmen Christmas Markets: All three of these are situated between Sol and Gran Via and all open in November.
- Plaza La Luna Christmas Market: Plaza La Luna, more correctly called Plaza de Santa Maria de Soledad Torres Acosta, is situated just north of the major Gran Via and is open from mid-November to early January.
- Plaza de Espana Christmas Market: This artisanal market opens in mid-December and runs until early January.
- Plaza Benavente Christmas Market: Just a few steps from Sol there is a smaller market that opens in late November and runs through early January.
- Plaza Isabel Christmas Market: This is mainly a Christmas food market; it runs from late November to early January.
Much of Madrid is covered in Christmas lights every year, but the ones listed here are the most spectacular. The Christmas lights are turned on in late November and turned off in early January.
- Gran Via in central Madrid
- Puerta del Sol in central Madrid
- Paseo de la Castellana/Paseo del Prado in central Madrid
- Calle Goya and Calle Ortega y Gasset in the Barrio Salamanca district
- The various El Corte Ingles department stores are usually well-decorated
The official Christmas tree is the one in Puerta del Sol, an enormous arbol de Navidad that is always a spectacular holiday sight.
Take the kids ice skating--or go yourself--at one of these ice rinks that are open every year during the holiday season in Madrid:
- Centro Cultural Conde Duque in Malasana, from mid-December
- Plaza de la Luna from late November
- Plaza de Felipe II in Barrio Salamanca, from November
Nativity scenes (belenes) in Madrid are a big deal. These are not just a couple of playmobil toys and some toy farmyard animals; the whole of Bethlehem is reproduced. There are nativity scenes all over the city, and there will usually be a line to get in to see them.
- Centrocentro Cibeles de Cultura y Ciudadania: An antique 17th-century nativity scene in the former post office
- City Hall: One of the biggest nativity scenes in Madrid
- Plaza Mayor: Outdoor nativity scene around the central statue is probably the easiest to visit
- Other Madrid Nativity Scenes: Museo de Historia de Madrid (on Calle Fuencarral), Museo de San Isidro (Plaza de San Andres), and Real Casa de Correos (Calle Correos)
Three Kings Parade
The Three Kings Parade (Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos) is on Jan. 5 every year, and it's arguably the biggest event of the holiday season in Spain. On this night, the three wise men, or kings, bring presents for all. The three kings, Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthazar, join the parade to the city center bringing their message of peace.
- Plaza de San Juan de la Cruz, beginning at 6:30 p.m.
- Paseo de la Castellana
- Plaza del Doctor Maranon
- Glorieta de Emilio Castelar
- Plaza de Colon
- Paseo de Recoletos
- Plaza de Cibeles, at roughly 8.45 p.m.