December in Spain, as in most of the western world, is dominated by the family-centric holidays of Christmas and New Year's Eve. As a result, there are fewer events going on around Spain since a lot of Spaniards go home to visit their loved ones in the more remote villages, leaving some of the cities a little quieter than usual.
Whether you're in the mood to sample local cuisines or you want to attend an annual event, visiting the cities and countryside villages of Spain is still worth it in December. From world-famous exhibitions in Barcelona food festivals in Costa del Sol, Christmas lights in Seville to festive events in Madrid, there are still plenty of great things to see and do across the country throughout the month.
Barcelona's events calendar in December isn't as full as most months since a lot of residents retreat from the cold to spend time with their families, but there's still more going on than elsewhere in Spain.
Events include the World Press Photo Exhibit at the CCCB, the Gospel Greats Music Festival, two fun-runs (Buff Epic Run and Cursa Dels Nassos), and the De Cajon Flamenco Festival, which starts at the very end of the month.
Christmas in Barcelona is also a very festive time of year, and many of the major thoroughfares will be decorated in holiday lights and colors. There are also plenty of places to stay in December that will be decorated with holiday cheer.
While the Christmas season will be full of festive events and brilliant lighting displays in Seville, the city has a unique event of its own this month: the traditional Dance of the Seises at Seville's cathedral during the Inmaculada Festival.
Even when the events aren't happening, though, there are plenty of things to do in Seville. Wander through the heart of Seville's tourist district, Santa Cruz, where you'll find the famous Seville Cathedral and its Giralda Bell Tower, or head to the Real Alcázar de Sevilla, a historic palace built for Peter of Castile.
Accommodations are typically easy to book this month, especially if you're looking to rent a private room in local's apartment while they're gone visiting family for the holidays. There are also a number of great hotels within walking distance of some of the city's biggest attractions.
December in Madrid
As with Barcelona, there aren't that many events going on in Madrid this month, but Christmas is at its biggest and grandest in this capital city. Fortunately, since many residents head back home for the holidays, you will find it easier to eat at a restaurant on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day here than in the rest of the country.
Other popular Madrid events in December include Winter Solstice bonfires in Robledo de Chavela and the San Silvestre Vallecana fun run on New Year's Eve in Seville. There are also a number of Christmas markets throughout the city, and since the December weather stays relatively warm all month long, you'll have plenty of opportunities to explore these festive attractions.
When it comes to accommodations, you can easily rent out someone's apartment in the center of Madrid, and most hotels in Spain have plenty of vacant rooms throughout the month. However, you may want to book your New Year's Eve accommodations early since they might book up before December.
December in Costa del Sol
If you have access to a car, the Costa del Sol has a few events spread that are worth a look. The Costa del Sol is usually seen as a summer destination, but if you aren't desperate for beaches, there is still plenty to do in the region even in winter.
The Migas Festival in Torrax, for instance, celebrates the simple "peasant's favorite dish" of fried breadcrumbs known as migas while the Verdiales Festival in Malaga celebrates a specific type of flamenco dancing with performances by troupes from across the country. Additionally, visitors can take an icy plunge with locals during the Polar Bear Swim in Gibraltar, which takes place on Boxing Day (December 26) each year.
However, since these events are spread along the south coast of Spain, you'll need to find a centrally-located destination to spend the night. Staying in Malaga is your best bet if you want to hit up all of these festivals, and there are plenty of apartments for overnight rental in the area
Salamanca is a student town, so a lot of the city's inhabitants go away for Christmas and New Year. However, to celebrate with their friends, they often host an early New Year's celebration in the town square for everyone where everyone is welcome to join.
Otherwise, Salamanca is relatively quiet in terms of events in December. The New Cathedral and the Plaza Mayor are the biggest draws in the city, but the uniform sandstone architecture and hip eateries of Universidad Civil make it a great destination as well.
You can rent an apartment in the area recently vacated by a college student at the University of Salamanca who went home for the winter break or find a cheap hotel room nearby.
December All Over Spain
There are also a number of events that take place across Spain throughout the month of December. From the El Gordo Lottery Draw to New Year's Eve celebrations, you're sure to find a way to experience the local culture of Spain during your trip.
El Gordo Lottery
Spain has the biggest lottery in the world (by total prize fund). The vast majority of the population has a stake in the lottery, either as part of a syndicate or with an individual ticket. Every year on December 22, TVs and radios will be tuned in to hear the results (which takes several hours) of the El Gordo Lottery. Get a ticket and join in the fun anywhere in the country.
Christmas in Spain is a family affair, and Christmas Eve is a bigger event than Christmas day, with families gathering for an extended meal. Restaurants may be closed on one or both and will almost certainly require reservations if they are open. Madrid and Barcelona, as the biggest cities, have the most life to them around this time.
New Year's Eve
New Year's Eve is also largely a family event in Spain. The stroke of midnight is either spent in the main square of a city or at home. Most bars will be closed, opening around 1 a.m. for a night of revelry after the family celebrations end. Wherever you choose to celebrate, make sure you have twelve grapes to eat at each gong of midnight—a nationwide tradition in Spain.