To most, Spain conjures up images of sitting at a beach restaurant, drinking sangria, and eating paella. But Spain is also great in winter, and visiting in December may top vacation in a hot summer month like August.
Many don't realize that it snows in Spain, and it has more mountains than any other country in Europe, meaning that yes, you can go skiing in Spain. You can't beat the Pyrenees, with ski resorts all along the border with France making it a classic option. And for the sheer novelty of skiing in the south of Spain and being able to go to the beach on the same day, the Sierra Nevada is perfect. There are also ski resorts near Madrid, in the northwest of Spain (in Galicia, Leon, and Cantabria), La Rioja, and Teruel. As most avid skiers head for the Alps, the resorts in Spain are known to be moderately priced.
A byproduct of the heat of Spanish summers is the fact that many businesses close as staff flee the hot cities for cooler parts of the country. This is especially the case in Madrid and Seville. This means you'll find that many of the best restaurants and bars are closed in the summer, and there are also fewer art exhibitions and special events because there are fewer people there to see them. In winter, on the other hand, everything is open and there will be plenty to do.
Spain Weather in Winter
Although temperatures vary across the country, summer in Spain can be hot—often too hot. Cities like Seville and Madrid frequently reach temperatures in excess of 100 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius).
In winter, temperatures are much more manageable. It can get very cold in the center and the north but Andalusia is pleasantly mild throughout the winter months.
- Madrid in December average high: 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius)
- Madrid in December average low: 39 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius)
What to Pack
Of course, if you plan to partake in winter sports, you should make sure to pack the usual cold-weather clothing and gear. But in the cities, layering is key with a coat, boots or walking shoes, and a winter hat, scarf, and gloves. Weather does vary, so you might not need as much winter-wear in the parts of the country bordering the Mediterranean.
Winter Events in Spain
As early as October, traditional sweets such as marzipan and turrón, an almond and honey confection, appear in supermarkets. But the real events start in December.
Winter in Spain is dominated by Christmas and the New Year, though there are a number of other events going on too. There are celebrations and religious services from mid-December through January 6. There is the giant multi-billion euro lottery, splendid nativity scenes, lots of great food, and one of the biggest New Year's Eve celebrations you are likely to see.
- Carnival: Without a doubt, the most important event in February is the carnival, which usually (but not always) takes place during this month. The Sitges carnival is one of the biggest and brashest in the country. Expect lots of colorful costumes and plenty of drinking in the streets.
- Festival de Jerez: This is one of the most important flamenco festivals in Spain. If you're in Jerez a bit earlier, it is a good place to base yourself for visiting the carnival in nearby Cadiz.
- ARCOmadrid International Contemporary Art Fair: February also sees the ARCOmadrid International Contemporary Art Fair, which includes historic avant-garde and modern classical works, along with contemporary art.
Winter Travel Tips
- You're likely to find lower airfare and hotel rates in the winter low season. Keep your eyes out for a good deal.
- January is the coldest month in Madrid and most of Spain, so make sure to pack extra layers if you visit then versus in December or February.
- Despite the warmer weather, many cities in Spain still have European-style Christmas markets, as well as festive light displays and even massive Christmas trees. This makes it a great option for those who want a classic holiday atmosphere without the cold temperatures.