Barcelona is one of the most vital and cosmopolitan cities in Europe. Ancient and modern architecture, from gothic to contemporary through modernism, blends together in an urban landscape that never ceases to amaze even those who have been living there for a long time.
This is my 2nd visit to Barcelona, first one was back then in 2018. While Barcelona still preserves its old charm, it has evolved into a remarkable modern city steeped in Catalan pride, delightful wining and dining, and a vibrant nightlife. Beach umbrellas may be closed for the season, but there is still plenty to explore: local markets, Christmas food, music festivals, December illuminations, and much more.
Don’t worry about the weather. On average, Barcelona sees 55 days of rain a year, so, while the temperature might drop a bit, the sun still shines during the wintertime.
As the New Year approaches, the city is being polished to its original glory: while the streets are decorated for Christmas celebrations, the town buzzes with Christmas markets, and it’s the best time of the year to savour traditional dishes made with fresh seasonal ingredients.
Also, you can visit popular attractions with little or even no crowds. With fewer tourists around between October and April, the low-season is the perfect time to explore the city’s many cultural sights without having to queue for hours.
Barcelona is well suited to exploring on foot; long walks along the wide avenues illuminated by the sun, looking upwards, are the perfect way to discover its buildings’ captivating details.
Many visitors approach Barcelona focusing on the ‘Gaudí experience’: following in the great architect’s footsteps and marvelling at his extravagant landmarks can be a curious and alternative way to experience the city. Ideally starting from the hills to end up at the sea, the Gaudí tour begins at Parc Güell, the natural expanse adorned with tiled dragons and sinuous lines that overlooks the town centre and the blue of the Mediterranean.
Here, in front of the Sagrada Família, you will find the first of the Christmas markets, the Fira de Nadal de la Sagrada Família: 100 stalls divided into various sectors selling Christmas trees, traditional figurines, decorations (with the inevitable Caganer and Tio de Nadal characters from Catalan folklore), festive food and local crafts.
The most famous example of Gaudí’s work, the Sagrada Família is a spectacular church that has been under construction for more than 100 years and, yet, despite being incomplete, it has already been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The alluring experience continues on the Passeig de Gràcia, Barcelona’s luxury shopping street and home to two of Gaudí’s designs: the Casa Batlló and the Casa Milà. Respectively nicknamed the ‘house of bones’ and ‘the stone quarry’, these two houses a few steps from each other are so different in their concepts and lines.
Here on the boulevard is where the December lights, the Llums de Nadal, are at their best. Shining a colourful glow on a total of 76km of streets, the lighting of the Christmas illuminations takes place on November 28, the day before Black Friday, and culminates on La Nit del Passeig de Gràcia (Passeig de Gràcia shopping night) on December 19, when the most elegant axis of Barcelona looks more important than ever and the architecture of Gaudí appears even more fascinating in the beautiful evening light.
It is time now to explore beyond Gaudí’s work: the centre of Barcelona has evolved since his day and within steps you can appreciate this by experiencing other modernist wonders such as the Palau de la Música Catalana, where you can choose from the busy schedule of December concerts, or by attending a permanent exhibition at MACBA (Museum of Contemporary Art of Barcelona).
Right on the famous Rambla is a paradise of taste. It began its activity as an outdoor market in the 13th century, and today it features fresh food counters and ready meals, from candy to meat products, cheese to smoothies, sandwiches, tapas and spirits. If you find the midday crowds at La Boqueria overwhelming, either visit early in the morning, when you can shop and have breakfast along with locals, or head to the nearby markets of Santa Caterina and Sant Antoni.
To walk from La Boqueria to Santa Caterina, you will have to venture down the winding alleys of the famous Gothic Quarter and past Barcelona Cathedral, in front of which you will find what is perhaps the city’s most famous Christmas market: Fira de Santa Llúcia and its 300 stalls, which dates back more than 230 years.
No visit to Barcelona is complete without hanging out in the hip barrio of El Born, with its boutique stores and trendy bars, and a walk along the old port promenade all the way to the beach of Barceloneta. You’ll find Barcelona shines at any time of year, yet experiencing it in the midst of winter’s largest festivities will give you a whole new way to appreciate the food, flavours, and culture.