This post covers the top 10 things to do in Madrid in December, updated for 2023.
We include evening, free, and family-friendly activities.
December's weather is generally pretty comfortable so getting out and around the city should be no problem.
You probably won't find snow there this month, although it can often be found outside the city in the mountains.
Daytime high temperatures tend to average about 12 C (53-54 F) early in the month, falling to 8–10 C (46–50 F) near the end of the month.
At night, it is colder, so you'll want to make sure you pack layers or a nice warm jacket.
For even more information on this topic, read our post, The Weather in Madrid in December.
TOP 10 EVENTS AND THINGS TO DO
Madrid is a lively city that's rich in history and beautiful to boot. There's plenty to see and do here each month of the year.
Our top 10 list for December has holiday markets, light shows, tours, and other fun things to do this month in Madrid.
1. Explore the Holiday Market
With Christmas just around the corner, Christmas markets will start popping up around Madrid.
In addition to Christmas lighting and decor, you might find nativity scenes, ice skating, and market stalls that sell winter snacks such as hot chocolate and churros, roasted chestnuts, mulled wine, and more.
The biggest market is Mercado Tradicional Navidad de la Plaza Mayor.
It has been held since the 19th century and has over 100 little red cabin-like stalls that sell toys and Christmas decor.
Other markets include:
- Feria de Artesanía de Recoletos
- Mercadillo del Gato
- Articus Christmas Market
- Mercadillo de Navidad | El Corte Inglés Castellana
- Feria Dulces de Navidad
- Mercado de Diseño
- La Navideña
- Mercado del Encanto
- Mercado de Motores
2. Take a Hop On Hop Off Tour
If you’re looking for a convenient way to get around Madrid and see the most notable sites, a hop-on hop-off bus tour is one of the best ways to do it.
There are a few options, including some that give tours day and night (perfect for seeing those holiday lights)
The buses usually include audio guides and headphones; however, one has a live guide on board.
To read more about the various options for Hop On Hop Off Bus tours and to book tickets, visit our post here.
3. View the Holiday Lights
Madrid goes all out with Christmas light displays.
The streets come alive with light for the holidays, transforming Madrid into a twinkly wonderland.
Almost 7.5 million LED lights are hung over city streets, many of which are turned on all at once at the end of November.
Each night afterward, they will come on around 6 p.m.
Over 100 streets and squares are lit up to create a magical holiday atmosphere.
You'll find Christmas trees, lights dropped across streets and squares, lights in the shapes of angels and ornaments, and even light projections across buildings.
Some neighborhoods set up their own “look”, one that reflects their identity best.
And in some public squares, Spanish artists and designers have created themed displays.
It's truly a magical time of year and something you won't want to miss.
You can do this by foot or book a Christmas Lights TukTuk tour that takes you past some of the best sites.
4. Take a Walking Tour
One of the best ways to see Madrid is with a pay-what-you-wish guided walking tour.
Madrid is home to world-class museums, culture, architecture, monuments, and other attractions, and walking tour guides will teach you more about these.
They will cover the history of an area, tell you about how it grew over time, explain what it was like at various times in history, and provide tips for places you might like to explore further.
There are also food tours that take you on a gastronomy and historical tour, providing details about Spanish traditions, customs, and history.
There are also pub crawls, flamenco tours, night tours, and more. Learn more about various Madrid tours here.
Or, you may also want to consider a self-guided exploration game instead.
This service puts you in the role of someone escaping the Spanish Inquisition.
5. Take in a Christmas Show
One of the city's most visited holiday shows, which many families visit year after year as part of their Christmas tradition, is Cortylandia.
A department store, Corte Inglés de Preciados, puts on the show, which takes place at the Calle Maestro Victoria entrance to the store.
At only 15 minutes long, it's able to keep kids' attention with a display that includes songs, storytelling, and animated characters.
If you'd like some entertainment that's a little more fun for adults, you might want to take in one of these concerts:
6. Sample Holiday Sweets
In Madrid, and in Spain at large, there are a number of treats that make an appearance around Christmas time.
You might find these in supermarkets, Christmas markets, or being made in Spanish home kitchens.
Be sure to try a few of them out to really experience the holiday flavors.
Some of the most popular sweets include:
Polvorones and Mantecodos Cookies
These are shortbread-like, crumbly cookies.
They come in a number of flavors, such as lemon, vanilla, cinnamon, and nuts. The latter of the two is made with pig lard and flavored with anise.
There are a few kinds of nougat, honey, and toasted nut candy bars said to date back centuries to the Moors.
You might find them with almonds, the most common type, or pistachios, and they can be either hard or soft.
A fine dough of almonds, egg yokes, and sugar, sometimes flavored with cinnamon and lemon zest made into cookies.
A fried, crispy dough made from flour, aniseed, olive oil, sugar, and flavored spices or liqueurs.
Roscón De Reyes
This Spanish “King’s Cake” is a round or oval-shaped cake with candied fruit, sugar, and sometimes almonds on top that is served in the new year.
The dough is similar to brioche and may be filled with sweet whipped cream.
7. Celebrate New Year's
Madrid is a fantastic place to spend New Year’s Eve.
Whether you choose to spend it in a club or a square, you are sure to have a fantastic time.
One of the biggest celebrations takes place in Puerta Del Sol.
Thousands of people gather to celebrate together to ring in the New Year and watch the fireworks display.
If you go, you’ll want to claim your spot no later than 11 p.m.
Grab a bag of grapes from a local shop, and as the clock hits midnight, try to eat 12 grapes, one for each “gong.
It’s said that if you manage to eat all 12 in time, your wishes will come true.
Many folks start the night off with a meal at home.
But if you’re looking to eat out, restaurants will often have specials. Check ahead of time and book early as it’s one of the busiest nights of the year.
Nightclubs and bars will also often have special events.
You’ll also want to book these tickets in advance. After the clock strikes midnight, many folks head there from Puerta del Sol.
Some other traditions involve drinking Cava wine, wearing red underwear, and preparing lentil stew for New Year’s Day.
8. Go Ice Skating
Even if there’s no snow in Madrid, you can experience the holiday cold at an ice skating rink.
Some of these rinks have skate rentals, food, and music.
There are a number of rinks you can visit in and around the city.
One of the most popular is the Glass Gallery at Palacio de Cibeles’. These folks skate under a big glass dome.
The biggest rink can be found at Plaza de Colon.
They also have a Christmas market, a big screen, and a DJ, and sometimes Santa Claus will make an appearance.
Other rinks can be found at:
- Matadero in Plaza de Legazpi
- Plaza Juan Goytisolo at the Reina Sofía Museum
- Plaza España
- Palacio de Hielo
- Puente del Rey
- La Peseta
- La Vaguada
Note that if you’d like to see others on ice, visit the Circe on Ice which takes throughout December at Carpa Circo Alegria.
9. View Nativity Scenes
Madrid loves nativity scenes, and almost every church and square will have one, as will homes, shops, schools, and businesses.
This tradition may date back to the 1214 visit of Saint Francis of Assisi who stopped over in Mardid on a pilgrimage.
He is said to have created the first nativity scene during his visit.
These nativity displays, or Belénes de Navidad, come in all sizes and are a big attraction to locals and tourists alike.
A few are so elaborate that they contain hundreds of characters.
Some of the best Belénes can be found at:
- Real Casa de Correos
- Palacio de Cibeles
- Plaza de España
- Comunidad de Madrid en la Puerta del Sol
10. Visit the Botanical Gardens
Real Jardin Botanico is a gorgeous 250-year-old public park in the center of Madrid.
With its thousands of flowers and plant varieties, greenhouses, and exhibition spaces, it's considered one of the best places to visit in the city.
Over the holidays, the botanical gardens are turned into a sparkly wonderland, one created around a new theme each year.
There is a walking trail that takes you past branches strewn with LED fairy lights, figurines made out of light, light projections, and so much more.
Every along the one-mile trail is brought alive, and all of it is accompanied by music.
The Christmas lights are on from November 2, 2023, to January 16th, 2024.
Honorable Mention: Run the San Silvestre Vallecana
Every December since 1964 residents of Madrid have run the San Silvestre Vallecana 10k race.
Around 40,000 runners participate—both pros and amateurs—and spots sell out quickly.
The race starts in downtown Madrid and finishes in the suburbs.
The website for the race is detailed and it makes it easy to register online.
As is the case every year, the race takes place on December 31st.