Madrid holidays 2017 – 2018
IMPORTANT NOTE! In 2016 City Hall set up a website for their holiday stuff. I’m always cautious about the info on these site, they tend to update late and info is not always fully available in English. They’ve improved a lot but please double check before starting out to visit something. City Hall site: https://www.esmadrid.com/agenda-navidad-madrid
Info below is a selection from City Hall activities and some other things that do not appear on that site. Last year top venues were Centro Centro (Cibeles) and Conde Duque, this year will probably be similiar.
If information below is current, type face will be standard. If information is in italics, has not been updated yet, updating as things appear. (Usually there aren’t too many changes but don’t go out without checking!)
See Holidays October – December for Spanish holiday traditions – El Gordo lottery and twelve grapes on New Year’s Eve.
Decorate your house (or get little prezzies): List of budget but fun gift shops, Tiger and lots more: http://www.apinderinspain.com/gift_shops_budget_fun
Live Christmas trees: University Forestry school sells trees from a nursery in Catalonia, complete with roots and pot, different sizes and different types for different prices, one euro per tree goes to charity. They’ll tell you how to care for your tree so it will survive the holidays; City Hall has traditionally collected trees at two city nurseries after the holidays for replanting (watch Madrid Now for news about that in January). They also have holly, a protected species that you should only get at a reputable place. When and where: In the Complutense University area, 8 am – 10pm every day. They deliver if you don’t have a car – free in the city, supplement for out of the city. More info with prices and map on their website: https://sites.google.com/site/abetosdemontes/
Christmas lights: Lights On: Friday November 24 at 6PM. If possible, try to be somewhere with lots of lights when they turn on – maybe Sol? Sparkly decorations all over the city! Navibus (next) hits the main streets, but doesn’t see everything or even the best. Take a walk along pedestrian streets Arenal and Fuencarral, or smaller streets around Santa Ana square and Hortaleza (alas, the blinking eyes have disappeared). Plaza Mayor has lights and Chueca square usually does too. Lights schedule: Sun – Wed 6-11pm / Thurs – Sat and nights before holidays 6-midnight. Dec 25 + Jan 1 + Jan 6 6pm – midnight. Dec 24 + Jan 5: until 3am on next day, Dec 31: until 6am on Jan 1. Lights end on January 6
Naviluz Bus (City Hall) to see the lights: Runs Dec 3 – Jan 6, not Dec 24, Dec 31, Jan 5. Timetable: 6pm to lights off (see schedule above). Last bus leaves starting point 30 minutes before end of service, buses about every 5 minutes, loop takes around 50 minutes. One stop only, Colon Square in front of calle Serrano number 30. May have long lines to get this bus Loop: Serrano, Puerta de Alcalá, Plaza de Cibeles, Alcalá,Gran Vía,Plaza de Callao, Jacometrezo, Plaza de Santo Domingo, San Bernardo, Gran Via, Alcala, Velazquez y la Calle Ortega y Gasset, Serrano. Adults 3 euros, seniors over 65 2 euros, kids under 7 years old free. Tickets ONLY online http://naviluz.emtmadrid.es/
Navibus (Busvision) to see the lights: Similar to above, but you can reserve ahead of time. Ride is about 60 minutes long, starting every 20 minutes, 6-10pm, starting at Plaza Neptuno. Price: 8.10 euros adults, 6.30 euros kids 3-15. Get more info and make your reservations at http://www.busvision.net/package/tour-madrid-luces-navidad/
Christmas market in the Plaza Mayor: booths selling Nativity scene figures and other Christmas decorations in the center of the square, Christmas trees and other holiday greens in around the edge. Not as big or elaborate as Christmas fairs in northern Europe. Some silly joke items (reindeer antlers, fuzzy wigs, blinking necklaces) too. This market can get very crowded, best to go off-times, and avoid the day school ends for the holidays – high school kids go a little nuts that day. Usual dates for this market: Late November – late December
Expoclausura. Market with products from cloistered convents all over Spain. 20th edition! This is your chance to try hand-made sweets, cookies, candies and jams – available in one place. Fabulous products, mostly if not all made without unpronounceable ingredients. Note: experience of visiting the convents is pretty fun but if you are short on time or knowledge this market is a must-do. Where and when: ABC Centro Comercial, calle Serrano 61. December 7-21 , 10am – 9pm or until supplies disappear. http://www.expoclausura.es/inicio
Molly Market. Crafts of all kinds, some food. Smaller than the big craft fair in Plaza de España and only two days, but overall, this market has nicer things than the other crafts markets, or at least that’s my opinion. Where and when: COAM (interesting venue!) at Hortaleza 63, near metros Chueca and Alonso Martinez. December 2 + 3, 11am – 8.30pm. More info: http://www.mollymarket.es/
Feria de Artesania (Madrid handcrafts fair), the biggest of Madrid’s craft fairs, this is a should-do for everyone. Almost 190 stands with something for every person and every budget: ceramics, textiles, toys, jewelry, wood, leather goods and more. Where and when: Plaza de España, December 9 -January 5, 11 am – 9 pm except Dec 24 and 31 when it closes at 3pm. Closed Dec 25 & Jan 1
La Navideña, Feria Internacional de las Culturas / Multicultural Holiday event. Yes, culture in plural, isn’t that cool? As the name indicates, multicultural event celebrating Madrid’s plurality: music, gastronomy, movies, kid stuff and more. Embassies and cultural institutions have participated in setting this up – looks like the event that happened 2015 at Conde Duque cultural center, probably moved to the Matadero because it’s bigger. More info: http://www.mataderomadrid.org/ficha/8707/la-navidena.html and click on “descarga aquí el programa completo por días”. Where and when: Matadero Cultural Center, December 15-29
Crafts / Gifts fairs: Not all as “crafty” as the main fair but still fun to see. Squares that usually have gift fairs: Santo Domingo, Jacinto Benavente, Carmen, Descalzas Reales. Frequently (not checked yet) there are also mini-fairs in Moncloa and sometimes in Santa Maria Soledad Acosta. These squares are downtown, near metros Sol, Opera and Gran Via, except Moncloa which is along part of Princesa and Archepreste de Hita. UPDATE November 30, 2016: Nothing in Santo Domingo or Carmen so far. Descalzas Reales is setting up but not open (probably starts Dec 2). Others not checked yet.
Solstice celebration: Celebrate the official start of winter, the shortest day of the year (so also the beginning of the return of the light). Parade with big lanterns and band(s). New last year, they’ve made some changes this year. Where and when: Madrid Rio Park, next to Puente del Rey (just down from Glorieta San Vicente, big archway); the parade will probably in the Glorieta San Vicente or closer to Paseo de la Florida and go short distance down to the bridge. December 21, parade starts at 7pm, fireworks at 9pm
Street Music: Had you noticed that Paseo del Prado is closed to traffic on Sunday mornings? (that’s our north-south main drag, between Neptuno and Atocha). Fun for walkers, skaters, beginning bikers, and not far from the Retiro. Well, on Dec 27 and Jan 3 the street is closed to traffic 10am – 8pm AND there’s music in Neptuno square (north side of the Prado Museum, named for the Neptuno fountain) AND AND drummers along de Paseo del Prado.
Sort of street music: “Zambombada” on December 17 – a “zambomba” is a traditional umm instrument made of a drum-like thingie (often made of clay) with a drumhead of sorts and a stick thingie that makes a strange, rhythmic thrumming. Wikipedia has a photo and explanation here https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zambomba since this is so hard to describe. Anyway. You can see and hear zambombas for yourself, together with other traditional musical instruments (oboe-ish dulzaina, big cowbells, etc). This is worth seeking out if you’re in the city for the holidays, musicians are often in traditional dress. Where and when: the group will be wandering in Old Madrid (Plaza del Oriente in from of the Royal Palace, Plaza Ramales, Plaza de la Villa, calles Santiago and Mayor), December 17, 12.30 – 2pm.
Kid stuff: Tren de los Reyes Magos / Three Kings Train: Train with theater for kids, the Royal Page most days and the Three Kings in person on January 5 (ummm. not really?). Kids can deliver their letter for the Kings to tell them what they want, if they have been good. Where and when: Train leaves and returns to Principe Pio station, goes through part of El Pardo (sharp-eyed passengers can spot deer or even wild boar). Prices 15 euros adults / 10 euros kids, more expensive on Jan. 5. Days: December 23-31 and Jan 2-5, various departures all days. Get more info and tickets at: http://www.trendelosreyesmagos.com/
Kid Stuff: theater for young or young at heart. Seven different troups with seven shows, looks like all in Spanish but could be fun anyway. Where and when: Conde Duque cultural center (calle Conde Duque 11, metro San Bernardo and Plaza de España). Most days from December 22 to January 5, some days have two shows. For exact program see https://www.esmadrid.com/agenda/teatro-en-conde-duque
Kid Stuff: Circo Price / Price Circus. Indoor circus near Atocha, active year-round and with special program for the holidays. This year: Christmas show Dec 1 – Jan 7 Where and when: Price Circus-Theater, Ronda de Atocha 35, Get more info at http://www.teatrocircoprice.es/web//index.php/espectaculos/view/531 ALSO last few weekends of circus-technique workshops (until mid Dec).
Kid Stuff: Circo Mágico / Magic Circus Do you believe in magic? or would you like to believe? Great idea for kids at holiday time. Where and when: IFEMA, Madrid Trade Fair area. Public transportation available), Dates early December – mid January? NOTE at posting time not a lot of info on website, maybe to keep suspense until show opens. More info at https://elcircomagico.es/
Kid stuff: ice skating (well. maybe not real ice but a good substitute). Various places and schedules: Centro Centro (patio of City Hall in Cibeles), Plaza Colon (metro Colon or Serrano), Plaza Soledad Torres Acosta (just off Gran Via), “Dreams” ice palace near the airport. Get more info and full schedule at https://www.esmadrid.com/pistas-hielo-navidad-madrid Additional fun: I saw workers setting up a fake hill on the real hill at Cuesta Moyana (that street from end of Paseo del Prado up to the Retiro). Looked like a mega-slide in a water park but “ice” (read slippery plastic) I’m not clear whether this is to slide down on your anatomy or whether they provide sleds.
New Year’s Eve in Sol. Going to Sol to watch the gold ball drop at midnight is not for the faint-hearted. It’s absolutely packed, but it’s the Place to Be for people who like a big party for New Year. Tips: Take your own supplies (twelve grapes, bubbly and plastic glasses – no bottles allowed) and make a “technical stop” before going.
Kings’ Day Procession, January 5th. The three kings come to town with a huge parade, following the Castellana south from Nuevos Ministerios to Cibeles. This is fun for grownups as well as kids – though you won’t see much unless you take a folding ladder (yes, really!). If the big parade sounds overwhelming, ask around. Some neighborhoods have their own processions. Details 2018 Starts in Nuevos Ministerios at 6.30pm, follows the Castellana – Recoletos south to Cibeles. The Three Kings give their message in Cibeles at 8.45pm followed by fireworks.
Nativity scenes (see end for two important Nativities in nearby towns)
The Nativities range from small scenes for the home to huge elaborate scenes in churches, museums or city halls. Medium to large Nativities usually include a stream (made of aluminum foil or blue cellophane); a bridge over that stream; a water mill or windmill; a castle on a hill; the stable (usually made of cork slabs) and the inn. In addition to the main figures most medium to large Nativity scenes include a crowd of people: a blacksmith, shopkeepers and a woman selling roast chestnuts among others. In Catalunya there’s an additional odd character – ask about their special tradition if you’re in that region around Christmas then look for it elsewhere as this strange custom seems to be spreading.
Here are some of the traditional Nativity scenes in Madrid. Many are worth a visit for their cultural and artistic value, even for people who don’t entirely share the religious traditions. The usual viewing dates are mid December to January 6 – exact information is not available at present, so best to check exact dates and schedules before going.
Nativity scene in Centro – Centro (Madrid City Hall): One of the biggest in the city. Entrance is free, must get tickets to right of main entrance. To avoid waiting in line, get your tickets online for 0.50 euro fee at https://centrocentro.shop.secutix.com/list/otherProducts . 20 minute turns, last one 20 mins before closing. Where and when: Centro Centro (wedding-cake building in Cibeles, metro Banco de España). Tues – Sun, 10.20 am – 8pm. Dec 24, 25, 31 and Jan 5 10.20 am – 2pm. Closed Jan 1, Jan 6. Until Jan 7.
Nativity at Museo de Artes Decorativas / Decorative Arts Museum. One of Madrid’s hidden jewels, this museum usually has a Nativity set up year round, and ad Christmas holidays they have a special exhibit / selection of the best from various Nativities in their collection. When: December 14 – Until January 7, closed Mondays and December 24, 25, 31, January 1,6. Free in usual museum hours (must pay museum fee). If you can, plan a little extra time to see the rest of the museum, mostly about furniture / interiors of homes throughout the years and in different regions of Spain. More info on their website: http://mnartesdecorativas.mcu.es/
Madrid Comunidad Nativity: Not the same as above, this is Madrid “province” instead of “city”. Right next to Plaza Puerta de Sol, entrance from calle Correos along west or from back side of official building with clock. Often has long lines, try to go at off-times. Schedule: 10am – 9pm. Dec. 24+31+Jan 5 until 6 pm, closed Dec 25 & Jan. 1. Until Jan 5
Neopolitan Nativity at the Royal Palace. Started in the 18th century by Carlos III for his son, enlarged in recent years. Entrance is free. Where and when: Through usual group entrance on calle Bailen, until January 7, 10 am – 6pm, last tickets at 5pm.
Noche de Sol / Night of Sun: International Nativities, exhibit of 200 Nativity scenes from all over the world, many in local styles with figures that look like the locals look. Where and when: Matadero Cultural center (metro Legazpi, place with farmers’ market) in the Casa de Lector auditorium. Until Jan 5, 11am – 3pm, 5-9pm. Entrance fee 5 euros, 4 for people over 65 or with large-family cards. Kids under 10 and unemployed free.
Here are two more of the traditional Navity scenes. Some places set up around the middle of the month.
Army Headquarters Nativity: Small outdoor Nativity, lit up at least part of the evening-night . Where: On north side of calle Alcala, in the garden just behind iron fence, almost directly in front of Banco de España metro exit.
San Rafael Hospital: One of Madrid’s most traditional Nativity scenes. Corner of streets Concha Espina and Serrano, entrance for viewing from side street Herreros de Tejada 3 (perpendicular to Serrano). Usual schedule: 11am-1.30pm + 4.30-8pm.
Other Nativities: Many churches have Nativities, even small neighborhood parishes: Almudena Cathedral, San Francisco el Grande Basilica, Descalzas Reales and Encarnacion convents are some of the best known. San Andres has a small one in the back. The Royal Palace and City Museum (Principe de Vergara 140) both usually show Nativity scenes in usual visiting hours.
Many shops, bars and cafés have Nativity scenes in their shop windows, often using their products as part of the Nativity (sometimes very quirky! neighborhood plumber places artsy faucets among the figures, pharmacy boxes of medicine). The shop window Nativities can be quite elaborate in the stores specialized in religious products around Sol and Plaza Mayor. Good streets to wander looking for Nativities: Arenal (Palomeque at Arenal 17, see their windows!) and side streets between Arenal and Mayor Bordadores (various) and Hileras ( just Palomeque).
San Lorenzo de El Escorial (upper town around the Monastery): Super-size Nativity scene, with figures spread out along the streets and in squares of this traditional town. The figures are made of paper-mache and are different every year. No info on start date yet, but should be up by December 16 if not before. As always, best seen early, before weather and people damage make them less pretty. Lots of fun! Dates 2017: starts December 16? taken down around January 7.
Buitrago de Lozoya (town to the north on the A1). Living Nativity scene with local people as actors. Walk through this town (1300 meters, just under a mile), visiting scenes in Jesus’ life and everyday life in his time. No entrance fee, but limited access; you must get tickets in town starting 3pm, maximum 4 tickets per person. Two shows, 6.30pm and 8.30pm, no one allowed in after start time. Dates in 2017: December 16, 17, 23, 30. More info: http://www.belenvivientebuitrago.es/index.html