Why You Need to Visit Barcelona in Winter

A Row of Caga Tios Pooping Christmas Logs - Why Visit Barcelona in Winter

Barcelona is my favourite city in Europe and a great place to plan a winter vacation.  In this post, I’ll share just why you should visit Barcelona in winter, what to expect from winter weather in Barcelona, what to wear, where to stay and the best things to do in Barcelona in winter as well as everything else you might need to enjoy your Barcelona trip!

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Why Visit Barcelona in the Winter

Barcelona is a great city to explore at almost any time of year, but visit Barcelona in winter and you’ll find fewer crowds, cheaper prices and usually very pleasant weather!  There are lots of winter Barcelona activities to enjoy, as well as the usual epic things to do in Barcelona all year round.

Whatever you are into, you’ll find it in Barcelona – from sandy beaches to mountain hikes, delicious food, incredible museums, stunning architecture and fabulous nightlife, Barcelona really does have it all.  Whether you’re looking for a weekend city break or a week-long Christmas vacation you certainly won’t be disappointed in Barcelona.

There is plenty to discover in the area around Barcelona too, and the region of Catalonia has much more to offer than just the city.  You can take day trips from Barcelona to the popular destinations of Montserrat, Girona and Sitges, or take the train to Cava country or any number of smaller Catalan towns and villages.

Dragon Statue at Park Guell in Barcelona
Dragon Statue at Park Guell in Barcelona

Barcelona Winter Weather

The weather in Barcelona during the winter is generally very pleasant.  The low altitude and proximity to the Mediterranean sea mean that Barcelona has much milder temperatures than other Spanish cities such as Madrid or Granada for example.

While it does rain occasionally (an average of 3 or 4 days each month for December, January and February), blue skies are the norm, and nothing cheers me up more than a crisp, sunny winter morning!   February is often cloudier, even if it doesn’t rain, usually, Barcelona in December and January is better weather-wise because of the sunshine.

Barcelona winter temperatures average 12-14°C during the day, sometimes warmer, then drop to around 6°C at night.  Once the sun goes down you will notice the temperature drops quickly.

Snow in Barcelona is very rare, but it does happen occasionally.  If you plan to visit more of Catalonia or head up to the mountains of Andorra you can expect snow there, but not often in the city.

What to Wear in Barcelona in Winter

While the weather in Barcelona is pretty mild, you will still be glad of layers – especially once the sun goes down.  I always have gloves, a scarf and a hat for colder days and nights, and a thick jacket to keep you warm.  A waterproof jacket is a good idea for the occasional rainy days or at least a decent umbrella!

During the day you could get away with warm tights and skirts or trousers such as jeans, but comfortable shoes are a must – Barcelona is a fabulous city to walk around so keep your feet blister-free with comfy footwear.

Unless you plan on going out to very fancy places, high-heeled shoes aren’t necessary, a simple pair of boots (with a heel or flat) will be enough for most restaurants and bars.  In general, Barcelona is quite a casual city, at least in my experience!

Don’t forget to bring a swimsuit, either for a swim in your hotel pool or to treat yourself to a spa session.  You might even be brave enough for a dip in the sea!

It might seem like an odd inclusion to your Barcelona packing list, but I would also suggest bringing some slippers or warm socks for when you are back at your accommodation.  Because it gets so hot in the summer in Barcelona, many hotels and apartments don’t have carpet, and during the winter the tiles are cold to walk on so if you have space then bring some slippers too!

Christmas Decorations in Placa Sant Jaume - December in Barcelona
Christmas Decorations in Placa Sant Jaume – December in Barcelona

Christmas in Barcelona

While the Christmas decorations in Barcelona usually are up from the beginning of December through to the start of January, Christmas Eve in Barcelona is more important than Christmas Day – it’s the 24th when most families get together for the big meal.

Gifts on the other hand are traditionally saved for January 6th, when the Three Kings bring all the presents in a fantastical parade the evening of January 5th.  The parade begins when the three Kings arrive by boat into Port Vell in Barcelona and move through the streets, throwing sweets to the watching children as they pass by.

Bizarre Catalan Christmas traditions

One of the more bizarre and fun parts of Christmas in Barcelona is experiencing the Catalan obsession with poo.  Yes poo.  Definitely a bit odd, but great fun – and they make great souvenirs from Barcelona too!

Caganers – Pooping People

On each nativity scene where Mary and Joseph are tending to the baby Jesus, somewhere hidden away will be a model of someone with their trousers around their ankles having a crap.  While they are never in view of Jesus (that would be disrespectful), the caganer pooping man is always there somewhere – can you spot him in the Nativity Scene below?

Caganers are traditionally dressed in the Catalan outfit of white trousers and shirt with a red belt and cap, but these days you can find caganers of all shapes and sizes – including famous football players, pop stars and movie characters.  Your life will never be the same once you’ve seen Dracula, Madonna and Superman taking a crap next to each other, I assure you!

A Nativity Scene with a Caganer Pooping Figure
Can You Spot the Caganer Pooping Man in the Nativity Scene?

Caga Tió – Uncle Crapper

Even more bizarre is the pooping log known as Caga Tió.  Made from a chunk of a tree log, with the addition of a smiling face and jaunty cap, Caga Tió is filled with sweets and then beaten by children with sticks until he poops out his sweet presents.  Merry Pooping Christmas to you too!

A Row of Caga Tios Pooping Christmas Logs
A Row of Caga Tios Pooping Christmas Logs

New Year in Barcelona

New Year’s eve is usually a big party night in Barcelona, although COVID restrictions have dampened the celebrations in the past two years, let’s hope New Year’s Eve 2022 is back to normal!  Firework displays are common, with the biggest being held at Avinguda Maria Cristina by Placa Espana.  The event is free to attend, but you usually get better views from balconies and terraces in that part of town.

Pretty much any apartment or hotel with a view of the city will give you a great experience of the fireworks on New Year’s Eve – this year I was on a terrace close to La Sagrada Familia, and we could watch displays right across Barcelona.

One thing you must do in Barcelona on New Year’s Eve is to eat grapes.  This Spanish tradition involves listening for the clock chimes at midnight and eating a grape for every chime.  It is more difficult than it sounds – make sure you have grapes without seeds as that can cause serious problems!  You can buy a pack of 12 grapes ready for you to eat if you like which is easier to eat, although it is definitely a waste of plastic!

A Packet of 12 Grapes for New Years Eve in Barcelona
A Packet of 12 Grapes for New Years Eve in Barcelona

What to do in Barcelona in Winter

The best thing about visiting Barcelona in the winter is that you can pretty much do anything you would do at any other time of the year – just with an extra jacket!  Because the weather in Barcelona stays pretty mild most of the year, and you get plenty of sunshine, there are very few activities that are off-limits.

Walk Along the Beach

While it isn’t usually sunbathing weather, walking along the beach in Barcelona is always a joy, especially on a crisp sunny day.  The summer chiringuito beach bars are closed, but there are still some beachfront restaurants where you can grab a bite to eat or a drink as you gaze out into the big blue.

Alternatively, stroll along the sand and sit on one of the many benches to admire the view.  One of my favourite places to get away from the hustle and bustle is along the Moll del Gregal opposite the two towers at Vila Olímpica del Poblenou.  It was undergoing restoration work this year when I went, but hopefully it will be open again soon!

Get Great Views of Barcelona

With Barcelona’s enviable position between el mar y la montanya (the mountain and the sea) there are plenty of opportunities to see the city from above.  Park Güell has some splendid views from the terrace, as does the public park in the hills above Park Güell.

Another favourite with locals and tourists alike is the view from the Bunkers at El Carmel, what remains of civil war anti-aircraft bunkers on the hill above the city.  Winter is a great time to take advantage of late sunsets, so relatively early risers could get up here for sunrise, or you can enjoy spectacular views at any time of the day.

If you fancy hiking in Barcelona, Serra de Collserola Natural Park is crisscrossed with footpaths so you could hike up there or to Tibidabo for even more impressive views of the city.  Cooler Barcelona winter temperatures make hiking much more pleasurable than in the scorching summer heat, so it’s a perfect time to stretch your legs on a sunny day.

The View from the Carmel Bunkers in Barcelona
The View from the Carmel Bunkers in Barcelona

Visit the Museums in Barcelona

There are some incredible museums in Barcelona that are great to visit all year round – thanks to air conditioning in the summer, and heating in the winter!  If the weather gets too cold or too wet to be outdoors, take your pick of the top Barcelona museums, including the Picasso Museum, the MNAC National Art Museum of Catalonia, The Maritime Museum and plenty more besides.

If you get to the MNAC quite late in the day you can also enjoy the experience of seeing the fountains in front of the museum at night.  The Magic Fountain show is one of the most popular things to do in Barcelona, and well worth a look!

The MNAC Museum at Montjuic at Night - Barcelona Winter Activities
The MNAC Museum at Montjuic at Night – Barcelona Winter Activities

Admire Some of Gaudí’s Masterpiece Works

You can’t come to Barcelona and not see some of Gaudí’s works, even if you don’t plan to visit them you will come across them somewhere!  However, it is definitely worth making a deliberate choice to see some of his designs as they are unlike any other architecture you will see.

La Sagrada Familia Cathedral is Barcelona’s most famous landmark and the emblem of the city.  It is still unfinished some 140 years after construction began, and is probably the most famous building site in history!  Even just viewing this magnificent cathedral from the outside is an experience, but I’d highly recommend paying to go inside La Sagrada Familia to truly appreciate this incredible place.

Gaudí was heavily influenced by nature in his designs, and you can see evidence of that in La Sagrada Familia, from carvings of animals and fruit on the towers to the interior columns reaching to the ceiling and branching out like trees.  The sun shines in through stained glass windows, casting colourful patterns wherever the light falls.  It is no less than spectacular.

Make sure you buy your tickets in advance to avoid long queues.  I’d also recommend taking a guided tour as you will learn a lot more about Gaudí and his designs, and have as much time as you like after the tour to wander around.

My other personal favourite is Park Güell, originally designed to be a kind of housing estate, it is now a park with a magical mosaic dragon, fairytale style buildings and a mosaic terrace with fabulous views of the city.  Get there early to take photos before the crowds arrive!

Aside from these, you could also pay a visit to La Pedrera (Casa Mila), Casa Batlló, Palau Guell and more.

La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona from across the pond in Placa de Gaudi
La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona from across the pond in Placa de Gaudi

Eat the Delicious Food

For me, one of the best ways to experience a city is through its food.  And Barcelona has some delicious food waiting for you to try!  As well as eating all the tapas you can find, why not take a food tour to guide you around the best places to eat in Barcelona?

Alternatively, if you like to be more hands-on, then a paella cooking class could be just what you need!  Learn to make traditional Spanish food and enjoy eating the fruits of your labour!

Warm Up with Hot Chocolate and Churros

Chocolate and churros deserve a special mention, in addition to the rest of the food in Barcelona.  There is nothing better than dipping a long donut into a delicious cup of thick hot chocolate, trust me!

There are various cafes and churrerías dotted around Barcelona, but my personal favourite is on Carrer Petrixol, close to the Santa Maria del Pi church.

A Cup of Thick Hot Chocolate and Hot Churro Donuts
Thick Hot Chocolate and Hot Churro Donuts

Go Bar Hopping

There is plenty of nightlife in Barcelona to enjoy, but my favourite pastime in the evenings is to choose one of the neighbourhoods in Barcelona to hit up for a bar and tapas crawl.  Barcelona is filled with cozy little bars to get warm in!

For Basque-style pinchos (tasty snacks) that cost €1 or €2, head to Carrer del Blai in Poble Sec.  The whole street is full of bars where you can have a few pinchos and a glass of wine or beer, then move on to the next.

Gracia is a great place for gin bars and fancy cocktails as you stroll around the streets and plaças.  Try El Ciclista, Bobby Gin or Elephanta for cocktails, or La Vermu and El Vinil for a vermouth and snacks.

The Gothic Quarter and El Born are also favourite areas of mine for the evening, where you can find everything from hard rock bars to kitsch and cute places with excellent mojitos.  Don’t miss Rubí with its red décor, homemade gins and delicious strawberry mojitos.

Winter Activities in Barcelona

These are some of the things to do in Barcelona that you can only experience in the winter.

See the Christmas Lights

I love walking around and looking at the pretty Christmas lights that appear all around Barcelona at the end of November.  They light up the streets with beautiful patterns and colours until they’re taken down after Kings Day on January 6th.

La Rambla is a place for a stroll any time of year (just watch your belongings carefully as pickpockets can be a problem here), but in December it is even more beautiful with the decorations.  The Liceu Theatre is a particular highlight, decorated and lit up for a stunning show.

Starting at Plaça Catalunya, the walk up Passeig da Gracia is another wonderful place to see the decorations, wandering up the wide avenue past some of the most iconic buildings in Barcelona such as Gaudí’s Casa Batlló and La Pedrera.

The Liceu Theatre on La Rambla Decorated for Christmas in Barcelona
The Liceu Theatre on La Rambla Decorated for Christmas in Barcelona

Shop at the Christmas Markets

Christmas Markets are the best place to find souvenirs from Barcelona in the wintertime.  There are craft stalls where local artisans sell their wares such as handmade jewellery, leather goods and woodwork, as well as traditional Christmas stalls selling nativity sets, Christmas trees and caganers.

The Fira de Santa Llúcia in the square in front of the Gothic Cathedral is one of the main Christmas markets in Barcelona, although there are also excellent ones around La Sagrada Familia, by Port Vell and at Plaça Catalunya too.

Barcelona Christmas Market by the Gothic Cathedral
Barcelona Christmas Market by the Gothic Cathedral

Attend a Calçotada

Another special foodie experience to enjoy in late January, February and spring.  Calçots are a Catalan delicacy and are basically a cross between a leek and a spring onion.  The long, thick onions are grilled over an open flame until black, then wrapped in newspaper to cook through.

The result is a delicate flavoured vegetable which, once separated from the charred outer layer, is dipped in thick romesco sauce and devoured.  It’s hard to describe the joy you can get from pulling a sweet onion from its blackened shell and dangling it over your mouth.  YUM!

Calçots are best enjoyed as part of a larger barbecue, with butifarra sausage and white beans a traditional main course, usually accompanied with copious amounts of red wine or cava in my case!  During calçot season you can find community Calçotadas to attend, or many restaurants have them on the menu which isn’t as much fun but a great opportunity to try them.

Alternatively, buy some at a local market and barbecue them yourself.  We went to a fabulous winery in Sant Sadurni which provides the barbecue and wood for the fire, and a bottle of cava per person for €12 per person.  Bring your own calçots and other BBQ food to cook and you’ll have a great time!

Grilled Calcots with Romesco Sauce
Grilled Calcots with Romesco Sauce

Sitges Carnival in February

If you are coming to Barcelona in February, then make time for a visit to Sitges for the Carnival celebrations.  Sitges is about 40 minutes south of Barcelona and is well connected by train from Sants Station.  It is known as one of the gay capitals of Europe, and hosts one hell of a party for the week of Carnival, with parades, live music and plenty of celebrations!

Do you have more suggestions for awesome things to do in Barcelona in the winter?  I’d love to hear them, this is just a taster of all the winter Barcelona activities you could do!

This article previously appeared on Tales of a Backpacker.