The temperature has dropped in Madrid but there are still lots of things to do in Spain’s lively city, particularly in the lead up to the festive season. Here are 8 things to do in Madrid during winter.

1. Check out the city’s numerous mercadillos de Navidad

Christmas markets in Madrid — © Martin Belam / Flickr.
Christmas markets in Madrid — © Martin Belam / Flickr.

The Madrileños fully embrace the festive season and there are some great Christmas markets around the city during the month of December until the first week of January to get you in the Christmas mood and show you how it’s done in Spain. They’re great for shopping for local artisan crafts to gift your friends and family (or treat yourself) and to sample some of the local Christmas-themed sweet treats such as turrón or marzipan shaped into festive animals or shapes. The main markets are in Plaza Mayor, Plaza del Carmen, Plaza de España and Plaza de Callao.

2. Enjoy the winter snow

Ski center in Madrid — © Simon / Pixabay.
Ski center in Madrid — © Simon / Pixabay.

Most people don’t usually associate Madrid with winter sports but the city is surrounded by snow-covered mountains that are ideal for skiing. The most popular resort is Valdesquí that’s around an hour’s drive northwest of the city (or two and half hours by train). The ski center features 27 tracks (three red, 15 blue and 9 green), snow making machines and a couple of cafes for a pre- and post-ski refueling. You can also don some snow boots and take guided tours through the enchanting woods, on the look out for eagles, vulture, deer, foxes and other mountain wildlife. If the snowfall isn’t up to par then you can fake it over at Snowzone in Madrid’s Xanadu shopping center instead.

3. Take a winter walk through Retiro Park

Winter walks in Madrid — © Carabo Spain / Pixabay.
Winter walks in Madrid — © Carabo Spain / Pixabay.

Madrid’s Retiro Park is the stuff of fairytales during the winter, particularly on a mild sunny winter’s day, of which there are many (it only really gets cold in Madrid when the sun goes down). Take a leisurely afternoon stroll through the park and check out the exhibitions in the Palacio de Velázquez and the Palacio de Cristal. In particular, the Crystal Palace, set against all the bare trees with frosted tips, looks stunning at this time of year and is worthy of an Instagram story.

4. Gape at the Christmas lights

Christmas lights in Madrid — © Jesús Fdz Bande / Pixabay.
Christmas lights in Madrid — © Jesús Fdz Bande / Pixabay.

The lights have officially been turned on Madrid so wrap up warm and take to the streets of the city at night, admiring the impressive array of twinkling Christmas lights that illuminate the main plazas and streets around the city with color, and seem to get bigger and better every year. Even the Scrooge in you will start to feel festive. The creative Christmas-themed window displays in many of the major shops and department stores are also a magical sight. Then cozy up in one of the city’s countless cafes and warm yourself up with some churros y chocolate.

5. Channel your inner flamenco

Flamenco classes in Madrid — © Chantal Mure / Pixabay.
Flamenco classes in Madrid — © Chantal Mure / Pixabay.

There’s nothing like a bit of flamenco to brighten up the wintry months so, rather than watching from the sidelines, why not try your hand at Spain’s beloved dance and sign up for a course of classes. Amor de Dios is one of the most famous flamenco schools in Madrid that has a roster of now famous flamenco graduates under its belt. You’ll find classes for all levels and drop-ins are welcome. You’ll be instantly seduced by the passion and drama of flamenco and will be twirling and stomping on the floorboards in no time.

6. Eat cocido madrileño

Cocido madrileno stew in Madrid — © Daniel Lobo / Flickr.
Cocido madrileno stew in Madrid — © Daniel Lobo / Flickr.

This heart-warming stew has all the ingredients you need for a cold winter’s day, including pork, chorizo, chickpeas, vegetables and some bones for flavoring. To really bring out the flavors, the stew is usually left to bubble away all day. It’s often served at lunchtime, giving you an energy boost for the rest of the day. Another typical local comfort food worth trying is carrillada (or carrillera) that consists of pork or beef cheek simmered in red wine for many hours to make the meat deliciously tender, and comes with French fries or mashed potatoes.

7. Catch up on the blockbuster hits at the movies

Movies theaters in Madrid — © anncapictures / Pixabay.
Movies theaters in Madrid — © anncapictures / Pixabay.

The movie theater is the obvious hideaway on a cold, rainy day, accompanied with an oversized box of salted popcorn. You can catch up all on the latest international releases, while also challenging your Spanish listening skills with some local Spanish cinema. While you’ll find that most theaters around the city will show the big blockbuster movies, many of them will be dubbed. Whether your Spanish isn’t up to scratch or you just can’t stand watching well known-actors speaking Spanish with unfamiliar voices, there are some theatres that will play the films in their original versions with Spanish subtitles. Check out Yelmo Cines, Cines Verdi and Cines Renoir.

8. Take the metro out to Matadero Madrid

Matadero cultural center Madrid — © Matadero Madrid.
Matadero cultural center Madrid — © Matadero Madrid.

Madrid’s former slaughterhouse, Matadero, is no longer a bloodbath but rather a trendy, cultural hub that hosts a diverse program of performances and events. There are free galleries, exhibitions, a small cinema and a café. The sprawling redbrick and white-stone building is also a striking architectural feat and worth a visit in itself. To get there, take the metro south to Legazpi (lines 3 and 6).

Got any other ideas for fun things to do in Madrid during the winter? Tell our readers about them in the comments section below.

Originally published on Ailola by Sophie Lloyd on December 12, 2017.