1) Christmas markets

Barcelona hosts a number of excellent Christmas markets which are perfect for feeling festive and doing a little light shopping at. They tend not to offer the mulled wine, pretzels and wurst of traditional German markets. But, hey this is Spain, a nice glass of wine and a tapa are never far.

The two main markets are the Fira de Santa Llúcia Christmas market and the Sagrada Familia Christmas market.

The Fira de Santa Llúcia market takes place just in front of the Cathedral in the old town, a really atmospheric location, and even more atmospheric after dark when the lights of the stalls illuminate the medieval Cathedral La Seu behind.

For the most part you can buy Christmas trees, decorations and mistletoe here though there are also some great gift ideas in the crafts section where you can buy hand-made products such as jewellery, toys, leather goods and ornaments.

The Sagrada Familia market takes place on Plaça Sagrada Familia just in front Gaudi`s amazing Sagrada Familia basilica, so if you are visiting the building you can have a wander around the market afterwards. You will find many of the same offerings as at the Fira de Santa Llúcia market – trees, decorations and small traditional handmade gift ideas.

2) Ice skating

Not something you would traditionally associate with Barcelona but a great Christmas activity and a great thing to do with kids. From now until January there is a large covered ice rink in Plaça Catalunya, just at the top of Las Ramblas. For further details see or activities section.

Enjoy an ice skate under Barcelona´s amazing blue winter sky before heading down into the old town for some paella or hearty traditional Catalan cooking.

3) Christmas shopping

Barcelona is a brilliant city for shopping. If you are looking for clothes and fashion this especially true, no surprise in a city that is so famous for style and fashion.

You can find all your major international brands and chains, some really special Spanish labels that are hard to find abroad, plus many small one off shops selling locally made clothes, bags and jewellery that are unique to Barcelona.

The shops in Barcelona re concentrated in the very compact city centre. El Portal Del Angel is just off Plaça Catalunya and parallel with Las Ramblas. Here you can find international chains such as Zara, Mango, H&M and Top Shop. On the other side of Plaça Catalunya is Passeig de Gracia where high-end brands such as Armani, Gucci, Prada and Sita Murt are found. If you are looking to discover some local bargains, try El Born or Gracia where there are many small boutiques.

For electronic goods your best bet is El Corte Ingles on Plaça Catalunya, this is Spain´s largest department store. Opposite it is FNAC for books and music.

4) Nativity scenes

A trip to Barcelona at Christmas would not be complete without seeing a Catalan nativity scene simply for the local colour given by El Caganer, the crapper. Joseph, Mary, manger, baby Jesus, wise men, shepherds. Check. Man squatting down having a crap next to them. Check. No-one is sure of the origin of this tradition; some say it is a peasant tradition related to the fertilisation of the soil. Others say that it cocks a snoop at religion, as Catalunya has never taken Catholicism that seriously compared to the rest of Spain. Either way, it´s good for a laugh, and sure to amuse your kids. If you want to take a piece of traditional Catalan Christmas home with you, you can buy your own Caganer figure in any of the Christmas markets.

The best place to see the Catalan nativity scene in Plaça Sant Jaume in the old town, complete with life size figures.

5) See the old town

Barcelona`s medieval old town is beautifully preserved and at this time of year is wonderfully atmospheric. The gothic architecture creates an atmosphere of times past and the narrow streets are great for a bit of aimless wandering and exploring.

Stop off in a bar for a chocolate con churros (hot chocolate with donuts) to give yourself a calorie boost to keep the cold at bay. Though during the day in Barcelona at Christmas when the sun shines, you may actually not need a coat. So a cold beer instead perhaps?