When dreaming of an ideal winter vacation in Europe, the average traveler would immediately conjure up images of wandering around German Christmas markets, skiing in the Swiss Alps, or sipping on mulled wine in Vienna. But, what is the Iberian Peninsula like in winter?
Spain makes for a perfect getaway for wanderers seeking a warmer winter climate. Visiting Spain in winter allows you to experience a vibrant culture, enjoy food-filled encounters, and witness magnificent architecture without the sizzling heat of summer slowing you down.
That’s not even the best part! The lines are much shorter and almost everything is cheaper in winter. If you are still hesitant about visiting Spain in winter, the beauty of these age-old cities and towns may help persuade you.
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Aside from sipping on sangria and munching delicious tapas, there’s plenty to do and see in Seville. Still, the culinary scene in Seville is one of the best in the country. The key is to think strategically when you are planning a winter trip to Spain. Focus on activities that do not rely on warm weather.
In the cooler months, Seville is a great place to test your dancing skills. Seville and other Andalusian cities are famous for a very colorful tradition—the Flamenco dance.
With fewer tourists roaming about, the dance floor will be all yours. Even if you have two left feet, sitting back and watching this mesmerizing dance should be almost as fun.
You could also spend time exploring Plaza de España, Maria Luisa Park, Casa de Pilatos, the Giralda Bell Tower, or the Royal Alcazar Palace. But, no trip to Seville would be complete without paying a visit to the imposing Catedral de Seville, a famous UNESCO world heritage site.
Seville is also the perfect base to explore Andalusia as there are numerous great day trips from the city. Winter actually may be the best time to visit Seville, since high temperatures rarely drop below 60°F (16°C) in winter. Summer in Seville, on the other hand, can be oppressively hot.
Santiago de Compostela
The great seasonal eats, the decorated shop windows, and the stunning Christmas lights make this city a magical place in winter. Santiago de Compostela is known for the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage.
Aside from pilgrims who walk the Camino for their spiritual growth, the pilgrimage is also popular with many cyclists, hikers, and casual tourists. Since the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral is one of the world’s most famous pilgrimage sites, it is flooded with pilgrims in summer.
But, since the Camino is a bit more difficult to walk in winter, you’ll be able to enjoy the city’s historic center and iconic cathedral in a more peaceful environment, when it’s not overflowing with tourists.
If you have an appetite for adventure (as well as a lot of stamina), you can become a pilgrim yourself and walk one of the many picturesque Camino routes in winter, when the famous albergues are not crowded, and there are plenty of hot showers for everyone.
If pilgrimages are not your thing, Santiago has plenty else to offer. Everyone loves the traditional breakfast treat of Santiago—crispy, fried churros and sweet Spanish hot chocolate. This delicious pair can be a cozy late-night snack as well.
Every famous tourist destination has its fair share of tacky souvenir shops, but Santiago is something else. It offers a great selection of quaint local shops. They range from traditional, age-old pastry shops to shops selling Spanish spices, high-quality leather shoes, and gorgeous dresses.
Santiago is the place to be if you are into artisan pasta. Santiagians are famous for their scrumptious home-cooked winter comfort dishes.
There are only a few places in the world where you can get from a sunny beach to a ski slope in an hour, and one of those places is Granada. If you are up for a more traditional winter vacation, it takes an hour’s drive to get to the country’s best ski resorts.
When it comes to the Spanish coastline, Granada is easier to get to than Huelva or Almeria, but is also less touristy than Cadiz or Malaga. The whitewashed houses of its idyllic fishing towns make every corner of Granada look like a postcard.
And the relatively mild temperatures of winter will give you a perfect chance to explore these charming villages. Just like Seville, Granada makes a great base for day trips.
When talking about Granada, it’s very difficult to ignore the lure of the Alhambra. It is a 9th-century Moorish fortress and palace. But the city is certainly not just a one-star attraction. There is plenty of intricate architecture and street art all over.
In Granada, winter is the season of Olla de San Antón. It’s a traditional Grenadian stew that is especially popular during the first days of February. The hearty stew is made with pork, beans, and rice.
Granada has its very own magical Christmas market. Central Europe isn’t the only part of Europe that hosts picture-perfect Christmas markets.
The Christmas market takes place in the heart of the city’s historic center. It’s the perfect place to spend an evening wandering through stalls and snacking on piping hot roasted chestnuts.
Barcelona is one of the best year-round tourist destinations in the world. Despite being the second-largest city, it’s the most popular place to visit in the country. One could even say the city is struggling with over-tourism.
You can help lessen the tourist burden by visiting the city in winter. And, there’s plenty to do in Barcelona when the chill of winter sets in.
The city is famous for innovative restaurants, flamboyant architecture, flashy cocktail bars, and quirky shops. Whether you prefer indoor or outdoor fun, you can rest assured you’ll never be bored there.
You can wander the streets of Barrio Gótico, visit the museums of Miró and Picasso, and check out Gaudí’s most famous masterpieces. Although it is still unfinished, Barcelona’s La Sagrada Familia is one of the most famous landmarks in Spain.
If you are a fan of spectacles, on the night or January 5th, the city hosts the magical Three Kings Parade. Winter tends to be mild in Barcelona. Just like in Seville, the temperature rarely drops below 60°F (16°C).
You were probably expecting to see Madrid on the list, but that would have been too obvious of a choice. However, about 50 miles south of Madrid lies the ancient city of Toledo. Aside from being a UNESCO world heritage site, Toledo is known as the “City of Three Cultures”—Christian, Jewish, and Islamic.
You can see age-old synagogues, mosques, and churches all sitting side by side. The city is also known for its medieval fortification and old town. And, the city’s sights and monuments look even more spectacular with a dusting of snow on the surrounding hills.
The city is home to two famous museums—the museum of artist El Greco and the Jewish Cultural Museum (Museo Segardí). One of the most beautiful Spanish cathedrals is also located in Toledo. It’s construction started in the 13th century. The cathedral of Toledo is filled with incredible artworks by El Greco, Rubens, Tiziano, and Caravaggio.
When you get tired of exploring the city’s medieval architecture, you can take a break and warm up at one of the city’s celebrated bakeries. It would be a shame not to try some of Toledo’s marzipan figurines.
I love hiking during the weekend and have completed a few long multi-day hikes including twice on the Camino de Santiago for 4 weeks and then a Camino route in France for 2 weeks. I have also had the pleasure of hiking up Ben Nevis, all over Ireland, and my favorite was 3 weeks in the Canadian Rockies.