Barcelona is tradition and avant-garde. Light and darkness. Sound and silence, and the eternal noise. Barcelona is where international meets local, and where old is the most fashionable trend. History and future mix up in buildings and terraces, museums and concert halls, in a melting pot of cultures and a place that welcomes everyone. Barcelona is Santa Maria del Mar, La Pedrera and Torre Glòries alike. It's the essence of a self-made cosmopolitan city. Barcelona is cool. And Christmas in Barcelona is especially cool, because it's a centre of modernity, a free-thinking place. Being in Barcelona at Christmas is to live an outstanding experience that is impossible to forget. 

Christmas shop near Barcelona Cathedral
© Turisme de Barcelona | Ludivine Bastien

Start your visit on La Rambla and then head to Carrer de Ferrán, a very fashionable old boulevard: stop at the corner with Carrer d'Avinyó, a spot that inspired Picasso’s mademoiselles as we see them in his paintings. As you walk across, you’ll find Plaça de Sant Jaume, the meeting point between the historical institutions and the crowds, and a place where, each year, you can admire an innovative Nativity Scene. Illuminated installations can also be seen on the facades and balconies of the surrounding streets. 

Tasting torron at a Christmas market
© Turisme de Barcelona | Espe Pons

Preparation to the festive season is even more important than the experience itself, because it's when the Christmas spirit comes alive. Not far from Plaça de Sant Jaume, wandering around the historical streets and buildings, you will end up in an unmissable Christmas market. The Fair of Santa Llúcia will charm you with its many Christmas trees and ornaments – including the traditional caganer, a figurine depicted while pooping, that is a humorous staple in nativity scenes all across Catalonia. The name literally means “the pooper” and this figurine usually wears the traditional Catalan red hat (the barretina) and is ducking with its trousers down, showing a bare bottom. In recent times, this character has often been depicted featuring the faces of Catalan and international celebrities. While visiting the fair, you can also buy the figurines of the Pessebre, the Catalan miniature version of the nativity scene.  

If you want to get inspired, you can go admire the greenest moss on the Tibidabo mountain, a hill overlooking the city, from which you can see Barcelona from above. You can also head to the many traditional shops and markets next to the Barcelona Cathedral to find beautiful ornaments for your Christmas tree, as well as taste delicious neules (a type of Catalan biscuit) and torrons (the local nougat). 

From 24th November onwards, colourful Christmas lights shine and brighten the whole city. This Christmas it’s highly recommended not to miss the spectacular illumination of the tower dedicated to the Virgin Mary in the Basilica of the Sagrada Família, on 8th December, that will be decorated with a luminous star. The completion of this new tower in the eternal cathedral (“The Cathedral of the Poor”, as Gaudí used to call it) will be blessed with a mass, featuring a special concert where the Choirs of the Orfeó Català, accompanied by musicians including organist Juan de la Rubia, will premiere a commissioned work by composer Marc Timón, called Magnifica’t – literally “make yourself magnificent”, in a semantic joke echoing the religious Magnificat

There are many other concerts not to miss, such as the ones programmed in occasion of the Barcelona Obertura Christmas Festival, that aims to promote Barcelona as an international cultural capital in collaboration with the city's three most prominent music venues: L’Auditori Barcelona, the Palau de la Música Catalana and the Liceu Opera Barcelona. On the 11th and 12th December, L’Auditori Barcelona will welcome violist Lawrence Power together with the OBC - Barcelona Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Ilan Volkov, to play Sofia Gubaidulina’s Concerto for viola, a piece full of deep mysticism, as well as Pablo Carrascosa Llopis’ world premiere of XY, a commissioned work that explores the confluence of music, architecture, electronic and acoustic sounds. Also on the programme is Scriabin’s Le poème de l’extase, as per this season’s theme for the venue, “Love and hate”. Also to keep in your diary are Jordi Savall’s version of Beethoven's 8th and 9th symphonies on the 15th December at the Liceu Opera Barcelona, and a very special concert at the Palau de la Música Catalana on the 16th December, marking Sir John Eliot Gardiner's first return to the Modernist temple after the pandemic. 

Christmas lights on the Passeig de Gràcia
© Turisme de Barcelona | Jordi Trullàs

As for those looking for powerful spiritual experiences, going to the Cathedral on Christmas Eve to attend the mass and traditional Cant de la Sibil·la – a liturgical drama with a Gregorian melody –  should be a must. While walking around the city and inside local shops, you may hear traditional nadales, or catalan Christmas songs, being played on the radio. El noi de la mare is the most popular one, although of course you will also hear more international tunes such All I want for Christmas is you

Traditional Christmas food for local families includes the Escudella i carn d’olla amb galets, a hearty soup with meat, vegetables and shell-shaped pasta, and this dish will be on the menu of many of the restaurants around the city. Local families meet on Christmas Day because, as Catalans say, “per Nadal, cada ovella al seu corral” (“on Christmas, every sheep must be in its barn”), and this welcoming feeling can be felt by everyone, even the city's visitors, as love is all around. One the most important elements of catalan Christmas for children is the Tió de Nadal, a wooden log that will magically discharge presents if you beat it with a stick and sing a song about nougat, toffees and sweets. You can buy your own Tió in Christmas markets around the city.

The boiled meat and vegetables leftover from the Christmas' Escudella are the simple ingredients used to cook the delicious cannelloni that are traditional fare on Sant Esteve day, the day after Christmas, a day only celebrated in Catalonia and not the rest of Spain because of the region's history as part of Charlemagne’s empire, where this day was declared a holiday. If you visit Barcelona during this period, you can visit the historical restaurant 7 Portes – or any other restaurant specialising in traditional food – to enjoy this and more culinary gems. In the evening of the same day, many representations of Els Pastorets – a dramatised nativity scene where amateur actors dress up with popular costumes  –  take place in many neighbourhoods around the city.

The Fair of Santa Llúcia
© Turisme de Barcelona | Jordi Trullas

Another unmissable event is the Sant Esteve’s concert at the Palau de la Música, broadcast on the Catalan broadcasting channel. Only a few people are able to attend the concert live, so we recommend you stream it online. If you do so, you will experience the best example of the modernisation of Catalan music, as you will hear traditional Christmas songs in new musical arrangements by contemporary composers. The most important and emotional moment is always at the end, when the whole Orfeó Català and its Choir School sing together a capella El cant de la Senyera, the Orfeó Català’s hymn, written by Lluís Millet, cofounder of the choir, and Joan Maragall, a poet and intellectual part of the Catalan Modernism movement. 

On the 28th December is el dia dels Sants InnocentsHoly Innocents Day, which is a festivity similar to the more well known April Fools’ Day. On this day, it is tradition to create hoaxes and make practical jokes, some of them even organised by mainstream media and major brands. If you want to take part, this is your chance to exercise your creativity inventing fake news to deceive friends and relatives with ingenious jokes. You can also make a traditional llufa, a paper doll you will then have to surreptitiously stick on your friends’ back. Just don't try this with very grumpy people!  

By now, New Year’s Eve is around the corner. On the 31st December children wait for l’Home dels Nassos, "the man of the noses”This eccentric gentleman, who will often appears in street parades, owes his magic to the fact that he has as many noses as there are days in the year. And the New Year’s Eve celebration itself is the most eccentric, noisy, fashionable, colourful and festive evening of the year. It's a moment to put aside all worries and greet everyone, no matter what relationship you might have had with them throughout the year. Before the party, though, head to the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc, where the water transforms into a spectacle of light, music and joy, to admire the fireworks display. And to make sure you'll have plenty of good luck in the year to come, join the locals in eating 12 grapes, one for each of the chimes of a clock's bell counting down to midnight. Cava – the traditional local sparkling wine – will be all around, as your phone will explode with messages of greetings. 

The Three Kings parade
© Turisme de Barcelona | Espe Pons

But the celebrations are not over. On the evening of the 5th of January, the Three Kings – Melchior, Gaspar and Balthasar – will go on a parade through the city centre. It's the most exciting moment for children, because the magical kings will bring presents to all of them. Royal pages will greet everyone and collect letters for the kings from the children, who can write down the toys they wish for. On 6th January, families meet again and eat Tortell de Reis – a ring-shaped cake made of brioche pastry and stuffed with marzipan or other delicious ingredients. You can find it in pastry shops around the city, such as the Pastisseria Foix de Sarrià or the Pastelería Mauri. Hidden inside the cake's filling are also two surprises: a bean, and whoever gets it has to pay for the cake the following year, and a small silhouette of a king. If you find the latter you get to wear the paper king’s crown that is sold together with the cake. 

Above all, the most beautiful part of Barcelona is the lively city centre, where joyful people's eyes shine brighter than the Christmas lights decorating the streets, where everything is hope and desire and we hold in our heart the memory of our loved ones who are no longer with us and the desire to say “I love you” to everyone we care about. To witness a sincere hug in front of Casa Batlló, where two friends might be meeting after a long time, is the most beautiful melody, the sincerest work of art and the sweetest Christmas dessert Barcelona can offer. Because Christmas is love, and Barcelona will love you at Christmas.

This article was sponsored by Turisme de Barcelona