The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Spain in Winter

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by Maggie Turansky

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Visiting Spain in winter isn’t always what jumps to mind when envisioning a holiday to this Iberian country. When you think of Spain, it is likely that you immediately conjure images of sun-soaked beaches and endless warm days. Spain is known for its warm and sunny days and it’s this great weather that draws millions of visitors to this Southern European nation each year (the food is pretty good, too).

However, with rising tourist numbers harming some of Spain’s most popular spots, it is becoming more and more important to travel sustainably and one of the best ways you can do this is by visiting this beautiful nation in the offseason. While fewer tourist crowds is definitely a plus for when it comes to visiting in winter, there are numerous other benefits to travelling in the cooler months.

Having visited Spain in the winter many times, we really can think of no better time of year to visit this amazing country. While the weather isn’t going to be perfect for lounging on the beach, it is still warmer and sunnier than 95% of Europe and the tourist crowds are next to nothing.

So if you’re interested in getting a bit of winter sun and avoiding the worst of December-March in Europe, you should really consider Spain as a winter destination. There are so many benefits to travelling to this wonderful country during the cooler months and your travels are not likely to be impeded.

Sunny Cordoba in winter
Most of Spain is sunny year-round!

Weather in Spain in Winter

Spanish winter is generally mild compared to many other countries in Europe, however, it really depends on which part of Spain you’re visiting. You can expect the weather to be cooler in northern Spain and in cities like Madrid with temperatures rarely going above 10°C (50°F). In the south of Spain, average winter temperatures are much higher and warmer.

It’s worth keeping in mind that Spain is a big and diverse country and while you might assume that the weather in Spain in the wintertime is going to be all warmth and sunshine, this very well might not be the case.

I spent the month of January in Madrid and can attest that you do, indeed, need to plan for typical winter weather. In fact, Madrid can get pretty cold and it even sees some snow from time to time. While that snow rarely does stick, you can still expect temperatures to hover around freezing.

That being said, it is also fairly sunny in Madrid so, while the winter temperatures were more or less the same as they are in my previous home city of London, the winter didn’t feel nearly as bad in my opinion. Abundant sunshine, even in cold temperatures, trumps the short, grey and rainy days that are synonymous with a London winter.

Further south than Madrid, however, in Andalucían cities like Seville or Córdoba, you can expect average winter high temperatures to be much warmer. Indeed, many times in February in both of these cities I was wearing short sleeves or just a light jumper. Even Catalonian towns like Tarragona or Sitges on the coast of Spain can have extremely pleasant winter temperatures

Average high temperatures can range between 16-20°C (60-68°F) in most areas of Andalucía. It is worth noting that cities like Granada, though located to the south of the country, can still be very cold in the winter as it is located high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains (it’s a great destination for some affordable skiing, however!).

Further north, in regions like Galicia, Asturias, or Basque Country (including popular destinations like Bilbao or San Sebastian), expect to have chilly and rainy conditions with cold winters. Obviously, it is fine to visit these regions in the wintertime so long as you’re prepared for cold weather.

Expect many sunny days in Madrid even in winter in Spain
Expect many sunny days even in winter in Spain

Why You Should Visit Spain In Winter

There are countless reasons why you should plan a trip to Spain in winter, not only including that the weather is (generally) warmer than elsewhere in Europe and the tourist crowds are at a low. However, these are still particularly good reasons to visit.

More and more, travellers are becoming aware of the impact that over-tourism can have on destinations, and many places in Spain are suffering from the effects of this.

A good portion of the over-tourism problem comes when the vast majority of visitors flock to destinations in the warmer months, meaning that places have to accommodate millions of extra people for only a couple of months out of the year.

This influx of tourists can heavily inflate prices in Spain, which is inconvenient for tourists but incredibly harmful for locals, whose salaries will not increase at the same rate.

Mass tourism in many areas of Spain is also causing a housing issue, with many locals being priced out of their neighbourhoods due to inflated property costs — likely due to the increase of short-term rental properties like Airbnb.

One of the best ways to lessen the impact of over-tourism is by visiting popular destinations in the offseason. When so much of the tourism is concentrated in just a few months out of the year, this means that the economy in the off and shoulder seasons can really struggle, especially for those whose livings rely on tourism.

By visiting popular destinations in winter, you do a good job of distributing tourism numbers to a more manageable rate and you can stimulate an economy during a time when there aren’t many people travelling.

The Castillo de San Sebastian in Cádiz in winter
The Castillo de San Sebastian in Cádiz

Another pro when it comes to visiting Spain in the winter is that there are fewer tourists. This means that it can be easier to get into top attractions, you will have shorter queues, and, often, accommodation prices will be cheaper.

Fewer visitors means fewer people booking popular attractions, transportation tickets, and hotel rooms which also gives you a lot more flexibility when it comes to mapping out your Spain itinerary.

So if you decide you would like to spend one more day in Seville to head out on a day trip to Cádiz and would like to cut off a night in Málaga because you’ve seen enough of the seaside, it is much easier to do this in the winter. The same goes for transport tickets, as routes are unlikely to book out as far in advance as they would in the summer months.

Spain is also warmer than most of Europe in the winter months, and while certain areas can be chilly, it is altogether nicer to spend January in Southern Spain than January in Southern England.

Even Spain in December doesn’t see as many tourists as other European nations, where visitors flock to experience the snowy weather and Christmas markets. This doesn’t mean, however, that Spain ignores the Christmas season. You can find beautiful trees and bustling Christmas markets in Spain in most major cities and towns. Spending December in Spain is really an excellent option.

If you stay long enough for the New Year celebrations as you enjoy the winter season, you are in for a treat, as well. Spaniards really know how to party and you can join all of the others while eating grapes and counting down to the New Year, one of Spain’s most interesting and fun traditions! Spain in January also sees fewer visitors, so this can be a great time to visit to avoid the crowds.

All in all, there are lots of reasons to spend winter in Spain and, unless you are going to the country in order to get some beach time and a good tan, there is no reason not to visit in the offseason.

The beautiful snowy Sierra Nevada mountains near Granada in winter
The beautiful snowy Sierra Nevada mountains near Granada in winter

What to Wear in Spain During Winter

As outlined in the weather section above, it really depends on where you plan to go in the country in order to figure out exactly what to wear in Spain in the winter.

If you’re planning on visiting Madrid in winter before heading south and east to warmer cities like Barcelona and Seville or some of the other best places to visit in Spain, then layers are going to be your best friend if you want to pack light.

Like I’ve already said, Madrid can get pretty cold, but the other two cities are significantly warmer. Therefore, if you plan to carry around a heavy winter coat, which will keep you warm in Madrid, it is likely to be too much for anywhere else.

What I would recommend, instead, is investing in an Ultralight Down Jacket (click here for a men’s version). These are super warm but also, as the name suggests, incredibly lightweight and they pack down into convenient compression sacks, taking up minimal luggage space.

They are suitable to be worn over a few base layers and a jumper while wandering through chilly Madrid and are light enough to wear during the day over just a t-shirt or long-sleeved top in the warmer cities.

Another invaluable clothing item for winter in Spain would be a good pair of dark jeans. These you can dress up or dress down and you can pull them over a pair of leggings or thermals for colder days.

It is unlikely ever to be warm enough for shorts or skirts without tights anywhere (with the possible exception of the Canary Islands), so having a good pair of jeans is a great thing to bring with you.

Scarves are also always a good idea to bring to Spain no matter the season. You can use a scarf to help keep you warm when it’s chilly outside, however, it is also a great fashion accessory for both men and women and will help you to blend in and look more like a local!

Southern Spanish cities like Córdoba are warmer in the winter months than northern cities
Southern Spanish cities like Córdoba are warmer in the winter months than northern cities

Where to Go in Spain in Winter

As discussed earlier, Spain doesn’t really see much extreme weather in the colder months of the year so planning a Spain winter itinerary doesn’t really have to differ at all from any other Spain itinerary. Unless you are after a beach holiday, visiting Spain during winter is just as good as any other season.

Madrid in Winter

If you plan on visiting Madrid during winter, it is going to be the coldest big city to head to in Spain. That doesn’t mean, however, that it isn’t worth visiting.

As I said earlier, I spent most of January and some of February in Madrid and, while it was cold, the generally sunny weather made even the chilliest of days feel quite pleasant. There were some tourist crowds around in the more popular areas, however, it felt far from packed or overrun, as well. I also never needed to book far in advance for entry into museums or attractions, nor was it a challenge to find accommodation.

Average highs in Madrid in winter are about 10°C (50°F) and average lows are around 3°C (37°F), so definitely do expect it to be cold in Madrid. As I said earlier, I would also recommend bringing lots of layers in order to stay warm and enjoy your time in the Spanish capital.

Despite the cold weather, you will find that Madrid is very much an outdoor city and the streetside culture doesn’t stop in the winter months. Expect there to still be outdoor seating options (complete with heating lamps and blankets) and you will still see many people strolling through Retiro Park and even rowing boats on the lake.

If you are visiting Spain in December and plan to spend time in Madrid, you can also enjoy the Christmas market that pops up in Plaza Mayor and marvel at the decorations adorning the city. This is also a great place to be on New Year’s Eve, as the countdown that takes place in the Puerto del Sol is televised throughout the country.

Most places in Madrid are well-equipped to handle the cold and there is usually ample heating everywhere you go, so you should have no trouble keeping warm.

The peaceful pond in Madrid's Parque de Retiro in winter
The peaceful pond in Madrid’s Parque de Retiro in winter

Where to Stay in Madrid

Madrid is a massive city with a lot of accommodation options available. Depending on how long you plan to visit Madrid, I would generally recommend trying to find some accommodation that is within walking distance of most of the city’s main attractions. If you want to know where to stay in Madrid, these are our top recommendations:

II Castillas Madrid — A small hotel located close to the Plaza Callao in central Madrid, this is a good mid-range option for travellers. They have a number of clean and cosy rooms available and breakfast is included in the nightly rate.

The Hat Madrid — A boutique hostel located adjacent to the Plaza Mayor, this is a fantastic choice for budget and solo travellers. They have both dorm and private rooms available and great common areas that make it easy to meet other travellers.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other hotels in Madrid!

El Rastro market in Madrid on a busy Sunday in winter
El Rastro market in Madrid on a busy Sunday in winter

Seville in Winter

With high temperatures rarely dropping below about 16°C (60°F), Seville is really the perfect destination in Spain in winter.

Seville is the capital of the Andalucía region and is blessed with its own unique culture and vibrant cuisine. No Seville itinerary is complete without a visit to the incredible Real Alcázar or the imposing Seville Cathedral. It is also worth exploring the Roma heritage and flamenco culture of the Triana neighbourhood on the other side of the Guadalquivir River.

Not only does Seville have a lot to offer in cultural attractions, but the culinary scene here is also one of the best in Spain. The tapas bars in Seville in absolutely amazing and you can easily spend until the late hours of the night hopping from one tapas bar to another. There are also numerous great day trips from Seville, making it the ideal base to explore Andalucía.

Because of its ideal weather, visiting Seville in winter might actually be the best time of year to head to this beautiful city. Because it is so popular amongst tourists, it can get very expensive in the warmer months and it can be harder to get into some of the best attractions. It also can get oppressively hot in the summer, making it far less pleasant to explore outside.

A gate at the Real Alcázar in Seville in winter
A gate at the Real Alcázar in Seville

Where to Stay in Seville

Seville is one of the most popular places to visit in Spain and, therefore, there is no shortage of places to stay in the city. While it can be good to stay close to the historic centre and all of the tourist sites in the city, we would also recommend looking for accommodation in the cool Triana neighbourhood on the other side of the river. Here are our top suggestions:

Hotel Bécquer — This old town hotel is centrally located within easy walking distance of all of Seville’s best attractions. They have a number of clean and comfortable rooms available and even a rooftop pool for those warmer Seville winter days!

Monte Triana — If you are looking to stay in the Triana neighbourhood, this boutique hotel is a great option. Though it is on the other side of the river, it is only about 15 minutes on foot from all of Seville’s best attractions and they have a number of luxe rooms available.

Hostel One Catedral — Located within easy walking distance of the Alcázar and Seville Cathedral, this hostel is a good choice for budget and solo travellers. They have a range of dorms and private rooms available and they also organise activities and social events.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Seville hotels!

The Seville Cathedral and Giralda
The Seville Cathedral and Giralda

Barcelona in Winter

Barcelona is the most popular place to visit in Spain, so much so that the second-largest Spanish city is very much struggling with overtourism. This is why visiting Barcelona in winter is a fantastic idea because you can help lessen the tourist burden in the high season.

Barcelona is obviously famous for its Gaudi architecture and its unfinished cathedral, La Sagrada Familia, is also the most visited tourist attraction in the entire country. There is, however, a lot more to do in the city than hit all of the top tourist spots and there are few places in Spain where it is more important to try and venture off the typical tourist trail.

You can also use Barcelona as a base to explore the surrounding area including taking a day trip to Montserrat or to the historical city of Tarragona.

Weather in Barcelona in winter also tends to be incredibly mild, with high temperatures rarely dropping below 15°C in the coldest months, making visiting the city in the wintertime incredibly attractive to tourists. If you want to be able to enjoy the best of Barcelona and avoid the hordes of harmful tourist crowds that come in the summer, then try to visit Barcelona in the winter.

barcelona skyline
Barcelona skyline

Where to Stay in Barcelona

Barcelona is a very popular travel destination, so you will have a lot of accommodation options to choose from. While it might seem attractive to get a flat through Airbnb, we would recommend against it in this city as it is putting a massive burden on the housing market in the city and pricing many locals out of their homes. Instead, follow our top suggestions for a great place to stay in Barcelona:

Room Mate Anna — This boutique hotel is a great place to stay in Barcelona. They are centrally located within easy walking distance of all of the best attractions in Barcelona and they have a range of plush and comfortable rooms available.

Hotel Condado — This is another great hotel to stay in Barcelona, located within easy walking distance of all of that the city has to offer. They have a number of spacious and comfortable rooms available that are suitable for all types of travellers and breakfast is also included in the nightly rate.

Fabrizzio’s Petit — This small, locally-run hostel is an excellent choice for budget and solo travellers in Barcelona. Located within walking distance of all of Barcelona’s main attractions, they have a range of dorm and private rooms available and breakfast is included in the nightly rates.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Barcelona hotels!

Barcelona in an unseasonably cold winter
Barcelona in an unseasonably cold winter

Visiting Spain in winter might be the best time of year to head to this Southern European nation. With mild weather throughout and fewer tourist crowds, spending your winter holiday in Spain is a great idea for any traveller!

Are you considering coming to Spain during the colder months? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments!

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Maggie is a co-founder and writer for The World Was Here First. Originally from the US, she has lived in five different countries and has travelled to dozens more, both solo and with her partner, Michael. She particularly loves exploring Spain and spending time in the Caucasus and the Baltics. Read more about Maggie


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