(Editor’s note: This post on Barcelona is the second in a series looking at Europe’s lesser-known, but fabulous, Christmas Markets. You can jump to the post on Metz here.)
It’s the time of year again when, in a matter of weeks, one of the greatest joys of young and old are springing up all over Europe: Christmas markets fueling the Vorfreude (anticipation) for the holidays and everything that goes with it. The oldest documented Chrstmas markets have been held in Strasbourg since 1520 and Dresden since the 14th century. Of course, these and hundreds of others are coming up year after year – some big, some small, but all with mouth-watering Christmas treats and sparkling lights.
Being a country where Christmas is a big thing, Spain has its fair share of Christmas markets and a major city like Barcelona is no exception.
There are three historical markets, dating back to 1786, smaller modern markets and pop up markets.
During the pandemic many Christmas markets were cancelled and that is when the digital world came into play, offering virtual tours, with visitors shopping products on-line.
But of course, it is not the same. The atmosphere cannot be transmitted, and neither can the scents.
So, with the markets open again, I invite you to come along with me and visit my three favorite markets and share the experience.
Lots of Christmas Markets to chose from
I start my personal yearly Christmas market tour at the oldest and most traditional: Fira de Santa Llúcia, which is located opposite the cathedral. This gives the market an especially festive background with the lighted, majestic main entrance.
If you wish, you can visit the cathedral first, before strolling through the market. The market is open from 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. from 25 November to 23 December.
Fira de Reis lasts longest, until 6 January, Three King’s Day, when kids in Spain receive their gifts.
All of these markets are very centric, so can be visited in one day, or split into several days, depending on the time you have allocated to your Barcelona Christmas visit.
The scents that welcome you come from the Christmas trees that are sold there, cut or in posts, mistletoe sprigs and baskets full of gilded pinecones that are hung on the Christmas tree as decorations. Then there is the all permeating aroma of churros con chocolate: deep fried pastry served with a cup of ot chocolate and sprinkled with cinnamon or sometimes just with sugar.
You won’t see cagatiós in Germany!
As you wander along the many stalls, your eyes will be drawn to small mountains of strange creatures. These are the famous cagatiós, literally: pooping uncles They are small wooden logs, with a smiling face and a red cap. Their lower half is covered with a blanket.
On Three Kings Day, kids lift the blanket, hoping to discover sweets and small presents underneath, which the tió is supposed to have pooped. If the kids have been bad, they might find just coal.
At the market you might see kids who can’t wait and try to have a sneak peek, only to be told off by their parents.
Christmas carols are piped in including the inevitable Jingling Bells. If you are lucky, you can hear a concert from the cathedral. If you haven’t had a chance to see the Sagrada Familia, you can combine a visit with the Christmas market next to it and then make your way to Gran Via and Fira de Reis, a Christmas faire popular because of its many stalls that sell hand crafted toys, decorations and books.
I always end my tour of the Christmas Markets in Barcelona with a visit to a venue that isn’t a Christmas market per se, but enticing because of the lavish decorations and interesting history. Las Arenas, located in Plaza de España, is a former bullring, converted into a big shopping center. The attraction over the Christmas period is the decoration, with a massive illuminated outside Christmas tree next to the glass elevator and stars and snowflakes suspended over the stairs inside.
Should the weather be cold and wet, you can find shelter in Las Arenas.
I always end my day with a Chinese meal on the top floor and a movie in one of the several big-screen theaters that show the latest releases.
And that’s Christmas in Barcelona.
See all of our posts on Christmas markets here in Dispatches’ archives.
Inka Piegsa-Quischotte is an international attorney-turned-travel and lifestyle writer based in Spain. She has contributed to BBC/Travel, several in-flight magazines, TripSavvy (Spain) and TravelAwaits among many other publications.