All Articles The only-in-winter guide to Barcelona

The only-in-winter guide to Barcelona

Trade sunscreen and swimsuits for cookouts and snow-capped towns.

Adina Levin
By Adina Levin13 Nov 2023 3 minutes read
Two friends walking together in the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona in the winter
The Gothic Quarter in Barcelona
Image: martin - dm/Getty Images

As someone who grew up with subzero winters in Chicago, I’m on my sixth winter here in the Catalan capital of Barcelona and each one has been better than the last. And no, I’m not just talking about swapping a Midwest polar vortex for sol y playa (sun and sand) all year round.

Sure, you can still go to the beach in the winter here, given the increasingly mild temperatures. But when it gets dark out, the chilly humidity can creep into your bones, so make sure you have layers on hand as you explore a different side of Barcelona in winter. Ahead, BCN’s greatest hits come December through March.

The quintessential winter activity: Go to a calçotada

Roasted calcotada, served on a table with romesco sauce and botifarra
Roasted calcotada, served on a table with romesco sauce and botifarra
Image: JackF/Getty Images

The Mediterranean diet reigns supreme in Catalunya, where calçots—a cross between green onions and leeks—steal the show at a calçotada, a kind of lively winter cookout that originated in the town of Valls. Charred to perfection over an open flame, these juicy veggies are served bundled in newspaper or foil—and always with a bib.

To try them for yourself, make a lunch reservation at Can Cortada, a rustic and spacious farmhouse up on the foothills of Barcelona’s Collserola (about a 30-minute metro ride from the Gothic Quarter). Ideal for large groups and families, the spot offers a fixed-price menu until mid-March, featuring more than a dozen calçots per person, alongside traditional grilled meats, drinks, and dessert.

How to eat calçots: Peel off the charred bits and generously dip the calçot in salvitxada sauce (reminiscent of romesco, it’s made with tomatoes, ñora peppers, and almonds). Hold it high above and delicately place it in your mouth, revealing just the green part. Chomp down and pull the rest out. Mmm… Què bo!

The wild card: Carnaval a.k.a. Fat Thursday

Parade at the carnival celebration in Sitges
Parade at the carnival celebration in Sitges, Spain
Image: OscarGarriga/Getty Images

While not nearly as over-the-top as Mardi Gras in New Orleans or Carnaval in Brazil, Carnaval in Spain—or Carnestoltes in Catalonia—falls anywhere between late January and early March (in 2024, it’s February 8–14). The festivities in Barcelona begin on Fat Thursday (not Tuesday) with the arrival of the Carnival King to Passeig del Born and continue the rest of the weekend with events and parades that culminate with the burial of the sardine on the following Wednesday. (Yes, you read that right.)

However, the real party is in nearby Sitges, which is a 40-minute train ride (on the R2 Sud regional train to Sant Vicenç de Calders) and bound to be a blast with all the characters heading that way with you. This LGBTQ+-friendly beach town comes especially alive at Carnaval with big parades that are colorful in all senses of the word. Children are welcome, too.

Not here for the big shebang? There are plenty of other winter festivals to check out in Barcelona: bonfires for Sant Antoni in January, dances with giants for Santa Eulàlia in February, and human castles for Sant Medir in early March.

Other winter spots you won't want to miss

Cheer on Barça in Montjüic.

Since Spotify Camp Nou is under construction until 2025, catch the FC Barcelona team at Estadi Olímpic. It’s a smaller stadium, which means most of the seats have great views. (Alternatively, head to Estadi Johan Cruyff to see the women's team and several recent world champions.)

Shop 'til you drop.

From Three Kings Day on January 6 until early March, most retail stores clear out their stock with big rebajas or rebaixes. Avoid the crowded El Corte Ingles department store in Plaça Catalunya and visit its other location near the L’illa Diagonal shopping mall.

Wander the streets in search of modernist marvels.

Warm up with a cup of thick hot chocolate at Faborit, the café on the ground floor at Casa Ametller next to Casa Batlló. Then get your architecture fix with a self-guided walking tour of unsung modernist buildings, like this one on Barcelona's Modernist Legacy.

Explore the winter wonderland of the Pyrenees.

Hit the slopes during a day (or more) trip up to La Molina. If skiing and snowboarding aren’t your thing, explore charming snow-capped towns in a Pyrenees & Medieval Town day tour or a day trip to Andorra, both of which leave from and return to Barcelona.

Chow down on in-season ingredients turned upside down.

In 2022, Chef Miquel Coulibaly moved his small Poblenou restaurant to Eixample to create Comida Codac. There’s a new, creative tasting menu every quarter focused on in-season ingredients and I was floored by the 2023 winter one, which featured savory green tea soup and a mini lentil slider with sour mushrooms and shitake caramel.

Soak it up with a thermal bath at AIRE.

Baths at Aire Ancient Baths in Barcelona
Baths at Aire Ancient Baths in Barcelona
Image: Management/Tripadvisor

Sample the different relaxing baths, like the salty Floatarium, at AIRE Ancient Baths. Originally founded in the south of Spain, this luxury spa chain has since gone global, and the Barcelona location is conveniently tucked next to Parc de la Ciutadella.

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Adina Levin
Adina Levin is a born-and-raised Chicago city kid who clocked in 10-plus years in New York City before moving to Barcelona in 2018. She’s been an advertising copywriter for Broadway shows, a marketing director at a world-class university, and a business development specialist for a multinational cannabis company. Now she wears multiple hats at once as a self-employed communications generalist. She’s fluent in English, Catalan, Spanish, and gibberish.