Insiders Guide To Madrid's Christmas Markets

There is no denying that the Christmas markets in Europe are some of the best and they form the perfect setting to get into the holiday spirit. And, Madrid is no different.

Madrid puts on a great show during the Christmas season, with sparkly lights hung across every street, the sweet aroma of cinnamon spice and the echo of Christmas jingles in the air, and market stalls full of festive fare. I got a chance to explore the Christmas Markets last year, and if you're in the Spanish Capital during this time of year, you are in for a magical wonderland of magic. Get ready for another festive adventure into the unknown, this time by the way of Madrid.

Insiders guide to madrid christmas markets
Insiders guide to madrid christmas markets
Insiders guide to madrid christmas markets
Insiders guide to madrid christmas markets

Plaza Mayor

Madrid’s main traditional Christmas market is held on the city’s main square, Plaza Mayor, and has been going strong since the 19th century. Over 100 wooden stalls set up home on the plaza for the month of December, selling everything from nativity scenes to wigs and jokes for the Day of the Holy Innocents, Spain’s version of April Fool’s Day, which takes place on December 28. This beloved Christmas tradition sees people playing practical jokes on each other with items they have bought from the Christmas markets.


Feria Dulces de Navidad

If you have a sweet tooth, don’t miss this one. The market, which is set up in front of the Teatro Real, Madrid’s opera house, sells only Christmas sweets. Favorites include turrón, a nougat-style block made from almonds that is popular at Christmas Time in Spain.


Plaza de Callao Christmas Market

Every year, Spain’s main department store, El Corte Inglés, installs a huge winter cabin on Plaza de Callo, a central square just off the Gran Vía shopping street. The festive cabin sells Christmas accessories, including baubles, tinsel, and lights, and is a popular spot for locals and tourists to stock up on their Christmas decorations. The square is dominated by a gigantic Christmas tree that is the ideal backdrop for that festive selfie.


Feria Mercado de Artesanía

This artisanal market, on Madrid’s Plaza de España, draws craftspeople from across Spain, selling everything from leather goods and jewelry to ceramics and handcrafted toys. It’s a good place to shop for Christmas presents as it has a range of traditional Spanish products from different regions of the country.


Mercadillo del Gato

This cool pop-up market is the place to come if you want to find something less bauble-related and more stylish. The stalls are populated by young, local designers selling everything from clothes and accessories to art, games and vintage homewares. The Christmas market will be held in the Westin Palace hotel from December 1 to 10 and at Gran Vía 13 from December 15 - January 5.


El Rastro

While not exactly a Christmas market, we couldn’t leave Madrid’s biggest street market off the list. El Rastro is more than just a market; it is a weekly event, held every Sunday, when locals browse the stalls selling bric-a-brac, antiques, flamenco records and leather goods, then enjoy some tapas and beers in the little bars lining the market’s route.


Mercado de Diseño

The Design Market unites dozens of designers every month for a market held at the Matadero, Madrid’s former slaughterhouse that is now a thriving cultural space holding regular exhibitions and concerts. Past years have seen the market host a Christmas-themed event in the run-up to December 25, so keep an eye on its website for details of up-and-coming Christmas markets.


Plaza La Remonta

Slightly to the north of the center of Madrid, in the Tetuan neighborhood, Plaza La Remonta holds one of the biggest Christmas markets in the city, with stalls selling all the traditional fare, from Christmas decorations to toys and games for the kids. Don’t miss the ice rink, a great festive activity for all the family.


Mercadillo de la Plaza de Jacinto Benavente

Just off the Puerta del Sol, right in the heart of Madrid, the Plaza de Jacinto Benavente holds an annual craft market. Over 20 huts, designed to emulate a medieval village, sell sweets, Christmas decorations and beautifully handcrafted accessories that make lovely souvenirs to take home from Spain.


Published December 7, 2017 - Updated December 7, 2018

Insider's Guide to Reykjavik

It’s no secret that Iceland’s diminutive capital, Reykjavík, punches way above its weight on pretty much every level. A whimsical wonderland and a place I had dreamed about visiting for many years. It's laid-back yet pulsing with energy.

The city offers up plenty of cultural treats to delight, ranging from first-class museums to small alternative art galleries, traditional attractions like the relaxed harbor and colorful wooden houses, striking landmarks such as the rocket-shaped Hallgrimskirkja, and a famously raucous nightlife. Of course, there is the main attraction that draws everyone here -- Iceland's jaw-dropping landscapes that are easily accessible.

When I was venturing to Reykjavik just a couple of months ago, my excitement was uncontainable; I had an itinerary that was already jam-packed with the Google-able must-sees but needed an infusion of local charm. 

One thing that I will add that many travel guides failed to mention is how expensive AF Iceland is. You've been warned, but don't let this deter you from booking an Iceland adventure. I'm sharing with you my Insider's Guide to Reykjavik... Enjoy!

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When To Go

Between May and September is generally considered the best time to visit Iceland, due to better temperatures and longer days. But, with that said, Summers can be crowded, especially in Reykjavik. Visiting in winter, between November and February, is the best time to catch the Aurora Borealis aka the Northern Lights.

When To Stay

There are plenty of hotels. I opted for Airbnb, which I highly recommend.

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Eat + Drink

Bergsson Mathus for healthy and delicious soul food, all day long. If it's seafood you're after, then you won't be disappointed with Sjávargrillið. The food at Snaps Bistro is brilliant and the atmosphere is great. It’s open during the day like a café, but in the evening becomes more like a bar/restaurant. Make sure you go to Seabaron. It’s right on the old harbor and is essentially a shabby fisherman’s shack (you sit on barrels). You choose your own freshly caught fish! They are famous for their lobster soup, and they also normally have whale kebabs if you’re into that. Upstairs at Sakebarinn is my favorite sushi. The restaurant is located on the corner of Laugevegur and Skolavordustigur. Reeeeally good. For brunchy-type things and more low key meals, there is Joe and The Juice,  Prikid on Laugevegur, Cuckoos Nest in Grandi or Laundromat Cafe on Ausurstraeti.

Coffee moments. SlippbarinnApótek Bar Grill, and Kaldi Bar are also worth checking out. Kaffibrennslan and  Reykjavik Roasters are the best coffee shops in town, hands down.

Mixed drinks, wine, and all booze are expensive in Iceland but if you must, Lebowski Bar is a must visit. Yes, it's a Big Lebowski-themed bar, and it's one the most fun places to drink in the city. The decor recalls vintage American diners and bowling alleys, with a rug hanging from the bar that really ties the room together. If you’re looking for a night out on the town, note that nothing really gets going properly until after midnight. The best places at the moment are plenty. With good DJs both upstairs and downstairs, this place gets going a bit later there is Dolly. If by some chance it’s not happening there, then you can just nip across the road to Harlem and check it out there. Harlem is a spot that has a more trendy, fun, and younger crowd. There is also Boston is located upstairs on Laugevegur, it can get really messy here! It boasts an artsy-type crowd that becomes more mixed on weekends. Kaffibarinn is a classic place in Reykjavik nightlife. It’s in a really small house just off Laugevegur and is always fun with lots of younger people there. It gets very crowded on weekends! Also, all these places are about 5 minutes away from each other, so you can normally go to all of them in one night.

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Frolic

The Golden Circle is do-able in a day and really beautiful. It includes Gulfoss a huge waterfall that plunges into a crack in the earth; Geysir a continual eruption of boiling water 30ft into the air; and Thingvellir, the old capital of Vikings and also where the North American and European tectonic plates meet, which means epic gorges, waterfalls, and sometimes earthquakes.

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Insider's Guide to Reykjavik

Geothermal Swimming Pools are a must. Every neighborhood has its own geothermal swimming pool, which is probably the most Icelandic thing you can do. People go every day and talk in the hot tub. They’re super basic but just amazingly clean with natural hot water and steam baths. The main big pool Laugardalslaug is also really nice and is open 6am-10pm every day. It has lots of hot pots, water slides, saunas, and steam rooms – and a new seawater hotpot.

Then, of course, there is everyone's bucket list items, the Blue LagoonYou should do Blue Lagoon on your way to or from the airport. It’s 15 minutes away from Keflavík International, so you save on a wasted bus ride if you do it then. It’s totally worth it. It’s a bright blue silica thermal pool in the middle of a lava field!

Kolaportid is a great indoor flea market in Reykjavik which is always open on weekends and is located right next to the harbor.

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Go for a hike. Hveragerdi is an amazing place to go not to far from Reykjavik. It’s a very volcanically active valley and you can walk up into the hills and swim in a hot river. It’s about a 30 minute bus/car ride from Reykjavik, but really beautiful and cool to swim in, as it’s a natural river. Grótta is a gorgeous lighthouse in Reykjavik is just 5 minutes from town. When the tide is down you can walk out onto the island and take in beautiful views across the Fjord to the glacier. This is the best place in town to go see the sunset – totally magical on a calm day. One totally magical place is a little island called Flatey. It has about 10 inhabitants and one bar. You can get a ferry there from Stikkysholmur just up from Snaefellsnes, about 2 hours from Reykjavik. Thorsmörk is probably one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been to, as well. It’s tucked in between 3 glaciers and only accessible in summer via a big jeep (you have to drive through about 20 rivers) – insane landscape and hiking.

If you’re feeling more adventurous, driving further into the country is amazing. There’s Vik to the south, on the way there’s Dyrholaey that famous black sand beach with an arch in the ocean. Also past the volcano and the glacier and there’s Jökulsárlón, too, which is an amazing glacial lagoon. You can do that in a day from Reykjavik, but it’s quite far.


Have you been to Iceland? 

Let me know in the comments on Instagram!

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