Integrating the Holiday Season into your Travel Plans
Merry Christmas Eve, or Nochebuena, as we call it here in Spain! Will you be spending the holidays away from home this year? Celebrating abroad with new friends (and their families)? Or maybe hosting the holidays for the first time while abroad? If any of those are true, be sure to check out the linked articles for lots of insights and advice on these topics. Alternatively, if you will be using this extended time off of work to take advantage of travel opportunities in Spain you’ve come to the right place!
The holiday season may be your best time of year to travel but it’s also an expensive and difficult period in which to travel due to all the people who are trying to reach loved ones and those trying to simply take advantage of some vacation time. The cost of accommodation and transport often skyrocket. While this is mostly unavoidable, we’ve compiled a few tips to have in mind if you will be traveling in Spain as there are a few differences here that you might not be aware of as a foreigner. (While this article focuses specifically on Spain, all of the tips can, of course, be adapted to wherever else you may be traveling.)
Note: You may think this article is no longer useful to you if you’re reading this on December 24, but think again! In Spain, the Christmas season, or Las Navidades, continues into the new year as El día de los Reyes Magos (The Day of the Three Kings) is one of the most special days for Spanish children and this isn’t celebrated until January 6th!
Choose your travel dates wisely
As you may imagine, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve are huge holidays in Spain and so trying to get anywhere around these dates will likely be more expensive than other times of the year. However, keep in mind that the feast of the three kings, or Los Reyes Magos, is perhaps an even more important celebration and this will greatly affect prices of flights, trains, hotels, etc too.
True story: When my parents were coming to visit at the holidays last December, my mom was looking at different options for their return flight and she was convinced something was wrong with the system when the date she was looking at to return (January 7th) was way more expensive than any of the days around it. While this was strangely puzzling to her, it made complete sense to me—it was the day after Reyes! Seeing as this is a time when so many Spaniards will be leaving their families and returning to their current homes it makes total sense that airlines are monopolizing on this and raising their prices. However, as a foreigner who might not even know Reyes is a holiday, it can be easy to fall into the trap of paying higher prices without even realizing.
When planning a trip around the holidays, be sure to use a search engine like Skyscanner that allows you to compare prices across the month to easily avoid the most expensive day to fly, if you can. Additionally, try to think like a local (or whoever you think will be traveling most in the same place as you) and then take the opposite form of action. For example, most Spaniards will want to already be at their destination by January 5th in order to spend Reyes calmly with their family. Therefore, if you’re not interested in the holiday why not consider flying at midday on January 6th?
Of course, you may not always have the flexibility to alter your travel dates in this way. If you must travel at peak times, it’s simply helpful to be aware of the situation you’ll find yourself in, in order to make peace with the higher prices you’re likely to pay and to prepare yourself mentally for the more hectic travel experiences you’re likely to encounter.
Research and book anything you can in advance
Not everyone will be at home with their families during the holidays; there are also plenty of people like yourself who are taking advantage of the time to visit a new destination…like the same one you’ve chosen! Therefore, more than at any other time of the year (other than perhaps Semana Santa), it’s recommended that you make reservations in advance to visit any popular sites. If you’re thinking about touring the Alhambra, Sagrada Familia, or Mezquita for example and this is an important aspect of your trip, you may want to look into availability before you even book transportation. Entrance for popular sites sells out fast and you don’t want to end up disappointed! This might sound extreme but if you will feel like your trip to Granada was fruitless if you can’t get into the Alhambra while you’re there, be sure to look into this and book a ticket at the same time as your flight/bus/etc and accommodation rather than leave it for later!
Note: If you are willing to pay for a guided tour or other more deluxe option, chances are that you will be able to find a way to see everything you want to see, even during the holidays. However, if you’re on a budget and looking to simply get a basic entrance ticket, definitely book in advance as this is an extremely popular time of the year.
By the same token, it’s recommended to research everything before booking a ticket to jet off to your holiday destination. What we mean by this is that you ought to consider the holiday pricing of not only transportation but also lodging, attractions, and even food. (This is not to say that restaurants will actually raise their prices at the holidays but busy bars/restaurants may cause you to resort to a more expensive option than you usually would, not to mention that many restaurants only allow you to order off the multiple-course Christmas or New Years menu on these special dates.)
Perhaps you’re willing to spend a little extra on the plane ticket but keep in mind that the availability and prices of lodging will be very different than at other times of the year, too. There’s no need to despair and cancel your plan altogether if you don’t find anything satisfactory on your initial search but be realistic and perhaps consider alternative options. For example, renting an AirBnB that’s a shared flat might be a better option than an entire apartment this time around.
Make plans to work around altered opening hours
Be forewarned that most stores will be closed on holidays (Christmas, New Years, Three Kings Day) or at least have reduced hours. Seeing as most Spanish stores still close on Sundays, this didn’t really surprise me. What DID surprise me was how many restaurants were closed on these days! We were once in Málaga (a quite tourist location) for New Years Eve and we decided to go out for dinner just the two of us. We didn’t have any reservations but we knew from the previous year in Barcelona that menus de Nochevieja (New Year’s Eve menus, similar to those of Christmas dinner menus) were quite common and we assumed we’d be able to find them anywhere…WRONG!
There were literally less than five restaurants open in the center and they were jam-packed with lines that made us certain we wouldn’t eat before midnight. In fact, there were even lines out the doors in McDonalds and all the kebab shops. In the end, we returned home and made something quick but we would have been in a really difficult situation had we been staying in a hotel/hostel without any food.
Be sure to make a plan for what you will do for meals on holidays (unless you’re happy with whatever you can find in fast food/kebab shops). I’ve been told that hotels often serve special holiday meals to their guests but if you do not have that available to you it’s recommended to do a web search, keep an eye out for restaurants that advertise they’ll be open, or ask around and make a reservation to ensure you’ll be able to eat something decent on these days. Likewise, be sure to stock up on some snacks in case it’s difficult to find somewhere open the next morning!
Always factor in the parades
This tip may sound less important than the others, but if you’re trying to make a flight and get caught in traffic because of an unexpected parade (procesión or cabalgata, in the case of Reyes) you’ll realize how important it is! Around the holidays, parades are rather frequent events in Spain and these greatly affect mobility, both by vehicle and on foot. Simply be sure to find out if there will be any parades (or other similarly obstructive spectaculars) around the time you need to head off to the airport or station and plan accordingly.
You’ll definitely want to give yourself extra time if this is the case or even consider getting yourself where you need to go long before the parade begins. If at all possible, I recommend doing this on foot as you can usually weave around parades a bit more easily than vehicles can (and buses are often rerouted or paused at these times, which could negatively affect your ability to make your transportation).
We hope these tips will help you integrate the holiday season here in Spain into your travel plans and allow you to have a less stressful, less expensive, and more satisfying experience. Will you be spending the holidays in Spain? Be sure to check out our archives for more inspiration!