Traveling in the offseason has many perks no matter where you go – most notably lower prices and sparse crowds. Unfortunately, many times you trade those positives for some negatives like fewer things to do and see or uncertain weather. However, there are still places to visit that offer plenty of offseason positives with very few negatives. One of our favorite destinations is Spain.
With so much history and a wealth of cities to visit, we’ve highlighted some of Spain’s best offseason go-to destinations. If you want to learn more about our top restaurant picks for each of these destinations, then be sure to check out our short eBook at the end of this post.
Every February Madrid hosts their annual Carnaval, complete with a parade, concerts, dancing, and the traditional Burial of the Sardine. This Carnaval takes place prior to Lent, culminating in a funeral procession on Ash Wednesday with “mourners” parading through the streets with the likeness of a sardine. At the end of this procession, the sardine is sometimes burned but always buried, symbolizing the burial of the past and the hope for a better future. Goya even immortalized this tradition in a painting, “El Entierro de la Sardina”, somewhere between 1812 and 1819.
Spending the holidays in Madrid is a festive time of year. The magic begins with lights as buildings, streets, and squares come alive with displays created by designers, architects, and graphic designers. You can take a ride on Naviluz, the Christmas bus that tours the city, allowing you to see the many light displays. The Plaza Mayor fills with Christmas Market stalls for shopping and you can even ice skate at various rinks throughout the city. Don’t forget to visit the bakeries as well to sample the many Christmas sweets like nougat, marzipan, and mantecado cookies. If you stay through the New Year, you can participate in the Carrera de San Silvestre, a traditional 10k race. You can also join the crowds at the Puerta del Sol to ring in the New Year, where you can eat your “grapes of luck” before enjoying more music and revelry.
Three Kings Day
While Santa Claus is becoming more popular throughout traditional Spain, Three Kings Day is still celebrated in early January. The evening of January 5th marks the beginning of a six-hour parade commemorating the three African Kings who journeyed to visit baby Jesus at the manger. Along with dancers, musicians, and other performers, the Kings typically hand out candy and treats to the children as they pass. That night, children are to leave their shoes out for the Kings to fill with gifts. Because these “gifts” have increased in size over the years, many times the Kings will leave their gifts under Christmas trees instead.
Semana Santa means “Holy Week” in Spanish, indicating the week before Easter. Each day features processions throughout the town, consisting of two “floats” made by one of the numerous Brotherhoods (or churches). The mood of these processions follows the religious events of Holy Week, changing as the week moves on, being celebratory in the beginning to subdued and serious on Good Friday. The Good Friday processions leave the churches at midnight and continue throughout the night. They once again become joyous on Easter Sunday.
This castle/fortress is rich in history, architecture, and nature while offering breathtaking views. The offseason offers a wonderful time to explore the vast site without enduring large crowds or unrelenting sun. Even if you choose to visit in the offseason, consider purchasing tickets in advance, as this is a popular tourist destination year-round. Take the time to learn and explore its history, from its start as a residence and fortress during the Moorish Nasrid Dynasty to its transformation by Spanish rulers after the Conquest of Granada.
Sierra Nevada National Park
If you prefer to immerse yourself in nature and revel in peace and solitude, a hike through Sierra Nevada National Park is the answer. Located close to Alhambra, you can choose modest trails that reveal ruins and gorgeous views of Granada and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. If you want a challenge, the National Park offers trails along the Los Cahorros Gorge which lead to places offering only jagged cliffs for support. If you find yourself visiting in winter, try skiing at the nearby Sierra Nevada Ski Resort.
Granada has a history of glorious bath houses, once used as gathering places for the Arab community. Unfortunately, most of them were destroyed or repurposed after the Christian conquests. You can visit one of the last, original bathhouses in all of Spain at La Bañuelo, however, it is no longer functional. Many appreciate the history and architecture, but if you’re looking for a spa, the Hammam Al Andalus offers an authentic bath house experience. The 13th-14th century building mimics the original Arab bath houses with all the modern spa amenities.
This spectacular festival celebrates the end of winter and the beginning of spring and is also an homage to their Patron Saint Joseph, considered the “father of the country”. The festival lasts for a little over two weeks in March, involving daily fireworks, parades of Ninots (giant paper maché figures), costumes and dancing, flower offerings, and bonfires. Both children and adults can create Ninots to win awards. After the flower offering to their Patron Virgin, the festival ends with fires created by lighting the numerous Ninots.
City of the Arts & Sciences
This “city” is built over the Old Turia River in a contemporary architectural wonder created by Santiago Calatrava. The complex houses the Science Museum, a planetarium, an IMAX theater, an Oceanographic Aquarium, and the Queen Sofia Arts Palace. The city is open year-round, the hours vary in the offseason. You can choose the parts you’d like to visit or you can buy a combined ticket to see it all.
This is a must-see Immersion Zoo – meaning that barriers between guests and certain animals (such as lemurs and other “gentle” species) don’t exist. The more dangerous animals remain contained but behind barriers that are hidden from view, giving guests the feeling of being in the wild, among the animals.
Fira de Santa Llúcia
This month-long fair starts in late November, lasting through December and commemorates Patron Saint Lucy. The fair features numerous events including parades, dancers, puppets, and folk music, much of it designed to celebrate the Christmas season. Vendors and stands are divided into sectors – Nativity Scenes & Figures, Greenery & Plants, Handmade Crafts, and Musical Instruments.
La Segrada Familia
Anton Gaudí spent 44 years working on this church, a structure initially commissioned to Francesc del Paula Villar. Originally a neo-gothic style, Gaudí changed the design when he took over, making it a modern and unconventional marvel. His goal was to teach people about Catholicism through architecture. Unfortunately, Gaudi died before he could finish, so construction continues today with estimated completion in 2026. If you find yourself a fan of Gaudí’s eye for unique design, Parc Güell is also another project he worked on in Barcelona, merging the lush outdoors with whimsy.