New Year’s Eve in Spain, via Toledo
New Year’s Eve in Spain…have you Googled that one yet? We remember researching about it two years ago, and the results…they were kind of hit and miss. While we looked for what things to do and what city or town would be best, we realized that New Year’s Eve in Spain really depends on being in a big city or not. Here is what we learned about the Spanish traditions for this time of year and why we chose to spend it in Spain’s renowned town of Toledo.
The 12 Grapes of New Year's Eve in Spain
We’re from the US so were used to the big ball dropping at midnight for New Year’s Eve. We quickly learned that in Spain, they bring in the New Year with what we think is a far funner tradition – eating 12 grapes when the clock strikes midnight.
From every major city to the tiniest village, every place in Spain has a clock tower it seems. These are the epicenter of New Year’s Eve in Spain, of course. Because how else are you going to be timed on popping those grapes in your mouth!?! The main plaza fills up with people the couple hours before midnight on New Year’s Eve, usually to mingle, snack on treats and sip cava and wine, and enjoy live music.
When the clock strikes midnight, you’re supposed to eat a grape for each time the plaza’s clock strikes in the bell tower, totaling twelve of course. This can really be hilarious, since many times you don’t have enough time to finish the last grape before popping in the next. And whatever you do, make sure you watch out for those seeds too – grapes in Spain tend to still have the seeds in them. Then the people enjoy the Cava – it really helps to wash it all down .
The significance is one grape for each of the twelve months of the New Year, to have good health, prosperity and happiness. Spaniards can take it quite seriously, treating it as a superstitious matter of ensuring good luck for the coming year. When we celebrated New Year’s Eve in Toledo, the town hall (or Ayuntamiento) provided bags of 12 grapes for each person and a glass of Cava, all for free. It was fantastic!
Other Customs for New Year's Eve in Spain
When it comes to ‘what to do’ for New Year’s Eve in Spain, there’s a bit of everything. In Spain’s major cities, like Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and others, you can really go out on the town. This can be everything from VIP at a fancy club to joining the masses at the main plaza and/or a fancy dinner out.
What we found most common, in cities and small villages alike, is that Spaniards love to be with family for New Year’s Eve. They usually get together for dinner at home and then go to their local plaza for eating the 12 grapes and drinking Cava at midnight. Even those families that stay in all night, watch the TV for the televising of midnight from one of the large cities nearby. Either way, Spaniards make sure to have their grapes and Cava.
Another popular option for New Year’s Eve in Spain, is a nice dinner out. We’ve noticed that in a lot of cities and major tourist attraction areas, this can be more geared for tourists. It’s important to make a reservation in advance can places can book up. While some restaurants may close on this night, many tend to stay open. They offer a fixed menu, usually one regular one and then a premium one at a higher price. Both can tend to be pretty pricey, so be aware.
If you plan to eat out for New Year’s Eve in Spain, make sure to reserve a table ahead of time!
The dinner out option tends to not be our favorite. From what we’ve seen, the fixed menus can be overpriced and may not be as good of quality. But hey, we’re always open to experiencing otherwise. If you have a recommendation of where to eat for New Year’s Eve, send it our way and we’ll consider giving it a try!
New Year's Eve in Spain, Castle-Style
Yet the New Year’s Eve in Spain experience that we’ve been ogling for a while now, is the New Year’s Eve Ball. Ok…before you go rolling your eyes, envisioning some ‘Dumb and Dumber’ Aspen movie scene (which is what Eric does when Amalia mentions it), give it a chance. Because after all, this is Spain. Besides, we’re talking castles here…
The New Year’s Eve Ball is like a fancy banquet or gala dinner. What we like about it the most, is that they are held at Paradores. These are wonderful castle hotels that are dotted around Spain. Having been renovated and fitted from their old-world, historic structure with all the comforts and services of a lovely hotel, they delight anyone who appreciates history and staying in boutique accommodations. Many of them have fantastic restaurants and spas as well.
Attending a gala dinner entails a very nice dinner (yes, this means formal-wear), live music and dancing afterwards, and then the celebration of midnight with the 12 grapes and Cava. Many of the Paradores do not require you to be staying there to attend, but that can vary so double check. It’s also best to book your tickets ahead of time.
Toledo for New Year's Eve in Spain
Last year we spent New Year’s Eve having a lovely dinner at home with friends in Valencia. But the year before that was in Toledo. We chose Toledo for a few reasons, that together made for a great trip.
- Proximity to Madrid is close and convenient, since we had flown in to the Madrid Barajas International Airport only a few days earlier.
- The 5K race, San Silvestre Toledana takes place every New Year’s Eve, and Eric ran it with Amalia’s mom and her boyfriend. It’s a great, unique way to bring in the New Year. Click here to read more of that story.
- And of course, it provided an amazingly beautiful, historical setting. After all, it’s Toledo!
We also found that accommodations and eating out could be more affordable in Toledo, especially versus the metropolitan center of Madrid. This sealed the deal for us and, to this day, we’re happy we chose to be in Toledo for our New Year’s Eve in Spain. The evening’s celebration was in the Plaza de Zocodover, where a large stage was set up, beautiful light arrangements dressed the buildings and hung across the streets, and they gave out the free 12 grapes and Cava for midnight.
Later that night, the live band was quite good and played a variety of Latin tunes. We loved seeing the older couples sweetly dancing paso doble together when the traditional songs were performed. It was funny that at midnight, the band was trying to count down to the clock striking twelve, yet it didn’t quite work. They were a bit early, or maybe it was a bit late, but whatever happened, everyone in the crowd was looking at a each other. After all, Spaniards take their 12 grapes and good luck for the coming year, seriously.
The scene all throughout this historic, Medieval town was magical. Bundled up against the crisp, cool air, we loved exploring Toledo’s streets particularly on this night. With the evening sky clear and full of stars, the holiday lights, and the old-world stone architecture everywhere, it was romantic Spain as we travelers love to drool over in pictures.
For the fact that it was a holiday, it didn’t feel as crowded as we expected it to be. There were plenty of people, which provided a nice atmosphere of celebration, yet it wasn’t jam-packed. Another great benefit to being there at this time of year.
New Year’s Day, we walked all throughout Toledo’s historic center. It’s full of charming, narrow alleys, quaint shops of their artisan goods, and cafes and restaurants. Since the town is located on the top of a hill, there are plenty of vantage points for enjoying a scenic view of the Rio Tajo that wraps around three sides of the hill, further below.
Where to spend New Year’s Eve in Spain depends on how you like to celebrate the holiday. The nice thing is, you can’t go wrong with spending time in Spain on any day (at least we think so). Add to that how much Spain’s culture loves holidays and celebrating things, and you’re sure of a great time bringing in the New Year in such a magical country.
Written by Amalia & Eric
Founders & Producers of Move to Traveling