Winter in Spain: 12 Survival Tips

It’s January in Madrid and that means extremely chilly nights, shorter days and freezing temperatures. The past 6 weeks have been full of brilliant sunshine (like every single day, I’m not kidding) but today has been the first official, bitterly cold day of the year. So, it’s official: real winter in Spain has arrived and I’m here to tell you that it’s only going to get colder as we head into February in a couple of weeks.

At the first mention of “Spain”, you are probably imagining sun-soaked streets, sizzling golden sand beaches and endless tintos de verano or sangria drunk by lightly clothed sun seekers on an outdoor terrace.

Well, that only describes one part of Spain and only in the summer.

Winter in Spain is real.

Real cold.

And it can get bitterly cold (Madrid) or wet (Galicia or Pais Vasco) or blustery (Castilla y León)to name just a few different regions.

If you live in or visit Andalucía, you’ll quickly realize that your apartment building may not be properly insulated for winter (read: it isn’t) and if you aren’t one of the lucky ones who has central heating, you may freeze. And the outside temperature will most likely be warmer than the iciness inside your own apartment.

You’re in luck, though. I’m on my sixth winter here in Spain (1 in Andalucía, 2 in Galicia and now my 3rd in Madrid) and I want to share with you all my tips and tricks to beating the cold.

So grab a blanket, warm up that cup of tea nearby that you forgot about and let’s talk about how you can stay warm(er) this winter in Spain.

1. Take a walk and soak up the sun!

Parque de Retiro (January 1, 2019)

Unless you live in the rainy North, most of Spain will be nice and sunny during the day. The only bad thing about it is that there are fewer hours of daylight. Only a little more than nine hours most days.

So, take advantage of the time you have, be it on a lunch break or before you go back to work or classes in the afternoon.

Get out there!

Go to the park. Go for a run. Lay on a park bench.  Do anything to force yourself outside to go absorb some of that liquid gold Spain is known for.

Not only will your body thank you but your mind will as well. Beat the winter blues and doldrums that might creep into your mind by giving yourself a necessary Vitamin D or endorphin boost.

The best hours of the day to be in the sun would be between 3-5 p.m here.

If it’s sunny right now while you’re reading this, bookmark this post and catch those rays.

2. Dress very warmly when you go outside.

Maybe you’re reading this and it’s your first time living in a European country. Or maybe it’s not. The main piece of advice I can give you here is to bundle up! I know there are tons of cute dresses and stylish coats or scarves on rebajas (winter sales) right now but don’t give in!

Save those for the summer.

Choose jeans or dress pants over a stylish dress or skirt with nylons. Wear boots instead of cute flats that show off your feet (save the skin showing for the summer!). Heed this warning: the less bundled up you are, the quicker you’ll get sick!

Take a walk through a big square in any Spanish city and you will practically get blown away so take a look at the scarves above to get an idea of just how bundled up you should be!

So, wrap up with the thickest scarf, a hat or cute headband and wear your heaviest coat! And if you’re walking back from a fun night out, don’t let your hands go bare.

Wear gloves!

You’ll not only save them from further winter damage but you’ll stay toasty warm, too. 🙂

If you can make visits to either the US or the UK, get some warm, fuzzy slippers to wear in your Spanish apartment, too!

2. Add layers – especially underneath!

We women have the amazing ability to layer and color code an outfit with ease. So why would wearing an extra (usually thin) layer of leggings or tights be such a task?

Back to the choosing fashion over warmth dilemma: is the fashion worth it?

In the summer, I would argue yes…but in the winter?

No chance.

If you live somewhere quite flat like in Castilla y León or near Alicante and Valencia, the cold will chap your face and hands and the wind will cut through you like that sword you should’ve bought down in Toledo.

In Madrid here, the presence of the mountains alone-especially in the northern part of the city- affects the weather drastically.

To the northwest in beautiful yet rainy Galicia, the damp cold will sink into your bones and stay there until…well, June if the winter’s nice and long. (Sadly, I’m not joking here but speaking from experience.)

If you live in la capital or have quite a long commute to work or school, the downside to this is that wearing an extra warm layer will most likely make you sweat or overheat a bit.

Unfortunately, it’s one of the small sacrifices you’ll have to make to stay warm once you go back out into the frigid cold.

And that’s when you’ll think back and thank me for this tip. 😛

3. Wear high-quality thermal leggings, socks or shirts.

As you just saw in the previous tip, layering in the winter in Spain is essential.

However, it’s important to note that the fabrics of the clothes you buy also play a huge role in keeping warm.

Though they’re not exactly breathable fabrics, thermal fabrics are the best things you can invest in.

Leggings, socks, spandex, breathable athletic shirts…

Whatever you like best, stock up on them and make sure you keep those at least until March (but please wash them, haha).

Thick wool socks are perfect to wear with boots or at night. If you mix and match between wearing thermal and wool items of clothing, you’ll definitely be able to stay a lot warmer this winter.

4. Layer up inside your home, too!

Whether you live in an apartment or an actual house, it’s always best to dress warmly inside, too.

You may be able to get away with walking out of the bathroom post-shower barefoot for a few seconds, but don’t risk spending any more time barefoot. Save that for the scorching hot summer which will be coming sooner than you can imagine.

Make sure you get a nice pair of thick, warm slippers, a nice wool sweater and a blanket or two just for afternoons you might spend on the sofa with Netflix or the odd variety of old movies on some of the Spanish channels.

I spend the majority of my time working for home so I want to not only feel warm but maintain a business casual look. (Not everyone is like me, I know, but I am totally against working in pajamas *shudder*)

By wearing a wool blazer, I can accomplish both things and that makes me happy.

Wear whatever makes you happy inside but definitely pile on the layers, especially when it takes eons for the central heating system in your apartment building to turn on.

Pro-tip: Find an apartment in Spain with a central heating system and where the cost of heating is included in the price of your rent. **It took me 9 moves all around the country to find this so it’s not an easy feat – but totally worth it in the end!**

6. Drink copious amounts of warm beverages and cook lots of hot meals.

drinks of tea during winter in Spain
Cute kitty mugs sold separately.

For an American, I have a pretty ginormous tea collection. How come, you might ask? Well, I have two reasons for this:

a) My dad’s grandparents were English

b) My Northern Irish fiancé practically spoon feeds me tea, haha

But, seriously.

I have a whole shelf worth of tea in a cabinet in my room. With nearly 60 different types of tea.

Yes, you read that right: 60!

So…needless to say, I drink a lot of tea pretty much year-round but especially in the winter.

This is the time to drink all the coffee, hot chocolate or tea that you want. And cook up your mom’s traditional soup or chili recipes if you have any on hand.

Take advantage of the time you have to thoroughly enjoy these beverages and delicious meals while you can. Come summer all you’ll want to do is slurp down refreshingly cool gazpacho and lay on the floor to get cool.

That is you live or dare to spend the summer in Madrid….(more to come on that.)

7. Keep your blinds down at night or whenever you’re not at home.

The Spanish sun is a magical thing, as I mentioned earlier in this post. It has its pros and cons but one thing I think anyone who’s visited or lived here before can all agree on is that it’s strong.

However, Spanish homes and apartments are fully equipped to block it out when necessary. They do that through these thick, blackout blinds called persianas. This particular type of blind is located outside of the window (or between two sets of windows). And you roll it up or down via a wide strand of fabric attached to a pully system to block the sun’s harmful rays or trap the heat from your radiators or portable heater inside.

In the summer, these blinds are good for blocking out the sun and heating up the rooms in your home. In the winter, it can keep the blistering cold temperatures from getting inside.

What these blinds do all year round is can trick you into thinking it’s still dark outside but it’s not! Remember if you do pull these down overnight, don’t forget to set an alarm so you don’t sleep the morning (and your responsibilities) away!

8. Find an apartment with a double set of windows or good insulation

I definitely recommend you try to find an apartment that comes with double sets of windows to keep extreme temperatures out.

Only one apartment where I lived in Galicia (Santiago) and my current apartment in Madrid had these heat and cold blocking windows.

They’re perfect for keeping your home better insulated, especially in areas like Galicia, Madrid, and Andalucía (or even the flatter parts of Castilla y León).

9. Use a hot water bottle during the day or before bed.

English: “We can stay warm at home, ok?” Ale-Hop has the cutest products!

A few years ago, a friend of mine gifted me the hot water bottle she bought when she visited Dublin, Ireland. She didn’t have a use for it back in her home state and she knew I was staying in Spain at least for another year (funny how that turned into more than 6 years now) and I’ve found them to be quite useful.

A rule of thumb – and common sense – is to not fill them with boiling water. The bottles are usually made of rubber with a plastic lid cover and boiling water would definitely melt the plastic part. You can fill one about halfway with room temperature or cold water and then heat it up in the microwave for a few minutes.

Use an insulated cover like the cute one I saw in a store (pictured above) to help the bottle maintain its warmth. I wouldn’t recommend applying it directly to your skin but at least under one layer of clothes is fine. Hug it to yourself or put it on your back to keep winter’s chill away.

10. Put up a dark-colored blackout curtain (also works for summer, too.)

Similar to the blackout blinds tip, a blackout curtain is also something you can use in both the winter and summer months.

The bottom line is the more heat you can trap inside and the more cold you can block on the outside, the better off you and your roommates will be.

One of the most beautiful things about having opaque or blackout curtains during winter in Spain is that they absorb heat on both sides. I brought mine over from the US this past summer and with each season, I can notice a significant change in the temperature in my room.

So, if you’re currently living here or plan to move here in the next year and have one of these lying around – put it up! It doesn’t matter if it will go with the color of your walls – it probably won’t – but you will thank yourself later on. (Especially later on during the hot Spanish summers!)

The dark purple curtain you see above was actually purchased when I was a junior in college (nearly 10 years ago!) and I thought I’d never get any more use out of it…well, I was happily proven wrong. 🙂

11. Sleep underneath a mountain of blankets!

This one is pretty self-explanatory but it should be on this list regardless.

Don’t skimp on blankets especially if you’re spending the winter in Madrid or Castilla y León. There are several small mountain regions nearby these areas making the temperatures more prone to drop suddenly during the winter. If you’re living in a coastal area, you’ll be pleased to know that the sea will act as a natural regulator and do its best to keep frigid temperatures away, thankfully. Though it did get to 39°F/4°C some January nights in A Coruña so don’t rule out the temperature drops entirely!

Pile on the blankets! Make sure you sleep with a mix of fabrics (mostly cotton is recommended) so you can still be comfortable at night. On my bed, I’ve got cotton sheets, a light blanket, a wool-like blanket, a comforter (duvet) and a slightly heavier blanket that I also use for picnics in the park.

12. Cuddle with someone special

The Aquaduct of Segovia on a cloudy November day back in 2017

This is a just-for-fun tip but it’s still highly effective if you happen to be in a relationship during a Spanish winter. Save some euros on your electric bill by cuddling up with said special someone or have a personal hand warmer for the walk back from your metro or bus stop.

But while wintertime is the perfect time to have someone special nearby to cuddle with, I wouldn’t pair yourself up with just anyone.

The best types of relationships are the ones that aren’t forced and where you can be yourself. If you aren’t convinced, read my unedited thoughts about dating relationships.

And that’s a wrap! Hope these tips help you stay roasty, toasty warm this year. 🙂

Is there anything I missed in regards to surviving and staying warm during the winter in Spain? Comment below and join the discussion. I’d love to hear from you!

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