Here’s the lowdown on where and how to celebrate New Year’s Eve (Nochevieja) in major Spanish cities, including Madrid’s ever-popular party at Puerta del Sol’s main plaza.
Puerta del Sol is Madrid’s premier place to spend New Year’s Eve in Spain. Why? Because 1) it’s the capital of Spain and 2) it’s the scene nearly all Spaniards see on TV (or on the internet) when counting down to the new year.
People come from all over the world to eat the 12 grapes (seedless, preferably) – one grape at a time with each stroke of midnight (if you can hear the bells over the din of the crowd, that is) – with thousands of others in Madrid’s packed central plaza.
Truth is, few Madrileños themselves go – or have gone – to the Puerta del Sol to celebrate the new year. “Why would I want to get into all that mess?” many have told me when they hear I’m going. Besides, if you don’t live in the old downtown Madrid it can be a hassle; public transportation is essentially stalled or overcrowded (the Sol metro station closes from 9pm to 12:30am), no taxis can be found, and after midnight getting home can be impossible. So I get why few would want to do it.
Celebrating New Year’s Eve Madrid style
Most Madrileños, as the custom goes, stay home with family and quietly bring in the new year with food, wine and Cava (Spanish sparkling wine – don’t call it Champagne, heaven forbid!), watching TV and the ball-dropping over the Puerta del Sol and the entertainment programs leading up to and following midnight. Many play cards until the wee hours of the morning.
This year – as always – the poor presenters in Sol will stand freezing themselves solid in skimpy dresses and tuxedos out on some plaza-facing balcony. TVE is usually the most-watched broadcast for New Year’s Eve.
I think it was in 2006 I went to Puerta del Sol to celebrate New Year’s Eve, and later again in 2011. The first time, I had my 12 peeled and deseeded grapes at the ready. The plaza was already packed when we arrived at 11:30pm but were able to find space around the Sol metro exit, in front of La Mallorquina pastry shop. We were surrounded not by Spaniards but representatives of every imaginable nationality. We heard a few Spaniards here and there but they seemed to have come from other parts of Spain.
The plaza is essentially surrounded by police and police barriers, too, and they regulate the masses a little, also checking to be sure people aren’t carrying glass bottles which could cause problems. The police can only check so many, however, evidenced by the post-midnight piles of broken glass when they push out the party goers and the cleaning crews come through.
Many foreigners hear the word ‘Spain’ and they immediately imagine a warm climate all-year round. This couldn’t be further from the truth, in fact. On New Year’s Even in central Spain it can be downright bitterly cold. People in Sol must wear winter coats, hats, and maybe even gloves. We nearly froze! But when you’ve gulped down your last grape and you given kisses and hugs and happy-new-year wishes to every stranger around you, it’s time to go home as best you can. Usually, going home means going on-foot, no matter how far away you live.
Puerto del Sol New Year’s Eve festivities
Puerta del Sol area hotels – or any Old Downtown Madrid hotels – are typically reserved long before New Years Eve and some hotels/hostels charge double or triple the usual going rate. But it must be nice to have your bed only a few hundred meters away from where you celebrated New Year’s Eve.
Private New Year’s Eve parties are advertised everywhere as well – and they too charge a pretty sum. I saw one flamenco tablao charging €237 entry for their New Year’s Eve party a couple years ago. Wow. Who can afford that apart from the rich and famous, especially ‘in times of economic crisis’?? And I don’t doubt they’ll be full. You’d hope that included dinner and an open bar, but somehow I doubt it.
Another noteworthy comment is that Spain’s entire mobile phone network crashes every year in the hours surrounding New Year’s Eve midnight hour with literally billions of SMS text messages sent and calls made. Sometimes messages take hours to get through. Many send flowery poems (copied, re-copied, and forwarded) to friends, wishing them well for the coming year.
If you can’t be there in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol, where can you watch the New Year’s Eve festivities? If you live in Spain you can watch them live on TVE’s Channel 1 ‘La Primera‘. There you’ll also find entertainment before and after midnight with comedians, presenters, year-in-review segments, and lots of pop groups lip-syncing their most popular songs
If you find yourself outside of Spain you can also try and watch them live online at TVE’s Channel 1 website. Telemadrid SAT will also broadcast the ball-drop online, at least in the minutes leading up to midnight. This ‘SAT’ channel does not broadcast the same programming at the local TV version, however, so be aware.