Q: My family of four will spend two weeks in Spain over the winter holidays. We start in Barcelona, spend Dec. 24-26 in Seville, then on to Cordoba, Granada and end in Madrid on New Year's Eve. I know museums and stores will be closed Christmas Day, but what accessibility to tourist sites, restaurants and such can we expect for the rest of our time there?
A: Christmas Eve is known as Nochebuena (Good night) in Spain. This is when Spaniards gather with family to celebrate the holidays. Expect to find most bars and restaurants closed that night.
Your best bet is to dine at a large hotel's restaurant, which will remain open to cater to guests. Or eat a big lunch and find a supermarket to buy fixings for a cold supper you can enjoy in your room.
Christmas Day is a national holiday in Spain so the shops and tourist sites will be closed. Bars and restaurants, however, will reopen at night — the big meal this day is in the afternoon. As on other nights in Spain, the dinner hour doesn't start until about 8 p.m.
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In Seville, visit Alcazar, a medieval fortress and World Heritage site, on Dec. 24. Then take an informal walking tour to see the decorations and buildings around Seville on Christmas Day. Even from the outside, the Archbishop's Palace, Town Hall and Church of San Jose are impressive. You can find a suggested walking tour on the Seville page of Frommer's website (www.frommers.com). And save a visit to Seville Cathedral for Dec. 26; admission to the world's largest church and home to Christopher Columbus is free Sundays.
Based on your travel dates, you should encounter no additional closures because of the holidays. Careful planning is still a good idea, however, because some museums and tourist attractions are closed Sundays or Mondays.
Ending in Madrid on New Year's Eve will put you in the heart of the country's big celebration. Street and club parties are popular in cities throughout Spain this night. The largest crowd in Madrid will gather at Puerta del Sol (the main square) to eat grapes and drink cava.
New Year's Eve lasts well into the next morning, usually until sunrise. If you're still in the city Jan. 1, expect to find a much slower pace as residents recover from the previous night's festivities.
Another big Spanish winter celebration is El Gordo (the Fat One), the Spanish Christmas lottery. On Dec. 22, officials draw winning numbers for the world's largest prize pool. Expect plenty of revelry.
Also, your visit is well timed because you will miss the biggest gift-giving day in Spain. Celebrating the Feast of the Epiphany, Jan. 6 is when the Los Reyes Magos (the Three Kings) deliver presents to the children, in honor of the Three Kings bringing gifts to Bethlehem. Most shops and tourist attractions will be closed.