The run up to Christmas is one of the most charming times to visit Barcelona, its streets hung with twinkling lights and lined with craft and food markets.

A huge outdoor ice rink is set up in the Plaça Catalunya, a life-size nativity scene fills the Plaça Sant Jaume with crowds, and the city's myriad old-fashioned shops take on a Dickensian air with their festive window displays.

The traditional Christmas market at the cathedral. Image by © Turisme de Barcelona

World Press Photo 2014

This year's World Press Photo is staged at the CCCB, a former almshouse turned cultural centre. This peripatetic exhibition features the finest news images from around the world, covering a range of subjects and themes.
When: 11th November to 12th December
Where: CCCB, Carrer de Montalegre 5, Raval
More info: cccb.org

See John Stanmeyer's image of African migrants on the shore of Djibouti city at night at the World Press Photo of the Year exhibition. Image by John Stanmeyer, USA, VII for National Geographic

Mr Brainwash

Fans of the Banksy documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010) will be familiar with Parisian artist Thierry Guetta, better known as Mr Brainwash. Amid some vestigial speculation that this is all a big prank, he is exhibiting some of his work in Barcelona.
When: 17th December
Where: 3 Punts Galeria, Carrer d'Aribau 75, Eixample
More info: http://www.3punts.com

Mr Brainwash comes to Barcelona in December. Image ©3 Punts Galeria

Christmas Lights

Over 400 streets are decorated with huge, grand displays of lights over the Yuletide season, with the most impressive to be found along La Rambla, Portal de l'Angel and the Passeig de Gràcia. New this Christmas is the addition of the Jean Nouvel-designed Torre Agbar (much like London's 'Gherkin') to the festivities, pulsating with light like an enormous futuristic Christmas tree.
When: 21st November to 6th January
Where: All over the city
More info: bcn.cat/nadal

Ice Rink

Every winter, the Plaça Catalunya is given over to an enormous ice-rink, open every day from 10am to 9pm. You can go solo or join a course – but don't forget your gloves. Occasionally some of the shops along the nearby Portal de l'Angel have discount vouchers next to the tills.
When: 21st November to 11th January
Where: Plaça Catalunya, Eixample
More info: bargelona.cat

Nativity Scene

The pessebre (nativity scene) is big business in Catalunya and no home is without one. The biggest, best and often downright weirdest of them all, however, is the life-size version in the Plaça Sant Jaume. Its unveiling at the end of November is keenly awaited, given some of the surprises of previous years. Most famously the birth of Jesus was once rendered in a pile of steaming rocks, while other more conventional versions have included typical uniformed workers – street sweepers, firemen, bakers – taking the place of the traditional characters.
When: 28th November to 6th January
Where: Plaça Sant Jaume, Barri Gòtic
More info: bcn.cat/nadal

Mistletoe and other Christmas items for sale around the Catedral. Image by Valerie Hinojosa / CC BY-SA 2.0

Fira de Santa Llúcia

This medieval-looking Christmas market huddles around the cathedral, and specialises in Christmas decorations and Catalan traditions. As well as holly, mistletoe, tinsel and so on, these include the caganer ('crapper'), a tiny squatting figure who sits in a corner of every nativity scene.
When: 28th November to 23rd December
Where: Plaça de la Seu, Barri Gòtic
More info: bcn.cat/nadal

Caga tió logs are a Catalan tradition. Image by Valerie Hinojosa / CC BY-SA 2.0

The Giant Log

The caga tió (crapping log) is a uniquely Catalan affair, an anthropomorphised log – complete with legs, smiley face and red Catalan hat – who evacuates his bowels of sweeties and little presents when beaten with sticks. This year a giant version sits in front of the Col•legi d'Arquitectes.
When: 29th November to 23rd December
Where: Plaça Nova
More info: bcn.cat/nadal

Barcelona Hayride Festival

After a five-year lapse, the Hayride Festival is back with its blend of vintage sounds from the 50s and 60s, combining country, soul, rockabilly and blues bands. Be sure and dress appropriately for the occasion.
When: 5th to 7th December
Where: La Capsa, Avinguda del Pare Andreu de Palma 5, El Prat de Llobregat
More info: barcelona.hayride.es

Sharon Van Etten plays the Gran Teatre del Liceu in December. Image by digboston / CC by 2.0

Sharon Van Etten

Dreamy-voiced folk rocker Sharon Van Etten brings her soulful songwriting and unique use of harmonies to the lavish Gran Teatre del Liceu opera house for her one date in Spain. She's here to promote her new album, Are We There.
When: 10th December
Where: Gran Teatre del Liceu, La Rambla 51-59
More info: liceubarcelona.cat

Händel's Messiah

One of Barcelona's best-loved traditions is this annual performance of the Messiah, held in the stunning environs of the 15th-century Santa María del Mar basilica. Its soaring nave and stark interior mean that wrapping up warmly is a good idea.
When: 17th December
Where: Santa María del Mar, Passeig del Born, Born
More info: classictic.com

Cursa dels Nassos

A hugely popular 11km run through the city, named after the Home dels Nassos (Man of the Noses), a popular New Year character who has as many noses are there are days left in the year (this makes perfect sense to children, trust us). It's a joyful event where all generations join in, often with their dogs.
When: 31st December
Where: Begins Carrer Selva del Mar, Poblenou
More info: bcn.cat/cursanassos

Sally Davies has lived in Barcelona since 2001, and writes on Spanish food and culture. She contributed to the latest Lonely Planet Barcelona guide, which is in the shops now. Follow her at @BCNExpert

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