Puerta del Sol is Madrid’s premier place to spend New Years 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 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 and 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 would say – as 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.
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. 2010’s presenters on TVE (the MOST-watched broadcast for New Years Eve) will be Anne Igartiburu (as last year) and comedian José Mota.
I think it was in 2006 I went to Puerta del Sol to celebrate New Years Eve. I had my 12 peeled and de-seeded 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 partiers 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. And on New Years 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 give 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.
Puerta del Sol area hotels – or any Old Downtown Madrid hotels – are typically reserved long before New Years Eve and some hotels/hostel charge double or triple the usual going rate. It must be nice to have your bed only a few hundred meters away from where you celebrated New Years Eve.
Private New Years Eve parties are advertised everywhere as well – and they too charge a pretty sum. I saw one flamenco tablao charging 237 Euros entry for their New Years Eve party. 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. HOPE that includes 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 hour surrounding New Years Eve midnight hour with the 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 Years Eve festivities? If you live in Spain you can watch live on TV 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, this year for the first time, watch live online on TVE’s Channel 1 via their website. Telemadrid SAT will also broadcast online the ball-drop, 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.
MadridMan wishes you all a Happy New Year in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol, at home, and everywhere in our big, beautiful world.
Video Below: MadridMan’s OWN video of the 12-bells of midnight in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol leading into a Happy 2011 celebration. Notice all the grape-gobbling going on.
Video Below: Mecano sings “Un Año Más” – about New Years Eve in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol, accompanied by historical photos and video of Puerta del Sol