Investigation of the links between atmospheric circulation patterns and rainfall is important for the understanding of climatic variability and for the development of empirical circulation-based downscaling methods. Here, spatial and temporal variations in circulation-rainfall relationships over the Iberian Peninsula during the period 1958–97 are explored using an automated circulation classification scheme and daily rainfall totals for 18 stations. Links between the circulation classification scheme and the North Atlantic oscillation (NAO) are also considered, as are the direct links between rainfall and the NAO. Trends in rainfall and circulation-type frequency are explored. A general tendency towards decreasing mean seasonal rainfall over the peninsula, with the exception of the southeastern Mediterranean coast, hides larger changes in wet day amount and rainfall probability. There is a tendency towards more, less-intensive rain days across much of Iberia, with a tendency towards more, more-intensive rain days along the southeastern Mediterranean coast, both of which are reflected in changes in rainfall amount quantiles. A preliminary analysis indicates that these changes may have occurred systematically across all circulation types. Comparison of the trends in rainfall and in circulation-type frequency suggests possible links. These links are supported by linear regression analyses using circulation-type frequencies as predictor variables and rainfall totals for winter months as the predictands. The selected predictor variables reflect the main circulation features influencing winter rainfall across the peninsula, i.e. the strong influence of Atlantic westerly and southwesterly airmasses over much of the peninsula, of northerly and northwesterly surface flow over northern/northwestern Spain and northern Portugal and the stronger effect of Mediterranean rather than Atlantic influences in southeastern Spain. The observed rainfall changes cannot, however, be explained by changes in circulation alone.