Having lived in Spain for many years now and admittedly being a great fan of the beach, sun, and sea life, I nevertheless return to the capital, Madrid, at regular intervals and in every season. Like a magnet, the city draws me back time and again because it seems that every week a new venue springs up, be it a restaurant, shop, museum, or exhibition that absolutely needs to be explored. The latest surprise this winter was Filomena, the biggest snowstorm in over 100 years, which turned Madrid into a winter wonderland, with people skiing along the Gran Via, one of Madrid’s busiest thoroughfares, which is normally brimming with traffic. Sure, this doesn’t happen every year, but, as you will see, there is fun to be had even if the city isn’t covered in a white blanket and temperatures aren’t dropping below zero.
Between the well-known attractions like the park El Retiro, the museums and palaces, and a delightful short course in flower arrangements at the Madrid Flower School, every season offers you something special to keep you busy and entertained.
Best Things To Do During Winter In Madrid
If you travel to Madrid in Winter, you are unlikely to be met with another Filomena, but it will be rather nippy. January is the coldest month when temperatures can drop as low as 43 Fahrenheit, but although it can be rather cold, it’s sunny with blue skies and maybe a dusting of snow. Just bring warm clothes and wear layers and you will be fine.
Winter is the season of Christmas, New Year, and Three Kings, all three huge festivities in Madrid. Every year the Christmas lights seem to get more lavish, and they are designed by another artist. To enable you to see them all in the main locations in Madrid, the city runs a special bus called Naviluz Bus. Check routes and departure times on the website, which is also the only place where you can buy tickets. The tour usually lasts 50 minutes.
More Christmas entertainment is to be enjoyed at a spectacle called Cortylandia. The famous department store El Corte Ingles puts on an animated performance to be enjoyed by young and old. Whilst there, you may indulge in a spot of designer shopping, as in January the sales are on and you can get great bargains on Spanish designers that are not available outside Spain but are very chic.
An advantage of visiting Madrid in winter is that the huge summer tourist crowds are absent. That enables you to see Kilometre 0, a plaque in the pavement in Puerta del Sol which marks the center of Spain.
Escape the cold wind and admire the best art without long lines in one of the three museums which are known as the Golden Triangle of Art: El Prado, Reina Sofia, and Thyssen-Bornemiza.
Do you ice skate? If so (or you just want to watch) there are plenty of ice rinks in Madrid. The best known are Azco, Villa de Vallecas, Palacio de Cibeles, and Vicalvaro fairgrounds. Before setting off to any of them, make sure they are open and not being used as vaccination centers as some have been this year.
Pro Tip: The top Christmas sweet is called turron or nougat. A must-try in winter in Madrid. The best place to get it is Torrons Vicens Arenal. You do something good in the process as a part of the proceeds go to the Hospital Sant Joan de Deu.
Best Things To Do During Spring In Madrid
Spring is the season when the weather gets warmer in Madrid and the city bursts into bloom and scent. Cherries, almonds, mimosas, you name it, it flowers, perfumes the air, and delights the eye. The best locations to enjoy this awakening of nature are El Retiro Park, a 125-hectare big green oasis in the heart of the city with more than 15,000 trees, plus lakes, monuments, and footpaths, beloved by the locals and tourists alike. It’s by far not the only park, and another one perfect for seeing the bloom is Parque Quinta de los Molinos. This smaller and lesser-known park sits in the east of the city not far from the new Atletico Madrid football (soccer) stadium, so you have to take the metro. It’s most famous for the almond trees which bloom in early spring.
Another part of Madrid is called Lavapies, and the surprise here is a street: Calle Miguel Servat, where cherry and almond trees grow (and bloom) right over the many terraces of small cafes. Lavapies is a melting pot of cultures and has traditionally been inhabited by a working-class population that’s famous for their authentic, snappy, and sharp wit.
If you like strawberries, history, and culture plus riding on a train, take the Strawberry Train to Aranjuez in April or May. Departing from the Railway Museum, the historic train which has run the same route since 1984 is attended by employees in traditional costumes who offer samples of succulent strawberries in straw baskets during the journey, which includes a guided tour through the historic town on the shores of the river Tagus. In 2020, the train was canceled, so check for this year’s itinerary.
Pro Tip: Whilst in Lavapies, find a community space called Esta es una plaza. Dedicated since 2008 as a place of creating gardens for the locals, you’ll find almond and cherry trees, young people, small and cheap cafes, and a very different atmosphere from the rest of the cosmopolitan capital city.
Best Things To Do During Summer In Madrid
In the summer, Madrid is getting very hot and many Madrilenos leave either for the Costa beaches or the mountains. That doesn’t mean there is nothing interesting going on for visitors. Very much the opposite: Summer is the season of festivals, open-air cinemas and concerts, clubbing, a trip to the mountains, and swimming in posh rooftop pools.
Each year, the community of Madrid runs a program called Veranos de la Villa, Summer of the City in English. Normally the different performances of theatre, music, and dance are held in various venues but, due to the restrictions of the pandemic, this year, 22 events take place in a single venue: Conde Duque Cultural Center. Among the many events between the 29th of June and August 30, there is bound to be at least one to your taste.
Explore the colorful district of La Latina and participate in the Festival de La Paloma, during which locals celebrate a virgin, dress up in traditional clothing and eat great food. If you dare, try the specialty: offals of all kinds, from lamb to chicken.
There are quite a few rooftop pools in Madrid for cooling off in the sizzling heat, but most are attached to hotels and only open to guests. An exception is the super cool GYMAGE. On top of what was the former Luna cinema, there is a pool, lounge bar, and even a fitness center.
If you travel with kids, you might prefer a waterpark over a rooftop pool, Aquopolis, at a distance of about 30 minutes from the city center by train to Henares, fits the bill perfectly.
Do as the locals and escape the summer heat on a day trip to the fresh mountain air of the Sierra de Guadarrama. You can swim in a natural pool, then return refreshed for clubbing in The Hat at night at Madrid’s coolest rooftop bar.
Pro Tip: My absolute favorite boutique hotel, located near Madrid’s Gran Via is the Hotel Santo Domingo. It even has a rooftop pool for the exclusive use of guests, so it’s never overcrowded.
Best Things To Do During Fall In Madrid
Like spring, fall is a great season to visit Madrid. The summer here is gone but it’s still warm and sunny, although you may experience some rainfall in October. Pack a light raincoat and umbrella and you will be prepared.
Fall is the time to enjoy Madrid’s museums, markets (street and otherwise), food and drink, and long strolls along the Gran Via, Plaza Mayor, and around other landmarks.
If you only visit one museum, it has to be El Prado. You will be awed by the incredible amount of masterpieces housed in this beautiful museum. Take your time, in the fall there are fewer crowds to obstruct your view.
Art of a different (and affordable) kind can be found every Saturday at the Rastro (flea market) at Plaza de Cascorro. No less than 3,500 stalls offer trinkets of all kinds.
More art and craft is to be found in Matadero, Madrid’s former slaughterhouse, a small city within the city dedicated to arts and crafts.
Fall is the season of grapes and chestnuts, and you’ll see vendors of roasted chestnuts at every street corner. For the full food experience head to the beautiful art deco closed market San Miguel, where you can sample and buy Spain’s finest food. It’s temporarily closed but hopefully will reopen this fall.
Not so well known but extremely entertaining, especially if you travel with kids, is the Museum of Illusions. Lastly, you need to try Madrid’s comfort food number one: churros and chocolate. They are deep-fried crispy sticks of dough that are dipped in melted hot chocolate and devoured. Popular year-round and rumored to cure a hangover in any season, they are delicious in the fall to warm you from the inside. Open for 120 years -- and 24 hours a day -- Chocolateria San Gines is one of the best places to get your hands on this treat.