Art & Culture, Chocolate & Churros in the Spanish capital


Art & Culture, Chocolate & Churros in the Spanish capital

Temps topping 40°C, ladies waving fans, and melting ice cream. Think of Madrid and you think hot, scorching hot. Well here’s a lesser-known fact to let you into. Madrid can get cold, really cold. The kind of cold where a beanie hat won’t look out of place and you’ll want to get cosy with a local vermouth and a succulent slow-cooked oxtail. Yes, Madrid is one of the highest capitals in Europe and experiences extremes of climate. Temperatures build through spring into a sultry summer rendering August the very hottest before the relief of autumn. Not surprisingly then, visitors are drawn to this phenomenal centre of art, culture, history and cuisine from March to July and September to December, avoiding both the coldest and the hottest months. For the low season traveller, however, a trip in January, February and August is not only entirely possible but a fantastic opportunity to enjoy all that Madrid has to offer at the best prices and without the crowds. You just need to do your research and know what to expect. Oh, and if you forget to bring your layers there are always the January sales where you can snag a bargain.

El Paseo Del Arte

No trip to Madrid is complete without at least popping into one or more of Madrid’s legendary museums. The three big hitters, Museo del Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen, sit together on the beautiful kilometre-long Paseo Del Arte. They feature a staggering number of pieces by Dali, Miró, Goya and Renaissance artists. It’s best to plan what you want to see to avoid museum burn-out, but don’t miss Guernica by Picasso, the huge mural depicting the horrifying rise of fascism in the 30s. And do check out smaller venues like the delightful ABC Museum of Illustration which sometimes offers drawing classes. Even those less keen on art, will revel in a blast of the venues’ air conditioning during the hottest part of the day, or enjoy a drink by the Cibeles Fountain or at the rooftop bar on the Circulo de Bellas Artes Cultural Centre.

Green Spaces

Looking for a special way to spend Valentine’s? Warm-up your loved one with a romantic walk through one of Madrid’s many beautiful parks. Even in the heat of August, you can still enjoy outdoor fun, joining Madrilenos as they take the air first thing in the morning and then again in the evening, until late. El Retiro is a real favourite with its Crystal Palace and 118 hectares of greenery with plenty of shady spots for a siesta or for people watching. You can even hire a boat and take to the lake for an hour or so to enjoy the beautiful views. The gorgeous Royal Palace has its own exquisite neoclassical-style gardens, Jardines de Sabatini, while the huge Casa de Campo to the west of the city used to be royal hunting grounds. The Madrid Rio walk, a fairly recent regeneration development, stretches miles through the capital. It offers stunning views, water jets for cooling off, a faux beach and cultural events on summer evenings, such as those organised through Veranos de la Villa program in July and August.

 Hidden Madrid

Explore the narrow lanes in search of small tavernas, traditional Jamon shops and bodegas. Great starting points of are the quiet backstreets behind the Royal Palace and parts of Lavapies, the old multicultural quarter. Top picks are La Tabcalera, the old tobacco factory decked with murals by local street artists; Taberna Antonio Sanchez, an authentic wine cellar steeped in bullfighting heritage; and the secret garden terrace on top of Salvador Bachiller. A fun way to explore is on a self-guided walking tour. Try the Cervantes route taking in Casa Alberto, a traditional bar built on the site of Cervantes home; or the Legends of the Spanish Inquisition tour. Who knows what secrets of the past you might uncover.

Low Season Months

Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug
Sep Oct Nov Dec

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Top Experiences

Enjoy the Water

Madrid may be landlocked but cool down at an aquatic park such as Aquopolis in Villanueva de la Cañada with slides, floaters and a beach of fine sand. Further out the swimming pools of Cercedilla make an unforgettable day trip outside of the city surrounded by natural scenery.

Open air cinemas

Late night showings under a starry sky are the way to spend a Madrid summer evening. Choose the Matadero, a former slaughterhouse, or the glass courtyard of the Palacio de Cibeles, or the Rio Park. Autocine Madrid is Europe’s largest drive-in, and there are even chairs if you’re without a car.

February Carnival

Held under the last full moon of winter carnival brings a fun atmosphere to celebrate an end to chilly nights. There’s an impressive parade, Murgas and Chirigotas street musician performances, culinary delights and traditional activities such as the ceremonial burial of the sardine.

Insider Tips

  • Get your bearings and the best city views from the Madrid Teleférico cable car. The 2.5km journey departs the Casa de Campo and passes the Aeronautical Museum, Egyptian temple, Plaza de España and Atletico Madrid Stadium. It’s open all summer long and at weekends during winter.
  • The centre of Madrid is more compact than you might think. In winter, you can warm up by walking between the main sites, especially now many more streets have been pedestrianised. In summer the fully air conditioned bus and underground services provide very welcome relief from the heat.
  • Breakfasting on chocolate and churros is a Madrid tradition, particularly on a winter’s weekend morning. Dipping the crispy dough into rich and creamy hot chocolate is the perfect start to the day. Chocolateria San Ginés is top choice, open every day until late and serving since 1894.

Good To Know

  • Explore the city following the Ruta de Tortilla de Patata, trying the 9 best venues to experience the famous Spanish potato omelette. Whether you prefer firm or soft, crushed potatoes, onion or alternatively eggplant, truffle, mushroom or red pepper fillings, you’ll find your favourite.
  • Keep your eyes open to spot the plaques fixed outside of commercial premises. Any venue that is over 100 years old is presented by a commemorative golden plaque authenticating their claims. Try Los Galayos, Sobrino de Botin, and Lhardy, all featuring the little sign provided by the town hall.
  • Check out The Convent of Las Descalzas Reales, literally ‘the Royal Barefooted'. The former palace was home to widowed or spinster noblewomen in the 16th and 17th centuries. The convent riches soon piled up leaving a legacy of wonderful art, tapestries, architecture and fascinating stories.

Food & Drink

Gelateria da Roma, Calle Santa Engracia 155

Without a doubt one of Madrid’s finest ice cream shops, Da Roma specialises in creamy gelato and exquisite frozen desserts. Ingredients are all natural and gluten free options are available. Rocambolesc and Lolo Polos are also great. Just the thing to cool down when temperatures rise.

La Campana, off Plaza Mayor

This traditional place offers one of the best squid sandwiches in the capital. The fresh and crispy fried local fave is served hot with a squeeze of lemon. Perfect with a cold beer. It’s cheap, cheerful and quick with a hatch providing take away service. Take your baguette and sit in the square nearby.

Sobrino de Botin, Calle Cuchilleros, 17

Dating from 1725, Guinness World Records lists this as the world’s oldest restaurant in continuous operation. Enjoy its cosy nooks, cavern like architecture and historic references. That’s before you try amazing dishes, like the signature suckling pig. Don’t forget to make reservations.

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