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.
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.
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.