How to Survive Summer in Madrid

You’re coming to Madrid in August for your summer holidays, hombre, are you crazy? – would be the typical response a Madrileño would give you if they heard your travel plans. They know from bitter experience that this delightful city turns into a furnace during summer. Anyone in their right mind ought to head to the beach. 

Greenhouse effect: summer in the concrete jungle can be blisteringly hot!

But what if summer is the only time you have and, rather than lazing on a playa, you want to experience all the wonderful art and culture Madrid has to offer? Then I say by all means come. It can be done as long as you’re properly prepared for temperatures that can occasionally exceed 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit). With that in mind here are my top tips for surviving the heat:   

Book a hotel in the north 

Now you’ve heard about the terrible heat, it’s time for some good news: Madrid is right next to the Guadarrama mountain range and each morning a wave of lovely fresh air flows down from these frosty peaks cooling the city. Well, cooling most of the city. The heat island effect here is dreadful and poorer areas to the south, such as Usera and Carabanchel, suffer the worst with suffocating temperatures in summer. 

The north of the city is closest to the Sierra de Guadarrama mountain range

No wonder then that the rich live in the north! And you should think about staying here too. You don’t necessarily have to stay in upscale neighbourhoods like Salamanca and Chamberi to get the benefit of cool mountain air first thing in the morning. Tetuán, a working-class district that also happens to be in the cool north is also a good option. You can, of course, stay in the centre too but you’ll find the heat lingers longer here.

Get up early 

Happily, the dry climate and cool mountain air mean mornings are reasonably cool. So now’s the time to dash about. Get to the Rastro flea market and snaffle up the best bargains or simply wander the city streets.  I’m an early bird myself so am often up with my camera first thing in the morning and find I get the best shots at this time of day. 

Wandering around the Rastro on a summer morning

Morning is also the best time for a tour. Most guides (including me) won’t take bookings for summer afternoons but will happily show you around the city in the morning. My summer start times are typically from 10am – added bonus, you avoid the worst of the crowds. 

Take a siesta 

Summer is the only time I find Spanish mealtimes make sense. Once you’ve squeezed in as much as you can in the morning, it’s time to take a long leisurely lunch followed by a siesta. The Spanish will be doing the same. Many office workers switch to summer hours in July and August, starting super early and going home around 3pm for lunch. The blinds then go down and they don’t venture out again until the sun sets.   

My husband and me sporting improvised headgear on a very hot day. Get indoors before this happens to you too!

Visit museums and galleries

Of course, you don’t have to spend all afternoon snoozing. If you can bear a walk to the metro or bus in the heat – for me anything under five minutes is doable – then make your way to one of Madrid’s many amazing museums. You’ll want to do the big ones like the Prado and the Reina Sofia, but don’t miss out on some of Madrid’s lesser-known museums. Not only are they free, but they’re also air-conditioned and blissfully cool. 

Museo de Historia de Madrid is air-conditioned and free!

Pray

If air conditioning sets off your allergies, you can find some divine relief in Madrid’s churches. Thick stone walls keep these old buildings blissfully cool meaning they’re a perfect refuge from the blistering heat out on the streets. My favourites in Madrid are San Francisco el Grande and San Antonio de la Florida. Both boast amazing art by Goya and the former has the second biggest dome in Europe, which is quite spectacular.  

The Basilica of San Francisco el Grande is divinely cool!

Equally, monasteries are a great bet. In Madrid, the Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales and Real Monastery of La Encarnación both have a royal connection and can be visited on guided tours. An even better escape is a day trip out to El Escorial, the monastery/palace of Felipe II in the mountains. Equally, you could visit Avila. This city is 1,132 meters above sea level and, like El Escorial, considerably cooler than Madrid. 

Green spaces and pools

Madrid’s two big parks offer an escape from the intense heat of the concrete jungle. Retiro Park in the city centre is the well-groomed sibling to the wilder but much larger Casa de Campo out across the river. Retiro also has a rich history and, if you’ll excuse the plug, you can find out more about it on my audio tour: El Retiro Park’s Rise, Ruin and Redemption: A Tour of the Former Royal Retreat

My local municipal pool at the beginning of summer

If a sedate stroll doesn’t appeal, then hire a bike and whizz around Casa de Campo or down the riverside park along the Manzanares. Here, you’ll also find Madrid Playa: a range of cooling fountains that children are free to play in. The city’s public pools are also excellent and very cheap. However, it’s better to get your ticket in advance by creating an account and booking online to avoid a long wait in the heat. Some hotels have pools too but charge a lot for non-guests, so best to stay and use them for free: I recommend The Emperador or Pestana Plaza Mayor.

Dinner in a market or out by the lake 

Indoor markets like Mercado de San Fernando are airconditioned

In summer, outdoor terraza seating springs up all over the city and yet, unless you’re eating later than 10pm, you’ll find the fierce heat of the day still lingers. As I tend to get hungry earlier, I eat inside airconditioned restaurants or indoor markets like Mercado de San Fernando. Alternatively, Villa Verbana out by the lake in Casa de Campo is wonderful. With no concrete in sight, the park cools down much more quickly so you can enjoy a lovely romantic evening staring out across the water at Madrid shimmering in the summer heat. 

Visiting Madrid and want to find out more about the city? Then why not book yourself in for a tour? Get in touch to discuss rates and dates!

Leave a Reply