For Spaniards who don’t live in Madrid, the capital’s weather is a source of amusement. It has, they say, a climate of extremes, as summed up by the phrase nueve meses de invierno y tres de infierno (nine months of winter and three of hell). To a certain extent they’re right: the meseta (high inland plateau) where the city is located indeed ensures scorching summers and bitterly cold winters. But Madrid’s climate is not without its staunch supporters, among them Hemingway (who described Madrid’s climate as the best in Spain) and fashion designer Agatha Ruiz de la Prada (who told us that ‘it’s a climate that can make you feel quite euphoric’). Personally, we love the absence of humidity, the piercing blue skies for much of winter, and the hot, dry summer days.
July is the hottest month, with August running a close second. Average highs hover above 30°C, but the maximum is frequently in excess of 35°C and sometimes nudges 40°C. When a heat wave sweeps through, it can get uncomfortable and at 4am you can still be gasping for air, but it’s rare that the heat gets too oppressive for more than a couple of weeks a year. Air-conditioning in your room is, at such times, a godsend. Bringing some relief, and rare humidity, apocalyptic summer storms sometimes drench Madrid in summer.
The coldest months are January and February, when daily average highs are less than 10°C, although as high as 15°C is not uncommon. At night it frequently drops below freezing, yet it rarely snows in Madrid. Whatever the official temperature, you’ll really notice the cold when an icy wind blows in off the snow-capped sierra.
Spring and autumn are lovely times to be in Madrid. In theory, it’s also the period with the heaviest rainfall; more than 50mm can be quite common in October, and March can be unpredictable. In Spain they say cuando en marzo mayea, en mayo marzea. In other words, if you get nice, warm dry days in March (weather more typical of May), you’ll be wiping that grin off your face in May, when the wet spells you missed earlier catch up with you! Never short of a saying, Spaniards say of April, mes de abril, aguas mil – it rains a lot in this spring month.
When to go
There’s no bad time to visit Madrid. Given that there’s always something going on, the weather can be an important factor when planning your visit. In winter Madrid most often enjoys cool but crystal-clear days, although cold winds blow in off the Sierra del Guadarrama and cold snaps can be bitterly cold (snowfalls are rare but do happen). In July and August expect unrelenting heat with occasional, apocalyptic storms. In August Madrid’s frenetic energy takes a break and the city is uncharacteristically quiet. City streets empty, some restaurants close and offices run in neutral as locals head for the coast in search of a sea breeze or the hills in pursuit of high-altitude respite.
If you have some flexibility about when you travel to Madrid, or you’ve a specialised interest, planning your trip around one of Madrid’s many festivals will be an important consideration.
If you’re only here for a short stay, consider making it a weekend (ie Thursday to Sunday) when Madrid’s nightclubs will have you dancing till dawn. If you’re here for the major art galleries and museums, avoid Mondays when many are closed; the Centro de Arte Reina Sofía is a notable exception, closing on Tuesdays. If El Rastro, Europe’s largest flea market, is your thing, you’ll need to be in Madrid on a Sunday morning.