The meseta (high tableland of central Spain) and Ebro basin have a continental climate: scorching in summer, cold in winter, and dry. Madrid regularly freezes in December, January and February, and temperatures climb above 30°C in July and August. Valladolid on the northern meseta and Zaragoza in the Ebro basin are even drier, with only around 300mm of rain a year (little more than Alice Springs in Australia). The Guadalquivir basin in Andalucía is only a little wetter and positively broils in high summer, with temperatures of 35°C-plus in Seville that kill people every year.
The Pyrenees and the Cordillera Cantábrica, backing the Bay of Biscay, bear the brunt of cold northern and northwestern airstreams, which bring moderate temperatures and heavy rainfall (three or four times as much as Madrid’s) to the north coast. Even in high summer you never know when you might get a shower.
The Mediterranean coast and Balearic Islands get a little more rain than Madrid, and the south can be even hotter in summer. The Mediterranean, particularly around Alicante, also provides Spain’s warmest waters (reaching 27°C or so in August). Barcelona’s weather is typical of the coast – milder than in inland cities but more humid.
In general you can usually rely on pleasant or hot temperatures just about everywhere from April to early November. In Andalucía there are plenty of warm, sunny days right through winter. In July and August, temperatures can get unpleasantly hot inland.
Snowfalls in the mountains can start as early as October and some snow cover lasts all year on the highest peaks.
When to go
Depending on what you’re after, Spain is a year-round destination. The ideal months to visit are May, June and September (plus April and October in the south). At these times you can rely on good to excellent weather, yet avoid the sometimes extreme heat – and the main crush of Spanish and foreign tourists – of July and August, when temperatures can climb to 45°C in inland Andalucía; at this time, Madrid is unbearable and almost deserted.
There’s decent weather in some parts of Spain virtually year-round. Winter (December to February) along the south and southeast Mediterranean coasts is mild, while in the height of summer (June to August) you can retreat to the northwest, to beaches or high mountains anywhere to escape excessive heat. You can be sitting outside enjoying a beer in a T-shirt in Granada in February, or rugged up against the cold while trekking the Picos de Europa mountains in July.