Visitors coming to Madrid for a bit of winter sun often get a surprisingly chilly reception. 

This is because Madrid, perched at 657m (2155ft) above sea level, is Europe’s highest capital city after Andorra. This elevated position means that while it’s invariably sunny, in winter, temperatures are not much warmer than those in northern Europe. So even on crystal-bright December days, you’ll need a bulky coat to protect against the icy winds whipping off the snowy Guadarrama mountains.

In days gone by, citizens and visitors alike complained that these chilly winters seemed endless and a popular saying referred to Madrid’s “nine months of winter and three of hell”. While the last is still true, these days you can often walk around in short sleeves during the spring and autumn. However, you’ll need to wrap up first thing in the morning and just after sunset. 

During the fiercely hot summer, city dwellers flee to the mountains or beaches. If you can take the heat and don’t mind that half of the shops, restaurants and bars are closed for business, it can be blissfully quiet. Even in the slowest month of August, you’ll find all the major attractions open, as apart from a slight lull in late autumn, there’s no real downturn in the steady stream of tourists coming to Madrid. This is because the city’s world-class art galleries and museums never fail to deliver whatever the weather.

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A mother and baby kneel down in vibrant pink blossom under a tree in a park
Head to Madrid in the early spring to see the beautiful almond blossom in the city’s parks © Vivvi Smak / Shutterstock

When’s the best time to visit Madrid?

Spring is the very best time to visit Madrid. Its onset is heralded by the blooming of pink almond blossoms from February to early March and visitors who don’t mind the nip in the air can enjoy these in Retiro’s almond orchard or the garden of Quinto de los Molinos. The flush of pink petals spreading over once bare branches sets off a pyrotechnic display that culminates in April and May as hibiscus, gardenias and roses open their petals to the sunlight.

In mid-May red carnations bloom in topknots and waistcoat pockets as the Fiestas de San Isidro go into full swing. During the festival, chulapas in polka-dot dresses dance with chulapos in checkered caps and waistcoats. Marking the city’s patron saint’s day, the fiestas are held on the weekend closest to May 15 with live music and dance performances on stages across Madrid. If you enjoy a party, aim for this weekend. However, if you’d prefer to visit the historic Plaza Mayor when it’s not heaving, pick another date. 

Two people in traditional dress perform a dance during a festival
Look out for music and dance performances at festivals through the year © Florentino Ar G / Shutterstock

What are the hottest months in Madrid?

In July and August, temperatures can nudge 40°C (104°F). While this is a dry heat, it can still be overwhelming if you’re not used to it, so make sure you book a room with air conditioning. There is some respite in the mornings as mountain breezes tend to cool the city overnight. So if you do visit at this time of year, do all your exploring as early as possible and beat a hasty retreat before 2pm. In the afternoon, if you can bear a short walk through oven-hot streets, head to the air-conditioned museums or cool off at one of the city’s outdoor municipal pools.

The quietest month in summer is August when many businesses shut ‒ though do be warned that construction work often kicks up a gear. Despite these drawbacks, there are a few local festivals to enjoy. The best is the Virgen de la Paloma on August 15 in the historic area of La Latina. In Plaza de la Paja and the Jardines de las Vistillas, you can see chulapas and chulapos dance the traditional chotis as well as listen to performances of zarzuela music, a Spanish art form that is similar to opera.

A dancer in a parade wearing a rainbow headdress smiles and points at the camera Title: Pride, Madrid
Madrid Orgullo’s June event is the largest Pride festival in Europe © Unai Huizi Photography / Shutterstock

When is Madrid at its busiest?

Madrid has a busy social calendar so it’s a good idea to check what’s going on in advance if you prefer to avoid crowds. Besides Real Madrid matches at Santiago Bernabéu Stadium and big events at IFEMA, the city is especially chocka for the Madrid Open tennis tournament and for the Fiestas de San Isidro.

Europe’s largest Pride festival is also a big draw. Madrid Orgullo is in late June or early July on the weekend following International Pride Day. It’s a fantastic event that is a testament to the huge strides made for LGBTIQ+ rights since the death of Franco in 1975. However, it’s also a victim of its own success with businesses falling over themselves to cash in on the event. Book well in advance if you plan to attend.

High season in Madrid is June to July so you’ll be paying over the odds for a room on these dates. As the temperature steadily climbs during these months, we’d advise going as early as possible. December is also a very busy time, though it’s worth going to enjoy the Christmas markets and lights. These are best seen from the open-top Naviluz bus. Other reasons to visit include the elaborate nativity scenes and outdoor skating rinks. 

When’s the cheapest time to go to Madrid?

Apart from Christmas, Madrid is cheapest in winter from November to February. These are the coldest months so wear a good coat outdoors and fuel up afterward with a warming bowl of Madrid’s signature cocido: a stew made from chickpeas, blood sausage, chorizo and veggies. On the plus side, winters tend to be dry and sunny. If you’re coming during the milder autumn months of October and November, however, it can be rainy. 

If you visit straight after New Year's, the city is at its quietest as Madrileños recuperate from seasonal excesses. Another bonus is that it’s sometimes possible to go skiing or snowboarding in the nearby Sierra de Guadarrama mountains. Later on, you might catch the very first flush of spring in February as the almond blossoms begin to light the city streets up with pretty pink petals.

This article was first published April 2021 and updated June 2023

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