I fell in love with Madrid the first time I visited it. The city was fun, laid-back and friendly – and very, very hot. It was the middle of the summer; we got up at five to admire the sunrise and spent many a night sitting on the outdoor terraces until the early hours. I enjoyed it so much that when a chance presented itself to travel back to the city this November I grabbed it with both hands. A long weekend in Madrid? Yes please!
And yet I told myself to temper my expectations. It would be a different season, the weather would be colder, there’d be less people on the streets, and I’d have to wear a jacket instead of summer dresses. Try to understand my reservations – at my Spanish class in uni we had been told that Madrid only had two seasons: nueve meses de invierno y tres de infierno. Whoever invented that proverb clearly hasn’t been to Finland: after you’ve experienced having to go about your day to day life while the temperature stays at 25 degrees below zero for weeks on end, you’ll reconsider whether +18 degrees Celsius really qualifies as “invierno”.
So, what is Madrid like in the winter?
Madrid in November is certainly chillier than Madrid in June, but it’s still lovely and warm at least by North European standards (I even got to wear a dress, albeit underneath a sweater). I heard that we got lucky with the weather: it could have been significantly chillier. Even so, I always needed a light jacket and a scarf in the evenings, so pack accordingly.
More importantly, it is no less lively. If anything, the city was even busier than the last time we visited: the heat of the summer months means people often try and avoid venturing out during the hottest hours of the day, whereas in winter there are lots of people out and about all around the clock. In short, Madrid in the winter is just as much fun as Madrid in the summer – it has even been called Europe’s greatest city in the winter.
What can you see and do in a weekend in Madrid?
A lot: as many big cities, Madrid never sleeps, so you have the full 24 hours a day to get to know it (though try and get some sleep in, too – I hear it’s good for you..).
Of course, the plans you make will depend on your preferences and schedules. If you only have two days in Madrid, your itinerary is likely to look unalike that of those in town for a long weekend. Similarly, foodies will probably prioritise different things that culture vultures (though most tourists probably fit both categories). Nevertheless, I do have some tips to share.
If you’re a first-time visitor, your weekend in Madrid should probably include some of the main sights, such as Plaza Mayor, Puerta del Sol, Gran Via, the museums of Prado and Reina Sofia, and the Retiro Park. I had been to all of the above on my first trip, and added the Royal Palace to the list on this one, but there are still some “big” Madrid attractions such as the main Cathedral and the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum missing from my collection.
As interesting and fascinating as the museums and main sights of Madrid are, the thing that I personally enjoy the most about the city is its atmosphere. Thus my favourite thing to do in Madrid is just hanging around the city – walking up and down the beautiful streets, stopping to admire the bustling plazas, sitting down for an impromptu glass of sangria. Whatever you do, make sure that you leave enough time for all that.
Wait, you haven’t talked about the food yet!
Ahhh, you got me there! The truth is, if I’d written this post even a year ago, the section on food would probably have been the longest one. However, since becoming a pescatarian, I don’t find Madrid quite as good for restaurant hopping as I did in my meat-eating days.
Nevertheless, I’m happy to report that being a vegetarian in Madrid is much easier than we thought it would be (and being a pescatarian is almost a piece of cake). There are many delicious veggies and cheese plates on offer in the tapas bars, and in our experience waiters will be happy to recommend meat-free alternatives in the restaurants. If all else fails, you can always count on churros, the delicious fried-dough pastry traditionally dipped in a cup of hot chocolate – one portion had at breakfast can keep you going long into the afternoon.
In short: what makes Madrid special?
There are plenty of things I love about Madrid: it’s has that metropolitan vibe, it’s a great city for walking, and it never sleeps. Based on two short visits, it’s also a very friendly city with a great, laid-back and fun-loving atmosphere. My Spanish is far from perfect, but you could never tell that from the way that people act when I use it – and my boyfriend who speaks no Spanish gets around just fine as well. Last but not least, Madrid is simply beautiful and has enough word-class museums, interesting sights, cool neighbourhoods, cute cafes, fashionable bars and great restaurants to keep a visitor busy for weeks, not to mention a weekend. (And it’s the home of Los Serrano. But that’s a topic for another blog post).
Have you been to Madrid? What is your favourite winter destination? Any other Los Serrano fans here?