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Madrid, like any European city, isn’t blessed with the warmest weather during the winter months. However, visiting European cities out of peak seasons can land you some top bargains from cheap flights right through to slashed price accommodation.
Thankfully, Madrid in winter is still blessed with a decent amount of sunny days. The temperature can be on average a chilly 6-8°C (approx 44°F) so remember to pack suitable clothes for a European Winter. However, the bright, crisp, sunny days makes it feel a damn sight warmer with plenty of opportunities to get out and enjoy the City. If you’re spending several days or only a weekend in Madrid. You wont be short of things to do.
When is the best time to visit Madrid in winter?
Madrid in November – Prices are much cheaper after the peak summer and late season rush. The weather starts to get cooler and days are getting shorter. Before the festive season rush, you can find some great deals on flights and accommodation.
Madrid in December – Prices go up for the festive rush. This is the prettiest time to visit Madrid because of the wealth of decorations which dominate every town square, shop window and street. There are plenty of Christmas Markets selling traditional gifts. The weather is cool and days are at their shortest. The first week of December will be cheaper for flights and accommodation than the week directly before or after Christmas. Expect to pay top prices during the school-holidays.
Madrid in January _ Prices are still high at the beginning of the month, but will drop after the 6th January (Kings Day) when schools and work starts back up. In the first week, lots of the festive lights and decorations will still be up. The weather is cool and days are still short. The latter weeks of January will be cheaper for flights and accommodation after the festive season is over.
Madrid in February – Similar to November, prices are much cheaper after the festive season is well and truly over. The weather is cool although days are gradually getting longer. With the exception of the school-holiday week in mid-February, you can find some great deals on flights and accommodation at this time.
Where to stay in Madrid
What to do in Madrid in winter if the weather is fine
Go for a stroll around the Parque El Retiro – This gorgeous park covering 1.4km² was historically owned by the Spanish Monarchy but in the late 19th Century it became a Public Park. In the winter you’ll see a myriad of locals enjoying the outdoor space. The park boasts lakes, monuments, a crystal palace (Palacio de Crystal), museum, rose gardens, ruins, cafes, fountains, performing artists and tons of footpaths and foliage for some real chill out time right in the City Centre. Different exhibitions happen in both the Crystal Palace and Palacio de Velazquez. Both are free to get into and again like lots of exhibitions may or may not be to your liking but worth a look. I’d recommend visiting over a weekend as the park turns in to a hive of activity. It’s not uncommon to see youths practising dance routines, roller skaters showing off their slalom skills, people reciting poetry, Zumba classes in the open air, yoga sessions and even the occasional devil worshipper at the Fountain of the Fallen Angel (Fuente del Ángel Caído) which is situated a convenient 666 meters above sea level.
Take a day trip to one of the stunning historical towns of Toledo, Segovia or Avilla – Naturally, Madrid is well connected with decent train services (much cheaper than British prices! they leave on time AND you actually get a seat!). A short journey from Madrid and you could end up in Avila, Segovia or Toledo, all are worth a visit if you have the time. However, if you only have time for one, then the best day trip from Madrid by far is Toledo.
Toledo is the old capital of Spain. Built on a hill, surrounded by water, this walled city would have been an absolute marvel back in its heyday. Think Camelot, King Arthur and Knights of the Round Table. It’s pleasant just to wander around the city for a couple of hours and the added bonus of it being out of season it’s so peaceful (with the exception of the Christmas rush), aside from the occasional group tour which can be easily avoided, you’ll have the pretty cobble streets to yourself.
There are plenty of churches, cathedrals and museums to wander in and out of, including a Torture Museum if you’re into your gruesome history. If you’re looking for the latest trend in armour and swords, don’t fret, the shops round here are full of them, though on a hand luggage only trip I’m not sure what customs would make of this!
Whilst in Toledo, wander outside of the City walls and look back up at the walled city either through the main gateway or the bridge. If you have time, head outside of the city walls and around to Parque de Merchan. In the centre of this small park, there is a very cute little house, once the residence of the park keeper. The house is made entirely from cork! You can’t miss it looking out of place, like it belongs in a Bavarian fairy-tale rather than an ancient Medieval City.
Marzipan is a pretty big thing here, and although you can get the sweet sticky treat all year round, during the Christmas season you’ll find it made into all sorts of shapes.
Get on your bike and do the El Anillo Verde Ciclista circuit – For the energetic and ambitious ones amongst us, Madrid offers a 64km circuit that skirts around the city. If you’re looking for something to get the blood pumping on a crisp winters day while you’re visiting Madrid in winter, this will certainly be it.
For those of us wanting to cycle at a more leisurely pace, Madrid has bike rental areas dotted all over the place. You will need to set up an account online before using the service (insert the link here) but the rates are reasonable and it’s a handy way to get around the city if you don’t fancy the Metro (which is awesome by the way – think London Underground – but better and cheaper) or flagging down a taxi.
Learn about the history of Madrid on a City Tour – Both the free walking tour and the hop-on-hop-off City tour will give you a decent insight into the famous landmarks and history of Madrid.
Depending what you prefer, the walking tours are great if you want to get lots of juicy little bits of information about the sometimes gory history of Madrid City. If you prefer to cover a larger area of the city, then the classic hop-on-hop-off tour buses go round all the main attractions with an audio tour included.
Hit the slopes for some winter sports – Madrid is surrounded by mountains and if the conditions are right, a day trip from the capital will land you in the popular ski area of Sierra de Guadarrama. The area is about an hour north of Madrid, although you can get there by public transport. There are a variety of slopes in the region ranging from green, blue and red. Check in advance for weather conditions.
Submerse yourself in the super cool street market scene – There are two that are certainly worth putting on your radar. The first is Mercado de los Motores – This is a great little vintage market that takes over an old train museum once a month. Think flea markets but with lots of stalls selling a wide variety of items from a bygone era. Even if you don’t plan to buy anything it’s a fab way to spend a few hours.
The other one is the ginormous El Rastro; Madrid’s most famous flea market. Held in La Latina every Sunday from the early hours until around 2pm, It’s massive and has grown so much in popularity that it’s hard to navigate your way through the crowds. Originally it focused just on vintage/antique items and curiosities but now it has expanded in to offering everything from hippy trinkets and clothing to sunglasses and socks. Be careful of your belongings here as the streets become extremely crowded which makes for easy pickings for pick-pockets.
Adventurous things to do in and around Madrid – with so much rugged terrain and beutiful scenery surrounding Madrid, there are loads of more aventurous things to do around the city. Maybe even as a festive gift for someone.
Indoor things to do in Madrid
Become a culture vulture and check out the world class museums – naturally, being the capital there are LOADS to choose from and on a chilly winter day one of the best indoor activities in Madrid to do. Two of the best ones are Centro/Centro (Palacio de Cibeles) and Telefonica. Both museums are housed in stunning buildings. Check out the Art Deco architecture, they both have permanent galleries as well as temporary and specialist exhibitions.
Centro/Centro (Palacio de Cibeles) – The building itself is the worth the visit! Opening in 1919, it used to be the central hub for all things communication based (post, telecommunications etc.) There are some interesting information boards around the foyer of the building along with tons of original features – check out the old desks and the light fittings.
Each floor houses a different exhibition – in my honest opinion they can be a bit hit and miss but it depends on what floats your boat BUT, here’s the good bit, it’s totally free. Look out for the really nice study and chill out area on Level 5 where you can sit, read and relax whilst overlooking the fabulous city views.
Telefonica – This is a great little exhibition centre housed in the 1920s Telefonica Building. Naturally, there is an exhibition on the history of communication ranging from Morse code right up to modern day mobile phones. Don’t forget to check out some of their ‘vintage’ mobile collection; I’m sure I have phones in drawers at home to rival some of the offerings here. This permanent fixture is a very well-curated exhibition with lots of nice hands-on examples.
The other floors host different exhibitions, at the time of visiting there was a great exhibition on ‘Mars’. Again, like the permanent exhibition on communication, this was really well set out with lots of multimedia bits on display, so even if you couldn’t read all of the information signs you still get to enjoy it. Also, Telefonica is free to enter.
Catch some musical vibes, with live music from regional, national and international artists. The best place for international artists is at WiZink – There are tons of international acts that come to perform at this venue and actually the price for gig tickets here is much cheaper than I would pay in the UK. Check in advance for listings. The other most popular concert arena in Madrid is La Riviera – again check listings online for what’s on.
If more intimate music venues are more your thing, then check out Cafe Berlin – A great little music venue with a vintage feel to the décor for live Jazz, Flamenco, Swing…..you name it, they probably have a night for it.
Take a trip back in time at Chamberí – Probably one of the coolest things to do in Madrid – purely because it’s so quirky. A visit to Chamberí the no-longer-used Metro Station is a must. The station was part of Line 1 from the early 1900s up until the 1960s. It lay closed off to the public until 2008. The platform was renovated and restored and then opened as the Andén 0 museum. There are still loads of original features in place like the ticket booths and the walls still have some of the fantastic colourful tile advertisements. As this is just one closed station along a still functioning line, you get the eerie sound of trains still whizzing past every – they do not stop here. Projected images of historical scenes of Madrid are projected onto the walls along with slide shows of billboards that would have donned the walls.
Check one of the many Shopping Malls in Madrid for some retail therapy – Boasting a plethora of shopping malls, Madrid is a great place to go shopping. With high-end stores selling designer wear (if that’s your thing) to street markets, for sure you’ll find something to suit your taste (and budget). Detailed information about shopping in Madrid can be found on the official website
If you need something a little more adrenalin based, then check out the Snowzone. You’ll find it at Madrid’s Xanadú shopping centre.
Head for the heights at Faro de Moncloa – The converted old transmission tower with its observation platform 92m up boasts views up to 100km away. I’m not quite sure how genuine that claim is, but either way, it’s a pretty decent view from up here.
Where to Eat in Madrid
More specifically WHAT to eat, Chocolate y Churros – This is a MUST DO while in Madrid, especially when the sun has just set and the air is getting chilly (though the locals usually have this for breakfast). If you’ve not come across this sweet treat before then essentially a ‘Churro’ is a little bit like a doughnut in the way they are made apart from they are long and skinny; sometimes they are left straight, other times they are looped round to make a teardrop shape. They are then deep fried and usually finished with a light sprinkling of sugar on them. Churros come served with an equally calorific cup of gloopy, rich chocolate which you dip the Churros into. Don’t even think about the calories, just sit back and enjoy just once.
San Anton Market – Madrid KNOWS how to do food well, and this indoor market in Chueca District is a foodie’s paradise. Part of me is thankful that I am only here for a few days, I’d go back with a shameless spare tyre from working my way around this place. This market sells everything from sweet to savoury dishes, snacks, ingredients, alcoholic drinks to healthy juices. Admittedly, it’s not the cheapest place to eat but you can be sure that the food you eat here is top notch in terms of quality and taste. If you’re after more old-skool style and authentic Spanish tapas, then take a trip out to Cava Baja, in La Latina district, this is also known as Madrid’s ‘tapas street’.
For an amusing quick read, this post by fellow Brit-blogger, Rosie, has a hilarious account of her experience of going for Tapas in Madrid.
Vega Restaurant – I’m always on the hunt for top vegetarian restaurants wherever I go and Vega is up there with the best. This is an awesome little (no joke, the restaurant is tiny) vegan restaurant in the popular Malasaña District. I visited with two full-on carnivore friends and both they and I loved everything we tried here. Between three of us, we shared a starter, along with a bowl of their home-made bread, then ordered three mains (we asked for the dishes to come out one at a time so that we could share them) and a bottle of red wine (we had the one from Cenicientos and it was divine). We were stuffed and the bill came to less than $60 equivalent! I don’t think three people could eat that much top quality food and feel that full WITH a bottle of decent wine for that in the UK!
For the animal lovers out there it’s worth knowing that Madrid has its very own Cat Café. If you’ve never had the privilege of visiting a Cat Café before, the idea is simple, you order your drink and sit and pamper the resident kitties. La Gatoteca works on a donation basis depending how long you stay and what you drink and the money goes straight back in to the care of the cats until they find their forever home.
The café is spread over 2 floors with ample space to sit and relax. There are write ups on the walls telling you about each of the cats, some of which will be sleeping, wandering about or causing mischief. When you leave, check out the ‘hall of fame’ showing all the lucky kitties which have already been adopted.
Christmas in Madrid
Shop for traditional and unique gifts at the Christmas Mercados – If you’re lucky enough to be in Madrid in December, then there’s even more to do and see. Christmas Mercados pop up all over the place. The largest one within Madrid City Centre is in Plaza Mayor. Another popular one is at the medieval walled town of Toledo.
Marvel at the decorations, twinkling lights and Nativity scenes – One of the simplest things to do in Madrid in December in the lead up to the festive seasons is to simply wander the streets and town squares admiring the decorations on display. You’ll find Christmas themed displays in shop windows, giant trees in the open squares along with lights strung above the roads and pavements. Decorations start to pop up towards the end of November and carry on through Christmas up until Kings Day on the 6th January. As the light of the winter sun fades, the colourful and twinkling lights get switched on every night.
New Year in Madrid
Join in with the local tradition and eat 12 grapes on New Years Eve – The strange tradition of seeing in New Year originated in the 1800s with the idea that you have to eat one grape with every chime of clock at Mid-night. Wash this down with Champagne as you welcome in the new year.
Celebrate and extended Christmas on Kings Day –If you are in Madrid in January, more precisely, January 6th, then you’ll be there for The Cabalgata De Los Reyes (The Three Kings Cavalcade). In Madrid, a huge street parade and carnival takes place to mark the end of the festive season and gifts are given to children.
Eat the Roscón de Reyes – You’ll find this ring shaped, tasty, sweet, fruity, buttery bread-like cake for sale in every bakery and pastry shop in Madrid during the festive season. This is traditionally eaten on the morning of Three Kings Day.
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Tempted to visit Madrid in Winter?
Madrid is a perfect location for a winter break with ample stuff to do both indoors and outside with plenty of traditional activities over the festive season.
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Have you been to Madrid in winter? Are there any other little gems you’ve visited? It would be great to hear if there is anything I’ve missed, please comment below.