Madrid can get unbearably hot in the middle of summer, so the ideal time to plan your trip would be spring or autumn, when the crunchy leaves and beautiful red, orange and rusty colours make a walk in Retiro Park an absolute must. For those who love crisply cold days but plenty of blue skies and winter sunshine, December, January and February are ideal.
Head to Madrid off-season to make the most of cheap flights. Airlines tend to reduce flights in slow months such as November, as well as after Christmas, so if you don’t mind the chilly weather (don’t worry, it’s usually still sunny) then plan a post-Christmas weekend break in January or February.
Perhaps strangely, because this month is peak season in many destinations, August is very quiet. Madrid turns into a ghost town during the month, as most locals take their annual holidays at this time, using them to escape the city for the entire month and head to the cooler coast. While August is scorching (temperatures regularly hit the high 30°s or even 40°C), it is a good month if you want to explore a quieter Madrid, albeit at a slow pace because of the heat.
Madrid may be over 300 kilometres (186 miles) away from the nearest coast, but you can still splash about in one of the city’s pools. Madrid has a host of public swimming pools, such as the two big outdoor pools at Lago, in the middle of the Casa de Campo park. The city also has a range of rooftop pools, usually on the top of hotels in the centre; some allow non-guests to visit, for a fee. There’s nothing more satisfying in the hottest months of June, July and August than plunging into a chilled pool.
OK, this one seems obvious, and yes, if you want to experience the Christmas spirit in Madrid, December is the best time to visit. But in Spain, there is a holiday that trumps even Christmas, and that is Three Kings’ Day, or the Epiphany, on January 6. Christmas decorations remain up until this day, when the three kings visited the baby Jesus. In Spain, traditionally it is the Three Kings who bring children presents, so there are huge parades through towns and cities on the evening of January 5.
Madrid’s patron saint is honoured in May during the San Isidro fiestas, which take place over a week and include dancing, theatre and bullfights, as well as plenty of food, drink and other merriment. There is a packed schedule of activities around the city for all the family to enjoy.
Fascinating sights abound during Holy Week in Madrid, during which different brotherhoods attached to churches around the city hold elaborate processions through the streets. The processions include hooded penitents (despite their unfortunate resemblance, they do not have anything to do with the Ku Klux Klan), as well as women wearing the traditional lace mantillas, or veils, and burly men carrying huge statues of Jesus and Mary. Musicians play the parades around the routes, which can take hours.