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.
But what does one actually do in the middle of winter in Madrid?
Thankfully Madrid still gets a decent amount of sunny days during the winter months with average temperatures being in the chilly 6-8°C region, however, the bright days makes it feel a damn sight warmer. It’s possible to get out and about and enjoy the city minus the peak spring/summer crowds. If you’re spending several days or only a weekend in Madrid. You wont be short of things to do.
Naturally being the capital there are LOADS of museums, but these were my favourite two.
Centro/Centro (Palacio de Cibles)
The building itself is the worth the visit! It opened in 1919 and 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.
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.
2. Go watch Live Music
Being the Nations Capital, there are loads of muisc venues – two reccomendations are;
WiZink for Internatinal Bands
One of the reasons for going out to Madrid in winter was to catch a band I couldn’t get tickets for in the UK. I was desperate to see Alt-J after seeing them perform at Glastonbury Festival in 2017. There are tons of international acts that come to perform at this venue and actually the price for a gig ticket here was much cheaper than I would have paid to see them in England. Check in advance for listings. The other most popular concert arena in Madrid is La Riviera – again check listings online for what’s on.
Cefe Berlin for all sorts of live music
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.
3. Take a stroll round the parks
Parque El Retiro is a gorgeous park covering 1.4km², 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.
Like any Capital, you’ll find no problem finding big international brand shopping centres.
Look out for the more off-beat areas with little boutique and artsy clothing and accessories as well as the weekly pop-up markets. You’ll find something for every taste and every budget. A fab guide to the shopping cuture in Madrid can be found by clicking on the link below.
Go to https://www.esmadrid.com/en/shopping-madrid for more information.
5. Eat your way round the City
Being a the Capital of the Nation, Madrid isn’t short of culinary delights. I could write a whole blogpost on the topic! Here are my top pics;
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 foodies paradise. Part of me is thankful that I am only here for a week, 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 the bee’s knees.
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!
6. Take a walking/hop-on-hop-off City Tour
There are a number of companies offering walking city tours of the historical side of the city (several offering free guided tours, if you can tolerate a 15 minute sales pitch it’s not a bad option for those on a limited budget). 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.
7. Visit the pop-up market stalls
If you are visiting before Christmas you can see Christmas Markets, one of the most popular ones is held in Toledo (see info on Toledo further down). But there are also several in Madrid City centre (in Plaza Mayor for example)
Mercado de los Motores
This is a great little vintage market that takes over an old train museum once a month. Think flea markets 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.
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.
8. Hire a Bike
Similar to lots of cities, Madrid has bike rental areas dotted all over. You will need to set up an account online before using the service 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.
If you are feeling super fit then try out El Anillo Verde Ciclista – Madrid offers a 64km circuit that skirts around the city; this circuit loops around the city for those ambitious enough, or in my case, fitter than me to accept this challenge!
9. Have a head for heights? Then go up Faro de Moncloa
If you have a head for heights and it’s a clear day then head for Madrid’s sightseeing tower. The Faro de Moncloa is housed in an old transmission tower with an observation platform 92m up. They boast that on a clear day you can see as far as 100km, not quite sure how genuine this is.
10. Take a day trip to nearby Toledo
Naturally, Madrid is well connected with decent train services (much cheaper than British prices, they leave on time AND you actually get a seat!). There are a few really nice places of interest only a short distance from Madrid. Both Avila and Segovia are worth a visit if you have the time, however, the best day trip destination from Madrid in Winter 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, aside from the occasional group tour which can be easily avoided. (If however you’ve come here specifically for the Christmas markets then that’s a totally different kettle of fish)
There are plenty of church/cathedrals and museums to go into – Torture Museum anyone? and if you forgot to pack your armour and swords then don’t fret you can pick up this attire here, though on a hand luggage only trip I’m not sure what customs would make of this!
Top Insider Tip
One shop to look out for is Koker (Calle Armas, 1, 45001 Toledo), a clothing store where they have tastefully installed a glass floor on the bottom level over Roman ruins, it’s definitely worth a look! Make sure you visit the right store as there are 2 in Toledo!
Don’t forget to walk outside of the City walls and look back up either through the main gateway or the bridge. A short walk outside of the City walls will lead you 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 from cork! You can’t miss it due to it looking like it belongs in a Bavarian fairy-tale rather than a Medieval City.
Segovia is only an hour drive from Madrid and makes the perfect day trip from the Capital.
The UNESCO walled city boasts a stunning Castle, beautiful Cathederal and it’s famous Aqueduct.
11) Visit the Cat Cafe
There are so many cafes in Madrid and I could easily write a whole post titled ‘Best Cafe’s of Madrid’….I’m not going to. But a personal favourite was one that’s worth a mention is La Gatoteca. If you’ve ever been to the Cat Cafe in London then get that image out of your head now. Ready?
Walking into the building it looks nothing like a cafe, you would walk past it as it looks more like a vets with its various cat-related products for sale and almost sterile appearance. Along the back wall, they have a ‘hall of fame’ for all the cats that they have taken in and re-homed.
This cat cafe is entirely charity funded. You turn up and get given a wristband that they write the time of your arrival on. Essentially you pay for how long you stay. It’s a ‘cafe’ in that they do have drinks; albeit self-serve from the small well stocked kitchen. Your first drink is free and if you want other drinks then you buy it for the modest price of 1 Euro a drink. You are then given hand sanitiser before being taken through the airlock door to the cat areas.
Once inside there are two levels filled with chairs to sit and chill and to meet the cats. Mostly they are sleeping but a few will be wandering, causing trouble or happy to be petted. There are write-ups posted on the walls about each of the cats and the best bit they are all up for adoption. Certainly worth coming to this self-funded project if you are a bit of a crazy cat lady.
12) Take a trip back in time
This is probably the coolest thing I saw on my whole trip – 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 clsoed off to the public until 2008. The platform was renovted 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 advertisments. As this is just one closed station along a still functioning line, you get the eery 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.
Tempted to visit Madrid in Winter?
So, what are you waiting for? Madrid is a perfect location for a winter break with ample stuff to do both indoors and outside.
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Have you been to Madrid in winter and 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.