Last Updated January, 2020
Are you visiting Madrid in winter and not sure what to expect? I have been to the capital of Spain on multiple occasions and all of them were during the winter. A lot of readers, after reading my post about winter travel in Spain, asked me questions about Madrid. So I decided to write a post and share my experience.
Below you will find a few ideas on how to spend your vacation from December to March, what to expect weather-wise, what to do and what to know. If you’ve been to Madrid in winter too, please share in comments either you enjoyed this trip or not.
Also, check out Mark’s very detailed and useful post about car hire in Spain. It will definitely come in handy to everyone who plans to travel outside Madrid.
This post contains affiliate links, which means we may earn a commission (for which we will be mega grateful) at no extra cost to you.
Madrid in December – Holiday Season Without Snow But With Big Celebrations
Madrid Weather in December
The weather in Madrid in December is very similar to early autumn in many countries in Northern and Central Europe or Northern states in the U.S. The only major difference is that Madrid has no slush and sudden temperature changes. Although, it has temperature dips during the day. It gets very warm in the afternoon but evenings and early morning are usually very chilly.
The sky is often overcast and a bit heavy but it doesn’t drag you emotionally down since sunny days are common. The average daily temperature is + 15C degrees, at night about + 8C degrees. If you don’t want rain and strong winds to spoil the first impression, don’t forget to pack a coat and umbrella.
At this time of the year, locals of Madrid start wearing hooded windbreakers, waterproof insulated raincoats, and leather jackets. For shoes – sneakers, shoes, and boots. By the end of the month, it usually gets colder. Air temperature during the day on average reaches + 10С degrees while at night +2-5С degrees.
Madrid Excursions to Take in December
Madrid is a huge city. If this is your first time visiting the capital of Spain, start your trip with the excursion. Two or three hours excursion will help you see main attractions, understand how everything is connected and where you should return and explore on your own.
For tours in Madrid, first of all, I’d like to recommend the Daily Customized Walking Tour of Madrid. During the time on the tour, you‘ll see the architecture of the quarters, royal palaces, famous squares and much more. The number of participants in the group is the number of people you travel with. The price is 30 euros per person, no matter how many people go. Children under 3 years are free and under 12 years get a 50% discount.
If you prefer free walking tours, here is the link with the details. The difference between the free tour and private one is that the free tour usually covers the most touristy spots while introducing the basics of the city. A private tour is good for those who are looking for more in-depth acquaintance with Madrid, to visit hidden gems and hear more stories on the history and life of the city.
Here are a few more, in my opinion, interesting excursions in Madrid:
Bike Tour Around Madrid – it’s a 3-hour biking tour where you get to see all the main highlights of the city. Guides are locals who do a great job introducing guests to the city. Within this time you get to see everything that you’d see on your own within 1 or even 2 full days of walking. Check them out. I went on a few tours of this company during the time I lived in Los Angeles, and they were always the best.
Madrid Tapas Tour – it’s another 3-hour bike tour but this time it includes local tapas and sightseeing.
Tapas Walking Tour Experience – 2-hour walking tour which brings you on a culinary journey through the regions of Spain. Includes visits to 3 traditional tapas bars with a variety of tapas and drinks, Asturian cider, and cocktail.
Holiday Season, Events & Activities in Madrid in December
In December, Spain celebrates two major Catholic holidays – the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Christmas. The first holiday falls on the 8th of December and Christmas on the 25th. Madrid sets up bright illumination all over the city, installs thematic exhibitions, organizes festivals and chants.
Around these two holidays, Madrid holds festive services in the cathedrals. Paying a visit to one of the churches is a very special event on its own. People during this time are really happy, and willingly share their celebrations with visitors. December is called the most hospitable month of the year, despite the fact that it has way fewer tourists.
Madrid at night in December is a real fairy tale place. The Christmas markets are in full swing. In the evenings, local residents go out to the squares with their families just to chat, dance, eat and walk. If you are there at the same time, expect full immersion in local life. And the best part about it, there are so few tourists during this time of the year.
If you are a fan of big New Year celebrations, the capital of Spain is your place to be. New Year in Madrid is celebrated on a grand scale. Live concerts, loud music, various performances take part in different parts of each neighborhood. People dance, have fun right on the streets and take part in street shows. It’s so fascinating to watch and observe what’s happening around even if you don’t want to join yourself.
In the U.S., for instance, in all major cities, Christmas and New Year days are usually quiet, people stay indoors with their families. In Madrid, on the contrary, the majority enjoys being out. Everyone goes to celebrate. So if you want to do some sightseeing, go to restaurants or visit events that happen on the day of the holiday, still try to make reservations ahead of time.
In my experience and opinion, December in Madrid is a wonderful destination for those who are looking to celebrate winter holidays actively and grandly. At the same time, this is a good time to be able to immerse in local life and stay away from crowds of tourists.
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Madrid in January – Rainy, Quieter Days & The Best Time For Shopping
Weather in Madrid in January
The Spanish capital is considered the sunniest city in Europe. Even the central square of Madrid is called Puerta del Sol which means “gateway to the Sun.” The temperature, which is the lowest in the year, still does not drop below zero. Snow or rain is possible at this time but these natural phenomena are quite rare there.
Overall, the January weather in Madrid can be extremely unpredictable. It can go from severely cold to surprisingly mild. But don’t be afraid of extreme cold because, according to meteorologists, it never really comes. On average, the temperature ranges from 9C degrees to 15C degrees. At the end of January, the weather is getting dryer and warmer. Occasional fog covers the city what makes Madrid look even more mysterious.
Stock up on warm and practical clothes. If planning to be spending more time outdoors and especially in the evening, pack thermal clothes. Also, don’t forget an umbrella since there are a lot of cloudy days in January. And read my more step-by-step guide on what to pack for Spain for any season.
Celebrating Madrid Holidays in January
January is probably not as big with celebrations in Madrid as December but some events are still happening, especially in the first two weeks of the new year. Usually, this time is famous for entertainment events, fairs and discos and most of them are held on the streets. You, as a guest, are welcome not only to watch but participate in all activities.
Here is the list of only a couple of major events that happen in Madrid in January and what you can expect from being there:
– January 1 – New Year Celebrations. New Year’s Day is usually celebrated on the streets of the city. For the most part, happy city dwellers and numerous tourists go to Christmas markets where everyone drinks glint wine and congratulates each other.
– January 6 – the holiday of Epiphany or Three Kings Day. This is the day when everything gets quiet and almost no one works. Spanish people usually go to local parades and arrange family dinners. Children are looking forward to gifts while adults to quieter time with family members. All museums on this day are closed but Prado should be open from 9 am to 2 or 3 pm. Shops and restaurants are closed as well and reopen on January 7th. Some restaurants on the main streets may be open but they are very slow. El Retiro Park stays open.
Madrid in February – Vibrant, Colorful & Cool
Madrid in February as in January, December and March, is one of the coldest months of the year. The number of cloudy and sunny days is approximately the same. Precipitation is very common but it usually occurs in the form of rain. Snow is very rare.
At the end of the month, the city starts seeing more bright colors. Camellias, violets, apple trees begin to bloom turning the city into the garden. Despite cloudy skies, signs of the onset of spring appear almost immediately after Valentine’s Day.
The weather in Madrid in February is suitable for lots of walking and sightseeing tours. Air temperature during the day is +10–12C degrees, at night +6–8C. In mid-February, night frosts are possible, but they are rare and the temperature doesn’t go lower than -2C degrees.
The daylight hours are about 10 hours.
Don’t forget to pack comfortable closed shoes and an umbrella for February travel in Madrid. But don’t worry, even if it rains it won’t hinder your vacation at all.
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Where to Stay in Madrid – My Favorite Options
In my experience, it’s quite difficult to find cheap and at the same time decent housing in Madrid. Small but very nice Airbnb apartments on average go for €50–70 per night in the center or somewhere nearby.
The best areas to stay are Centro, Chueca, Malasaña, Chamberí, Salamanca, Retiro. It will be a little cheaper in Chamartin, La Latina, Legazpi, Tetuan (consider Bravo Murillo Avenue and Rios Rosas).
Avoid the vicinity of Sol Square and Plaza Mayor. These are the most touristy places with a lot of noise (although in Madrid it is noisy almost everywhere). Here tourists and pickpockets rummage around. Lavapies area is also not one of the most pleasant to stay. Although this is one of the central areas that some people consider bohemian.
On one of our visits, we lived in this beautiful apartment, located in the Centro neighborhood. The price is very reasonable while the flat is clean, colorful and in a perfect location. I know, there are hundreds of gorgeous apartments in Madrid but I wanted to share what we picked because it felt really special.
For the hotels, here are my top choices for accommodation in Madrid:
AMOR DE DIOS 17 BOUTIQUE HOTEL: This is more of a budget option in style. Each room has a kitchenette and looks more like an apartment. Being centrally located, the hotel is quiet and has everything you need. Rooms are clean, beautifully designed, have comfortable beds and bathrooms. And the most important, the price is just the best. Check reviews here.
BARCELO TORRE DE MADRID: Relatively new hotel which offers modern, spacious and elegant rooms, an indoor pool and an on-site restaurant is located in one of the most iconic buildings. This property is more pricey but also more sophisticated and fancy. Conveniently located in Plaza de Espana, it is only a few minutes away from the Royal Palace, restaurants and all tourist attractions. Quite a few rooms have a beautiful terrace and view of the city.
10 Cool Things to Do in Madrid in Winter
See Madrid From Above With Teleferico Cable Car
To see the capital of Spain from above, it is worth riding the Teleferico Madrid cable car. In winter, there are practically no lines, the weather is clear, and the visibility is excellent. If going in the evening, you can enjoy the stunning Madrid sunset.
In eleven minutes the cable car covers 2.5 km, reaching a maximum height of 40 meters. The final destination of the Teleferico is Casa del Campo road and park where you can go with a family to walk, hike, run, bike or have a picnic.
Casa de Campo park is huge and it is very possible to spend the entire day there. In winter though, with winds and rain, spending longer periods of time may not be that pleasant but many people still enjoy a brisk walk combined with a ride in a cable car.
Visit Royal Palace of Madrid
Like many royal residences in Europe, the main function of Royal Palace is host official events. However, on many occasions, it is actually open for tourists and guests. The building is beautiful in itself, but inside it strikes with exquisite interiors and a rich collection of works of art.
Winter is the right time to visit and spend a few hours inside.
In addition, the palace has a museum and an observation deck which offers magnificent views of the city.
Inside the palace, you can see how the Spanish monarchs lived daily. The working hours in winter are from 09:30 to 17:00. Admission is €10 per adult and €5 per child.
Dine in One of the Oldest Restaurants in Madrid
Sobrino de Botin – is the oldest restaurant in the world. It was opened in 1725 and still operates until this day. A lot of people say it is in the Guinness Book of Records because of this fact.
The place is located in the heart of Madrid on Cuchilleros street, next to Plaza Mayor.
For three centuries, celebrities from different eras have been here. Hemingway loved it and Francisco de Goya, a Spanish romantic painter, and printmaker worked in this restaurant. In his early youth, even before he became an artist, he washed dishes here.
For three centuries Sobrino de Botin did not lose but increased its former glory – the restaurant is always full of visitors. Appetizing suckling pig, tender lamb, and signature cakes are cooked here and if you order any of that, it will be the greatest culinary experience of your life. To dine in the world’s oldest restaurant is a once in a lifetime experience.
Go to One of the Secret Bars and Restaurants in Madrid
Madrid has quite a few awesome secret bars and restaurants that not many people know about. Their menus have everything from delicate Asian and savory Latin American dishes to Kobe beef tenderloin.
Some of the secret places in Madrid are:
– El Arquilbar: La Traviesa de Conde Duque
A small cafe in an architecture studio with vintage decor and furniture. It is very popular among locals, so better book a table in advance.
– A De Arzabal
Exclusive tavern and club for real gourmets and lovers of excellent wines.
– Yugo, Sushi & Kobe
The Japanese bunker of World War II was turned into an elite club on Alcala Street. In addition to juicy temakis, niguiris and tartares, try Kobe beef tenderloin.
Madrid is home to some of the largest recording studios that spread the word about nowadays well-known flamenco. Even though this performance originated in Andalusia, on any day of the week you can watch the show in bars and theaters around the city. And windy chilly winter night is a perfect time for that.
A lot of bars offer guests the opportunity to enjoy a flamenco performance in the evening with a delicious dinner or a glass of wine.
A few of my personal suggestions where you’ll get to see amazing flamenco shows are:
– Cafe de Chinitas
This cabaret-style cafe is conveniently located in a beautiful 18th-century palace building just off Gran Via Avenue. It opened in 1970 and until this day the famous performers and dancers continue to perform flamenco on the tablao stage, decorated with large bright shawls. The establishment successfully maintains its reputation as one of the best flamenco cafes in Madrid.
Cardamomo flamenco theater offers visitors unique and inimitable performances. Virtuosos of Spanish guitar, famous singers and dancers know how to entertain and deliver the best show ever. Located just a few steps from Puerta del Sol, it makes it easy to find this place.
Visitors get a sumptuous dinner in a cozy and lively setting of the hall just 45 minutes before the start of the performance. The dinner includes the Andalusian gazpacho, the famous Spanish tortilla, prepared according to the home recipe, delicious beef fillet, or homemade veal meatballs. Together with dinner, guests also receive the famous sangria with the addition of a fragrant sprig of cinnamon.
The hall, where performances take place, has excellent lighting and sound quality. The team of professionals is able to create a special atmosphere for flamenco which is entertaining and relaxing at the same time.
This place is known for a unique location in ancient caves which many years ago served as a refuge for a gang of bandits, led by the famous Luis Candelas. In his name, the cafe got this name. Currently, the interior of the bar has the style of a traditional Andalusian courtyard. Here, in front of numerous tourists, famous artists of this genre present their flamenco art.
In addition to the main stage, there is another one with daily flamenco shows. Everyone who dares to sing, play the guitar or dance is welcome. Traditional tapas and delicious sangria, inseparable companions of a traditional Spanish-style party, come as a complement to the show.
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Go Shopping in Madrid Because Deals Are Amazing
Winter in Madrid is the right season for shopping. January and February are especially wonderful months for people who look for exclusive deals. During December, prices are usually higher since people are buying souvenirs and gifts. But after New Year celebrations prices drop. Shopping becomes both pleasant and profitable.
Fashionistas all over the world are eager to get to stores along the “Golden Mile“, the poshest neighborhood in Madrid. Prices in all shops during the ‘sale season’ are reduced by half or even more. If Calle de Serrano street beckons with special chic and “haute couture” fashionable boutique shops, then Calle Preciados impresses with the scale of large chain stores.
In the Salamanca district, in winter, you can find the best and the most expensive branded goods at lower prices.
Follow Steps of Ernest Hemingway
Many actors, artists, writers over the centuries have always sought to come to Madrid for one reason or another. The spirit of freedom and luxury of the Spanish capital has long attracted the intellectual elite from around the world.
Ernest Hemingway visited Madrid on many occasions and every time loved going to various pubs. Many old taverns and bars of the capital are somehow connected with his name.
The iconic Rock Cafe, Circulo de Bellas Artes, the famous Gijon coffee shop – these establishments have become a place of attraction for a modern bohemia.
The famous Museo Chicote bar has nice music and menu with retro cocktails from the golden age of the 1950s. Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly and Ernest Hemingway loved coming here. Today, its special decor and walls that are full of photos of famous people who visited over the years remind of how historical this place is.
Another place to visit is the Cerveceria Alemana Brasserie in Santa Ana Square. The writer liked it because of the decent food, excellent service, and a good beer selection. Not much changed until this day. You can see the marble table of Hemingway where he liked to sit, have his drink and write. It still stands on the same spot – on the right side near the window. If you get there early, you can get that seat.
The tavern today greets guests with a peculiar vibe from the beginning of the last century. The owners have fully preserved the historic interior.
Go to the Botanical Garden
Royal Botanic Garden is home to thirty thousand plants. In cold weather, the alleys of the garden become empty, but evergreens and islands of emerald mosses stand out vividly.
For those who appreciate nature and love plants, a trip to the botanical garden in Madrid in winter will be a delight. Winter is the season when it becomes especially comfortable in tropical greenhouses – in the realm of huge cacti and endless vines, amid a riot of greenery of all shades.
All year round, park staff conducts excursions, lectures, and informative workshops. Come here not only to walk and see rare plants but learn and distract.
The garden is located behind the Prado Museum. During the day, you can visit the temple of art and relax in the midst of picturesque greenery. If you want to escape from the bustle of the capital in a quiet corner of nature – go to the Gardens of del Retiro. A walk among the quiet alleys with bicentennial trees and ancient statues will be wonderful and romantic.
Pay a Visit to Royal Seat of San Lorenzo de El Escorial
The Royal Seat of San Lorenzo is not really in Madrid. It is a bit more than one hour away from the city center towards Segovia. If you are planning to visit Segovia too, it can be a nice stop on the way there. If not, San Lorenzo town is still a cute little town to visit as a half-day trip from Madrid.
Usually, visitors go to Escorial because of the magnificent monastery and palace of the 16th century. In addition to the grand but at the same time gloomy architecture, there are paintings of great artists. You can see the works of Titian, El Greco, Veronese, Tintoretto, Bosch, and Velazquez.
The size of the palace is impressive. A little moody, restrained beauty makes it look more like a fortress than a traditional royal residence. There are two museums on the grounds of Escorial. One is dedicated to the history of the construction of the palace, and the other presents works of art of the XV-XVII centuries, collected by the Spanish monarchs.
Escorial is one of the coldest places in Spain. The wind blows here at any time of the year and it is always cold in a gigantic palace. But if it’s raining and too windy outside, the Royal Palace is the place where to hide.
Opening hours in winter are from Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 to 18:00. Admission is €10. Free entry for children under 5 years of age and persons with disabilities. Every Wednesday and Thursday between 15:00 and 18:00 admission is free for everyone. May 18th (Museum Day) and October 12th are another two days when entrance is free.
See Monastery of Descalzas Reales
This monastery should certainly be on the itinerary for any guest of Madrid.
Its name translates as “the monastery of barefoot princesses” and is famous not only for its impressive interior but also for the rich collection of art objects.
During older times, only women of noble Spanish families and royal blood could join the rows of nuns. When joining, each of them had to bring a dowry to the monastery as a gift. Interestingly, their dowries had lots of art objects that over the years turned into a fascinating collection.
Today, the monastery is a unique place to visit. It looks more like a museum where visitors can see works by Caravaggio, Rubens, Titian, and other masters. There are also amazing tapestries, marble statues and a collection of silverware.
You can get here on foot from Atocha Station in half an hour. This option is convenient not only because you save on transport, but also because on the way you get to see Plaza Major, Puerta del Sol, Plaza Descalzas and Plaza de San Martin.
The working hours are from Tuesday to Saturday from 10:00 to 14:00 and from 16:00 to 18:30. On Sundays and holidays – from 10:00 to 15:00.
The ticket price is €6 and children under 5 years old are free of charge. The only disadvantage is that guided tours are only in Spanish and French. The place is worth visiting on its own without a tour but you don’t get to learn a lot.
Are you looking for more winter content? Take a look at the following posts, they may help you plan your travel itineraries: