Madrid: How To Eat Like A Local by Victoria Ugarte

Madrid, the capital of Spain, sits right in the middle of the peninsula. A bustling cosmopolitan city, it is the home of Spanish Parliament, the Royal family, and major banking and industrial institutions of Spain. The charm of Madrid ranges from its medieval centre, which dates back to the Hapsburg Empire, all the way to its traffic jams at four in the morning, when the locals are returning home from the clubs and bars.

Weather And Best Times To Travel To Madrid

Generally, Madrid is a dry city, and the humidity is fairly low.

Winter/ Spring: (Dec. to early March; 9 – 15 Celsius Average)

This can be a refreshing time to visit Madrid, as it offers smaller crowds at the museums, off-season hotel rates, etc. If you decide to travel at this time, don’t forget to bring with you the following:

warm clothes/ sweaters
scarves/ gloves
water resistant jacket or trench
boots that you don’t mind getting wet (Spanish women LOVE their boots, so expect a great selection at the stores!)

Spring: (Middle March to May; 15-22 Celsius Average)
Spring can be a glorious time to visit Madrid. The days are longer and the nights are cool.  All the outdoor cafes open up, although it can still get a tad windy. If you are traveling at this time, allow for a range of temperatures, from short sleeves at mid-day to a jacket/trench at night to break the wind. Take a light pashmina/scarf in your bag when going out during the day (definitely the night), just in case the temperature drops unexpectedly – they are easy to whip out and wrap around your shoulders/neck when the need arises.

Summer: (June to August; 27 – 39 Celsius)
Summertime can either be pleasant, or downright nasty in Madrid, depending on which end of Summer you schedule your visit. For example, street life is at its best during the long warm nights in June. However, from July through to August, the city just gets unbearably hot, not really cooling down at night. Accommodation with air-conditioning is a necessity, not an option, when traveling in Madrid at this time. As all the locals desert the city for their Summer destinations, the mood of the city is quiet, with some restaurants actually closing down. The only benefit in traveling to Madrid at this time is that you will have the city all to yourself. If you need to travel to Madrid at this time, do not forget the following:

  • short sleeved and/or sleeveless shirts and singlets
  • shorts
  • sunglasses
  • flat sandals (Madrid is a great place to buy these!)
  • sun cream

Autumn: (September to November; 13-25 Celsius)
Apart from Spring, Autumn is my other favourite to visit Madrid. The temperature is pleasant and the mood is one of relief, after the intense July temperatures. Once again, as in Spring, bring clothing for a range of temperatures. The later in August, the cooler it gets.

Where To Shop:
Shopping in Madrid is a national religion, with stores opening each day at 10 AM, and trading until 8 PM or later. The annual Winter and Summer sales, named Las Rebajas ( pronounced rebahas for those that don’t speak Spanish), are peak shopping times. Winter sales are on in Jan-Feb; Summer sales are on in July-Aug.

If you are after the more exclusive names in fashion, head towards Salamanca, particularly Calles de Serrano and de Jose Ortega y Gasset.

Chueca and Malasana offer funkier and more off-beat looks. Calle de Fuencarral offers some quirky gems for those willing to explore.

Central Madrid, particularly Puerto del Sol, offer shoppers the world-renowned chain stores like El Corte Ingles, Zara and Mango.

On a Sunday, don’t miss a favourite haunt of the natives, the famous flea market, El Rastro.  But a word of warning: beware of pickpockets.

Hasta luego, and happy shopping!

Where To Stay:

Our accommodation experience in Madrid was made all the more pleasurable by our stay at the “Hotel de Las Letras” situated centrally at the Gran Via, and conveniently across the street from Calle de la Reina, the up and coming party street.

At an average rate of Euros140 per night for our 6 night stay, it was great value for the caliber of the hotel. Unfortunately, the rate doubled for our last night there, due to an international conference in Madrid at the time. Nevertheless, the rooms were very chic, the staff  were extremely personable yet efficient (even in the early hours of the morning when we arrived from our very delayed flight!), and the hotel featured a fabulous lounge area for cocktails. A nice touch was the complementary upgrade upon checking in for having a Tablet Plus Membership. Well worth your while. If we were to visit Madrid again, we would stay at the De Las Letras Hotel again in a heartbeat.

If you are after an absolutely unique (and more luxurious) experience, “Casa de Madrid” is a must. This amazing boutique hotel is housed in an 18th century building in the old city, a stone’s throw from the Royal Palace. Traditionally owned by an art historian, its extremely discreet and unassuming entrance veils, not just a hotel, but an exquisitely decorated, grand 18th century home. Rates range from 275 – 390 euros, depending on room and season.

If you prefer something more reasonable than a 4-5 star hotel, try the 3-star category of accommodation, which are very centrally located, are priced at between 59 & 100 Euros a night, and have a charm of their own. Some are listed below:

Hotel Plaza Mayor Charming 150 year old building. Lovely terraces with rooftop views of Madrid.

Hotel Senator Lovely façade & attractive rooms. Corner rooms facing Gran Via are superb.

Petit Palace Posada del Peine Combines a historic building with a brilliant location.

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