Lots of people sigh wistful sighs at the thought of summertime in Europe. I’m not sure that any of those people have spent August in Madrid. With 100+ degree days and generous vacation practices, instead of filling up like many northern and coastal areas of Europe, Madrid is practically abandoned.
That’s not to say it isn’t an incredible city and worth a visit in the warmer months. Just make sure you know what to expect. So whether you’re passing through or spending the summer, here are a few things to know about August in Madrid.
Hot, hotter, hottest
Where I come from, summertime temps peak around 4:00 or 5:00 pm and then begin cooling down. The temperatures in Madrid, however, climb until about 8:00 pm and will only begin dipping to bearable around 10:30. This most likely has to do with the wonderfully long days (sunset is around 9:30 pm and stays light for another hour). Don’t worry though, this is the perfect time to take note of Spanish “customs” and take a siesta. Be out and about earlier in the day, have lunch around 1:30 pm, and then take a break in the late afternoon. Madrid is a late night city anyway, so you’ll be right alongside the locals having dinner and drinks at 10:00 pm on a Tuesday.
Don’t rush anywhere
If you want to avoid being a sweaty mess as soon as you leave your chilly apartment, you need to take a few notes from the natives. There’s a very good reason behind the slow stroll used by most madrileños. In Madrid’s brutal summer heat, it’s the only way to avoid your own t-shirt and sweat version of a Jackson Pollock painting. After feeling the heat radiating up from the pavement, you’ll be playing frogger with the shade. I’d rather be stuck behind six feet of pedestrian traffic so I can be in the sliver of shadow cast by a street lamp than standing at the curb and the first one crossing a street. If you find yourself parched—and you will—just pop into one of the bazillion bars and “hydrate” with a quick beer.
You can’t count on A/C
This will be unbelievable to all of us Americans who are used to wearing sweaters indoors in the middle of summer, but I’ve heard from a few different places that most Spanish people don’t like A/C. The thought is that the dry air is bad for you and that it can make you sick. And when the unbearable heat is pretty much limited to the one month that everyone flees the city, why even bother? That said, most homes and small businesses don’t have it. The A/C that does exist (apart from large restaurants and department stores) may only feel like a limp gust of temperate air once you step inside. Consider yourself warned and invest in some moisture wicking fabrics.
The city is a ghost town
If you’re one of the remaining souls who find themselves in Madrid in the hottest part of summer, there is one perk: the city feels like it’s yours alone. Off the tourist’s path, the streets look like the old west at high-noon. Traffic is light and parking is plentiful. However, it can seem like the city tries to take advantage of the lighter summertime population to fix everything in sight. The end of July and first couple weeks of August are a mishmash of jack hammers, closed sidewalks, and construction tape.
“Closed for vacation”
If people are fleeing the city you can’t expect all things to be business as usual. Major sites and chain businesses will stay open but don’t be surprised if you show up at the dry cleaner or wherever you get your hair cut to find a paper sign saying “see you in three weeks.” It’s best to call ahead because even if a spot remains open, they may have shorter hours. On the other hand, if there’s a fancy restaurant or hot-spot that does happen to be open during August, this is your chance to score a reservation!
Even with the heat, August in Madrid has its perks. Have any of you spent time in summer time Madrid? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below!