The Essential Guide to Visiting Madrid in Winter

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by Maggie Turansky

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Visiting Madrid in winter isn’t usually on the top of everyone’s list when considering a winter trip to Spain, with far more potential visitors flocking to the south of the country to enjoy the ample sunshine and warmer temperatures.

However, though the Spanish capital isn’t perennially warm like elsewhere in the country, there are numerous benefits to spending winter in Madrid that can outweigh the potentially chilly climate.

Depending on the month, there are different cultural events on and fewer tourist crowds to contend with. Also, depending on where in the world you’re coming from, the temperatures and climate can still be superior to what you’ve left at home. Prices can also be less expensive and the city can be a bit quieter, as well.

If a winter trip to Madrid sounds like something you’d like (or you’ve already booked your flights and are wondering what to expect), then this guide to the things to do in Madrid in winter is for you!

Winter Weather in Madrid

The first thing you’re likely wondering when planning your trip is what kind of weather to expect when visiting the Spanish capital during the winter months.

And despite being located in Spain (a country oft-associated with being warm and sunny all year round), Madrid can get fairly cold in the wintertime and you do need to ensure that you have the proper clothing for this!

Average high temperatures in Madrid during the months of December, January and February land at around 10-12°C (50-54°F) and average lows clock in at around 3-4°C (37-39°F). So, while the averages certainly aren’t the coldest in Europe, it still is a cold time to visit and you will need a warm jacket and some cosy scarves to ensure you’re toasty warm.

Keep in mind that there can very much be cold snaps during a Madrid winter and it’s not wholly uncommon for a dusting of snow to hit the capital every now and then.

One thing that can make visiting Madrid during winter quite nice compared to elsewhere on the continent is that the weather is relatively bright and sunny. So even if the temperatures are chilly, there is a lot of sunshine to enjoy and help you get your coveted Vitamin D. However, Madrid in the rain is still also very nice and there is plenty to do around the city inside.

Madrid's Plaza Mayor in winter
Madrid’s Plaza Mayor in winter

Which Month to Visit Madrid in Winter

If you’re considering a winter visit to Madrid, you’re likely wondering which month is best to visit.

Do you want to enjoy the Christmassy spirit of December or are you looking to enjoy the reduced tourist crowds of February? No matter when you choose to visit, there are a few things to consider during each winter month.

Madrid in December

December is the most popular month for visiting Madrid in the winter as the city is completely decked out for Christmas. There is a main market set up in Plaza Mayor along with a grand Christmas tree. Light displays are twinkling everywhere and there is a great spirit throughout the city.

December in Madrid is also going to be the most crowded and, likely, the most expensive winter month to visit (when considering things like accommodation costs in Madrid). This is because there is a lot on during this month and a lot of people take time off to travel during Christmastime.

However, if you want to get a unique Christmas experience that is certainly different from Central or Northern Europe, then visiting Madrid in December is not a bad option.

Christmas tree in Madrid
Christmas in Madrid

Madrid in January

January in Madrid has a few holidays at the beginning of the month, but after the 6th, things calm down and tourist crowds diminish.

Obviously, ringing in the New Year is a big deal in Madrid, however, there are tons of festivities for Three Kings Day (Dia de los Reyes Magos in Spanish) on the evening of the 5th and the day of the 6th.

You will likely see Christmas decorations still set up through the middle of January, so you can use this time to enjoy the decor without the crowds of the holiday season.

The weather is at its coldest in January, but there are still, on average, only 6 days of precipitation so you can still expect a bit of sunshine.

Madrid in February

February is a quiet month in Madrid, however, it can be a great option to visit if you’re looking to avoid the crowds and take advantage of off-season pricing. There aren’t many major holidays (save for Valentine’s Day on the 14th) and there aren’t a lot of tourists to contend with, either.

Of the winter months, February can be the warmest with the average high temperature clocking in at 12°C (54°F) and potentially getting warmer later in the month.

So if the winter cold is starting to get to you elsewhere in the world, then heading to Madrid in February can be a good choice if you want a bit more warmth (albeit it’s not going to be balmy) and sunshine.

2 days in Madrid
Madrid’s Retiro Park in winter

Things to do in Madrid in Winter

If you’re still wondering if you should visit Madrid in the winter months, you’re likely wondering if there is anything special to do in the Spanish capital during this season. There are a lot of things to do in Madrid in winter beyond visiting the Prado Museum or the Royal Palace of Madrid, and these are just a handful of the great options.

Christmas Markets

For those heading to the Spanish capital in the month of December, then one of the best seasonal things to enjoy are the Christmas markets. The main Mercado de Navidad (Christmas market in Spanish) is set up in the Plaza Mayor, Madrid’s main square.

There are countless stalls selling traditional Spanish Christmas items, food and handicrafts that can make great souvenirs and serve as excellent gifts to your loved ones.

If you’re looking for a traditional sweet treat to purchase at a Christmas market, then consider sampling some turron. Turron is a nougat candy that is generally made in a variety of flavours and it is incredibly popular to eat at Christmas time in Madrid.

Though the market in Plaza Mayor is the main draw and the biggest in the city, there are smaller markets in the neighbourhoods and squares throughout the capital that are going to draw fewer tourist crowds than this one.

Christmas Market in Madrid
Christmas Market in Madrid

Eat Grapes for the New Year

Those ringing in the New Year in Madrid will need to head to (or at least tune the TV to) the Puerta del Sol in the centre of the city. Much like many other major cities in the world, this is where the main countdown to the New Year takes place – and it is also televised across the whole country.

A unique Spanish tradition when celebrating the New Year is to eat 12 grapes as you begin to count down. The grapes represent each month of the year and are meant to bring good luck.

You eat one grape each second to the lead-up to midnight – this can be a good time to learn how to count to at least 12 in Spanish!

Warm Up with Churros & Chocolate

One of the favourite sweet treats throughout Spain is, without a doubt, churros and chocolate. These fried pieces of dough dipped in thick hot chocolate are delicious any time of year, but they can be a particularly welcome option if you’re looking for something to warm you up in the cold winter months.

The most famous place to get churros (or porras) and chocolate is Chocolotería San Gines in the city centre, but keep in mind that this place has queues moving out the door even in the lowest of tourist seasons. You can find all kinds of places that aren’t this one to get your sweet fix if you don’t feel like waiting in line.

Like many cafes, you can also sit outside under some heat lamps even if it’s a particularly chilly day in Madrid!

Keep in mind, as well, that churros aren’t treated as a dessert in Spain. Rather, they are an acceptable breakfast or a great mid-morning or afternoon tea option.

Chocolateria San Gines
Chocolateria San Gines

Visit Museums

If it is cold, rainy or snowy outside, there is no better way to get a lot out of the Spanish capital than to head to some of its world-renowned museums.

The most well-known of these museums is the Prado, a classical art museum where you can view famous works of art. If you’re interested in the exhibitions in the Prado, then you can easily spend a few hours here – a great way to get out of the cold.

The Reina Sofia Museum is an excellent option for those interested in modern art. This museum is home to Pablo Picasso’s famed Guernica painting (named for the town in the Basque Country) and countless other famous works of modern art.

Another renowned museum is the Thyssen Museum, which is home to plenty of works of classical art by artists such as Goya, Velazquez and El Greco.

The Prado Museum in Madrid
The Prado Museum

Pack into Tapas Bars

No trip to Madrid regardless of the season is complete without experiencing the city’s incredible cuisine and bar culture.

And while the summer invites you to enjoy the city’s fabulous terraces, the winter is all about packing into a crowded bar to warm up, drink a caña (a small draft beer) and enjoy a small plate or two.

Don’t be intimidated to make your way into a crowded bar (standing-room only is very common), order a drink and enjoy the energy! The bars will be warm and inviting and you’ll be able to sample all kinds of different Spanish specialities. If you want a guide, you can book a tapas tour here.

If you’re looking for a great dish to warm you up during the winter (provided you’re not a vegetarian), then make sure to order cocido madrileño (Madrid stew) which is a hearty stew of chickpeas, meats and vegetables.

Vermut & Croquettes in a Madrid bar
Vermouth & Croquetas in a Madrid bar

Enjoy the Market Culture

In the same ilk of exploring Spanish cuisine, one of the best things to do in Madrid in winter is to really get to know the market culture.

Markets are central to Spanish culture and every Madrid barrio (neighbourhood) will have its own market hall. In these, you will find stands selling fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh fish, meat, cheese, olives, sweets and more.

If you want to try Spanish produce and local products, visiting some of the market stalls is a great place to do this at a much lower price than heading to a restaurant (especially if you’re after the coveted jamón ibérico de bellota – ham from the black-footed pig).

Not only do the markets have grocery stalls, but they almost always have a number of different bars and casual eateries to enjoy, as well. You can stop and have a glass of wine or vermouth or even enjoy lunch or dinner at some of these markets at sit-down bars and restaurants!

Barrio de Lavapiés
Mercado Antón Martín in Lavapiés

Head out on a Day Trip

And finally, one of the best things to do on a winter trip to Madrid is to take a day trip from Madrid to the surrounding area. Even the most popular of day trip destinations will have fewer visitors during the winter months (outside of Christmastime, as least) and this can make exploring these areas much more pleasant.

Taking a day trip to Toledo is one of the most popular places to go from the Spanish capital. This medieval city has a lot to offer and is super interesting to visit.

Northwest of Madrid, the city of Segovia also makes for a great day trip destination. Known for its Roman aqueduct, beautiful cathedral and imposing Alcázar, this is an excellent place to head to from the Spanish capital.

And if you’re looking for a quieter day trip option, then head to the city of Ávila. This is also easily reached from Madrid and is famed for its excellently preserved city walls (that you can walk along!).

All three of these lovely towns are also inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites and are filled with history.

City Walls of Avila
City Walls of Ávila

Where to Stay in Madrid

Ii Castillas Madrid – Those looking for a mid-range option in Madrid will love this quaint hotel. Centrally located close to the Plaza Callao, it’s within easy walking distance of Madrid’s top sites, they have a number of comfortable rooms to choose from and they also offer breakfast daily. Click here to see their availability

Only YOU Boutique Hotel – This boutique hotel is a great option for those looking for a luxury choice in the Spanish capital. Located in the happening Chueca neighbourhood, they have a ton of great rooms available and a perfect location for seeing all Madrid has to offer. Click here to see their availability

Hostal Foster – This quaint guesthouse is a great option for budget travellers who want some privacy in Central Madrid. Located right of Gran Via, they have a range of clean, comfortable and air-conditioned rooms to choose from. Click here to see their availability

The Hat Madrid – If you’re travelling on a budget, solo or are simply looking for a great social atmosphere during your winter escape to Madrid, then this hostel is a great choice. They have both dorm beds and private rooms available, a location right off Plaza Mayor and excellent common areas and shared spaces. Click here to see their availability

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other Madrid hotels!

Madrid's Royal Palace
Royal Palace of Madrid

Taking a trip to Madrid in winter can be an excellent idea so long as you’re prepared for some cold weather. The Spanish capital has so much to offer any time of year, so a winter trip is never going to leave you wanting.

Are you planning a winter trip to Madrid? Have any questions about visiting in winter? Let us know in the comments!

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Maggie is a co-founder and writer for The World Was Here First. Originally from the US, she has lived in five different countries and has travelled to dozens more, both solo and with her partner, Michael. She particularly loves exploring Spain and spending time in the Caucasus and the Baltics. Read more about Maggie

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