Beat the Heat in Madrid: 9 ways to cool off like a local this summer
If there’s one thing nearly everyone in Madrid can agree on these days, it’s this…
And in a country where many houses don’t have air conditioning, and where the price of electricity is constantly rising, this is more than a minor problem.
Every summer, like clockwork, the temperature rises and local residents – seemingly – are shocked.
Eso no es normal, they can be heard to say. ¡Hace mucho calor!
Of course, the heat, for the most part is normal. There’s even a proverb about Madrid’s fabulous weather: Tres meses de infierno y nueve meses de invierno.
And right now, it’s time for the infierno part of the story.
What should a good madrileño do to beat the heat?
The debate rages on, as many Spaniards are also convinced that a bit of A/C will kill you faster than the 2014 ebola outbreak.
Updated: or, um, the Coronavirus.
So to help you stay cool, I’ve compiled this short list of tips. If you’re looking to avoid (or at least feel better about) these next few weeks of sticky, sweaty discomfort, try these ways to beat the heat in Madrid.
This article is also a new podcast… check it out!
Or read on, for all the fun…
1. Drop those persianas
I have to say, these rolling shutters most houses in Spain have are a pretty good invention.
But they work so much better if you actually have A/C.
You can effectively shut the sunlight (and part of the heat) out of your house by having them down during the day, but don’t kid yourself.
Unless you have the windows open, or the aircon on, it’ll still be hot. And sweating in stagnant air can’t be any better for you than a little draft, in my opinion.
2. Be a vampire
Staying indoors till sundown seems to be a popular option among locals.
You might, naturally, have other things to do during daylight hours than lie in a dark, coffin-like room waiting for nightfall. A day job, perhaps?
But if you have a lifestyle that permits it, then by all means: stay in bed with a wet towel on your head all you want.
Patience, though: Did I mention it gets dark around 10 PM in summer? Yep. 10 PM.
Thanks to Spain’s silly choice of timezone back during the dictatorship, you might be spending quite a lot of time at home.
3. Get in touch with your inner bovine
Back on the ranch in Arizona, where the heat is, in fact, much worse than in Madrid, I can’t remember eating lighter or colder foods in summer.
My mom would make a nice hearty beef stew in January or in August, no sweat.
Pass the biscuits!
But at this time of year, a lot of “real” Spaniards go on an all-salad-and-gazpacho diet.
And to be fair, eating lighter in summer does seem to work.
While a piping-hot plate of lentils with chorizo is a delicious way to spend a long Spanish evening, a salad with some tuna and hard boiled egg won’t heat you up nearly as much and might let you sleep a lot easier.
4. Hang out in the park
This one also depends, of course, on your not having a job to go to during the day.
But if you can, by all means: Parque Retiro is beautiful at this time of year and it’ll be full of people sitting around and enjoying life in the shade, as Europeans know how to do oh so well.
If you’re tired of Retiro, there are some other parks around town that are quite nice, too: Casa de Campo, Parque Berlin, El Capricho and more.
Get some shade and some green in your life, and you won’t notice the heat quite so much.
5. Get out of town
This is another option. Perhaps more expensive than catching the metro to Retiro, but unless you’re (for example) an English teacher watching the contents of your “secret money sock” approach zero in August, you can probably afford to head for the beach for a few days.
And you’re in luck!
Being on a peninsula means that Spain is surrounded on all sides by beautiful beaches.
The most famous are in Valencia, Alicante and Andalucía, but you shouldn’t forget the north coast either. Galicia, Asturias and País Vasco are all worth a visit too.
And if you prefer, another options is to head for the hills. The mountains to the north of Madrid are beautiful, and lots of locals love to take a day trip to Cercedilla, Miraflores or one of the other cute towns for a cooling-off and perhaps a walk in the woods.
And of course, there’s the wet and wild option…
6. Get all sloppy and wet
Madrid has some pretty nice public pools. Check out the one in Lago (Casa de Campo) or Moncloa, or check this list to see if there’s one in your neighborhood.
It’ll cost you a few euros to get in, but afterwards you can sit around all day on the grass, relax, have a picnic, enjoy the scenery. Whatever you want!
If you want to go further out, there’s a (very cold) natural pool in Cercedilla, surrounded by pines and mountains. And another in Rascafría.
The pools, fed by water from mountain streams, seem to be just above freezing at any time of year, even if it’s insanely hot downtown.
In other words: cold! But I enjoyed it, and you might too.
7. Move to one of the “pueblos blancos”
Of course, in Andalucía they’ve been dealing with the heat for millennia, and they have their own strategies.
Many small towns are painted all white, which reflects the sun and keeps people inside the houses cool.
The streets are narrow, which provides some much-needed shade, and you can sit in one of those lovely Andalusian patios and enjoy a respite from the heat in the afternoon. Have some sherry while you’re at it, and a tortillita de camarones (little shrimp omelette) – you won’t regret it.
Of course, all of that is small comfort for those of us living in Madrid, where summer is a ghost town, with these wide streets where the sun beats down on you like a hammer and you find yourself wishing that autumn would come sooner.
8. Drink more beer
This one, much to my liver’s chagrin, is my personal favorite.
Find a terraza and stop being all puritanical about drinking between meals.
Listen: if America was built by colonists who stayed hydrated on pints of beer and huge quantities of wine (and it was), there shouldn’t be a problem with sitting back and letting the Mahou flow freely…
At least until the weather cools down and it’s time to order some Rioja.
9. Beat the heat in Madrid by moving somewhere hotter…
If all else fails…
This solution isn’t exactly practical, but trust me, it works. I grew up in the desert outside Phoenix, Arizona.
Try spending a couple of decades out there.
We don’t even have shade, for the most part, unless standing in the shadow of a giant cactus works for you. (Don’t even try sitting down–everything in the desert has spines.)
After you’ve done ten or twenty Sonoran Desert summers, come back to Madrid and let’s talk. It’ll feel a lot cooler, I promise.
By the way, is the aircon-makes-you-sick thing just an old wives’ tale, or can you actually get a cold from the chilly blasts of air at the office?
Well, funny thing about that… The jury’s still out. Science says: maybe.
P.S. So. How are you dealing with the heat this summer? Let us know in the comments!
P.P.S. The aircon-makes-you-sick thing is just one of the many fun things you discover about Spanish culture when you date a Spanish girl. Check out 7 things you should know for more about that.
P.P.P.S. Just hope they don’t cut your water in August. It sucks. Ask me how I know.