Hot, hot, and hot. Madrid can get toasty in the summer, as all locals know. How to beat the heat?
If this is your first summer in Madrid, the bad news is that there are usually at least two weeks of temperatures over 100ºF (about 40ºC) – sometimes well over. Part of this is climate, but city dwellers should remember that the not-so-good part of urban life is the “heat island” effect of living packed together, surrounded by asphalt and tall buildings. This heat doesn’t disappear when the sun goes down, as the buildings and asphalt release heat stored during the day at night.
The good news about Madrid’s summer heat is that it is usually dry heat, which is easier to handle than the high humidity of the coast or rainy inland areas in other countries. If you follow some basic, commonsense guidelines Madrid’s summer heat won’t lay you low.
A few tips:
Walk on the shady side of the street. Silly advice? Maybe, but this makes a huge difference – so much that there is a saying in Spanish “vete por la sombra”.
Hydrate hydrate and hydrate, inside and out. Be SURE to drink plenty of water, light juices, iced herbal tea. Ok, ok, occasional beer or sangria, but remember that both alcohol and coffee actually de-hydrate instead of hydrating. Lukewarm showers or just splashing face, wrists and neck with water will help keep you cool. A hiker’s trick: if it is really hot out there, wet a cotton scarf (bandannas are perfect) and tie it around your neck.
Dress right. Loose clothing made of light colored, lightweight natural fibers are best. The possible exception to this tip are the fast-drying technical textiles developed for sports that have now spilled over into travel wear from specialized manufacturers. The theory is that by “wicking” the perspiration from your body and helping it evaporate, you will stay cool. In practice, this usually works pretty well, but it depends a lot on clothing type and design – pants usually feel like plastic cling wrap, but a loose tee-shirt, skirt or some shirts can really help keep you cool.
Siestas exist for a reason. If you can, take an afternoon rest somewhere cool, sleeping or just relaxing. Remember that Spanish summer time is sun time plus two hours (the usual one hour plus daylight savings time) so 2PM is 12 noon sun time, and it doesn’t start to cool down until about 6PM. Summer nights in Madrid are long and leisurely, with people at outdoor cafés and in parks until well after midnight, enjoying the cooldown so they can sleep once they do head for bed.
Eat to beat the heat. Again this is common sense, but think a bit before eating the usual two-course midday meal, or at least select the lightest options available. If you are having the daily “menu”, most places will let you have two first courses, a good way to get a full meal if you are hungry, but without the heavier meat and potatoes of the usual second courses. At home, consider a hearty salad – white beans, chickpeas, corn, pasta and rice all work as main ingredient for a one-course, balanced meal that won’t make you hotter.
Green is cool. Madrid has a lot of city parks and relatively green squares, some cooler than others but all cooler than city streets. Find a bit of green that you like and use it when you need a break – it will cool you down physically and mentally.
Air conditioning? It has its place but also some drawbacks. If it’s cool inside, you’ll never want to go out, and if you do, the difference in temperature can make you miserable. In big office buildings, the recycled, un-renewed air can be cool but almost unbreathable, causing respiratory ailments in people who work there all day. Not to mention the electricity bill, if you are paying for cooling your space. So think about it before you crank up the AC – maybe a fan would work just as well on some days, or maybe you don’t need to cool the air down to April temperatures all day long.
Museums and movies: this may be the exception to my ambivalence about AC. If you hide out in one of these venues you can get culture while keeping cool.
When all else fails – or better yet, way before desperation sets in – get wet.
Madrid has a lot of affordable city pools and private pools, open to the public at higher prices, as well as pools for housing developments and the like. You can always find a place in the city for a dip, though you may be towel by towel with strangers at the more crowded city pools. (If you plan to go to city pools frequently, or if you are two instead of one, consider getting a 20 punch ticket for a considerable savings over individual daily tickets, though these tickets must be used in the calendar year of purchase).
If you can get out of the city, there are a number of recreational areas with places for swimming, mostly north of Madrid. Theoretically no swimming is allowed in reservoirs that supply Madrid with drinking water, but there are some exceptions to that rule and in other places enforcement is uneven; even so you should know that you may be asked to move on or even fined if you are caught swimming in a restricted area.
Here are some swimming places in rivers and streams fairly near the city.
– Cercedilla, Las Berceas swimming area in Las Dehesas recreational area just north of town.
– La Pedriza, next to Manzanares el Real. Swimming in the young Manzanares river just about anywhere above town but NOT in the Santillana reservoir. Good places just upstream from El Tranco and between Canto Cochino and the Charca Verde. Be VERY CAREFUL as the rock is extremely slippery when wet! Very crowded on summer weekends. If you want to go to Canto Cochino, get there early as car access is restricted and you may have to wait. In recent years there has been a shuttle bus between town and Canto Cochino, with a stop at the access control.
– Las Presillas, near Rascafria. Follow the highway from Rascafria towards Cotos and watch for a turnoff to the left shortly after passing the El Paular monastery. A series of small dams in the stream make several connected pools, with a large grassy area, parking, cafeteria, not a lot of shade. Can get crowded on summer weekends, and is farther from Madrid than La Pedriza, but no access restrictions. Small fee charged for parking. There is also a public bus to Rascafria from Plaza de Castilla, and easy access to Las Presillas on foot – about 4 kilometers each way. Take the dirt road in front of the monastery if you are walking – it’s shorter and safer than walking on the highway. Hikers: if you can get to La Isla picnic area upstream from Las Presillas , head upstream on the paths – the one on the right side as you go upstream is better. You’ll reach a small reservoir, continue upstream from there for some good swimming holes.
– Atazar reservoir, nearest towns El Berrueco and Cervera de Buitrago. One of the exceptions to swimming in reservoirs that supply Madrid. Both these towns have small recreational areas on the shores of this reservoir, neither very elaborate, not much shade. Small fee for parking right at dock area in Cervera.
– San Juan reservoir, nearest town San Martin de Valdeiglesias. Another exception. This reservoir also has some motor boats, so less pleasant for swimming.
– El Chorro in Navafria (Segovia). To get to Navafria, cross Somosierra pass and take the N110 southwest to Navafria. Once there, go a little south out of town and follow signs to this recreational area. Pools in a dammed stream, partly with cement bottoms and sides. Picnic tables, lots of trees, pretty waterfall a little upstream from the pools. Big area, farther from Madrid so less crowded than La Pedriza or Las Presillas. Small fee for parking.