Make the most of late summer in the sunny Spanish capital, all outdoor cafés and a wealth of world-class exhibitions in splendid museums
A special atmosphere pervades Madrid in late summer as many of the locals are on holiday during this part of August. But although the city is quieter than usual, there is no shortage of things going on.
The Royal Palace
The temperature drops a few degrees towards the end of the month, but it is still pretty hot and therefore perfect for sitting in pavement cafés in shady squares with long cool drinks such as tinto de verano, a refreshing mix of red wine and lemonade with lots of ice. Avoid the tourist traps in the Plaza Mayor and instead grab a table in the nearby Plaza del Conde de Barajas, or stroll down to the medieval Plaza de la Paja. At dusk, make sure you are installed on the Vistillas terrace near the Royal Palace to watch the sun go down over the Guadarrama mountains.
Picasso’s Woman with a Guitar at the Prado
Staying at Hotel Ritz, Madrid, the major museums are on your doorstep, which makes outings rather more manageable in the heat. At the Prado, the exhibition ‘10 Picassos from the Kunstmuseum Basel’ is on until 14 September. Behind the museum, Café Murillo is a great spot for a light lunch.
At the Thyssen-Bornemisza, the exhibition ‘Zurbarán: A New Perspective’ (until 13 September) contains works by the Golden Age master that have only been discovered in recent years. Also showing is ‘Vogue Like a Painting’ (until 12 October), a fascinating display that illustrates how fashion photographers use techniques more usually associated with painters or theatre designers. Have a drink on the terrace afterwards, or enjoy a romantic dinner with a spectacular setting at the rooftop El Mirador del Thyssen.
Down the road at the vast Reina Sofía contemporary art museum, exhibitions include ‘Carl André: Sculpture as Place’ (until 12 October), which features around 200 artworks from the last 50 years. In addition, PhotoEspaña offers a programme of exhibitions and events at various venues across the city during the summer. Don’t miss the stunning show (on until 6 September) at the Cerralbo Museum, of feminine portraits by Korda, the Cuban photographer behind one of the famous pictures of Che Guevara.
Tim Walker’s Dress Lamp Tree at 'Vogue Like a Painting'
Afterwards, cross the road to admire the expansive views across the park from the ancient Egyptian Temple of Debod, which was transported to Madrid from the banks of the Nile. Then rest your feet at one of the pavement cafés on the adjacent Paseo de Rosales and order a horchata (a cooling crushed concoction of tiger nuts from Valencia).
The Temple of Debod
Hotel Ritz, Madrid is close to the leafy Retiro Park, where you might want to stroll around the lake before hitting the Spanish and international shops in the nearby Salamanca neighbourhood. Just head for Jorge Juan, then walk up to Goya, Serrano and the streets inbetween. If you are feeling peckish, pop into Platea, a cinema that has been turned into a buzzing gastronomic hub with restaurants and bars by top Spanish chefs, including Ramón Freixa and Marcos Morán.
Back at Hotel Ritz, Madrid, head straight for the terrace in the tranquil gardens – undoubtedly one of the best spots in the city for a gin and tonic on a summer’s evening.