Travelers take note: Peak season is not the best time for visiting Madrid. Most visitors swarm into Spain’s capital from June to August. Many are college-aged backpackers who can’t come any other time, but if you have the freedom to visit in spring or autumn you should consider it. Summer can be sweltering, with a pitiless sun that’s rarely relieved by rainfall. Temperatures in August often break 100 degrees. Madrileños traditionally take their vacation in August and many shops, bars and cafes close for the entire month. Major attractions remain open, but you need to book hotels way in advance.
Winter is the slow season for visiting Madrid, with the exception of late December and early January when many Spaniards come to visit relatives. It can be difficult to find a hotel room at this time, even at the cheaper places. Besides the holiday season, there’s plenty of hotel space and the smaller number of visitors at major attractions make this an attractive time to visit. The air can be brisk, but doesn’t go below freezing much, and snow is uncommon—although the winter of 2009-10 saw a major snowfall that led to two days of snowmen and snowball fights before it all melted away. The one disadvantage to coming in the winter, and it is a major one, is that all the terrazas (outdoor cafes) are closed. It would be a pity to miss this very Mediterranean way of enjoying life. Every now and then, however, there will be a gloriously warm day and all the terrazas will suddenly reappear for a few precious hours.
Autumn and spring are the best times for visiting Madrid. Temperatures range from cool to hot but are usually temperate. On warm days, the terrazas will be doing a brisk business and it’s enjoyable to walk the tree-lined streets. April and May are the rainiest months, but there’s no real rainy season in Madrid. Tourism picks up at this time, so expect crowds, although it’s not as bad as summer. Early May and late September are perhaps the best time to come, because it’s not summer, but close enough to it to give a pleasant warmth, and the college backpacker crowd isn’t overrunning downtown.