All over the city, waiters are busy putting out the tables and chairs at the pavement cafés, getting ready for the never-ending demand for cold drinks. Afternoons slip by over languid lunches in shady squares, while when the heat is really on, in July and August, the locals lie low until well after dusk, and then emerge in their thousands to share some tapas and a bottle of wine at a terraza table.
From May onwards, the cultural festivals come thick and fast, with concerts and theater in outdoor venues. At the height of summer, fiestas turn the most traditional downtown neighborhoods into one long open-air party.
Madrid has really revamped itself in the past couple of years. The Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen-Bornemisza museums have all got bigger and better, while the center of the city is smartening up with new boutiques, delis, cafés and gastro bars opening up every week. It’s perfect for a culture-rich long weekend or city break, with great food and a lively atmosphere at night.
Although it is cold in winter, there are usually a lot of bright, sunny days and it is often warm enough to sit outside during the day. Just remember your hat and gloves. The weather is best in spring and autumn. Cultural and street festivals are under way for most of May. It is usually uncomfortably hot for much of July and August, so if you want to go then, it is a really good idea to book a hotel with a pool. Then you can spend the mornings in air-conditioned museums and shops, swim and sunbathe all afternoon, and sit at outdoor cafés and restaurants after the sun has gone down.
A single ride on the metro (www.metromadrid.es/en) or bus costs costs €1.50. From June, journeys of more than five stops cost up to €2. From May, a 10-ride metrobus ticket costs €12. The Madrid Card covers entrance to lots of museums, discounts at sights, restaurants and shops, and is available for periods of one to five days. Prices start at €39 for one day, and the card can be combined with a travel pass (€6 extra) and/or the tourist bus (€20 extra). Available from the tourist office in the Plaza Mayor, or buy online to get a discount (www.madridcard.com/en).
The Madrid tourist bus has routes around the historic monuments of the old town and the modern architecture in the new parts of the city, and costs €20 for one day and €24 for two (www.autobusturisticomadrid.com). Tickets available online, on the bus or from tourist offices in the Plaza Mayor and Felipe IV near the Prado.