Central Spain can be stifling hot during the summer months, with temperatures pushing 40°C (105°F). To escape the oppressive heat, many locals go on holiday in July and August, resulting in fewer people (which can be great), but also closed businesses (less great, if you're a tourist).
I didn't feel the decrease in population as greatly in Madrid, as it's a big, bustling city, but it was hard not to notice it in Toledo, which was an utter ghost town. The windows on shopfronts and restaurants were barred and shuttered. Grocery stores were only open from 10am-2pm, on certain days of the week. And the streets and squares were completely desolate.
Even with a lack of people and open establishments, Toledo is an enjoyable and cute place to explore. This ancient city is known as the 'city of three cultures' because Christians, Muslims and Jews managed to live and co-exist here for hundreds of years. It's history of diversity, tolerance and religious harmony is rare in this part of Western Europe.
Other Toledo fun facts include:
It was the capital of Spain before Madrid
Swordsmithing has been world famous here for 2,000 years
Toledian marzipan is the city’s most beloved confectionary and is said to be the best in Spain
The city of Toledo was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986
Manchego comes from this region; there's a Museo del Queso Manchego in Toledo in its honor (but it wasn't open)
Although summer in Toledo isn't a hive of activity, there are still some amazing places to eat. Chefs in Toledo take pride in their food, ingredients and the presentation of their dishes. Portions are fairly large, but it prices remain affordable. Below are my reccos for where to eat...
Entre Dos Fuegos in Hotel Etre Dos Aguas - Formerly the Spanish guitarist Paco de Lucia's house, this hotel is boutiquey and adorable. It's set right in the center of the Old Town and there's a rooftop, where I recommend having a glass of wine before you dine. You must book in advance in order to eat here as the restaurant only serves eight people, with one seating per night (at 9:00pm). It's an eight-course tasting menu, starting with tapas and ending with shots. The chef and sous-chef prepare everything in front of you. It's a very special experience.
Lacus - An optimal lunch or dinner option. I suggest you wash the cod loin and lobster dishes down with a glass of cold, white wine.
Eugenia de Montijo, Autograph Collection - Indulge in a beverage (or two) at this swanky bar.
La Cabala - Everything here is simply delicious! Be sure not to over-order though; it's easy to get carried away trying everything.
La Ermitaña - A must visit, for dinner and views. This restaurant is located outside the Old Town walls, but overlooks them. This restaurant is beautiful and superb. The cheesecake is to die for (made with mascarpone and manchego). Maybe book for a table inside though, to avoid getting attacked by wasps.
A 35-minute high-speed Avant train will take you from Toledo directly into Madrid's Puerta De Atocha station.
Having been to Madrid only one time previously, it was great to further explore the Spanish capital. Below are my recommendations for accommodations, sights and where to dine/wet your whistle.
I highly recommend staying at CoolRooms Palacio de Atocha. If you can get past the cheesy name, you'll be pleasantly surprised by this grand hotel. It's centrally located, the pool is an oasis and the staff are delightful. Also, the rooms are enormous, with giant bathrooms and amenities like a GHD flat iron/hairdryer and fluffy robes/towels. The only down side is that they stop serving drinks by the pool at midnight, which is quite early by Madrid standards.
*If CoolRooms full or out of your budget, have a look at Hotel Urban as a very nice alternative.
Retiro Park - Leisurely saunter through this park to escape the buzz of the city. It’s filled with gardens, fountains, statues, art galleries, street performers and a pond where you can rent row boats. The most beautiful part is the Jardines de Cecilio Rodriguez, filled with glorious peacocks.
IKONO Madrid - Take about an hour to play around at this immersive and interactive art experience. During the tour you will encounter a ball pool, indoor bamboo park, confetti rain, light installations and murals painted by local artists.
Royal Palace of Madrid - Formerly the official residence of the Spanish royal family, this palace is now used only for state ceremonies.
Plaza Mayor - Madrid's grand central square used to be the center of torture and executions during the Spanish Inquisition, but today is a very touristy spot that plays host to much less morbid events like concerts, Christmas markets, bullfights and football games.
Torres Bermejas - Feel the rhythm of this classic Spanish dance, during a 1-hour performance. Although flamenco originated in southern Spain, dancers from far and wide come to the capital city to showcase their talents.
Florida Park - Eat lunch/brunch at this restaurant located inside Retiro. Each area of the restaurant has its own menu. I ate at El Pabellón (the outdoor terrace). Don't leave without trying the roasted avocado starter and the grilled octopus main.
La Tasqueria - With all of its tasting menus incorporating ingredients such as brain, tongue, trotters, tripe, combs and head of suckling pig, this offal restaurant probably isn't for everyone. But, if you're into Michelin-stars and adventurous eating, give it a go.
Mercado de San Miguel - Pop into this covered market for gourmet tapas. Over 30 different vendors sell a variety of freshly prepared tapas, hams, olives, baked goods, desserts and other foods. Beer, wine and champagne are also available.
360° Rooftop Skybar Hotel Rui Plaza de España - After you pay €10, you can access the roof terrace via a high-speed lift. This is one of the most spectacular roof terraces in Madrid, with 360° views of the entire city. If you're not afraid of heights, stroll across the glass walkway for views below as well as around you.
Salmon Guru - You'll find this establishment in the #15 position on the 2023 50 Best Bars list and as the first place winner of the Michter’s Art of Hospitality Award, in 2021. Both designations are well deserved. If you like a gin-based cocktail, try the Salmon Sherbet.
Santita - If you get sick of Spanish food and want some Mexican, head here for tacos and frozen margs.
Dani Rooftop - At the top of the Four Seasons Madrid, which only opened in September 2020, you'll find a stylish indoor lounge and outdoor terrace. This dynamic venue is one of the most beautiful rooftops in Madrid. And the panoramic views over the city are not too shabby either.
Thanks for stopping by. I hope these recommendations help you cool off during your summertime visit to Central Spain!