Springtime in Madrid is a chance to see the city’s green spaces fill with color. Retiro Park is the place to relax after a trip to the Prado gallery, with its lake and all-glass Crystal Palace – during spring, the Rosaleda rose garden is abloom with color. On the other side of Madrid, the Parque del Oeste (West Park) near Plaza de España hosts a rose show each spring.
The season of makeshift chiringuitobars and terrazas (pavement cafes), gets into its swing as the local Madrileños take the air and saunter the streets. Cool off alfresco with traditional Spanish coolers like horchata (almond-flavoured milkshake) and granizado (crushed iced lemon). The grass strip between Paseo de Recoletos and Paseo de la Castellana north of the Prado offers plenty of outdoor options – old café haunts like Gran and Espejo remain favourites while the pianist on the Cafe Gijón terrace is a big pull.
Fiestas and festivals are intrinsic to Madrid life with Madrileños taking to the streets at every opportunity. Dos de Mayo on 2 May (following the national holiday on 1 May) marks the War of Independence in 1808 with parties around Plaza del Dos de Mayo and Plaza de las Comendadores in the Malasana neighborhood. On 15 May, locals celebrate the city’s patron saint, San Isidro, with bullfights at the Plaza de Ventas bullring, traditional dancing at Plaza Mayor and concerts in the vast park of Casa del Campo.
Semana Santa (Holy Week) is celebrated with gusto all over Spain and Madrid is no exception. More than 20 parades of holy icons take place throughout the city in the days leading up to Easter Sunday. Viernes Santo (Good Friday) hosts a colorful procession from the Basílica del Cristo de Medinaceli in Plaza de Jesús towards Puerta del Sol and Plaza Cibeles. On Easter Sunday at around midday, tap your feet in time as over 100 drummers take the floor at the arcaded Plaza Mayor for the Tamborada del Domingo de Resurección. Local ‘brotherhoods’ beat drums of all shapes and sizes in an attempt to mimic the tremors that allegedly shook the earth during Jesus’ crucifixion.
Nine kilometres north-west of Madrid city centre near Palacio El Pardo is the La Zarzuela racecourse. The four-month race season kicks off in late March with 22 days of races. Take the family to see the horses, dine alfresco or relax in the park area (under-14s go free). On race days, there’s a complementary shuttle bus from Paseo Moret, next to Plaza de la Moncloa (metro Moncloa).