Central and Southern Spain are two of the hottest and sometimes deadliest regions of the country to be in from June to August. Each summer is different and it seems like every time the calorcito rears its ugly head once again, you need to dust off and pull out all your tips and tricks for dealing with hot weather in Spain. It doesn’t matter if you went through one of the hottest summers of your life (which is always what the first one will feel like), winter in places like Castilla y León and Madrid will wipe your memory clean of that blistering heat.
Though it may sneak up on you each and every year you’re here, don’t let it defeat you! In fact, let me be here to help you through your first blazing hot Spanish summer or even your 5th one. I’ve suffered through a lot of sweaty, sleepless summer nights and if I can save at least one person from a few of those, then one of my missions on this blog will be complete.
Take a look at my best tips below and learn how you can stop suffering through the summer and start enjoying this sizzling season instead.
(And maybe even understand why the British and Americans -and dozens of others- flock to Spain every year to soak up its sun!)
1. Open all the windows in the morning but keep the sun out in the afternoon and onward
Depending upon where in Spain you live, the sun will rise anywhere from 6:40 am to 7:15 am and will not set until close to 10 pm in some cities. What does that mean for Spanish residents?
Lots and lots of sunshine comes into our windows naturally and for hours on end!
From about 7 am to 10 am, the air and the temperature will be at their coolest so you will want to do everything in your power to bring some of that cool air in and trap it inside your apartment. Things will eventually heat up as the day goes on but if you know you’re going to be gone the rest of the day, keeping everything dark will help to stabilize the inside temperature.
Capturing just a few hours of the cool morning air will get your summer day off to a much better start. And once you do shut those windows (no later than 11 am), do your very best to keep them shut until past sunset. But even still, on the majority of hot days in July and August, it will average 90-92°F (32-33°C) at 10 pm.
So if I were you, keep them shut as long as you can possibly stand!
2. Do all your heavy cooking, cleaning and washing clothes in the morning hours
It’s safe to say that you won’t feel like doing much housework and cooking once the summer really gets started. You may think you will want to cook and do all sorts of things while you potentially have more free time during the summer but the weather may lead you to do other things.
The worst thing about Madrid is that the heat gets trapped between the high-rise buildings and has nowhere to burn off and escape. Unless you live near Casa del Campo or Plaza de España where airflow is nearly constant. But even still, the hot air rises up from the blistering hot streets and sticks to all the buildings around it. Unless a northern wind blows through the city, there’s usually no true relief until September when the temperatures start to drop steadily.
On the contrary, if you’re living in Southern Spain, the temperatures never seem to cool down enough for someone to be able to sleep. I know from my friends’ experiences, they couldn’t even start to think about going to sleep until 3 or 4 am. And even sleeping during the siesta hours (3 – 5 pm) felt like an impossible feat. It may seem crazy to you right now but it’s all totally understandable when the average temperature in the summer in places like Sevilla or Córdoba is 105°F (40.5°C)!
Up in the North in places like Galicia and País Vasco, the humidity will be what will suffocate you the most in the summer. One rare summer day that it got up to 95°F (35°C) in Santiago de Compostela (where I lived at the time), it felt like I was trapped inside a mini oven. The heat was rising up to my 4th-floor apartment and evaporating off the streets like crazy. It doesn’t usually get like that up there and you can almost always sleep with a light blanket on top of your bed so I was a little confused. However, my roommate had warned me that 35°C in Santiago is almost as worse as in Southern Spain in the middle of summer!
So, if you want some motivation for finishing your household chores and cooking in the summer, do it early. After the sun sets might be too late and too hot, so take my advice as a warning to take the initiative and plan ahead.
(Insider tip: Most electricity companies in Spain have two different base rates depending on the time of day. I was told by past Spanish roommates that if you want to do heavy cleaning or use a lot of electricity, it’s best to do it from 10 pm – 11 am – around this time frame. The reason is that during the day, the power will cost more from 11 am on. So get your vacuuming done early and make sure to turn your fan off before you go to work or class!)
3. Eat fresh, cold meals and salads and drink cold, refreshing drinks
You probably know the drill when it comes to summer foods and drinks. Watermelon, iced cold glasses of water, lemonade and tea and eating ice cream on your way back from the swimming pool might be some of the images that are flashing through your mind right now.
However, if you’re from the United Kingdom like my husband, where you can drink normal cups of hot tea all year round, you may not have a clue as to what summer foods are or what a true, honest-to-goodness summer is like.
I didn’t honestly consider the differences between the UK and Ireland and the rest of Europe when it came to something so normal to me as summer. (It maybe gets to like 75°F/25°C there a couple of times a year, at best.)
Yet, here I am spending my first summer as a married woman showing my husband what you eat and do during a good old-fashioned hot as balls (pardon the expression) summer.
Here are some of my favorites so far during this summer and last:
Lemonade (and Infused Water)
Fruits and Vegetables with High Water Content
4. Avoid heavily salted foods and high alcoholic drinks
Even after spending nearly six years in Spain consecutively, I find that I am still learning new things about the same old issues I’ve encountered before. Each apartment I’ve lived in is different and a handful of tricks to survive both cold weather and warm weather don’t work everywhere. You have to mix and match some of these tips for hot weather as best as you can and adjust everything based on where you live and what you’re doing that particular summer.
Some years it will be dry from early June to late September. Others you will get a few days of freak summer thunderstorms and metro stations will flood (thinking about Madrid’s Summer of 2017 here). No one summer will be the same but there are some things you can control no matter what.
One of these things is what exactly you eat and drink.
Even though I’m on my 5th summer here, I learned a few new things about myself in the past year when it came to diet and alcohol intake.
While going to a goodbye picnic for a friend last year and discovering that Spain has an equivalent for Frito’s (which is actually just the same product but with different branding), I ate too much and didn’t drink enough water to balance out the salt intake. Combined with sweating a lot (without really acknowledging just how much), using the metro to get back home, wearing some tight shorts instead of looser fitting ones underneath my dress and then nearly collapsing on my bed almost immediately, that was a huge recipe for disaster. I experienced painful stomach cramps that startled me awake and felt a bit woozy once I did stand to my feet.
Needless to say, what I had done pushed me right down the path to heat exhaustion. A few trips to the bathroom, running my wrists under cold water, grabbing a peach to munch on after I threw up (it was the only high water content item in my fridge on hand) and one very damp washcloth and late night phone call to my mom later, I survived.
But I wouldn’t wish that experience upon anyone. It was absolutely horrific. And it was only June 30th when it happened. Last year in lots of European cities there was a massive heatwave just before the summer got underway.
(In Madrid it got to around 106°F on that Sunday and the only thing that helped me forget about it was being in a park since I didn’t have AC at the time.)
Alcohol is a similar issue. It will dehydrate you quickly so make sure you drink a couple of glasses of water in between each drink if you know you will be consuming multiple beverages in one sitting (say at a party or on a rooftop terrace).
5. Avoid getting too much direct sunlight between 4 – 7 pm.
If you’re from the United States and depending upon your state, the sun’s intensity will most likely start to fade after 5 pm. At least in Ohio, where I’m from, it will.
However, that’s not the case in Spain! It must have something to do with its geographical location and coordinates (and perhaps close proximity to sweltering Northern Africa).
This is a fabulous country to get a tan but it’s also practically the worst country in the world for sunburns. Tons of tourists and vacationers come to Spain and Portugal and leave looking like they painted the town red and then got some of the said paint all over them!
The sun that so wonderfully graces the Iberian Peninsula is also the same sun that will unforgivably burn you to a crisp starting in mid-May. It is intense and too much exposure to it will zap your energy or worse, cause damage to your face and body.
Get used to applying lots of sunscreen on you wherever you go all over Spain – even on the cloudy days – and you will thank me!
If you go on vacation to or live on the islands, do what I didn’t think of until this year: buy an umbrella for the beach and open it up to give yourself a break from the roasting sun.
6. Drink your body weight in water (and more if you exercise!)
One of the things I haven’t really ever gotten used to about Spain (and Europe in general) is the lack of free public bathrooms. They have these fancy portable-looking bathrooms placed all around cities but those require you to pay about 10 – 20 cents to use them. And in Madrid, you have to apply for a special public restroom card to load money on and scan at one of the stations whenever you want to use a portable bathroom.
The real question is – where do you get the card?!
(I haven’t figured it out yet)
Nevertheless, I know you know to drink a lot of water in the summer. I’m just here to tell you to drink a little more than you think you should because you will be sweating a lot regardless of the Spanish city you live in. You won’t even realize just how much you’ve sweated until you’re dehydrated or ready to just jump into a fountain.
(But please don’t)
During the summer, though, try your best to get most of your water intake down before 1 or 2 pm, which is just before lunchtime in Spain. You may lose a lot of fluids sleeping or haven’t made up for the ones you lost the day before so start replenishing them early.
And if you need tips on “free bathroom” spots in the center of Madrid, hit me up. (Or do a quick search for a public library, if they’re not already on vacation.)
7. Don’t go outside or do strenuous exercise when it’s over 98°F / 37°C
I’m not a professional athlete and the most athletic thing I’ve done in the past few years is running after a bus I’m trying to catch but this one should also be a no-brainer.
I will say, however, that this would also include brisk to high-paced walking.
Like I mentioned earlier, you won’t know just how much you’ve sweated or just how much the sun has affected you – even as short as a 30-minute time frame – until it’s too late.
It’s better to be safe than sorry!
8. Take walks in parks close to sunset or within a couple of hours after sunrise
Scattered all around Spain are beautiful and lush green spaces. The most well-known in the country is Parque de El Retiro, of course, but most cities have a gigantic, sprawling park where you can walk, run and picnic.
One of the most underrated parks in Madrid – in my opinion – is Parque de Berlín.
It’s a German-style park located just east of the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium with three pieces of the old, Berlin wall situated in a fountain at the park’s main entrance. The remnants of the wall were given to the city of Madrid as a gift and have been standing there since 1990.
I took nearly hundreds of walks in this park during the two years I lived in the area but I always found it the most pleasant in the early evening to early nighttime. And you definitely feel the difference in temperature once you walk deep into the park from the outlying streets.
If you want to treat yourself for free this summer, take a walk inside a park after sunset!
(They are safe, I promise, but still, be aware of your surroundings)
9. Put up blackout or opaque curtains to keep the heat out of your room or apartment
This style of curtain is amazing. It will completely change the atmosphere of a room.
The one pictured above is one I’ve had since my junior year of college. I left it in a box ever since 2012 but the last time I went home to the US, I unearthed it and brought it back to la capital to help me fight off the summer heat.
It’s now on its third apartment total and has been a godsend to me. I don’t know how I would survive a street-facing apartment without one!
10. Freeze a water bottle to sleep with or drink from and sleep with a damp washcloth
During my first summer in Madrid, back in 2017, the new fan I had bought from the Corte Inglés, broke in early August, leaving me to pick up the pieces (and later on, leaving it on the curb for scrap metal).
I was already struggling through a rough month with a summer job not paying me on time, waiting for my work visa application to be approved and not being able to leave the city, so that was like throwing salt on my wounds.
Luckily, I found an alternative way to keep myself cool and survive the remaining blistering, stuffy summer nights in an apartment that got very little airflow.
One of my friends who lived farther south of me told me how he froze a water bottle during the day so that he could have something cold to drink at night. This gave me the bright idea of doing the very same thing but instead of drinking the water, I would use it as a frozen bottle that I could sleep with.
Of course, something that’s frozen solid is going to be so so cold to touch. Like, freeze your hands off cold!
So the way I got around the frozen water bottle from being too cold in the beginning was to wrap a small microfiber towel around it. If I didn’t do this, I wouldn’t have been able to hug it against myself and sleep with it during the night.
But, just like I had hoped, it worked like a charm that first night and my body became familiar with the touch and feel of the frozen water. Some nights that frozen sensation helped me fall asleep instantly, which is a hard task during a Spanish summer!
The only downside is that the bottle slowly -or sometimes quickly – overnight and leaves a nice puddle on your fitted sheet the next morning. So don’t sleep with any electronics or valuables that might get damaged by water.
(And make sure to change the water every couple of days or else it will become stagnant!)
11. Take a shower a couple of hours before bed and get your head wet
If you aren’t prone to sweating a lot after a shower – when it’s warm – I recommend taking a shower just before bed. It will cool you down and relax you in a way nothing else can. And quickly, too!
And since your head maintains most of your body’s temperature, you will need to work a bit harder to keep it cool.
Try and take a shower a couple of hours before you turn in to give your hair enough time to dry if you get it dripping wet. The last thing you will want is to catch a summer cold!
12. Have a fan on hand or install air conditioning to move cooler air around your apartment
You will meet a lot of people living in all different parts of Spain who swear by fans to get them through the summer.
While that’s all nice and convenient, it’s not exactly the best choice – seeing how far down on the list it is, haha.
Well, a fan will push around the only air that has access to and swirl it around a room. Nine times out of ten that air will be muggy or warm, which will do just the opposite in terms of cooling you down.
Unless there is no breeze, that day’s temperature was over 100°F (38°C) and I can’t sleep worth anything, I will keep my fan off. I don’t want the added expense to my electric bill nor the wasted energy it carries along with it.
My advice here is to weigh your options like your income, apartment size, and how many people you are sharing with and decide if you’d rather keep a fan on this summer.
There are obviously other ways to keep cool as you read above so make sure you choose the best tips that suit you for this hot weather. Don’t envy me too much but my current apartment has a new AC unit installed and for the first time in nearly 6 years, I am enjoying AC inside my own home. In Spain.
We are using it sparingly but have had to leave it on for a couple of hours at night just to cool down from our first 100° day of the season. It’s also much more difficult to stay cool when you share a bed with someone else. I’m learning this for the very first time this summer. Lucky me!
(But just know that I am paying the electric bill for that AC and you, my readers, are not)
13. If you have to wear a mask outside, don’t participate in high-paced walking or strenuous exercise.
If you are reading this and masks are currently mandatory in places where you are unable to social distance, then this section is relevant for you. If we happen to one day get to a place where we say, “Remember when we all had to wear masks all the time? Even in the summer?” then you can disregard this section or read it and reminisce.
But basically, my closing advice to you is to NOT overdo any type of exercise or walking while you are wearing a mask. You will tire yourself out a lot faster and could even become short of breath for a couple of minutes if you push yourself too hard.
Take your time walking with your mask on and please, avoid disposable masks at all costs!
Not only are disposable masks just another pollutant we will no doubt find in the oceans and parks in 2020, but they are also nearly impossible to breathe in once their lifespan has run out. Tons of businesses everywhere in the world are pivoting and producing cloth or reusable masks so suck it up, spend a little bit more on a cloth mask that has a space for a removable filter. You will thank yourself later, trust me!
What are your experiences with summertime in Spain? Did I leave any really good tips off my list? Let me know! And on the contrary, if you want to know what winter in Spain is like, take a look at this previous article and read up on it!