Madrid in August – A Ghost Town Comes Alive Through Its Outdoor Festivals

Madrid in August – A Ghost Town Comes Alive Through Its Outdoor Festivals

It happens every year in Madrid like clockwork. On the 31st of July, you’re walking through a crowded city full of urban hustle and bustle. The next day you wake up to the sound of nothing. Everyone has suddenly disappeared. What happened?

Madrid's empty streets in August
Madrid’s empty streets in August

As tradition dictates, the city’s residents seem to take a collective vacation in the month of August with everyone heading to either their hometown village or to the beach. Homes collect dust as the little ones are packed into planes, trains and automobiles to begin the annual family vacation. Restaurants and bars tape newspapers over their windows with notes instructing their patrons to return in September. And shops – seeming to ignore the threat of online retail’s appeal of 24/7 shopping – pack up their wares and send their employees anywhere but here.

Ah, August in Madrid – when the city that never sleeps seems to have finally gone to bed. This is often great news for the Madrileños who stay behind declaring August their favorite month since the city is much more tranquilo. Visitors to the city, however, are often in a different frame of mind when they realize that the restaurant they’ve been dying to try is closed or that the only other people they will meet during their journey are other tourists. There can be a general malaise among those who have come to jump headfirst into the city whose infectious vibe they’ve heard so much about, only to find that Madrid has had its batteries taken out.

But listen up! As locals claim, Madrid really is wonderful in August if you know where to go and what to do. Follow an insider’s advice and get thee to the outdoor neighborhood festivals for an authentic Madrid experience.

There’s not one, not two, but three festivals which form the trinity of rambunctious street parties Madrid has become famous for. Try them all!

San Cayetano

Photo by gaelx from Madrid / A Coruña (Fiestas de barrio), via Wikimedia Commons

The first to kick off the season is the Festival of San Cayetano which takes place in the district of the famous Rastro flea market and the Plaza de Cascorro. Although officially celebrated on the 7th of August, the festivities will run from the 6 – 8th of the month. Visit the church of San Cayetano on the Calle Embajadores to watch a float carrying the Italian saint’s image be carried outside and paraded through the surrounding historic streets. If you’re feeling inspired, try to grab a flower from the display as it heads back into the church and pray to the saint himself. As legend has it, you will be blessed with bread and work for the rest of the year.  The party continues in the plaza and surrounding streets where you’ll be treated to excellent tapas, drinks, music and dancing – a veritable carnival!

San Lorenzo

Photo by Barcex (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

As San Cayetano winds down, right around the corner in the neighborhood of Lavapies, the Festival of San Lorenzo heats up. Celebrated on August 10th, you will see a similar procession as a statue of San Lorenzo leaves the church bearing his name for a trip through this fascinating district which celebrates him. With the Calle Argumosa filling with food stalls, picnic tables and stands to get beer, wine or spirits, you’ll be enthralled by what feels like a big Spanish block party!
Had your fill of tapas? You’re in luck. Lavapies is also one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Madrid allowing you the opportunity to try some of the best Indian or Bangladeshi curries in the city. Or head over to one of the many African restaurants popping up in the barrio to try an excellent plate of maafe before heading back into the street for more festivity.

La Paloma

Photo by Barcex (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

And finally, from August 11-15, in the very-close-by La Latina neighborhood, you’ll be treated to the biggest of the three festivals: The Festival of the Virgin of La Paloma. Way back in the 18th century, a local woman by the name of Isabel Tintero displayed an icon of the Virgin Mary in the doorway to her house on the Calle Paloma which became very popular with people from the neighborhood.
Henceforth the icon became representative of both the neighborhood and the hard-working people residing there. Go check out the icon at the Iglesia Virgen de la Paloma located in the plaza of the same name. The festivities go on for days and if you’re not full up from the fare at the previous two street parties, you’ll have another chance to over indulge in excellent food and drink. All this while witnessing locals dressed in their traditional chulapo garb and dancing chotis – a time-honored dance unique to this marvellous city.

Madrid quiet in August? What? Who ever said that?