It´s late afternoon in La Latina, one of the most characteristic and castizo neighborhoods of Spain´s capital city. Colourful flags and vibrant Manilla shawls decorate every street, and the local restaurants are busy blocking off their doorways and setting up makeshift bars outside. It´s stifling hot in the summer heat, but there´s an energy in the air that can only mean one thing: this is gonna be a great party.
And above all else, Madrid loves a good party.
So while it´s no surprise that most Madrileños abandon the 40°/100°+ summer swelter of August to head to the southern coast, those that remain in the capital make the most of it.
If you can stand the heat, August in Madrid is magical. Outside of the crowds at the verbenas in the south, the city is seemingly empty and holds a whole different vibe than the hustle and bustle of any other time of year.
It´s been a few years since I officially lived in Madrid, but I visit often and almost always plan a trip for La Paloma and the Verbenas de Agosto. What can I say? I guess I like a good party too!
Las Verbenas de Agosto in Madrid
A verbena is essentially a massive block party, complete with street food, street booze, live music, DJs, dancing and good times for everyone from baby to abuelo. There are 3 big verbenas, or festivals, in the southern barrios of central Madrid, and they´re celebrated one right after the other.
When: August 1-7, annually
Where: Embajadores, along Calle Embajadores and the areas used for the weekly Sunday Rastro market.
When: August 8-11, annually
Where: Lavapiés, the hip, multicultural neighborhood known for its hippies, dreadlocks and tasty south Asian and Senegalese restaurants.
When: August 11-15, annually
Where: La Latina, the chic, classic barrio famous for its tapas, terraces and timeless charm.
8 Things Not to Miss at
La Verbena de la Paloma
While all three festivals are a blast, La Verbena de la Paloma is by far the most well-known and celebrated, and it´s by far my favorite. So grab your dancing shoes and your favorite abanico (hand fan), because this is one festival you don´t want to miss!
1. Squeeze in at a tapas bar on Calle Cava Baja
If there´s one thing that La Latina is famous for, it´s the tapas. Head down Calle Cava Baja and the surrounding streets on any Sunday afternoon and you´ll find swarms of hungry Spaniards crowding in for a snack, a cerveza and a few laughs with friends.
All of the tapas and pinchos will be out on display at the bar, so you just have to squeeze up to the front to order your drink, point to what you want and enjoy. My favorite spot for pinchos is Txirimiri, just outside of the Plaza de la Cebada.
If you´re in town for a while, check out one of the several tour companies that run tapas tasting routes throughout La Latina, highly recommended for any foodies visiting the city.
2. Sip a vermouth or limonada in Plaza de la Paja
Plaza de la Paja is one of the main points of action during the Fiestas de la Paloma. There are several terrazas around, so try to find a shady seat and sip on something sweet to cool down.
If you know me, you know that I love vermút and couldn´t possibly think of a better drink to cool down on a scorching La Latina afternoon. If you´re looking for something a bit less boozy, try a Spanish lemonade – limonada – instead.
3. Dress up like a Chulapx
¨Chulapo/a¨ comes from the term chulo, or cool, and the traje de chulapo/a is the traditional folk dress from the nineteenth centuries that Madrileños still wear today at festivals like the Verbenas de Agosto or La Fiesta de San Isidro in May.
The traje de chulapo for men is made up of grey or black pants, a white shirt, a grey waistcoast, and most importantly, a grey checkered hat and a red carnation in the lapel.
The traje de chulapa for women is a long dress (form-fitting at the top and then belled below the knee) with decorative laces, a long, floral, fringed Manilla shawl and a red carnations in the hair. Many Spaniards from other regions joke that Madrid´s is the least flattering of the traditional dresses for women, and they may be right. BUT a Madrileña can always find a way to look stylish!
While you´re probably not going to spring for the traditional traje de chulapo/a (or are you? I dare ya😜), you should at least get in the spirit by sticking a red carnation behind your ear or in your lapel. Or if all those vemúts leave you feeling extra festive, you can often find street vendors selling knock-off versions of the traditional dress. Souvenir, anyone?
4. Learn the steps to the chotis
The chotis madrileño has been more or less the official dance of Madrid´s verbenas since around 1850, when it was first brought over from Bohemia and danced in the Palacio Real.
It´s somewhat less slow than a slow a dance and more or less involves the woman spinning around the man as he spins around himself. Typically those dancing are dressed in the traditional chulapo and chulapo attire.
The most exciting dance in the world, it is not. But you´ll be lucky to catch a pair of abuelos catch hands and re-remember those practiced moves lost in eachother in the middle of a crowded plaza. And even luckier if one asks you to dance 😉.
5. Get down as the sun goes down in Plaza Las Vistillas
Since August is the hottest time of year in Madrid, it´s no surprise that most of the action gets going in the late afternoon and long into the evening.
Located in one of the most charming parts of the city, Plaza las Vistillas is nestled on a hilltop with views of the Puente de Segovia and The Almudena Cathedral of Madrid.
This venue is reserved for the most well-known musical guests and is particularly packed late in the evening after the sun goes down. This year I´m excited to see the Instituto Mexicano de Sonido, who did the music for Disney´s latest success hit, Coco.
6. Try Your Luck at the Carnival Games
From Plaza Humilladero, head down Carrera de San Francisco toward the beautiful Basilica de San Francisco el Grande. Both side of the street will be lined with candy stalls and carnival games to keep the little guys occupied while mom and dad dance and sip their ´minis´.
You might as well try your luck at one of the kiddo Carnival games… maybe you´ll even win your own chulapo costume!
7. Quench Your Thrist with an Ironically Named ´Mini´
Madrileños are nothing if not a bit sarcastic, so don´t be surprised when you order a ´mini´ from one of the street vendor chiringuitos and walk away with a beer or mixed drink the size of your head.
A mini is anything but mini is Madrid, so stick with cañas if you´re trying to keep it lowkey!
8. Visit the Virgen de la Paloma
Like most Spanish festivals, what seems like a bit of a bacchanal is actually based in religion.
The legend of the Virgen de la Paloma goes back to the 1800´s, when an image of the virgin on the door of a La Latina home somehow inspired the devotion of the neighborhood – so much so that they built a church and a plaza of the same name.
To see an image of the virgin, you can visit the Iglesia de la Paloma during opening hours (but not during mass), or wait until August 15 at 20:00, when you can witness the procession of the bajada de la virgin throughout La Latina barrio.
Click here for the complete program of events at the
2018 Fiesta de la Paloma.
What are your favorite summer festivals in Spain?
My absolute favorite summer festival (thus far at least!) is La Fiesta de la Bajada de la Rama in Gran Canaria, but La Fiesta de la Paloma is a very close second! What´s yours?
We´d love to hear about your favorite festivals or your experiences at the Fiestas de Agosto in the comments below 👇
Pary On! 💙✌️🍾
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