Madrid is the highest capital city in Europe (2,178ft/664m), which means crisp, cold weather in winter. The sky is usually still startlingly blue, however, and you can sit at a pavement café in the bright sunshine in the afternoon after visiting the Prado. If you need another nudge, I’ll just mention that hotel rates are at their lowest in January – and the sales are on too.
The 200th anniversary of the Teatro Real, which has already begun commemorating its foundation in 1818 by extending its repertoire and working with opera houses around the world. One of the highlights of the bicentennial programme is a new production of Benjamin Britten’s opera Billy Budd, staged by Deborah Warner (January 31-February 28; teatro-real.com).
In Madrid’s ridiculously over-the-top former main post office which now houses CentroCentro (centrocentro.org), a cultural centre where there are always a few exhibitions on (mostly free). You can also just read newspapers, use the free Wi-Fi or take in the view across the city from the tower (£2/£1.70) or the terrace bar.
Have a hot chocolate…
At Chocolatería Valor (Postigo de San Martín 7; chocolateriasvalor.es), where weary Christmas shoppers take refuge at marble tables with cups of traditional gloopy chocolate with a few energy-restoring churro fritters to dunk in it.
Wrap up and walk…
Through the Retiro Park, then join the crowds watching the performers by the lake. If it gets a bit nippy, there might well be an exhibition on at the Palacio de Velázquez or the Palacio de Cristal where you can thaw out.
Enjoy a cosy evening…
At Bodega de los Secretos (bodegadelossecretos.com) in a labyrinth of underground wine cellars dating back to the 17th century with tables in romantic arched alcoves and a great menu of modern Spanish dishes. Main courses about €25 (£21).
What else is on this winter?
Sorolla in Paris, Sorolla Museum
This major exhibition of the work of Joaquín Sorolla, one of the great Spanish artists of the 20th century, charts the Valencian painter’s international development from his first visit to Paris in 1885, at the age of 23, when he came into contact with the Impressionists. This evocative Madrid museum was originally the home of Sorolla and his family. Until March 19 (mecd.gob.es/msorolla).
Bulgari and Rome at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum
A sumptuous selection of jewels from the Bulgari Heritage Collection shows the key role that the art and architecture of Rome has played in the creation of Bulgari’s signature designs since the firm was founded in 1884. In this fascinating exhibition, 145 pieces are displayed alongside the buildings and artworks that inspired them. Until February 26 (museothyssen.org).
My favourite winter hotel
The new Tótem hotel in the smart Salamanca neighbourhood is a good place to recover after a day shopping in the surrounding streets. The bar and restaurant are called Hermosos & Malditos, which is the Spanish translation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel The Beautiful and The Damned. I usually collapse onto one of the midnight-blue sofas in the decadent bar for a restorative cocktail or two – I find the Sherry Mary does the trick. From £104 a night; read a full review and check availability.