The heat generated in frictional organs like brakes and clutches induces thermal distortions which may lead to localized contact areas and hot spots developments. Hot spots are high thermal gradients on the rubbing surface. They count among the most dangerous phenomena in frictional organs leading to damage, early failure and unacceptable braking performances such as brake fade or undesirable low frequency vibrations called hot judder. In this paper, an experimental study of hot spots occurrence in railway disc brakes is reported on. The aim of this study was to better classify and to explain the thermal gradients appearance on the surface of the disc. Thermograph measurements with an infrared camera have been carried out on the rubbing surface of brake discs on a full-scale test bench. The infrared system was set to take temperature readings in snap shot mode precisely synchronized with the rotation of the disc. Very short integration time allows reducing drastically haziness of thermal images. Based on thermographs, a classification of hot-spots observed in disc brakes is proposed. A detailed investigation of the most damaging thermal gradients, called macroscopic hot spots (MHS) is given. From these experimental researches, a scenario of hot spots occurrence is suggested step by step. Thanks to infrared measurements at high frequency with high resolution, observations give new highlights on the conditions of hot spots appearance. Comparison of the experimental observations with the theoretical approaches is finally discussed.