One little thing I want to say at the very beginning: the warm sun that shines all year round and the love to life that characterizes all citizens of Madrid can set you on a completely different perception of the world – once you are in this city you begin to adopt the way of thinking and lifestyle that are preached in this happy place.
Well, without long preface and prelude, let’s begin an acquaintance with Madrid that turned out to be a tempting place for a winter trip with its warm weather, a small number of tourists and low cost of accommodation.
Hoping that you can cover all the transportation and accommodation questions yourself, I will concentrate on the funniest part of the trip: sights, atmosphere, people and food. However, in order not to leave you alone with all the complex questions, a small Q&A:
– How many days do I need to discover all the places of interest?
– When planning the trip just note that the city is quite huge and you’ll need no less than 3-4 days (a week is an ideal choice).
– Do I need to know Spanish?
– Say so, it will help you a lot, as Madrid, comparing with Barcelona, is not always a mecca for tourists. At least, if you want to hang out like a local and eat not at the touristic spots, a basic knowledge or a Spanish dictionary is a must.
– At what district to stay?
– “Centro” will suit a tourist most, as everything (but for big shops and supermarkets) is located within walking distance.
– What else?
– “Chamberi”, “Retiro” and “Salamanca”.
As it seems like Madrid is just ought to be a gastro capital of the world, I start with food, that is elevated to the rank of a cult here. Madrilleños eat on the terraces in winter, stand in long queues at restaurants in the evenings of weekends and their mealtime can simply last for several hours. Well, how not to join all this madness?
The iconic places in the city are numerous chocolaterías (these are places to eat traditional Spanish churros with chocolate dipping sauce; the oldest one is called Chocolatería San Ginés, its address is Pasadizo de San Gines, 5) cerveserias (places to pop in for a glass of beer – it seems like all Madrid inhabitants prefer only this drink) and Museo del Jamón (where you can try Spanish dry-cured ham).
Spanish indoor markets (repeat after locals: “Mercados”) deserve special mention here. Situated in different parts of the city, they provide you with all the variations of tapas and pincho, as well as fresh foodstuff. Nice cheap restaurants are usually located inside.
I liked them so much, that even decided to provide you with a list of them. The most memorable is “Mercado de San Miguel”, Plaza de San Miguel. Situated in the very center next to Plaza Mayor and Palacio Real de Madrid – so no need to be surprised that it is full of people and the prices are not the lowest. Do not let it scare you away and come in the evening when the glass building looks especially beautiful. Take a walk around and then order some paella with seafood and a glass of sangria.
Other options include: “Platea Madrid” (Calle de Goya, 5-7), “Mercado de San Ildefonso” (Calle de Fuencarral, 57), “Mercado San Anton” (Calle de Augusto Figueroa, 24B), “Mercado de Anton Martin”, (Calle de Santa Isabel, 5).
Retiro and Casa de Campo are two vital green areas on the map of the city.
The Buen Retiro is one of Madrid’s premier attractions. It belonged to the Spanish Monarchy until the late 19th century, when it became a public park. Now it is filled with beautiful sculptures and monuments, galleries, a peaceful lake (promise to rent a boat on the spot and swim across it in summer!) and tons of alleys. The park is quite large and entirely surrounded by the present-day city, creating a feeling of isolation and detachment from the busy streets.
One of the most iconic buildings in Madrid, the Crystal Palace is also located here – and it is made almost entirely of glass. Enter the building to see the sunlight streaming in through the solid glass panes and admire the art exhibitions that are changed out seasonally (it is free of charge).
Casa de Campo occupies the largest territory – 1,700 hectares of natural space, it is difficult to meet a large number of people, walking here in the middle of the day.
It is sound that Teleférico cable car, an amusement park and a zoo are located here – depending on your interests, the visiting time can vary from 1 hour to 1 day. And do not be lazy to walk and climb the hills, the Park offers a wonderful view of the western part of the city.
If you go there from the center, pop into Jardín de las Vistillas for the view that is just as nice!
And peek at Templo de Debod (Calle Ferraz, 1) on the way back – it is an ancient Egyptian temple dating back to the 2nd century BC that was dismantled and then rebuilt in the Spanish capital. No matter which way you look at it, there’s something incongruous about finding the temple in the Parque de la Montaña northwest of Plaza de España, isn’t it? The views (yes, so many points with a view!) from the surrounding gardens towards the Palacio Real are some of Madrid’s prettiest.
The places for lovers of modern architecture are CTBA (Cuatro Torres Business Area) composed of the four tallest skyscrapers in Madrid or AZCA (the Avenue of Paseo de la Castellana). These Madrid’s hugest business districts are perfect for an escape on the weekends when the downtown is just overloaded with people. They are also a perfect choice if you want to see the other side of the city – not only the one with historical buildings on narrow streets.
The Santiago Bernabéu Stadium (the home stadium of Real Madrid since its completion in 1947) is also located nearby. Take a tour around it or buy the tickets for the next match, if you are a fan.
To say the truth, Prado – the main Spanish national art museum considered to have one of the world’s finest collections of European art and treated as one of the most visited sites in the world, which collection currently comprises around 8,200 drawings, 7,600 paintings, 4,800 prints, and 1,000 sculptures, in addition to a large number of other works of art and historic documents – didn’t impress me at all.
Works by Francisco Goya, Hieronymus Bosch, El Greco, Peter Paul Rubens, Titian and Diego Velázquez attract tourists most of all. Go there only if European art (and Spanish art in particular), dating from the 12th century to the early 20th century is your real passion. Otherwise, your aimless visit can turn into a waste of time and money.
Check out the information about the museum here and note that the entrance is free for students (with a valid document) and people below 18.
A drop in Museo Reina Sofía (Calle de Santa Isabel, 52) was a more interesting one for me, as it is Spain’s national museum of 20th-century art (which I understand a little bit better). The museum is mainly dedicated to Spanish art and highlights excellent collections of works by Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró and many others. Tourists come here to see “Guernica”, which is a symbol of the suffering and horror of the Spanish Revolution and the Civil War.
Also in the museum there is a cool terrace on the top floor and a patio suitable for photoshoots.:)
Plan your visit here.
Something off the beaten paths? Museo ABC (Calle Amaniel, 29) is a free Museum of drawing and illustration. The Museum contains a private collection of works of the XIX–XXI centuries – young authors are also represented at several temporary exhibitions. This place does not deserve a specially planned visit, but pop into if you live not far from here or if your way passes nearby.
CaixaForum (Paseo del Prado, 36) is a 21st century sociocultural center which opens its doors to ancient, modern and contemporary art, music and poetry festivals, multimedia art, debates on current affairs, social conferences and educational workshops.
Even if you don’t plan to walk inside, just come here to take a look at this contemporary building with the plants covering the whole wall.
And combine your visit there with Madrid Atocha railway station (GlorietaCarlos V). Upon entering it, the traveler will be surprised to find a tropical garden filled with several thousand plants and surrounded by iron and glass under the arched skylight. It was amazing to see that the waters around the plants contained varieties of species of turtles and fish as well, which was the icing on the cake!
Madrid truly has so many things to offer you! I bet everyone will like to roam the streets, try all types of cuisine, study art and search for the most beautiful views here.
Small talk, chorizo, Zara on every street, palm trees adjacent to pine, loud speech and neon signs of the old bars – welcome to Madrid!