Spain’s capital city, Madrid, is famous for its gracious boulevards, world class museums, and beautiful Baroque Royal Palace. With excellent train and flight access it’s easy to combine your visit with many other Spanish locales (check out my recent article on Seville, here). Madrid is culturally rich, pedestrian friendly, and well known for its active night life – truly a city that never sleeps.
Gran Via: To get a sense of the city, walk along this major thoroughfare which leads from Calle de Alcalá, close to Plaza de Cibeles to Plaza de España. It’s the city’s “Broadway boulevard” home to theater, restaurants, taverns, and fashion.
Plaza Mayor: This portico-lined square is right in the heart of the city’s oldest districts. The symmetrical layout is ringed by three-story residential buildings with 237 wrought iron balconies. The plaza plays host to numerous events, art shows and holiday markets and is a welcome open-air space amidst Madrid’s many bustling streets.
Las Tablas Flamenco: Flamenco is Spain’s most famous dance and is known around the world for its energy, colorful costumes, and artistry. Purchase tickets in advance for one of the many shows on offer, some including dinner or a drink.
Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum: From Impressionism to avant-garde, this museum features abstract and figurative art, 17th century Dutch masters, and 19th century American classics. It’s part of the “Golden Triangle,” which also includes the Prado and the Reina Sofia national galleries.
Reína Sofa Museum: One of Europe’s most interesting contemporary art collections, this museum houses the “Guernica,” Picasso’s creation for the 1937 Paris Exposition. Most likely his most famous work, it’s a powerful political statement painted as an immediate reaction to the Nazi’s devastating bombing on the Basque town of Guernica. It has become a reminder of the tragedies of war and a symbol of the hope for peace.
El Retiro Park: Contained in this vast green oasis you’ll find a bevy of sculptures, monuments, lush lawns, and an artificial lake with row boats for hire. Rent a bicycle and pedal around the plentiful paths and check out the Glass Palace a beautiful cast iron pavilion built in 1887 to house exotic flora for an exhibition on the Philippines.
Prado: The crown jewel of the city is celebrating its 200th anniversary this year. Lining its walls are masterpieces from Spanish, Italian and Flemish schools. Make time to view Dutch artist Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights” and the “Haywain Triptych” famous for the dreamlike universes they depict. Short on time? Focus on famed Spanish painters, El Greco, Velázquez, and Goya. Our tour with an historian from “The Real Thing” gave us an insidery view and an amazing lesson in art appreciation.
The Royal Palace: Although it is not the official residence of his Majesty the King of Spain (they live in Zarzuela Palace on the outskirts of Madrid), this palace hosts state ceremonies, official banquets, and state functions. This majestic building is open every day as a museum except when ceremonies are held. Housed within is an extensive collection of paintings, sculptures, weapons, musical instruments and decorative arts (most notable is the porcelain room). Of particular interest to my cellist son: two violins, one viola, and one violoncello all made by Stradivarius for Charles III. Madrid & Beyond’s excellent guide gave us plenty of insight to the life of the Bourbon kings who called this grand palace home.
Santiago Bernabéu Stadium: Home to Real Madrid (thirteen-time winners of The European Cup) it is set to undergo a massive renovation to include a pedestrian zone, larger club shop, and museum. The self-guided tour takes you around the club’s most iconic spots including players’ dressing rooms, trophy collection, interactive exhibit, and of course the gift shop featuring plenty of “merch.”
Tapas tour: Hosted by Devour Tours, this tour connected us to the authentic cuisines and traditions that the city is most famous for. For the uninitiated, tapas are those delectable hot and cold appetizers in Spanish cuisine – small portions that pack a flavorful punch, meant to be shared. In three hours, we sampled an endless variety of food and beverages from the family-run eateries and mom and pop shops that are at the heart of what makes Spain so unique… and delicious!
Churros San San Ginés: There’s one reason to visit this café and that is for its famous chocolate con churros (hot chocolate and churros). It’s open 24 hours so visit day or night, or multiple times!
Mercado de San Miguel: Arrive hungry and stroll the aisles of this beautiful historic market and take a gastronomic tour of Spain: Iberian ham, Galicia seafood, Basque cheese, Asturian Cider, and much more.
Lateral: This restaurant group’s six locations offer a mix of traditional tapas and modern cuisine with outdoor seating with heaters for cooler nights. Try the gazpacho, fresh tosta de salmon con brie, las croquetas de jamón, and albóndigas (meatballs).
La Casa del El Abuelo: A traditional pocket-size family tavern in business since 1906, it means “grandfather’s house” in Spanish. The secret to their long success? Prawns. Perfectly prepared in garlic with a side of freshly baked bread, served with a glass of sweet Alicante red wine.
La Mallorquina: Since 1884, this bakery’s glass display cases have been filled with delectable handmade pastries and cakes. Need a break from touring? Head upstairs to their small dining room where you can enjoy your treats to order with a café con leche or a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice. Our favorite? Hands down, the perfectly flaky, crunchy and sweet Napolitana de Chocolate.
Antigua Casa Talavera: The handmade Spanish ceramics crafted here hail from several regions of the country: Talavera, Toledo, Valencia, Granada, and Seville. Pick up brightly hewed Sangria pitchers, dinnerware, tea sets, plates, vases and tiles depicting scenes of Spanish life: bullfights, dancers, and folklore.
Taller Puntera: This store doubles as a workshop where reasonably priced handmade leather goods are crafted. Artisans work in a rainbow array of leather colors and textures.
Salamanca Neighborhood: Madrid’s northeastern district is a quiet but upscale neighborhood with plenty of chic dining options, historic architecture, and international high-end retailers. Calle de Serrano, Calle de Goya, and Calle de Velásquez are considered the most exclusive streets of the entire city and showcase beautiful 19th century buildings with delicate facades.
Il Corte Inglés: Spain’s largest department store features an extensive selection of men’s and women’s fashion including Spanish brands like Bimba Y Loa, Jocavi and Cuplé. On the top floor visit the Gourmet Experience for a selection of foodie souvenirs like olive oil and vermouth.
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Madrid at dusk photo credit: Florian-Wehde