Madrid, so vibrant and flamboyant, is one of our favourite cities. It’s a great destination for a city break – but you will probably want to stay longer!
Whatever your interest – local cuisine, art, architecture, nightlife or all of these things – you will be well catered for in Spain’s illustrious capital.
Try to find accommodation reasonably centrally, but away from the main hubs of Puerta del Sol and the Gran Via. Madrid has an excellent metro, and the further from the centre, the more reasonable the price.
Pensiones and hostales are the cheapest – many are not en suite (con bano) so it’s worth checking – with plenty of small hotels that won’t break your budget. If you fancy splashing out, there are a handful of boutique or internationally-known hotels in the heart of the city.
Art lovers are truly spoilt in Madrid, famed for its Golden Triangle of galleries. The Prado is as famous as the Louvre and has the most important collection of Spanish paintings in the world. The Reina Sofia offers more contemporary works including Dali, Miro and Picasso’s infamous Guernica and the Thyssen contains art spanning seven centuries.
But the Madrileño art scene is a constantly shifting one, with various exhibitions and cultural events running at any one time. After all that art-gazing, relax in the glorious Retiro Park, where you can watch endless street entertainers and bands. Look out for fearless red squirrels who jump on your shoulder to steal your snack. If you are taking the kids, try the attractions park, zoo, cable car and planetarium.
La Puerta del Sol is at the very centre of Madrid – and Spain itself – where people congregate in their thousands. Spot the famous Tio Pepe sherry advert and place your hand on the famous bear statue. This is THE place to see in the New Year (Nochevieja). At each stroke of midnight, stuff a grape in your mouth for luck. Beware firecrackers but enjoy enjoy the popping of Cava bottles.
You can’t miss the famous Sunday fleamarket, just south of the Puerta del Sol, it goes on for miles.
Another tourist spot worth seeing is the beautiful, pink 17th century Plaza Mayor, with its old town hall buildings. This is old Madrid, so enjoy the ancient streets snaking around all sides of this perfect square.
Not far from here is the Palacio Real (Royal Palace), a stunning white building which is worth a tour especially if you are interested in armoury.
Less well-known is the Tempio de Debod, an Egyptian monument brought two centuries ago from the shores of the Nile to be rebuilt in Madrid. This is the best place to watch the sun set.
For shopping, or simply to admire the capital’s biggest street, go to the Gran Via. The century-old road plays host to massive stores, restaurants, cinemas, bars and the grandest buildings in Spain. Aside the usual tourist tat, you can browse for almost anything along here, but don’t forget its alleys and side roads.
The Gran Via takes you from the Plaza de España, with its fancy hotels, to Cibeles, the most striking post office building in the world, with a recognisable fountain on the roundabout in front of it.
Visit these places, but don’t eat or drink right in the heart of these tourist traps, or you will pay treble the price. Stray onto the side streets and do what the locals do – eat your main meal at lunchtime. Try a Menú del Día, where choice is limited but a three course meal with wine or beer costs less than £10 each. Choices often include the quintessential Spanish dish paella. For dessert, try flan (delicious crème caramel).
For the evenings, wait until after 9pm then find any old, slightly battered-looking tapas bar and enjoy your feast, washed down with good Rioja. I can smell the tortilla already!
If you are a gastronome willing to pay a fortune, go to Ferran Adria’s La Terraza del Casino, supposedly the best restaurant in the world. Second mortgage on stand-by.