7 Not-to-Miss Experiences in Madrid
After three nights in Madrid, I’m still not sure how I feel about this buzzing city. Did I enjoy myself—yes! Will I return—hmm, I’m not quite sure. Madrid is indeed packed with fantastic architecture, world-renowned art and colorful culture. From the acclaimed Prado Museum and Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum of Art to the National Archaeological Museum and Reina Sofia Museum, Madrid boasts an incredible cache of museums. If you’re a museum lover, Madrid could very well keep you busy for weeks! And the city is chockablock with quirky sidewalk cafes and ritzy boutiques (great for shopping). But Madrid doesn’t quite have Barcelona’s quirky, lovable charm or Seville’s captivating, rustic ambience. Nonetheless, this historic city flaunts an array of tempting attractions and foodie hot-spots….and it’s a great city for walking. So pack a great pair of walking shoes and let’s get started! We’re going to stroll through amazing museums, plazas, and markets by day, then (after a siesta of course) head out for tasty food and music at night.
Stroll the Gran Vía
Take a few hours to waltz down the Gran Vía, Madrid’s main artery, which connects the Calle de Alcalá with the Plaza de España. This wide boulevard is lined with cafes, museums, boutiques, government buildings, cinemas and more. The architecture along this street is truly breathtaking and special. Keep a lookout for the Metropolis Building, an ornate facade decorated with statues and pillars, and the Telefonica Building, a skyscraper built between 1926 and 1929.
Relax in Retiro Park
Across the street from the Prado Museum lies a lush, green oasis for joggers, picnic-lovers and happy dogs. This 118-hectare park, whose name translates to “retreat,” features the Museo del Ejército, an army museum; a large, artificial lake; the pretty Palacio de Cristal (a glass building); a sprawling rose garden and various statues and fountains. There is even a statue dedicated to El Angel Caído—a.k.a Satan.
And while you’re there…see the Prado
One of the largest museums in all of Spain, the Prado offers up some of the world’s rarest collections of European art. You may spend an entire afternoon wandering through this massive 19th-century building, which boasts over 5,000 pieces of art. Stay a little, stay a while…you’re bound to find some unique treasures and time-honored favorites, including works by El Greco, Velazquez and Goya.
People watch in Plaza Mayor
The 17th-century romantic, iconic square once hosted bullfights, royal coronations, public executions, theater and musical performances, and knightly tournaments. It’s huge, measuring a massive 394 x 295 feet. Today, the cobblestones are claimed by a mix of street performers, artists, restaurants, and open-air cafes. Be warned: food establishments around the plaza are quite pricey!
Spy Royalty at Spain’s Royal Palace
Just kidding – you probably won’t see the King strolling the grounds of the Royal Palace (Palacio Real in Spanish). It’s not actually the official residence of his Majesty the King of Spain. He lives outside of Madrid in Zarzuela Palace. It is, however, the site of state ceremonies, official banquets and other state functions.
Indulge in Chocolate con Churros at San Ginés
Step into a tiny alleyway between Puerta del Sol and Plaza de Ópera and let your tastebuds discover a mouthwatering marriage of churros and hot chocolate. San Ginés serves up mugs of warm, thick, dripping hot chocolate and plates of sugar-soaked churros at all hours of the day. It’s ridiculously luxurious. It’s disgustingly sweet and rich. And they will magically disappear off your plate. You’ll be licking your fingers in no time at all.
Delight in live music and throw back a beer
Madrid’s various neighborhoods serve up different varieties of nightlife. Wherever you find yourself, settle down to sip Gin Tonics or a local beer, and be sure to try the nightly tapas special. Usually you’ll also be served olives or nuts on the house. We opted for wine and cheese at Cafe Central, one of the many elegant venues where can get your jazz fix in Madrid. Artists such as George Adams and Bob Sands played here, as well as a host of famous Spanish musicians. The night we arrived, we were entertained by a trio of musicians from Iceland. Quaint, cozy and a perfect wrap-up to our Madrid experience.
If you still have time to discover Madrid, consider hanging out in the pretty Royal Botanic Gardens or join a free walking tour to gain an insider’s perspective of Madrid that your guide book doesn’t share with you. Of course, you can always visit more museums, wander the neighborhoods or catch a soccer match!
How about you? What’s your favorite place to visit in Madrid?