A unique blend of history, modern lifestyle, outstanding culture and excellent nightlife characterize the capital of Spain. You probably heard about Madrid’s Real Madrid football club, Madrid’s churros, about the famous square "Puerta del Sol" or of course about the Prado Museum. However, these are just some of the reasons why Madrid always tops the list of places to visit in Europe. There’s so much more!
To get the true and unique vibe of the city, start by visiting Gran Via, the largest pedestrian street in Madrid, full of shops, restaurants and some of the capital's most iconic buildings. Although many of the theatres and cinemas have closed in the past few years, Gran Vía retains its reputation as the Spanish Broadway. The street is full of people singing, playing the guitar and performing their national dance Flamenco and it gives you a strong feeling that the city never sleeps. However, this is true unless you are there between two and six pm. That is a time when shops close and people head to their favourite bar to eat and drink before indulging in a few moments rest. One big reason for the traditional rest, or siesta, is that the Spanish have always liked to have a long lunch. During these two hours, head to Plaza Mayor, Madrid’s main square. Although historically it was a place of bullfights, today it’s a pleasant square in which to stroll and try bocadillo de calamares, one of the city’s most famous dishes from one of the bars surrounding the square. Madrid is also famous for its tranquil and magnificent sunsets and you must not miss them if you want a full Madrid experience. The Spanish say that with the sunset in Madrid comes a carefree farewell to the busy day. A great place to enjoy a Madrid sunset is the Circulo de Bellas Artes (Centre of Fine Arts), an art exhibition at the entrance to the main street in Madrid, Gran Via. Although this is a great place to enjoy all the art too, it is even better to go there for the view. On the 7th floor of the building there is a famous rooftop bar which gives you a panoramic view of the Madrid skyline.
In case it gets too crowded, you can take a walk through Retiro Park: this is one of the best things to do in Madrid if you want to escape the bustle of the city. In the heart of the Retiro Park is a large lake, where you can hire rowing boats or sunbathe. But be careful: it can get really warm in Spanish summers. Another landmark that you need to visit is located in the centre of Retiro Park, the 19th Century Crystal Palace with its amazing external decoration and unique architecture.
You also have to visit the San Miguel market, which opened in 1916 as a food market, and became Madrid’s first gastronomy market in 2009. It is located in the centre of Los Austrias, or The Madrid of the Austrians, in between the Metro stations Sol and Ópera. With over 10 million visitors a year, the San Miguel Market is the city’s gastronomic temple, the contemporary essence of all the corners of Spanish cuisine. From the best Iberian ham to fresh seafood brought from Galicia each day, the Mediterranean rice or the special cheeses from Castile, Asturias or the Basque Country. It’s vibrant, buzzing and a great place to try some tapas and enjoy a glass or two of beer or wine. There are also communal tables where you can sit down and join in conversations with people from around the world. There’s a wide choice of food to suit everyone and it’s a great place to buy a souvenir to take home.
As we see, the Spanish capital is a city with a proud gastronomic history and has no shortage of well-established taverns and restaurants. You cannot leave Madrid without tasting the national dish paella, a colourful feast for the eyes and an explosion of delicious flavours. You can choose between Paella Valenciana which besides rice contains chicken and pork, Paella Mixta which contains both meat, chicken and seafood or Paella de Marisco which is a seafood paella that does not contain meat. Whatever you choose, be sure to wash it down with some locally produced wine or sangria! One of the places in Madrid best known for its Paella is the Casa de Valencia, which was founded in 1975 and inaugurated by the Spanish King Carlos Queen Sofia. Casa de Valencia hasn’t changed much since, so don’t go expecting a fancy place. Remember, you are coming here for the Paella!
Pack your bags and say ‘Hola’ to the capital city of Spain! It makes a fabulous solo trip or a perfect vacation with friends and family. Its elegant avenues, impressive landscapes, delicious food, local hospitality, football madness and vibrant touristy feelings will make you loth to leave!
Author: Marco Sarmiento