The Spanish capital has undergone a facelift in recent years and it’s not a mini one either. The main three museums in Madrid have expanded, new boutiques, restaurants and bars seem to open on a daily basis and the city’s formerly down-at-heel neighbourhoods have been spruced up without losing their charm.
So, whether you’re a culture vulture, shopaholic or party animal, take advantage of one of the cheap flights available and book yourself a long weekend in Madrid.
Packed to the gills with museums and galleries, Madrid is a heaven for art lovers. Situated along the capital’s two main boulevards the three heavyweights – the Prado, Thyssen Bornemisza and Reina Sofia – make up what is known as The Golden Triangle.
Click on the image to enlarge. All photos © Cesar Lucas Abreu.
The Prado is the classicist’s choice, housing works by Velazquez, Goya and El Greco. Possibly the most famous painting is Velazquez’s Las Meninas, which recently came to life in 80 individually decorated statues across the city. The Reina Sofia is home to Picasso’s Guernica as well as a stunning collection of other works by Picasso and Dali, and a firm focus on the 20th century. The Thyssen-Bornemisza’s collection spans seven centuries and it has some excellent temporary exhibitions. Although not cheap, the Terrazas del Thyssen is one of the nicest spots in the city to grab a post-gallery drink (open June-September).
Must take a stroll
For a capital city Madrid is very well endowed with green spaces – a godsend during the searing heat of July and August. The Parque del Retiro is a hop, skip and a jump from The Golden Triangle and is a great spot to wander, have a picnic or rent a rowing boat on the huge artificial lake.
The Casa del Campo is five times bigger than Central Park and is home to Madrid’s zoo, one of the best open air, municipal swimming pools and a cable car that will take you to the Parque del Oeste, home to the Templo de Debod, an Egyptian temple from the 2nd century BC.
Must get up on the roof
If you’re short on time one of the best ways to appreciate the city is to see it from high up. The mirador (lookout point) on the eighth floor of the Palacio de Cibeles is due to reopen at the end of June and is the top spot for views across the city. Other options include the Catedral de la Almudena or the Parque del Cerro del Tío Pío (commonly known as the park of the seven tits!) where you can see right across the skyline.
But to kill two birds with one stone, when the weather allows (and it often does) check out one of the many rooftop bars and enjoy a cocktail with your view. The Tartan Roof on top of the Círculo de Bellas Artes, the Terraza de Sabatini, overlooking the Royal Palace, and the bar of the Paracaidista, a self-proclaimed “concept store”, are all worth a stop off.
You could eat in a different Madrid restaurant every day for an entire year and not come close to sampling the full range, so it’s worth deciding what kind of thing you want to eat and whereabouts in the city to narrow down the choice. A bit.
The traditional Madrileño dishes are on the heavy side, so best avoided in the summer, but if you’re feeling strong they are: callos (tripe in a tomato sauce, usually with chorizo) and cocido – a multi-course stew with the broth, meat, and chickpeas and vegetables served separately. One of the best places to try it is L’Hardy (Carrera de San Jerónimo, 8).
For breakfast or after a hard night’s clubbing, the typical snack is thick hot chocolate with churros (deep-fried rings of pastry) for dipping and the classic venue is Chocolatería San Ginés (Pasadizo San Ginés, 5), which is open 24 hours a day for whenever the mood for churros takes you.
Also available pretty much every hour, everywhere is the King of Madrid snacks, the bocadillo de calamares (fried squid rings in a roll), typically brought from one of the bars around the Plaza Mayor.
Madrileños have set times of day for particular drinks. Café con leche in the morning – best sampled at Café Comercial (Glorieta de Bilbao, 7), Café Barbieri (C/del Ave Maria, 45) or Café Gijón (Paseo Recoletos, 21). Then pre-lunch it’s time for a vermut or a couple of cañas (small beers). A favourite spot for vermut is standing at the long, zinc bar in Casa Alberto (C/de los Huertos, 18) or the Taberna Angel Sierra in the Plaza Chueca – a great people-watching spot.
Cocktails or combinados (a spirit plus mixer) are generally pretty strong, so are best enjoyed after dinner, rather than before. The classic cocktail spots are Bar Cock (C/Reina, 16) and Del Diego, a few doors down – allegedly two of Hemingway’s favourite haunts – but both can get a bit touristy, so a better bet is to try Club Clandestino (C/Cid, 1) or 1862 Dry Bar (C/del Pez, 27),
What with all the eating and drinking, it can be hard to find time to shop, but don’t worry as you can always combine the two. Many of Madrid’s markets are now more chi-chi food court than traditional market and while you couldn’t do your weekly shop, a browse, a drink and a snack at the Mercado de San Miguel (Plaza de San Miguel) or Mercado San Anton (C/Augusto Figueroa, 24) are a good way to spend an hour.
A very different market is the Rastro – an open-air flea market, held every Sunday and selling everything from kitchen utensils to comic books. For a more vanilla shopping experience, the streets around Sol house all the high street giants; the barrio of Salamanca (c/Serrano and around) is home to designer labels; while in Malasaña (c/Fuencarral and around) you’ll find more young fashion, including Spanish brands such as Desigual and Adolfo Dominguez.
The Iberostar Las Letras probably has the best location in town right in the heart of the city on Gran Via.
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Iberostar Las Letras Gran Via
For something smaller The Only You Boutique Hotel with its stunning interior, 24-hour breakfast, gym and spa is also a top choice.
Public transport is clean, regular and cheap. A tourist card for use on all public transport is available for between one and seven calendar days, but a cheaper bet is to buy a 10-trip ticket (which can be shared) and enjoy exploring the centre on foot.
All the major airlines fly to Madrid with great prices available with Norwegian, Easyjet and Ryanair.