Magical Madrid! What to see and do.
Madrid! Capital of Spain, world famous for art and home to the Prado, Real and Atletico Madrid, and the birthplace of Penelope Cruz and Enrique Iglesias. It’s a very trendy City with a lot of history, interestingly it was the Moors who initially turned Madrid into a flourishing City before King Phillip II made it the administrative center.
It’s also one of the largest Cities in Europe, in Sobrino de Botin they have the oldest restaurant in the world, and we soon learnt that rioja wine is synonymous with the City and it was always accompanied by small tapas! Here is how we enjoyed our time in Madrid!
Arts and Museum District
First off, breakfast! Head to Plenti in the Art and Museum district for amazing tasty food and brilliant coffee.
Then wander down past the art galleries and museums, we’ll visit these later when it’s free. Nearby is Retiro Park, a huge 350 acre green space in the middle of the City.
There’s some really interesting things to see here too, such as the only statue of the devil in the world! It’s got a really eerie vibe but it’s brilliant in it’s design.
Head towards the crystal palace for amazing instagrammable moments, this 1887 structure is made almost exclusively from glass and is in the shape of a Greek cross.
When we visited there was an art installation inside which made it even more memorable! Nearby is a small art gallery that’s free to enter so definitely worth a look. Once you’ve done the cultural side it’s time to have fun on the lake, rent a rowing boat and enjoy the huge statues nearby from the water, and enjoy the sunshine, Madrid gets around 250 days of it a year!
Now you’re done with nature, walk up to the North East of the park and check out the triumphal arch Puerta de Alcala in the Plaza de la Independencia and the cute Parroquia San Manuel church.
Head along the street to Plaza de Cibeles to enjoy the gothic Madrid City Hall! That’s a lot of working so take a break at the nearby rooftop bar Azotea del Circulo and grab a glass of wine or cocktail while enjoying the incredible views. We also ordered some tapas to go with. Spot all the cool statues that sit on rooftops from here.
Now it’s time for some culture, wander back down to the museums and galleries and take your pick! Check out the Prado in the evening as it’s free between 6 and 8pm monday to saturday!
There are some massively famous paintings here but we actually found it a little too religious and classical for our taste. After this we found Tinto y Tapas, an adorable little bar nearby where we could sit back and relax with a wine after a full on day.
South and East Madrid
Breakfast today was at Pum Pum cafe, this place had a great brunch style menu and the decor inside was very hipster chic. Delicious!
Our plan from here was to check out Madrid Rio, a run down area that used to be part of Madrid’s inner ring road but has been transformed into a 6km long green space. It incudes an urban beach, relaxing walks, beautiful views and interesting architectural bridges. Check out some of the cool street art on the opposite bank to the city center.
The weather was so beautiful so it was great to leisurely wander down. At the end we passed by the old Atletico Madrid stadium and a lot of construction as they transform this area even more. It’s a bit of a walk but the weather was so good we didn’t want to use the excellent metro underground system, but we made it to the Santa Maria Cathedral and Almudena Cathedral and quickly checked out the old arabic walls nearby.
The church was beautiful inside and out with it’s baroque architecture, make sure you check out both levels. It took 110 years to be completed and it’s believed to be built over the ruins of a mosque.
Next up and opposite the church is the Madrid Royal Palace, it’s the official residence of the Spanish royal family but is now only used for state ceremonies. The palace was also built over an old muslim era fortress and was first occupied in 1764.
It’s a little annoying as you can’t take a bag in but the rules were a bit unclear as some people got through while others didn’t. The palace itself is opulence turned up to a hundred! The main staircase was a great introduction to how grand it would be. Photos aren’t allowed in most of the rooms but we did manage to sneak a few now and again.
Behind the palace is a lovely little park to have a breather and relax and nearby is a bigger area called Montana Park which has a reconstructed egyptian temple usually there’s water around it to get some great reflection photos but unfortunately it was dry this time.
Plaza de Espana is a short walk from here and is an impressive square surrounded by interesting buildings and sculptures, including one of Cervantes who wrote ‘Don Quixote’. It was definitely time for lunch and we wanted to try one of the food markets and opted for San Anton. Located on Calle de Augusto Figueroa it’s and amazing place for the senses. Filled with small restaurants and food markets it’s a great place to try a few things. We had a huge plate of padron peppers, greek salad, hummus and pita and obviously olives, all washed down with a beer.
The rest of the afternoon and evening was spent sipping amazing rioja sat outside of various bars and cafes heading towards our hotel. Then we relaxed a little before heading over to a vegetarian restaurant where the wine was good but the food was a bit of a let down and I can’t find it now so I guess it’s gone out of business.
The Rest of Madrid
Plaza Mayor is a famous square in the heart of the City with impressive buildings surrounding it and filled with restaurants where you can sit outside. It’s cute but maybe a little too touristy, we did however leave a lock there with our initials for Valentine’s Day.
You have to check out the statue of Oso, the bear and the strawberry tree, the symbol of Madrid and found on the coat of arms. This is also near the Puerta del Sol another major landmark in Madrid. Find yourself a sweet treat in the form of Churros, and for some of the oldest and tastiest can be found at Chocolateria San Gines. This place seems like it’s always busy but we managed to bag a table outside and it was worth every Euro, it was delicious!
The area around Calle de la Cava Bajo is filled with bars and restaurants and the nightlife is meant to be good here. We sat out on the Plaza de San Andres for a wine and snacks and it’s a stunning square with lovely little churches dotted around it.
Then just wander, stop for wine and tapas, watch the world go by. It feels like a city that’s really designed to do this.
Madrid is super LGBTQ+ friendly and has a multitude of gay bars and gay friendly hotels. Nearly all of the bars etc can be found in the Chueca district right in the heart of the City. Madrid hosts a huge Pride festival running from the end of June to beginning of July.