This capital city is somehow overlooked when it comes to a list of top destinations throughout Europe. Yes, Madrid doesn’t have the Louvre or the Eiffel tower, the Big Ben, or all-you-can-eat pasta and pizza, but what this city does have is a lifestyle and a food + drink scene which can satisfy even the most satiated, yet somehow leave each and everyone hungry for more.
In what is undeniably one of the world’s liveliest cities, finding fun things to do is never too difficult. After all, this cosmopolitan city is often the focus of nightlife lore; many rave that the local madrileños are capable of drinking and dancing away the entire night.
That being said, tourists or travelers who visit will often fall prey to the traps which are carefully placed in every corner of the city. Of course there is nothing wrong with seeking out all of those “classic” spanish must do’s like sangria and a little sun-basking, flamenco with plenty of paella…just be careful you don’t end up jumping off the tourist deep-end. Note: If you find yourself riding a red, double-decker bus and posing for cheesy photos with the exchange kids from Tokyo, you’ve gone too far.
So then, how do you see the sights and soak in Madrid without feeling like you’ve just visited Disneyland? Here’s a list of local tips and the 5 things everyone should do when first visiting Madrid.
1.) Gran Via
This is the epicenter of Madrid and a great place to start your tour of the city. Gran Via can be read to mean “Great Way or Road” and it’s certainly that. This massive four lane street runs right through the heart of Madrid and is lined with some of the best shopping, hotels, cinemas, as well as, a whole lot of fine architectural buildings, including the Metropolis. As you walk, stop at the Plaza Callao to find a prominent shopping area and you’ll also pass the “Spanish Broadway” which is currently showcasing “The Lion King”. On your walk you will pass several bars filled with hanging hams and bright smiles – perfect for a quick caña and snack – then enjoy the stroll, do some shopping, and be sure to snap some great photos.
2.) Retiro Park, With Tapas Of Course
What Central Park is to New York City, Retiro is to Madrid. This sprawling labyrinth of a park is one of the cities’ jewels and showcases immaculate gardens, sculptures, fountains, grassy fields, lakes, and tree-lined walking paths, all ready for your enjoyment. On the weekends everyone goes to the park for a stroll, a boat row, or maybe even a picnic.
After you’ve enjoyed the park head for the northwestern exit by the plaza de independencia and you can nibble food in the upscale, barrio Salamanca. Head north onto the street labeled Calle Serrano or Claudio Coello and cross Calle Goya to find the La Paz Market, where all kinds of gourmet items, snacks, and a bevy of charcuterie are being peddled. The bars and cafés in this neighborhood serve exceptional tapas, pinchos, and of course, quality pours of wine. Some good bets would be La Montaderia or Biotza or any of the cozy bars along this street. Note: Retiro park has several entrances, the southwestern entrance is near the Atocha metro station and the northwestern entrance is next to the Retiro metro station. La Paz Market is located two blocks from the Serrano metro station.
3.) The Manzanares River
Yep that’s right, Madrid has a river and it’s actually nice. The river runs along the western side of Madrid and is a beautiful addition to the area. On a nice day you can take a walk and enjoy the sights or rent a bicycle and roll along the expansive waterway. As you pedal you’ll enjoy the brand-spanking-new architecture, bridges, playgrounds, and parks all lining the waterway. Be sure and keep you’re eyes peeled for the Estadio Vicente Calderón, the home of Athletic Madrid.
4.) La Latina and the Rastro Market
“El Rasto” is one of the world’s largest open air, flea markets and is an experience not to be missed. It’s not so much the flea market that makes this a top 5 event, it’s that on any given sunday there’s a definitive vibrancy and a pulse of excitement throughout the neighborhood. People come out in droves to shop, stroll, and enjoy the afternoon. The market is open from 9am – until 2:30pm and winds its way through various side streets. Typically the market begins next to the Metro station La Latina and the plaza de Cascorro. Flea market? But what else is there? Don’t worry, after all the buying and selling everyone ducks into a crowded bar for a succession of beers and small tapas…just follow the crowds.
5.) Las Terrazas
A drink at a sidewalk café or bar. Perhaps the very best way to get a sense of Madrid. Period. If you want museums and culture, Madrid’s got plenty of world class museums, but the absolute best way to soak in the best of this city is to stroll and enjoy a worry free drink at one of these outdoor locals; Cervecería Santa Barbara in Plaza Santa Bárbara, Café del Real in Plaza de Isabel II, or the famously budget-friendly 100 Montaditos next to the Palacio Royal (Royal Palace).
There you have it. The 5 things you must do if you make a trip to Madrid, Spain. Of course in a city like this, no one list can capture the wide-range of options which await. Above all, when visiting Madrid do make sure you enjoy yourself.
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