Spain’s capital city is a whirring, cosmopolitan city with an infectious spirit that seems to seep beneath the skin of all who enter. Days here can be spent exploring its incredible assortment of art and architecture, while nights – which tend to stretch into the wee hours – are best spent toasting the city over tapas.
Madrid is blessed with a well-functioning metro network, boosted by suburban commuter lines and buses. The lines are numbered and colour-coded, and you can purchase single tickets, multiple-journey tickets or tourist transport passes. Taxis can be found at ranks and can be flagged off the street too; a green light on top means they are available.
As the capital of a former empire that owned vast swathes of the world, Madrid has found itself a lucky recipient of some of the finest collections of artworks in the world. Heavy hitters, such as Picasso’s Guernica, Velazquez's Las Meninas and Goya’s The Third of May 1808, hang in the city’s three major art repositories: the Prado Museum, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum and the Reina Sofía Museum.
For travellers on the history trail, the central of Plaza Mayor – the site of executions, bullfights, royal addresses and protests – makes a good starting point, with the opulent Palacio Real, the ornate former home of the Spanish royals, just a short stroll away.
Santiago Bernabéu, the home ground of the successful Real Madrid football club, is a popular pilgrimage stop for the sport-obsessed, while the Sunday Rastro flea market is an intrepid shopper’s paradise. Of course, getting to know Madrid is as much about embracing its way of life as it is seeing the sights. The city’s premier green space, Parque del Buen Retiro, is a good spot to witness and even join the Madrileños doing what they do best: meeting friends and simply enjoying life.
With so many headline attractions competing for visitors’ attention, city explores often overlook the less-obvious sights. Among the standout attractions is the Art Nouveau Cine Doré film theatre, which features a faux starlit ceiling and holds open-air screenings during summer. There is also the topiary art of the Bosque Encantado botanical gardens and the Temple of Debod, an authentic Egyptian temple that was dismantled and sent as a gift from the Egyptian government to say thanks for the Spaniards’ assistance in saving the sacred buildings threatened by the construction of the Aswan Dam. Of course, that’s only the beginning; Madrid’s hidden gems (of which there are many) reveal themselves to those who wander at will.
Madrileños know how to have a good time and drinking and eating is a big part of that. Consuming tapas (small plates) is an everyday occurrence for most residents here, who tend to graze while they drink. At markets such as the traditional Mercado de San Miguel and the trendy Mercado de San Ildefonso, you can work your way through plates of garlic prawns, Galician octopus, thin slices of jamon Ibérico and various riffs on tortillas (omelettes). Hearty chickpea-based stews help fuel Madrid’s population throughout the cold winters. Drinking in Madrid comes in all forms, from cosy wine bars to rooftop cocktail terraces to all-night, multi-level clubs.