While Madrid may not have as world-famous icons as other cities, it more than makes up for it in its gastronomic, cultural and art scenes. Spain’s capital is a vibrant place, full to the brim of intriguing history, beautiful architecture and some of the liveliest bars and restaurants in Europe. Here’s a rundown of five reasons why Madrid should be your next European city break:
A Place for Culture Vultures:
With the intricate works of Picasso, Miró and Dalí gracing the walls of the capital’s galleries, there’s no better place to observe Spain’s artistic tradition than in Madrid. Signature sights include the Museo Reina Sofía, the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza and the vast Museo del Prado; all of which are well worth exploring. Aside from these heavyweight hitters, there are also a plethora of smaller museums and palaces which can be just as rewarding. Fashionistas should make for the Museo del Traje, a space dedicated to costumes and fashion with over 160,000 permanent pieces on collection. For something a little more unique, head to the tiny Casa Museo de Ratón Perez, a museum dedicated to a cute mouse named Ratón, the Spanish version of the tooth fairy. If you’d rather just have a wander, stroll through the narrow labyrinths of Madrid’s medieval quarter and along the grand 18th and 19th Century boulevards of the city centre.
Fiestas and Food:
There are more bars per capita in Madrid than in any other city in Europe; proof that Spain’s capital city loves a good party. Let’s hope you can keep up, as the Madrileños are known to stay up until 7am for their first café con leche after a night on the tiles. A major centre for nights out includes Malasaña, a hipster hangout that emerged after its role as the epicentre of La Movida Madrileña, a countermovement to the reign of dictator Francisco Franco. Another district well worth a visit is Chueca, the once-derelict barrio that has reinvented itself into being one of Europe’s most vibrant gay quarters, packed full of bars, cafés and discos. Of course, with all that drinking until dawn, you’ll need to keep yourself well-fuelled with food. Good job then that Madrid is a heaven for foodies. Don’t miss sampling delectable delights such as chocolate con churros, patatas bravas and cocido, a comforting stew made out of chickpeas, chorizo and morcilla (blood sausage)
Sunshine and Outdoor Space:
With an estimated 2,800 hours of sunshine per annum, Madrid is a haven for sun lovers and tan-toppers alike. With all that sun, you’ll need plenty of outdoor space in which to make the most of it, and this city has it in spades. The largest of these is the Casa de Campo, a vast space to the west set to the west of the centre; perfect for a hike, bike ride or a chance to soak up the cityscape panoramas from aboard the teleferico (cable car). For something slightly more central, head to the city’s most famous green space, the Parque del Buen Retiro. Enjoy a picnic here, discover the Palacio de Cristal conservatory, go rowing in the park’s large lake or enjoy a wander through the adjacent Real Jardín Botánico; botanical gardens dating back more than 2,000 years. Sports fans will inevitably want to head to pay a visit to the world-famous Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, the home of Real Madrid since 1947, and those looking for an adrenaline fix should make for the Parque de Atracciones, a 20-hectare theme park offering a wide range of rollercoasters, water rides and hair-raising thrill rides.
Shopping ‘til you Drop:
Spain’s sizzling capital has some of the country’s best opportunities for shopping, with some incredible local brands sitting side by side with the crème de la crème of international designers. For glitz and glam, head to Serrano for boutique stores and luxury establishments set in what were once small palaces. For high-street brands, the central Gran Vía area is the place to go, with brands like Zara and Massimo Dutti rubbing shoulders with the huge department El Corto Inglés. The city also plays host to numerous markets; the oldest being El Rastro which sells knick-knacks, clothes, books and comics every Sunday. For environmentally conscious shoppers, don’t miss a trip to the Adelita Flea Market, which sells only second-hand and pre-used goods.
Day Trips Galore:
If the big city life gets a bit much and you’re looking for a breather, the central location of Madrid means it is easy to get out and explore other areas of Spain. The country’s former capital city, Toledo, is well worth a visit and is just 30-minutes away via train. It’s a walled city steeped in history, with Arabic, Jewish and Christian influences as well as an impressive cathedral to boot. Another example of classic Spanish architecture is Segovia, which offers Roman ruins and a medieval castle that is said to have been an inspiration for Disney. There are also plenty of vineyards surrounding the city; perfect if you’re looking to enjoy a tipple or two of local Tempranillo vino.