Spain’s cosmopolitan capital is a city of vast boulevards, immaculate parks and a plethora of art and cultural institutions that contribute to its vibrant atmosphere. Barcelona’s elder sister is buzzing with cute cafes and stylish bars where you can sample tapas or join in the late-night café culture.
How long should I go for? A minimum of 2 nights to fully experience Madrid. If you want to explore at more of a leisurely pace in true Spanish style, 3 nights is recommended.
Getting there: Travel to Madrid from Seville or Valencia in a couple of hours on the train. Barcelona is under 3 hours away, and from there you can get a connection to Paris. Alternatively, fly into Madrid airport.
It might not be the largest, but it’s certainly the most popular of Madrid’s parks. In the centre is a huge water fountain set over a boating lake, and nearby is the Crystal Palace, a large greenhouse type building housing plants and built entirely from glass panes. In summer, you will find a host of small market stalls around the outskirts of the park selling second hand books and other local wares.
The official residence of the Spanish Royal Family, although they no longer live here and it is only used for ceremonies. Take a tour and you’ll be whisked away to view beautifully ornate rooms with lavish furnishings. The palace is also home to spectacular manicured gardens.
San Gines is the undisputed king of churrerias in Madrid. It’s a little hard to find as it is tucked away in a back alley, but it is well worth the hunt. Enjoy delicious crunchy churros and thick hot chocolate at any hour of the day or night, as it’s open 24hrs.
One of Madrid’s oldest neighbourhoods, La Latina is the place to go to experience tapas like no other. In many of the colourful bars, free tapas are served when you order a drink, so act like a local as you hop from bar to bar sampling a tapa in each one. La Latina is also home to the famous open air El Rastro flea market, held every Sunday and public holidays.
Here you will find the unique Atocha railway station. The station has a glass roof and houses a surprising tropical botanical garden with huge palm trees overhead. The garden is also home to hundreds of turtles, most of which used to be pets, and ended up living here some way or another!
Some of Spain’s greatest authors, like Cervantes, were once resident in this old-fashioned neighbourhood. Narrow winding streets offer up many cafe terraces and tapas bars if you fancy stopping off for a refreshment as you soak up the rich history of this quarter.
Hipster heaven. Here you’ll find the edgy cafes where you can sit sipping your café con leche or wander around aimlessly admiring the eccentric street art. Once night falls, hit up the bars for a taste of Madrid’s thriving nightlife.
In recent years, Chueca has transformed into the city’s most well-known LGBT hangout. This is the place to find cutting edge bars and clubs, quirky fashion, and hosts the city’s largest Pride parades in summer.
Spain’s national museum of 20th Century art. A must not miss for art lovers, this museum contains works from many of the greats such as Picasso, Dali and Guernica. The building is easily recognised by its two glass elevators that go up and down the outside of the building.
The Bear and the Strawberry Tree takes pride of place as emblem of Madrid, and its central location in the Puerta del Sol square makes it a natural point for people to meet up of an evening. Queue up to get your snaps with this 4-metre-tall bronze sculpture before hitting the shops on Gran Via, the Spanish Broadway.
Has the world’s best collection of European art. You could spend a full day here contemplating the masterpieces of Goya, Bosch and Velazquez. El Prado is located on the edge of Retiro Park so you can stretch your legs afterwards.
Departs from the Plaza Mayor main square, and covers many of the top Madrid attractions. Tours daily at 10am 11am, 12pm and 2pm in English and Spanish.
In Madrid the afternoon is for siesta and the party doesn’t start until after hours, so most restaurants will only be open from 8pm at the earliest with locals eating around 10 or 11pm. Make the most of your mornings by having a lie in, hit the museums, parks or shops in the afternoon, and grab a mid-pm snack in the form of churros or tapas to keep you going. Bars are open from 11pm onwards, and will be at their busiest around 2-3am. Nightclubs often stay open til 7am.
Despite the name, this tourist-friendly place is actually a series of restaurants dedicated to Spanish charcuteria. If you’re feeling peckish you can grab a fresh sandwich (bocadillo) and take it to Retiro Park for a picnic, or you can sit in with a beer and some tapas.
If you can’t face the queues at San Gines, you could try this equally excellent chocolateria. You won’t have to battle for a table seat, and you can treat yourself to a dipping plate with 4 different types of chocolate to dunk your churros in, or a luxurious hot chocolate with cream!