If Barcelona is the flirt of the family—with its buzzing beaches, sultry architecture and exuberant embrace of the experimental and the new—Madrid is the slightly standoffish older sibling. Its broad avenues and stately monuments, reminders that this was once the seat of a great empire, and creates an atmosphere that’s regal and august. There are several things to do and amazing places to visit in Madrid. Let’s take a look, shall we?
Spend your days wandering the city’s grand museums and stylish shops, exploring up-and-coming neighbourhoods like La Latina, Malasaña and Lavapiés, and strolling the grounds of the vast Retiro Park. But save your energy for nighttime, when Madrileños bounce from tapas bars to cocktail dens to surging nightclubs, somehow making it to their work the next day. Here’s a smart guide of where to stay, indulge, and roam when in Madrid.
A fun fact is that life happens a little bit later in Madrid: Lunch is around 3 p.m. and dinner starts around 10 p.m. and goes well past midnight. So hope you are up for it.
Explore Madrid: Places to Visit
1Royal Palace of Madrid
Art lovers won’t want to miss Madrid’s trio of great museums: the vast Prado; then Reina Sofia, home of Picasso’s Guernica; with its pan-European outlook. But for full immersion in the Baroque grandeur of Imperial Spain, a visit to the Royal Palace is mandatory. Expect grandiose staircases, outrageous frescoes and tapestries, acres of filigreed plasterwork and an entire room lined in porcelain. Don’t miss the quintet of rare Stradivarius string instruments and the pageantry on display in the Royal Armory, which makes Game of Thrones look cheap.
2Day Trip to Toledo
This UNESCO World Heritage Site, just a 30-minute train ride from Madrid’s Atocha Station, is a fascinating glimpse of Spain’s multicultural past. You’ll find ancient Roman bridges; medieval mosques, synagogues and churches; and stupendous art. The Cathedral combines Gothic architecture with Moorish touches, while the El Transito Synagogue is known for its incredibly intricate plasterwork.
If you’re taken by El Greco’s The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, his masterpiece in the St. Tome Church, then see more of his haunting portraits at the El Greco Museum. Have a leisurely lunch at Restaurant Adolf, a family-run establishment in a 12th-century house whose superb food is rivalled only by the views from the rooftop terrace.
Plaza Mayor is a public place and one of the most famous places to visit in Madrid. It is christened as “Plaza de Arrabal”. Well known for its uniform and classic architecture, the Plaza Mayos was built by architect Juan de Villanueva. Also, Casa de la Panaderia, its northern block is ones of the best places to visit in Madrid.
4Temple of Debod
It is believed that the Temple of Debod was presented as a token of gratitude by the former Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser to the Spanish archaeological team. This iconic temple was saved from getting destroyed by the turbulent waters of Egypt’s Lake Nasser by the team from UNESCO. It is now amongst the unusual places to visit in Madrid.
Also read: Go beyond the pyramids into Ancient Egypt
5Circulo De Bellas Artes
Circulo de Bellas Artes is open for literature, philosophy, Visual arts or fine arts and other innovative talents. This institute was declared the official “Center for Protection of the Fine arts and Public Interest”, in 1880. Also, the mesmerizing skyline from its rooftop gives the most amazing views of Madrid city.
Indulge in Madrid: Places to eat
The first thing to know about eating tapas in Madrid is that they’re not called tapas here—Madrileños refer to the shareable plates of ham, cheese, croquettes and other treats as raciónes. Here are some places to visit in Madrid where you can pamper yourself by indulging in some yummy food.
6Bodega La Ardosa
This venerable tavern between Malasaña and Chueca is always packed thanks to its authentic ambience (wood-panelled walls lined with yellowing photographs and news clippings), its wide selection of beer, wine and vermouth, and its exemplary food. It’s tiny—you have to duck under the bar to get to the bathroom. To leave here without sampling the salmorejo (a thick gazpacho), the tortilla de potato omelette and the jewel-like slices of acorn-fed ham would be a crime.
“Spanish cuisine with a Nordic touch” sounds like a trap for gullible #foodies, but Fismuler pulls it off. In a spare but stylish space in the Chamberí neighbourhood, the chefs serve simply presented, market-driven dishes that focus on high-quality ingredients in sometimes unusual combinations. Chickpeas in a sauce of deeply roasted tomatoes with chunks of langoustine are a delicious treat. Roasted duck breast with a sweet-smoky corn purée and grilled spring onion. For dessert, a richly cheesy cheesecake, or an ethereal torrijas, the Spanish version of French toast. It’s a convivial spot with bare-wood tables (some of them communal) and a crowd of in-the-know locals.
8Fonda La Lechuga
Fonda La Lechuga is a brasserie-style restaurant hidden on a little street behind the Plaza Mayor. It serves traditional food, often with a contemporary touch. It is also best to serve the most typical dish in the Spanish Capital. The la carte selection more innovative dishes and vegan options such as tomato stuffed with seaweed mousse.
Cebo is a contemporary restaurant and a proud Michelin star holder for the year 2018. The restaurant provides progressive cuisine that takes into account Mediterranean flavours and influence while also upholding traditional Spanish gastronomy. Give yourself a treat with their dazzling dishes, presented in an elegant room. You can choose a tasting menu or order à la carte.
Also read: 11 things you can do in Spain on a budget
Stay in Madrid
10Palacio Del Retiro
Housed in an early-20th-century mansion directly across from the Retiro Park, this 50-room boutique hotel smartly combines historic architecture with contemporary furnishings. Part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection, it’s a relaxed and stylish alternative to the more formal “grand” hotels nearby—yet shares their central, convenient location. Ascend the marble staircase, lined with stained-glass windows, to your room, which might juxtapose an ornate fireplace with a sleek platform bed. Bathrooms are large and well-equipped.
Like the Palacio Del Retiro, the Único is a small hotel (44 rooms) occupying an old mansion and with modern interiors. The key difference is the location: Upscale Salamanca has more of a residential feel than Retiro, though it’s less convenient to the major museums—and the food. But Único boasts its own gastronomy scene as the home to Ramo Friexa, a two-Michelin-starred restaurant serving an ambitious, creative menu. There’s also an outdoor courtyard, a cute little library and a fitness centre and spa with a single treatment room. The guest rooms lack the character full last-century details of the Palacio Del Retiro, but they’re sharply furnished and more than comfortable.
Thus, Madrid makes it a let go!
If you have any more places to visit in Madrid that you absolutely love, comment below.