A few days ago, I went on a four day trip to Madrid, Spain with my sister.
As the third city of the European Union in terms of population (right behind London and Paris), Madrid impressed me with its dynamism and its diversity.
I have already been to Spain, in a costal town called Xàbia, between Alicante and Valencia, some years ago. I keep an excellent memory of Spaniards, who are always welcoming and lively. This time in Madrid reminded me how true that was.
For those who have never been to the capital of Spain, here is my pick of places you should absolutely visit.
The Must-see & must-do in Madrid
Wherever you are in Madrid, you will always find your way to the Plaza Mayor. It is one of the most emblematic place of Madrid. Today, there are unfortunately mostly terraces and tourist traps, but this plaza has been witness to major historical events: corridas, public executions led by the Spanish Inquisition (involving torture, hanging or burned depending on what you did…).
Slightly different feeling at night
Hang out near Puerta del Sol
Like Plaza Mayor, la Puerta del Sol is hard to miss when you visit the city. Most madrileños chill and meet there.
El Palacio Real
El Palacio Real is the biggest royal palace in Europe, and it hosted the Royal Family until 1931.
Me and my sister in front of the Palacio
Pictures were forbidden but I managed to sneak out a picture
of the Throne Room (Sala del Trono)
Spend your money on Gran Vía, Calle Fuencarral & Salamanca
Gran Vía curiously reminded me of the Champs Elysées in Paris. Except for the big billboards and high buildings. You will recognize Zara and Inditex-owned shops (Bershka, Stradivarius), as well as Mango or Lefties (all local brands).
Crowd near the metro station Callao, where we met Tom Cruise by chanceHe was promoting his new movie. Pretty random.
Shopping addict? Take the metro to Serrano and stroll in the fancy & high-end shopping district of Salamanca. You’ll find many designers shops too as well as Loewe’s new flagship store or Camper’s original stores.
Drop by La Chocolatería de San Gines
If you are hungry, try out tasty churros for €4 and get 6 churros and a cup of hot chocolate. The number of customers they serve every day must be very impressive.
Have a break at El Retiro park
The Crystal Palace (Palacio de Cristal)
Prepare to be dazzled in El Prado Museum
The Prado museum is definitely one of the best museum on the planet, given the countless number of masterpieces you come cross. We took around 2 and a half hour to see the whole museum. Here are some of my favorite paintings: I urge art lovers to go see them!
- Rafael’s Cardinal
- Velásquez’s astonishing Las Meninas
- Van der Weyden’s Descent fron the Cross
- Bosch’s triptych Garden of Earthly Delights
- Caravaggio’s David and Goliath
Super crowded room displaying
Goya’s Black Paintings (Pinturas Negras)
Admire Guernica at el Reina Sofía Museum
As we were quite tired, we did not visit the whole museum and headed straight for Picasso’s permanent exhibition dedicated to Guernica.
The museum was extended in 2005. You can go and check out the New Reina Sofía Museum extension, designed by a famous French architect, Jean Nouvel. We took the opportunity to have a coffee at the café within the Museum building, NuBel: they make very good smoothies for €4!
Have tapas on a terrace in El Barrio de las Letras
My favorite barrio in Madrid. You can find many shops, restaurants and bars in this area, where writers such as Cervantes or Hemingway used to live. We had tapas in one busy restaurants on Plaza Santa Ana, next to the Teotro Español. The view at night is also very nice!
Tapas restaurants on Santa Ana Plaza
Escape for half a day to El Real Monasterio de El Escorial
We stayed 4 days in Madrid, my sister and I decided to go to San Lorenzo de El Escorial, 45 kilometers (30 miles) North from Madrid. The Royal Monastery was built by king Felipe II in the 1500s. Though it is a Monastery, the place was surprisingly luxuriant since it once housed the Royal family.
How we got there: We took the Cercanías Madrid (the Madrid rail service) at the station Sol. There are trains departing from Sol every 30 minutes and the ride is one hour long. As for the tickets, the round trip costs €8,10 per person. On the ride, you will get passed the four tall buildings near Nuevos Ministerios in the district of Castellana. After you get to El Escorial train station, you need to walk 15 minutes until you get to the Monasterio.
The Monastery’s library
The Basílica’s Dome
One of my favorite room: the Hall of Battles
Take every opportunity to never stop eating ham
On my first day in Madrid, I saw in the streets a strange sign: Museo del Jamón, it said. It made me smile but did not think about going in a Ham Museum… Who would!? It was only on the second day that I realized there were dozens of Ham Museum in the city. Museo del Jamón did not involve any museum-like stuff. There was only ham. You eat it or you buy it. Nothing more, nothing less.
Whenever you are hungry, just order a bocadillo de jamón (sandwiches with serrano ham) for €3.90. You can always lose weigh after you get back home. God. I wished we had those in Paris.
We also tried the 10-11 am bocadillo:
olive oil, tomato sauce and serrano ham on a toast
It was fairly cheap: €4 for the orange juice, cafe con leche and the bocadillo.
Visit San Antón’s food market
Madrid is famous for its many food markets or Mercados. I visited the Mercado de San Miguel but realized it was way too crowded. I much prefer the San Antón’s mercado, in the trendy district of La Chueca.
Stroll in the city and immerse yourself in Madrid
Madrid is quite big, so before going there, you should plan a bit and get acquainted with the different barrios to fully enjoy the city!
I find this map very helpful.
El Museo ABC near Conde Duque
La Plaza España
We did not have time to go see a Real Madrid game, a Flamenco show nor a bull’s fight at the Arenas of Las Ventas (it was closed 🙁 ). So that will be for next time, Madrid!
Hope you enjoyed my article on Madrid!
View from el Parque del Oeste & el Templo de Debod