1. El Retiro Park
Getting off the train in bustling Madrid can be daunting. The best idea is to find a quiet spot to get your bearings and plan your day accordingly. Head out of the station and left up the road to El Retiro Park – a favourite among locals who come to read and relax. Pull up a chair at La Gruta del Parque and order a litre of chilled Estrella lager to cool off while watching couples row on the lake. Or try a Spanish favourite horchata, a frozen drink made from ground almonds and tiger nuts. While in the park, head to Palacio de Cristal. This palace of glittering glass and columns is one of the most romantic sights in Madrid with its parkland lakeside setting.
2. Azotea del Círculo
Those in a culture mood can nip across the road to the Museo Nacional del Prado for its incredible classical art. But if you’re looking for lower budget local flavour, head out of the northwest entrance down Calle de Alcalá, through the Alcalá Gate and past the Cibeles Fountain. A 10-minute walk later and you’re at Azotea del Círculo, a towering building full of art galleries, quirky shops, bars, and one of the best views of Madrid from the rooftop – all for just a €4* entry price! Take your time here with a drink under the canopy out of the sun as you soak up the friendly laidback atmosphere, with the sounds of Madrid’s bustling tourist crowds left far below you on Gran Via.
*Prices accurate 2nd April 2019.
3. Gran Via
That’s right, just at the foot of this quirky art and culture tower is the famous Gran Via – Madrid’s answer to New York’s Broadway where you go to fulfil all your theatre, restaurant, cinema and bar needs. Simply strolling down this street is enough to get a taste of Madrid, from cheap food stands to luxury hotels, small boutiques to huge big-business office towers. There is a constant thoroughfare of tourists, businessmen, glamorous Madrileñas and fast-talking street hawkers, giving you a kaleidoscopic view of Madrid culture for free! If you do feel like sitting and watching it all go by, stop off at El Corte Inglés for a refreshing cocktail and bird’s-eye view of the bustling street below before you plunge back into the party.
4. Plaza Mayor
Madrid is full of magnificent squares and you can enjoy quite a few of the best. Go from Plaza Descalzas with its beautiful monastery, to the huge Puerta del Sol, and on your way down to our personal favourite – Plaza Mayor. No visit to Madrid would be complete without seeing this breath-taking square, whose sheer size and grandeur stuns as you emerge from any of the labyrinthine streets leading into it. Frescoes, delicate iron balconies and warm blush stone that burns ochre in the evening all create a beautiful space. This square is just a 10-minute walk from Gran Via or easily reached by metro to Sol and is often used as a meeting point for exploring the city because of its great location.
5. El Rastro
Just 10-minutes south on foot, or a few stops on the bus, will take you through some more modern, real-life Madrid until you reach the beating heart of this capital city at El Rastro. Real Madrid life is condensed down into one chaotic hillside at this vast flea market. It offers everything from intricately manufactured flamenco fans to vintage gems, all in temporary stalls that appear suddenly early Sunday morning before evaporating by 15:00. The whole experience is heightened by impromptu live music at each corner, plus more great bars than you can shake a cocktail shaker at. This is the Lavapiés quarter, famed for being multicultural and the youthful heartbeat of Madrid, creating an interesting hotchpotch of international tapas-wine bars. One favourite is Corazón Agavero Mezcaloteca just off Calle Humilladero, an authentic Mexican cocktail bar with enough tequila and mezcal varieties to please even the pickiest drinker, all served with excellent Mexican tapas. Alternatively, coincide your Madrid trip with the huge Lavapiés Festival on 10th August for a feasting fiesta that lasts for days!
With its central station, reliable Renfe train services and easily accessible locations like Príncipe Pio, for football fans on the fringe of the city, Madrid is a great choice for a city break by train!