Madrid is the capital city of Spain, with a population of over three million and a reputation for great nightlife and rich culture. In 2010, Monocle magazine declared Madrid to be the tenth best place to live in the world. Given the plethora of architectural wonders and local curiosities, it can be hard to decide where to visit and what to see when you only have a finite amount of time to spend in the city. Read on to learn about ten places that make a trip to Madrid infinitely worthwhile.
1) The El Rastro Market
The El Rastro Market is open every Sunday morning, and it is Madrid´s largest flea market. There are hundreds of vendors at El Rastro, selling everything from jewelry to cooking supplies, and there is usually plenty of live entertainment from musicians and singers as well. Although it provides an excellent cultural experience that is not to be missed, and it is a great place to pick up interesting items at generous prices, it is also a crowded place where pickpockets thrive. Leave your valuables at home!
2) Parque del Retiro
Parque del Retiro is a huge, beautiful park that is close to the Prado Museum and spans more than 350 acres. It is the perfect place to visit on a warm summer evening, when you can enjoy the beautiful sunset from the vantage point of the monument-flanked steps that face the peaceful lake. People sell trinkets in the park, and you can usually find a fascinating array of musicians playing violins, guitars and drums. You can also rent a rowing boat and spend time enjoying the spectacular views from the centre of the lake.
3) The Golden Triangle of Art
The Golden Triangle of Art can be found alongside the Paseo del Prado, and it is comprised of three world-famous museums. The first is the Prado Museum, which is well known for its impressive collection of twelfth to nineteenth century European art. It contains nearly eight thousand paintings and a thousand sculptures, so it is impossible to see everything during one visit, but there are times of day when entry is entirely free of charge. It hosts work by such artists as El Greco, Goya, Raphael and Murillo, but many people go specifically to see Bosch’s ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’. Secondly, there is the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, which showcases impressive modern art by Picasso, Dali, and Gris (among others). Its most famous painting is Picasso’s ‘Guernica’, in front of which there is always a large group of awed viewers. Finally, there is the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, which contains close to two thousand paintings (among them work by the Impressionists and Expressionists).
Lavapiés is particularly notable for its multicultural nature, with more than half of the residents being from countries often than Spain. The large number of people from Asia, Africa and Latin America means that Lavapiés is full of world music bars and diverse restaurants. The cafes are laidback, and the Moroccan tea houses provide delicious and unusual drinks for highly affordable prices. In addition, a lot of visitors to Madrid enjoy the hippy atmosphere in Lavapiés, where ‘hidden houses’ in abandoned spaces host poetry readings and concerts.
5) Gran Via
Gran Via is the busiest street in the city of Madrid, and it is full of dazzling lights and beautiful architecture. It is the ideal place to go for shopping malls and cinema trips, and it provides ample opportunities for night time photography. You can also find a huge variety of nightclubs on Gran Via, many of which stay open until six or seven in the morning.
6) Palacio Real
The Royal Palace is a stunning and monstrously large palace that boasts striking views of the river valley. It is currently one of the biggest palaces in Europe, and the staff offer guided tours of its many breathtaking and art-filled rooms (where you can see expensive antique tapestries, carvings, silverware, and so on). Photography is forbidden, but the experience is worth this minor limitation. The palace is now only used for state ceremonies, though it is still known as the King of Spain’s official residence. There is free entry on Wednesdays, when it is best to go early to avoid the queues that begin to form in the late morning and early afternoon.
Plaza de España is a square in the northwest area of the city, and it is a gorgeous place to spend a lazy afternoon. There is a relaxing fountain in the centre of the square, and you can see lovingly created sculptures that honor the writer Cervantes (as well as his most famous characters, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza).
8) Real Jardin Botancio
The Royal Botanic Garden is found next to the Prado Museum, in the Plaza de Murillo. Inside its gates, you can discover hundreds of different species of flowers and plants from all over the world.
9) Puerta del Sol
Puerta del Sol is often advertised as being the heart of Madrid, and tourists flock to it for good reason. It features many streets of shops, some of which are international chains while others are fascinating one-of-a-kind boutiques. Puerta del Sol also hosts the Bear and the Madroño Tree Statue, which is a monument of a bear climbing a tree. This is particularly worth visiting because this is the symbol of Madrid. In addition, the distinctive clock tower on top of the Royal Post Office is the focus of New Year’s celebrations each year.
If you are an animal lover, Madrid’s zoo and aquarium is not to be missed. There is a panda exhibit, an exotic bird show, a petting zoo (where you can touch lemurs, among other animals), and a spectacular dolphin show.
Although the above ten places represent the very best that Madrid has to offer, there are many more sites and experiences worth considering. If you are planning a trip or a holiday to Spain’s capital, it is a good idea to pick up an affordable guidebook and browse online sites to discover more things to see and do around the city. Finally, don’t forget to do some research on the amazing restaurants and bars that can be found in Madrid!