Not many places in the world will you observe the equilibrium of old and new carried off with as much sophistication as in Madrid. While it may lack the glitz of Barcelona, the characteristic architecture of Paris or the popularity of Seville, it has plenty of romance of its own. All in one day you can rub shoulders with the royals, explore the medieval centre of town, marvel at some of the greatest museums in the world and let your hair down in the tapas bars and nightclubs. The Madrid way of life is infectious; living in the moment has never felt better.
We are nestled amongst it all a few hundred metres from the Plaza de la Puerto del Sol in a fabulous apartment complete with kitchen, lounge and little balcony opening onto the street below.
The Puerto del Sol, or “Gate of the Sun” makes for an ideal starting location for exploration of Madrid. It’s actually the very centre of the radial network of all the roads in Spain. It makes a great hub for your stay in Madrid as there are many hotels in the vicinity and the subway can be caught from here to all the main sights. It’s centrally located between the Plaza Mayor and the Royal Palace in one direction and the museums in the other direction.
To get a sense of the Old Town Madrid; make the Plaza Mayor your first stop. It is completely enclosed by the delicately painted façades and breathtaking balconies of the old residential buildings. Street performers entertain under the watchful eye of King Phillips III, the bronze statue erected in the very centre of the courtyard. The restaurants and tapas bars that line the lower story charge tourist prices, but it might be worth the price to order tapas just once in the Plaza Mayor. It’s a great spot for watching the world go by and appreciating the bustling ambience of Madrid. You can go a couple of streets back and its nicer and half the price.
The Royal Palace awaits you after a short stroll down Calle Mayor. While many guides gloss over the Royal Palace, an hour or so of exploration through the extravagant chambers is enough to see that it’s fit for a King! Indeed, it’s the official residence of the King of Spain, though the family usually stays at a smaller palace on the outskirts of town. The King’s a bit of a party animal though; if he’s hosted a dinner the night before, the palace might be opened late or not at all. You’ll understand once you experience the Madrid night life!
Once you’ve had your fill of royalty, the Almudena Cathedral beckons from nearby. The aptly-named Plaza de Oriente lies to the East of the Royal Palace, and is a tranquil sanctuary for you to retreat for lunch. A nearby subway stop will take you to the museum area.
Of the “Golden Triangle of Art”, Museo del Prado is the most famous museum. It unquestionably accommodates the finest collection of Spanish art in the world, with highlights including works from de Goya, Velasquez, Titian and a multitude of others. The Reina Sofia museum showcases two prominent 20th Century art masters, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali. Finally, feast your eyes on an array of art ranging from the 13th Century to today at Thyssen-Bornemisza. Save your pennies by purchasing a museum card which will get you into all three for less than you would pay if you paid admission to each one separately.
Rest your well-travelled legs in the serene Retiro park nearby. If you’re feeling a little peckish, you can buy a tapas size plate of Seranno Ham, enjoy a beer or a glass of wine and watch the locals pass by in “el paseo”, a leisurely stroll around the peaceful lake.
As night falls and the Madrileño come out to play, you’ll see tapas bars really begin to hit their stride. Merge seamlessly into the Spanish way of life by ordering a glass of wine and some tapas to enjoy. If you manage to get talking to that friendly Spaniard from across the bar, order some raciones (larger portions) to share. Sometimes in the tourist areas, you can order a menu of tapas and get a sample of maybe 5 to share. You won’t really be participating in the tapas bar scene, but it’s one way to get your feet wet.
After the first night, you’ll be comfortable with tapas, and after your first day, you’ll be glad you visited Madrid. If you managed to strike the perfect balance of ancient and current – this heady blend of old and new will have you wishing you could stay forever.
Getting Around in Madrid
Go the metro, or beat the feet, both are fun and cheap. Just read the signs and you’re off!
Don’t be like us and think you could go and pick up your rental car and return to the apartment to pick up your friends and the luggage. A flawed plan to say the least which saw us driving in circles even with a GPS for 3 hours! to which we said Mad – rid…
Hey – have you been to Madrid? We’d love to hear about your experiences – as always comments are welcome and encouraged.