Madrid - a guide to one of Europe's most vibrant and multi-cultural cities.
Madrid is absolutely breath-taking, both architecturally and in terms of culture. Even after living here for over four months, I can’t imagine ever running out of things to do.
Although Madrid has always been the nucleus of the Spanish mainland, it didn’t actually become the capital until 1561, during the reign of King Felipe II. The city has grown in many ways over the centuries but the old heart (and with it 16th century narrow cobbled streets) still remains clear for all to see. Madrid is a complete mix of many nationalities and cultures (although Spanish is obviously the predominant one). This is something reflected in everything you’ll see here, from the Russian dolls sold on stands in the Plaza Mayor, to the ever-increasing variety of restaurants inviting you to try new and exciting dishes.
This city has more than its fare share of culture and if you come here, you definitely shouldn't miss out on the opportunity to see ‘The Big Three’ (The Prado, The Reina Sofia and the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza) as well as other smaller galleries, exhibitions and concerts which you’ll find scattered all over the city. And if the Madrilenan bustle finally becomes too much, then definitely go on a daytrip to Toledo, Segovia, Avila, Aranjuez or El Escorial, to name but a few of the beautiful surrounding towns. Both trains and buses here are very cheap, comfortable and never seem to be delayed.
A walk around the city.
Madrid is a great city to walk around, especially as it only seems to rain once a year during The Holy Week when all the religious processions get a good soaking. The size of the city also makes strolling around it easy and if your feet get tired, there’s always a cafe somewhere nearby!
If like me, you find negotiating your way around a city somewhat challenging then why not walk down the Paseo de la Castellana. You can't get lost doing this, I've tried. Follow the Paseo de Castellana down until it becomes the Paseo de los Recoletos and then finally the Paseo del Prado. You’ll be treated to the sights of the modern-looking Santiago Bernabeu football stadium (where the Real Madrid football club both train and play); one very out-of-place private country residence which has attached itself like a limpet to the corner of both Calles Castellana and Jorge Manrique; the Escuela Tecnica Superior de Ingenieros Industriales (a really beautiful domed building with gardens and a statue of Queen Isabel I in front); the Museo de la Escultura Abstracta (an open air modern sculpture collection that's really worth seeing and which lies on both sides of the street); the Plaza Colon and all its fashionable shops and cafes (try the cafeteria 'Cafe y te' for some typically delicious Spanish pastries) the Biblioteca Nacional (a stunning white building with a museum dedicated to books inside and the archeological museum round the back!) and also the Plaza de Cibeles (clear evidence of the Spanish construction boom that preceded World War One) before you finally end up outside the Real Jardin Botanico, the Thyssen and the Prado. All these sights and the walk only take about two hours in total. Amazing, I know!
Alternatively, you could walk the older part of the city. Start at Sol and head along to the Plaza Mayor, where I recommend you enjoy a coffee in the sunshine before continuing to stroll down the Calle Mayor towards the Plaza de la Villa and Madrid’s town hall (free guided tours on Mondays at 5 and 6pm.they're worth it, I've been!) which dates back to the 17th-century. From here, carry on until you arrive at the Iglesia de San Andres (Madrid’s patron saint) and the Museo de San Isidro which houses all sorts of archaeological finds from around the city before finally arriving at El Rastro (although do remember that the market is only there on Sundays and holidays) and the moreria (Moorish quarter) where the really rather enchanting combination of the market and the narrow streets gives you a feel for Madrid’s older and more traditional side....just watch you don't get lost!
For information on exhibitions/shows/concerts or to book tickets, check out the ‘Things to do’ section of our website. www.divento.com
In terms of galleries, the Big Three, namely The Prado, The Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Reina Sofia, are sights you shouldn’t miss. The Prado and the Reina Sofia are both free on Sundays although this does make the galleries much busier than during the week as you’ll have the locals to contend with alongside the regular tourists.
The Prado, which dates back to 1785, houses 7000 works and, what with the new extension project, you can now see even more paintings by Spain's most renowned painters such as Velazquez, Goya and El Greco.
Upon the vibrant terracotta-coloured walls of the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza hang more than 800 works of art from all over Europe that range in style from Impressionist to Cubist and going back as far as Medieval! I absolutely loved this gallery and could have easily spent an entire day wondering about inside.
Last of The Big Three is the Reina Sofia which is definitely the gallery to see if you want a taste of Modern Spanish Art and great views...just go in the lift and you'll see what I mean! The Guernica is undoubtedly the most famous work housed within this gallery that appears to be jam packed with fantastic paintings, sculptures and installations.
Other galleries which aren't quite as world renowned but which are definitely worth a visit include the Museo Municipal which gives you a brief history of Madrid and where you'll find more Goyas on show; the Museo Arqueologico Nacional which contains various types of art and information on everything ancient, right back to Neanderthal man; the Museo de America (another personal favourite) which houses all kinds of objects brought back by the Spanish from during the colonial period and, last but not least, the Museo de Escultura Abstracta which I've mentioned before.
Madrid is also home to many theatres and there should be no shortage of shows to entertain you whether you wish to see something either in English or in Spanish. Some of the theatres I would recommend are the Teatro de la Zarzuela where you can see zarzuela (a mixture of dance, drama and music); the Teatro Real which is Madrid’s newly re-built opera house where you'll be treated to both opera and ballet (it's very popular so book early to avoid disappointment) and the Teatro Monumental in which concerts, operas and zarzuelas are performed from October up until April.
Like all Spanish cities, Madrid has no shortage of beautiful churches. Worth a peek are the Iglesia de San Gines which is one of the city’s oldest churches which dates back to the 14th century (although much of it has been reconstructed after it was destroyed in a fire during the 19th century), the Convento de las Descalzas Reales where you have your compulsory guided tour and get to see some really stunning tapestries and finally, the Iglesia de San Andres which has been decorated in a fabulous Baroque style which covers every inch of the interior. I should probably add that the chapel is often closed and you may only be able to go inside if there is some kind of temporary exhibition.
Other sights that are a real ‘must’ while staying in Madrid include the Palacio Real (the room decorated entirely of Retiro porcelain is the most striking), the Puerta del Sol, the Real Jardin Botanico, the Plaza del Toros (go and have a look even if you don't want to watch the actual bullfights) and the Temple of Debod which is an authentic Egyptian temple given to the Spanish as a present from the Egyptians and which looks oddly at home in its current location.
The sales here last throughout January and February but don’t worry if you’ve missed the last lot because they start again in July through to September. And if there’s something the Spanish know about, then it’s definitely fashion. Colour coordination is something every self-respecting Spanish lady seems to possess and it's therefore something that I've had to learn how to attain rather quickly! The best shopping streets here are undoubtedly Calle Fuencarral, Calle de Toledo and Calle Serrano. Fuencarral is a haven for those with a passion for shopping. Places worth popping into are Bangladesh (for those after music), Casa del Libro (houses every type of book you'll ever need) and Adolfo Dominguez (pure designer chic). On Toledo, some of the best shops are Casa Hernanz (for beautiful traditional footwear...I'm building up quite a collection), Corseteria La Latina (just look at the size of the bra in the window!) and Caramelos Paco (don't go on an empty stomach or you'll buy the whole shop). And finally, my recommended consumer havens are Farrutx (shoe paradise) and Lladro that designs the famous porcelain figurines. Shopaholics might be tempted to head for the American 'mall' style shopping centres such as ABC Serrano on Calle Serrano or El Corte Ingles which is like an upmarket British department store (such as 'Selfridges') and which you'll find throughout the city.
If markets are more what you’re after, then there really is nothing to beat El Rastro where you're sure to come across plenty of bargains such as jewellery for as little as three euros, cheap high street fashion (trousers for 10 euros) Moroccan-style clothing (great to wear during the summer heat), typical earthenware pots for around four euros, handbags, sunglasses, shoes etc...You'll find the market (usually bursting with tourists and Spaniards alike) on Calle de la Ribera de Curtidores every Sunday…just be careful that you don’t get lost amongst the crowds or down one of the many side streets. The market tends to set up around 10am and business grinds to a halt at around two pm when siesta time kicks in.
Just to remind you that (apart from the first Sunday of each month) shops are closed on Sundays and that many close for siesta as well between the hours of one and four pm.
Madrid is absolutely 'bursting at the seams' with restaurants, most of which open between 1pm-4pm, during the siesta hours, only to close and re-open from between 8pm-12am. The Spanish eat late and, only after many early evenings spent restaurant-hunting, I've found it's easier to just join in with this tradition rather than trying to beat it.
If you’re a vegetarian then head for El Vergel on Paseo de la Florida, 53 (tel. 0034 91 547 19 52) where a meal only costs between €10-15 (nearest Metro: Prinicipe Pio). Their set menu is definitely value for money and I, for one, have yet to find a dish there which I don't like!
If you want to try Spanish and Mediterranean cuisine, there is an abundance of fantastic restaurants waiting to be sampled. La Gloria De Montera on Calle del Caballero de Gracia, 10 (tel. 0034 91 523 44 07) provides one of the cheaper deals with a meal costing between €15-20 (nearest Metro: Gran Via). Lhardy on Carrera de San Geronimo, 8 (tel. 0034 91 521 33 85) (nearest Metro: Sevilla) and Club 31 on Calle de Alcala, 58 (tel. 0034 91 532 05 11) (nearest Metro: Retiro) are two of the more expensive (meals cost around €45+)- Spanish restaurants but the food is well worth the price.
However, I still think nothing can beat a good old-fashioned tapas at La Casa del Abuelo (tel. 0034 91 521 23 19) (meal price €20-25) which can be found on Calle de la Victoria, 12 (nearest Metro: Sol) and if you want to taste some regional specialities, why not try the Asturian food at Casa Mingo on Paseo de la Florida, 34 (tel. 0034 91 547 79 18) (nearest Metro: Principe Pio) where a meal comes in at around €25-30 (try the chicken/chorizo with cider or, alternatively, Casa Lucio (great for celeb spotting) on Calle de la Cava Baja, 35 (tel. 0034 91 365 32 52) (nearest Metro: La Latina) where a meal sets you back between €35-45.
If Middle Eastern food is what appeals to your taste buds then Babilonya will probably be more to your liking. You'll find it on Calle del Ave Maria, 50 (tel. 0034 91 539 62 04) and a meal costs around €15-20. (nearest Metro: Lavapies)
For something more diverse, head for Cluny on the Calle del Prado, 15 (tel. 0034 91 429 28 38) where a meal costs between €20-25 (nearest Metro: Sevilla). The restaurant's named after a tapestry depicting the five senses and the food it serves will definitely make your sense of smell and tast go mad. They offer Spanish and Basque dishes but add something more creative by mixing in oriental elements.
If seafood is your thing, don’t let Madrid’s inland location put you off. The Mediterranean may not be nearby but the Spanish certainly know how to cook their fish. El Pescador on the Calle de Jose Ortega y Gasset, 75 (tel. 0034 91 402 12 90) is a prime example of this. Meals there cost around €30-40 and are great value for money! (nearest Metro: Lista)
Nightlife and BarsBold Text
In Madrid, the fiesta never stops and it justly deserves the title ‘Europe’s Party Capital’. The party doesn’t kick off early here so it’s best to eat a late dinner and then chill over some drinks before hitting the dance floor. Most clubs won’t even open their doors until past midnight but then the fun continues until way past dawn!
If you’re a wine fan, then the Terrabacus Vinoteca (open 1pm-midnight) on Calle de Lagasca, 74 (nearest Metro: Serrano) is a good place to start the evening. For those who prefer things a little closer to home, there’s no better bar than Finnegan’s (open 1pm-2am) that can be found on Plaza de las Salsas (nearest Metro: Chueca) and is always packed with both English locals and tourists alike. If you’re after some great live music, then why not give Cafe Central, (open 1:30pm-2: 30am) located on the Plaza del Angel, 10 (nearest Metro: Anton Martin/Sol) a try. The live jazz is absolutely fantastic but it will set you back Ś12 if you choose to stay. For a younger, livelier scene, try El Confidential (open 11pm-5: 30am), which can be found on Calle de Eduardo Dato, 8 (nearest Metro: Ruben Dario) or alternatively Independencia (open 8am-6am) on Calle de Salustiano Olozaga, 11 (nearest Metro: Retiro). Both are perfect places to start your night on the tiles.
And once you’re ready to head out, why not try Moma 56 (open midnight-6am) on Calle de Jose Abascal, 56 (nearest Metro: Gregorio Maranon) or for those who prefer their clubs to be on the larger side try Pacha (open 12:30-5am) that is located on Calle de Barcelo, 11 (nearest Metro: Tribunal). My personal favourite has to be the 'palace'-turned-club Palacio Gaviria (open 11pm-4am Mon-Wed, 11pm-5: 30am Thu-Sat and 8:30pm-2am Sun) on Calle del Arenal, 9 (nearest Metro: Sol) which has a different style of music in every room. For those who prefer their clubs to have slightly more classy feel, try David Beckham’s preferred haunt of Serrano 41 (open 10pm-5am Mon-Sat) on Calle de Serrano 41 (and guess what the name of the nearest Metro is? Yes, Serrano).
For those looking for the gay scenes here in Madrid, try Why Not (open 10:30pm-late) on Calle de San Bartolome 7 (nearest Metro: Chueca), which is always so packed, it's overflowing with clubbers!
There is no shortage of hotels in Madrid, whether you’re looking for a ‘hostal’ (the nearest Spanish equivalent to a B&B) or something more upmarket. Click here for details of our handpicked selection of hotels and to make a reservation.
Los Amigos Backpackers’ Hostel (€15 per bed)
Calle de Campomanes 6, 4th floor
Nearest Metro: Oriente
Hostal Orly (€29 single, €39 double, €50 triple)
Calle de la Montera 47, 7th floor
Nearest Metro: Gran Via
(The view of central Madrid is just spectacular!)
Hostal Martin (€36-58 single, €45-70 double)
Calle de Atocha 43
Nearest Metro: Anton Martin
Hostal Oriente (€35 single, €50-60 double)
Calle del Arenal 23, 1st floor
Nearest Metro: Opera
Hostal Luis XV (€42 single, €55 double, €70 triple)
Calle de la Montera 47, 8th floor
Nearest Metro: Gran Via
Hotel Miau (€88 single, €98 double including breakfast)
Calle del Principe 26
Nearest Metro: Sol/Anton Martin
Gran Hotel Conde Duque (€115-150 single, €170-245 double)
Plaza del Conde Valle Suchil 5
Nearest Metro: San Bernardo/Quevedo
Hotel Emperador (€165 single, €220-320 double)
Gran Via 53
Nearest Metro: San Domingo
(This hotel has one of the best rooftop pools around - don’t miss out on the chance to soak up those rays in style!)
Addresses/entry fees and opening times:
El Museo del Prado: Paseo del Prado; adult/student € 3.00/1.50, over 65/under 18 free, also free on Sat (2:30-7pm), Sun and some national holidays; open 9am-7pm Tue-Sun
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza: Paseo del Prado 8; adult/senior & student/child under 12 € 3.60/2.40/free; open 10am-7pm Tue-Sun
Centro de Arte Reina Sofia: Calle de Santa Isabel 52; adult/student/under 12 & over 65 €3.00/1.50/free; free to all on Sat (2:30pm-9pm) and on Sun (10am-2:30pm); open 10am-9pm Mon & Wed-Fri
Museo Municipal: Calle de Fuencarral 78; admission free; open 9:30am-8pm Tue-Fri, 10am-2pm Sat & Sun (Sept-Jun); open 9:30am-2:30pm Tue-Fri, 10am-2pm Sat & Sun (Jul & Aug), closed on holidays
Museo Arqueológico Nacional: Calle de Serrano 13; adult/senior € 3.00/free, also free from 2:30pm on Sat and all day Sun; open 9:30am-8:30pm Tue-Sat and 9:30am-2:30pm Sun & holidays
Museo de América: Avenida de los Reyes Católicos 6; adult/student/over 65 & under 18 € 3.00/1.50/free and free to all on Sun; open 10am-3pm Tue-Sat and 10am-2:30pm Sun & holidays
Museo de la Escultura Abstracta: Paseo de la Castellana; free; open air
Teatro de la Zarzuela: Calle de Jovellanos 4; check opening times upon ticket purchase
Teatro Real: Plaza de Oriente; check opening times upon ticket purchase
Teatro Monumental: Calle de Atocha 65; check opening times upon ticket purchase
Iglesia de San Ginés: Calle del Arenal 13; free; open for services only
Convento de las Descalzas Reales: Plaza de las Descalzas 3; adult/student & EU over 65 €5.00/2.50; EU citizens free Wednesday; open 10:30am-12:45pm and 4pm-5:30pm Tue-Thu & Sat, 10:30am-12:45pm Fri and 11am-1:45pm Sun & holidays
Palacio Real: Calle de Bailén; adult/student & EU over 65 €9.00/3.50; free on Wed to EU citizens; open 9am-6pm Mon-Sat, 9am-3pm Sun & holidays Apr-Sep, 9:30am-5pm Mon-Sat, 9am-2pm Sun & holidays Oct-Mar
Real Jardin Botánico: Plaza de Bravo Murillo 2; adult/student/over 65 & under 11 €1.50/0.75/free; open 10am-9pm May-Aug, 10am-8pm Apr-Sep, 10am-7pm Oct and Mar, 10am-6pm Nov-Feb
Plaza de Toros & Taurino: Calle de Alcalá 237; open 9:30am-2:30pm Mon-Fri Oct-May, 9:30am-2:30pm Tue-Fri & 10am-1pm Sun Jun-Sep
Temple of Debod: Paseo del Pintor Rosales; free; open 10am-2pm & 6pm-8pm Tue-Fri, 10am-2pm Sat & Sun Apr-Sep, 9:45am-1:45pm & 4:15pm-6:15pm Tue-Fri, 10am-2pm Sat & Sun Oct-Mar
Iglesia de San Andrés: Plaza de San Andrés; free; open 8am-1pm & 5:30pm-8pm
Museo de San Isidro: Plaza de San Andrés 2; free; open 9:30am-8pm Tue-Fri, 10am-2pm Sat & Sun
El Rastro: Ribera de los Curtidores; 8am-2pm Sun & holidays