Last week I was in Madrid to attend FITUR, a fair for tourism professionals from all over the world. I was very excited to go to Madrid, but as this was a work visit, I knew, we wouldn’t have much time to explore the city. Lucky for us our flight arrived little before noon, and as we only had to be at the fair the next day, there was some time to visit the Spanish capital. Hooray!
We started our walk at the Puerta del Sol, one of Madrid’s buzzing main squares and the gathering place for important political and sports events. Although the square itself is pretty, I didn’t really like the atmosphere there. Vendors are always trying to sell you all kinds of ‘bs’ and do it in such a way you don’t feel comfortable anymore, so we quickly made our way to the Plaza Mayor, the other popular square. The beautiful Plaza Mayor was established in the 16th century, and has been the site for all kinds of public events over the years, such as bullfights, public executions and markets. Nowadays you will find many traditional shops and cafes on the plaza.
Very close to Plaza Mayor, lays the Mercado San Miguel, one of Madrid’s most famous food markets. As we hadn’t eaten yet, it seemed like the perfect spot for lunch, but as the place was so crowded and there were no tables left, we decided to go to the ‘Taste Gallery’, a lovely restaurant across the street from the market with yummy tapas and the most friendliest staff in Madrid.
Make sure to spot the Plaza De La Villa (city hall) and the Cathedral of Santa María La Real de la Almudena on your way to the Royal Palace. They’re just too pretty to miss out on!
Next stop: Palacio Real! No visit to Madrid is complete without it! We didn’t go in, as both my colleague and I had visited the palace the first time we were in the city. The royal palace dates back to 1735 and is one of the city’s most impressive buildings. It’s the official residence of the royal family of Spain, but they don’t live there anymore. Inside the rooms are filled with the work from famous artists like Caravaggio, Velasquez and Goya. The palace also holds one of the largest collections of historic armor! The parks and plazas surrounding the palace are also worth spending some time in, especially in summer, when the weather is nice! Next to the palace is the Plaza de Armería where you can see the ‘Changing of the guards’ at the beginning of each month. I recommend you to buy the entrance tickets online, because the wait can be very long.
From the Palacio Real, it’s about a 10 minute walk to Gran Vía, the city’s main shopping district. There were sales going on, so I had to take a break from the sightseeing, to go to Zara, Mango, Massimo Dutti and Stradivarius. Oh come on, no way I was gonna skip on a chance to buy new clothes in sales and way cheaper than in Belgium!!
Shopping makes you thirsty, so after that it was time for cocktail hour! We went to Sky44, a brand new rooftop bar my friend S. found online, so I had to check it out. Although finding the bar in real life seemed a lot more difficult than we originally thought. The address was pretty clear though; Gran Vía 44, but there was no sign of the bar to be find and the shops next door didn’t know it either. So we had to ask several people, until one finally knew! Turns out you have to enter the residential building (next to the Orange & Zapshops) and take the elevator to the 9th floor, and finally climb the stairs to the 10th floor. Haha hope my directions serve you well, because this bar is amazing! Great drinks, friendly staff and a lovely view upon Madrid. Salute!
Further down Gran Vía you will come across the Metropolis building, in my opinion Madrid’s most beautiful building and the Plaza de Cibeles, known for its iconic statue of the goddess Cybele in the center of the plaza and home to the Palacio de Cibeles, one of the most recognizable government buildings in the city. From here out you will also see Puerta de Alcalá, build by Carlos III in order to beautify the eastern side of the city, when his wife made his entrance into town.
As it was still a little too early for dinner, we walked around the Chueca neighborhood. Chueca is a mix between a trendy hipster neighborhood and traditional architecture. The central hub is Plaza de Chueca, a vibrant little square where people come together and even in winter enjoy a drink on one of the terraces.
Calle de Fuencarral is the neighborhood’s main shopping street, (and is actually a side-street of Gran Vía). Diesel, Adidas, Puma all have flagship stores here. If it’s the high end shopping you’re after head to Calle Augusto Figuero, Calle Almirante and Calle Prim.
Finally we had dinner at the Mercado San Antón, the other popular food market, and my favorite foodie hotspot in Madrid. Its 22 venders sell everything from fresh local foods to meats and candy. Upstairs you’ll find ‘La Cocina De San Antón’, where gastronomy, social life, leisure and culture converge in a cosmopolitan urban setting. You can either eat inside or outside, and I can imagine the outside rooftop bar is amazing when the weather is nice! The cuisine is typical Spanish, upgraded with international touches. I had the Beef Taco with grilled vegetables, guacamole and sour cream and it was absolutely to die for! Honestly the best meal I’ve had in Madrid.
Of course Madrid has so much more to offer than the above mentioned highlights, so if you’re in Madrid for a city trip, add the following places to your to do list as well. We haven’t visited them now, but I found them very enjoyable the last time I was in town!
- El Retiro Park: Madrid’s city park and the green lung of the city. Plenty of cultural, sport and leisure activities are organized in the park, such as the lake for rowing and The Glass Palace, a romantic pavilion created to house a collection of exotic plants. Especially in summer it’s the place to be where young and old, locals and tourists can come to escape the buzz of the city and seek a place to cool down. I loved it back in the days!
- Temple of Debod: an Egyptian temple that dates back to the 2nd century BC., and was given by the Egyptian government to the people of Spain. Watching the sunset at the Temple of Debod is a wonderful experience.
- Estadio Santiago Bernabéu: although I’m far from being the biggest football fan in the world, it was really interesting to visit the stadium of Real Madrid.
- Atocha Station: Madrid’s main railway station is considered the most beautiful one in Europe. In the old part you will even find a wonderful botanical garden.
- Museums: Two of the most important museums in the world are located in Madrid. In the Museo del Prado you can discover masterpieces by Velázquez, Rubens, Goya and El Greco, etc. Modern arts lovers must go to the Reina Sofia Museum, where you’ll find the works of Miró and Dalí. And most importantly Picasso’s Guernica.
ZZZZZZZ…. in Madrid
We stayed at the lovely Hotel Maydrit, which is very close to the airport and the Feria de Madrid building where FITUR was organized. Although this four star hotel met all our needs (comfortable beds, speedy Wifi and yummy breakfast) I would only recommend this hotel to business travelers, as the hotel is too far from the city center for a city trip in my opinion. The hotel is a 25 minutes ride on the subway and 15 minutes in a cab. I rather stay inside of the city center, (Room Mate Oscar by Room Mate Hotels for example) because then most of the highlights are located upon walking distance from each other.
- A taxi from the airport to the city center costs about € 25.
- Currency: Euro (€).