Madrid, Spain’s capital is a sea of elegant boulevards, art, manicured parks and great food.
When I was recently there, I was pleasantly surprised to see how much it had changed since my last visit 35 years ago. It’s morphed into a sophisticated city giving Barcelona, Paris and London a run for their money.
With a trio of art museums; Museo del Prado, Museo Thyssen- Bornemisza and Centro de Arte Reina Sofia the city is famous for its rich art collection. While these museums dominate the art scene there’s so much more to the life and culture of this city. I could get lost for weeks, meandering and discovering, but if you have time restriction, here are a few of the highlights.
1. The food… oh the food was so good
Madrid’s food scene is as good as Paris or New York.
I’m a bit of a foodie (or a piglet) depending on which way you look at it, but the food was truly amazingly. We ate a several excellent restaurants, far exceeding our expectations.
I was so impressed by the food I’ve written a special blog, dedicated to Madrid’s fabulous food.
“A Madrid foodie trail” Click on this link. If you are heading to Madrid in the near future be sure to book at Ten Con Ten and OTTO.
2. Museo del Prado
It is essential to visit the Prado. It’s the equivalent of The Louvre in Paris and is one of the best and most popular museums in the world. They have over 7000 paintings of which only 1,500 are displayed at any one time.
The museum displays work by Spanish masters including Velazquez, El Greco and Goya. However, there are also wonderful Italian and Flemish collections with paintings by Raphael, Titian and Tintoretto, Bosch and Rubens.
3. Mercado de San Migel
Mercado de San Migel is a market housed in a gorgeous art nouveau building dating back to the early 1900’s. It’s actually more a gastronomic destination than a market. Tapas bars serve an array of irresistible food including patatas bravas, Gambas al ajillo, olives and much more. We had a guide for a couple of days (which I would highly recommend) and after a morning exploring the city found our way to Mercado.
We scouted for a table, eventually finding one while Santiago (our guide) selected a number of delicious tapas. He talked us through each delicacy as we slipped our red wine.
4. Royal Palace
The Royal palace was built-in the mid 1700’s for King Philip V. It’s on the site of Madrid’s Moorish Alcazar which burned down in 1734. It’s the largest royal palace in western Europe and is a blend of baroque and neo-classical styles.
Inside too are works by Goya, Caravaggio and Velazquez as well as stunning displays of tapestries, porcelain and silverware.
If you like history and want to get an understanding of the Spanish past this is a great place to visit.
5. Ayuntamiento de Madrid
The Ayuntamiento de Madrid houses the top administrative tier of the city, including the Mayor of Madrid and 57 elected members. It’s in the heart of the city.
The building is best seen at night when it is beautifully lit, with changing colours. As we drove home from dinner, I had the taxi driver circumnavigate the roundabout several times as I leant out the window trying to get the perfect shot.
6. Gran Via
If you want to get a sense of the city vibe, walk along the Gran Via. It’s Madrid’s entertainment, shopping and cultural centre. By day, shoppers dip in and out of the high-street shops. And at night it is the hub of entertainment with cinema, musicals and nightclubs.
7. Plaza Mayor
Another of Madrid’s highlights is The Plaza Mayor dating back to the 17th century. The renaissance square is framed with red-brick buildings and has nine entrances. Within the porticoes at the bottom of the buildings are several cafes where you can grab a coffee and watch the world go by.
The 400-year old bronze statue in the square is of King Philip III who was in power at the height of the Spanish empire.
8. Thyssen- Bornemisza Museo
Here you will find a private collection of western art from the 13th century to present day, built up by the Thyssen- Bornemisza family and housed in a neo-classical palace. Highlights include works by Durer, Titian, Degas and Kandinsky.
9. Reina Sofia Museo
Picasso’s great masterpiece, Guernica is a big draw card to this modern art museum, housed in an 18th century former hospital. A new section has been added, designed by Jean Nouvel. There are also other works by Salvador Dali, Joan Miro and Antoni Tapies. Only a fraction of the museum’s collection of 20,000 works as on display, although a third can be viewed on the museum’s website.
10. Retiro Park
Retiro Park were originally the gardens to the Royal Palace. Today they are Madrid’s main park. They are absolute beautiful and worthy of a stroll. There is a boating lake, cafes and exhibition venues. If you want to mingle with the locals head down there on a Sunday morning.
One last thing…
If you are looking for a good hotel recommendation stay at the Hotel Urban. It’s in a central location (close to the museums) and is industrial and funky. It has a wonderful pool and roof bar, great for an evening drink before heading out to dinner.