Madrid is enjoyed most from the ground, exploring your way through its narrow streets that always lead to some intriguing park, market, tapas bar or street performer. Each night we’d leave our hotel to begin our new adventure in Madrid and 9 out of 10 times we’d walk through Plaza Mayor. ~Emilio Estevez
I have just come back last week from Madrid, where I have gone to join Mauro for a long weekend as he was there for work. So I thought it would be a great opportunity to visit, since I have not been to Madrid before.
I absolutely loved Madrid – with it’s massive white buildings, green parks and squares with beautiful fountains and little back streets that take you away and make you forget that you are in a big city.
Madrid has a lot to offer and 4 days for me definitely was’t enough to see everything, but I’ve made sure we visited the main sights and, of course, tried some local food and wine. Mauro’s colleague was kind enough to put an itinerary for us and a list of the places we should definitely visit. I have changed it a bit and added a few other things to the list that I thought were worth seeing and this is what we followed during our two days. So here is my Madrid travel guide – hope you find it useful!
As I arrived on Thursday night and Mauro was working on Friday, I had a first day to myself. In the morning I had a walk around to familiarise myself where we are and what is in our neighborhood. I then met Mauro for lunch and had a walk in the park in the afternoon before heading back for siesta before dinner. All the sightseeing was planned for the weekend, as Mauro hasn’t really seen the city either, so we could do that together.
On Friday night for dinner we headed to a vibrant downtown district of Chueca. Lonely Planet describes it as “extravagantly gay, lively young, and always inclusive regardless of your sexual orientation.”
The place I looked up on the TripAdvisor was closed, so we just popped in to the first nearest place we saw, as by then we were close to starving. The restaurant was nice and was very popular for it’s Tortilla’s, which were it’s specialty. They are HUGE though! For one standard tortilla they use 1kg of potatoes and they don’t do any other sizes! So, as much as we wanted to try one, there was no way we could have finished it, so we opted for some ham croquetas and squid instead.
One of Mauro’s colleagues from Madrid office recommended that we go to the terrace La Azotea del Círculo, for the best view of the night Madrid, which is exactly what we did and headed there for some after dinner drinks.
The view was truly amazing, though you do have to queue to get in. There is a bar and the restaurant on the terrace, so we headed to the bar and got some drinks while enjoying the view. They also have these amazing white sofas to relax on, but unfortunately you have to pre book them. The atmosphere and the vibe was really nice, and even though the place itself is quite pricey (€27 for a cocktail and €16 for gin&tonic), totally worth it for the view.
In terms of our tour – we split it over two days – we decided to see the center and Parquo del Buen Retiro on Saturday and then on Sunday to head over to the other side and visit the Templo de Debod and the palace.
We were staying in a Petit Palace Santa Barbara, which was very central and in great location. We started our tour by walking down Calle Hortaleza all the way down to Puerta del Sol, passing Gran Via on the way.
Gran Via, which literally means ‘Great Way’ is an upscale shopping street located in the central Madrid. Today the street is known as a Spanish Broadway and is one of the streets with the most nightlife in Europe. It is also known as the street that never sleeps. Gran Via is one of the city’s most important shopping areas with a great number of hotels, large movie theaters and, of course, shopping centers.
After we passed Gran Via, plaza Puerta del Sol was 5 minutes away.
Plaza Puerta del Sol originally was one of the gates in the city that surrounded Madrid in the 15th century. The name of the gate came form the rising sun which decorated the entry, since the gate was oriented to the east.
Between the 17th and the 19th centuries, the area was an important meeting place. The main Post Office, the purpose of the visit for many couriers coming from abroad and other parts of Spain, was situated in the Plaza, visited buy those eager for the latest news.
The Post Office was built by the French architect Jacques Marquet between 1766 and 1768. The building was the headquarters of the Ministry of Interior and State Security during the Francisco Franco dictatorship. It is currently the seat of the Presidency of the Madrid Community.
There are a few famous buildings and landmarks on Puerta del Sol.
One of them is the famous clock of Puerta del Sol, which is well known for the New Years celebrations and where all the eyes are set minutes before the start of New Year.
On the south side of the plaza you can see a mounted statue of Charles III of Spain, whose nickname was ‘el rey alcalde’ (the ‘mayor-king’) due to his extensive public works program he set in motion.
On the eastern side of the square you can see the famous Tio Pepe lighted sign on top of the former Paris Hotel. Also on the east side stands The Bear and the Strawberry Tree statue – the heraldic symbol of Madrid.
And, of course, the Kilómetro cero serves as a symbolic center of Spain. It is a plaque on the ground just outside of the Post Office gates. As well as the basis for numbering in a Spanish road system, the plaza is also well known to host many rallies and protests, particularly against violence and war.
After leaving Puerta del Sol we headed down Calle Mayor towards the famous Plaza Mayor.
While walking on Calle Mayor we spotted a bakery with amazing cakes and desserts and also one of the Museo De Jamon (one of , as you can see them in quite a few places in Madrid).
We then turned left and passed under an arch that took us to the Plaza Mayor.
The Plaza Mayor was built during Philip III’s reign (1598-1621) and is a central plaza in the city of Madrid. It is just 10 minutes away from Puerta del Sol. Plaza Mayor is rectangular in shape and is surrounded by residential buildings with 237 balconies facing the Plaza. You can get to Plaza through any of the nine entrances.
The origins of Plaza Mayor goes back to 1577, however, the full reconstruction, as we see it today, wasn’t finished until 1790. In the middle of the square stands the bronze statue of Philip III.
By the perimeter of Plaza Mayor you can find old traditional shops, as well as cafes and restaurants.
As the time was coming close to lunch, we headed to San Miguel – which is just a minute away from Plaza Mayor and is the most famous food market in Madrid.
The Mercado de San Miguel is a covered food market originally built in 1916. The market is not a traditional grocery market, but a gourmet tapas market with over 30 different vendors selling a wide variety of freshly prepared tapas, hams, olives, sweets and cheeses accompanied with a glass of beer, wine, champagne or aperol spritz if desired.
We tried a selection of different tapas and sandwiches and everything was absolutely delicious. I had to honestly refrain myself from buying everything available on this market, as it all just looked sooooo goood!
On the back of the market (me being me always in the search of wine haha) I have discovered a little shop that sold….BLUE WINE! Yes, you have read it correctly – and yes, it was WINE and it was BLUE! Neither me nor Mauro have seen anything like this before, so we were naturally curious and tried some (and it matched the colour of my dress). On this occasion, unfortunately, it did look better that it tasted. If you like Chardonnay, you might as well like it, but it wasn’t our cup of tea, which was a shame. The blue colour of the wine comes form the skin of the grape that they keep separate and then add for colour.
Having had some amazing food and tried not so amazing wine, we headed to Prado museum and then to the Parquo del Buen Retiro. As we only had two days in Madrid, we decided to skip Prado, but rather go to Museo Nacional Reina Sofia and see ‘Guernica’ by Pablo Picasso instead. We did that on Sunday.
The Parquo del Buen Retiro is probably one of the most stunning parks I have seen. You can take a boat and spend a lazy afternoon on the bright blue lake in the middle of the park with Monument Alfonso XII at the back of the lake, which can be one of the best options in July in Madrid as it does get very hot.
After taking a walk and cooling down a bit in the shade of the park, we headed back to our hotel for siesta, passing on the way Palacio de Cibeles (currently the seat of city council), Puerta de Alcala (monument, regarded to be the first modern post-Roman triumphal arch built in Europe) and Biblioteca Nacional (the largest library in Spain and one of the largest in the world).
After resting a bit in the hotel and having a shower we got ready to go out for dinner and see some of the night Madrid.
To have dinner we went to Restaurante Morgana. I was quite skeptical at first as it is Spanish and Asian fusion and am not a big fan of fusion type places, but it had great reviews on Trip Advisor, so we decided to take a chance. We weren’t disappointed. The food was delicious and the portions were just right. We shared some croquetas de jamon for a starter followed by tortilla and galician octopus with asian twist. All in all we left very happy, so would definitely recommend for anyone visiting Madrid.
On Sunday we decided to take the bikes from the hotel and discover Madrid this way, rather than walking.
First we headed to Parque del Oeste (West Park) and to it’s viewing point from where opens up an amazing view of Madrid.
We then headed down to Templo de Debod. It is an ancient Egyptian Temple that was dismantled and then rebuild in Madrid. Unfortunately it was temporarily closed for restoration, so there was no water around it and no lighting at night.
We then took a ride to Palace Real Madrid, passing by Plaza de España on the way.
Plaza España is situated at the western end of the Gran Via. In the center of the square is the massive monument to Spanish novelist, poet and play writer Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. The monument overlooks bronze sculptures of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.
The Royal Madrid Palace is the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family in Madrid, but it is only used for state ceremonies. The Royal Family does not live in the palace, choosing more moderate Palacio de la Zarzuela on the outskirts of Madrid instead. The Palace is located in the western part of downtown Madrid and is easy to get to. It contains 3418 rooms and is 135,000 sq meters and is the largest royal palace in Europe by floor area.
It is truly magnificent.
After passing through Plaza de Oriente, we headed to Plaza de la Armeria to get the full view of the Palace.
Plaza de la Armeria, as it exists now, was laid-out in 1892. Opposite the palace stands massive Almudena Cathedral. Construction of the Cathedral was funded by King Alfonso XII to keep the remains of his wife Mercedes of Orléans. The cathedral was finished in 1992.
We then jumped on the bikes and rode down across the town to the Museo Nacional Reina Sofia to see the infamous ‘Guernica’.
Unfortunately, just over half way through, Mauro’s bike broke down, so we had to walk with our bikes haha. Luckily, we weren’t too far away from the museum.
On Sundays the entrance to the museum is free between 1.30 and 7pm, so expect the queue. It wasn’t very long and was moving quite fast, so we were in in around 20 minutes.
‘Guernica’ is one of the absolute must see art works in my opinion and I am super happy we managed to visit it. The museum itself is big, so you could easily end up spending a couple of hours there at the very least. As sadly, we just didn’t have enough time to see everything it has to offer, we headed out and sat down for a quick lunch and Tinto de Verano (traditional refreshing Spanish drink made from red wine and lemonade or soda) of course before making our way to the hotel to watch the Football World cup Final!
After quite a disappointing game (you might have guessed here that we were supporting Croatia), we went up to our room for a bit of rest and Love Island! Haha, totally forgot to mention – my lovely boyfriend got me hooked! (though the craze have passed as I came back to London and am quite happy to never watch it ever again). But yes, every night we came back to the hotel we HAD to watch at least an episode of Love Island. It is so addictive and stupid at the same time! Well, that phase is over and thanks God for that!
We went out for dinner to a place near us and I had a steak tartar which was really good.
Mauro has ordered a black pizza – which was something new to us, even considering that he is Italian and we eat quite a bit of pizza! The dough is made with addition of some charcoal and that is what gives the pizza very weird black colour. It tasted really good I must say. Not sure Mauro’s stomach quite agreed with that though :).
In conclusion, I really loved Madrid and would definitely like to go back to see the other parts of it and also go back to Prado. For me personally 4 days wasn’t quite enough, but it does depend on what are you into and what are you after. Madrid can cater for every choice.
Hope you found it useful and would love to hear your thoughts!