01 Jul 5 Highlights of Madrid
SPAIN; it isn’t a new country for me. I visited the Costa del Sol region many times for family holidays. In fact, I pretty much ruled out Spain as a holiday destination because I’d already been so many times.
It was only after watching The Trip to Spain (Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan. Watch now if you haven’t already) that Spain’s appeal was renewed for me. My enduring memories of holidays in Spain are of super friendly locals, a very sunburnt back, eating tonnes of “gofres” (sweet waffles) and dining al fresco, much later than usual, on bustling streets on temperate evenings.
With my previous visits mainly concentrated in tourist resort areas I was keen to see what Spain’s capital had to offer, and even do a bit of travelling beyond Madrid, into Valencia – but that’s a post for another day.
Madrid is a bustling cityscape to get lost in. Exploring its steep, cobble stone streets and alleys yields hidden bars and restaurants operating beneath the sparkle of capital-city tourist allure.
With a total of 5 days spent in the city, here are my 5 highlights:
San Miguel Market
I’ve mentioned previously that I don’t like planning out my trips too much. Something of the fun of exploring a new place gets taken away when I plan out everything. One of my favourite things to do when travelling is just walk about the city streets, get a feel for it and just stumble upon landmarks or events happening in the city.
I’ll admit though, some things are essential to see when travelling and some cursory research is necessary. In the case of Madrid, San Miguel Market is a must.
If there’s one thing I love when travelling it’s a market. I get excited at seeing a long line of stalls to browse at, particularly it it’s crafts, jewellery and clothes. Food markets are pretty exciting too however with so much to try I can find it difficult to make my mind up on what to get!
San Miguel Market is a glass fronted enclosure that houses a menagerie of culinary treats. With tapas items starting at 1 euro you can try a number of different foods at different stalls and get a pretty decent, affordable lunch. Spain is renowned for its seafood so I opted for the snow crab… with an aperol spritz of course. There are seating areas but you’ll be hard pressed to actually get a seat unless you’re lucky. However, mounted tables line the walls right around this marketplace so you won’t have to awkwardly stuff your face in the midst of a crowd.
Obviously Aperol was necessary.
Cycling in El Retiro Parque
One of my fondest holiday memories is renting out a bike and cycling around Central Park a few years back. Since then, I’ve been wanting to rent out a bike again whilst on holiday and Madrid finally marked the occasion.
Nestled in the centre of Madrid, El Retiro is a beautiful green space to retreat from the bustling city vibes. It houses a lake, gardens and many food and drink pit stops dotted around the 125 hectare expanse to cool down and get an ice cold cerveza. Or two.
We rented our bikes from Rent and Roll which is located on the Calle del Felippe IV, the street just opposite the Calle del Alfonso XII entrance to El Retiro Park (there are many entrances to the park). We had the bikes for almost three hours and it only cost 18 euros. You can also rent out roller skates and roller blades. I was game for this but unfortunately Scott wasn’t.
El Retiro is rather large and we were able to see the vast majority of it through cycling. I highly recommend it if you’re planning on seeing El Retiro. There are a number of landmarks within the park to see such as the Velazaquez Palace, Crystal Palace (below) and the Galapagos Fountain. The park houses some truly elegant pieces of architecture.
Afternoon Tapas at Taberna Malaspina
Many of Madrid’s restaurants advertise tapas and “racions.” The heightened social aspect of food and drink is something that I really love about Spanish culture. At almost every restaurant we visited in Madrid and Valencia I noticed groups of friends ordering lots of small portions of food and sharing them amongst each other.
We’d been recommended to visit Taberna Malaspina and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to partake in Spanish culture with a shared tapas lunch. And oh man, it was tasty. Another thing I love about Spanish cuisine? Its ability to make some simple bread and meat so damn delicious. We paired this mighty spread with a couple of cervezas of course.
Madrid is comprised of many steep cobblestoned streets and whenever I think back on my time spent there my first recollection is huffing and puffing on a upward incline. One evening these streets were transformed into mini markets as shop owners moved a selection of their wares out on to the streets and decorated their shop fronts.
We then found out from posters around the city that DeccorAccion, Madrid’s “street interior design party” was underway. Filling the city’s streets with markets, urban art and workshops, it was nice just walking through the streets in the evening and seeing all the shop and balcony displays. Only running from 7-10 June it felt like a pretty unique event to have been present in the city for.
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia and Museo del Prado
Are you really on holiday if you don’t end up in a museum trying to seem worldly and insightful whilst perusing strange artwork?
It’s a feature of almost every holiday I go on and whilst I don’t profess to being in any way knowledgeable about art I do enjoy perusing it. It’s nice to get a feel for the art styles and movements that took place in the country/city you’re visiting, however clueless you may be about it.
Museo Nactional Centro de Arte, Spain’s national museum of 20th century art, was just a ten minute walk from the apartment we were staying in. I’ve found that first thing after breakfast is the best time to do museum visits. Just before lunch I’m getting hungry and by the afternoon I’m getting tired – subjecting myself to an onslaught of obscure information on artwork is not what I need during those times.
We visited Museo Nactional Centro de Arte and Museo del Prado whilst in Madrid. Both museums had some pretty famous pieces from Picasso (Museo National Centro de Arte) and Hironymus Bosch (Prado) however I found myself drawn to the dark, bleak pieces of Spanish art from Franscisco Goya (Prado) in particular. His 19th century pieces reminded me of unsettling scenes from horror films and browsing them makes you recoil but also not quite able to tear your eyes away? I jotted down a few other artists’ names who I liked such as Robert Motherwell, Jose Guerrero and Jose Guitterez Solana.
Have you been to Madrid? What were your highlights?