There's plenty of life in the Spanish capital for those who want to experience something a little different from their trip to Madrid.
If you haven’t yet been to the Spanish capital, then there's not really a bad time to travel there. However, the summer months can be incredibly hot, and a warm spring day in the Retiro can’t be beaten.
Aerlingus and Ryanair both operate daily direct flights to Madrid. On arrival you can get the Metro in to the city centre, or if you have a lot of bags then opt for a taxi, which should cost in excess of €30.
Where to stay
Madrid is packed with hotels, B&Bs and self-catering apartments for pretty much any budget. If you’re at the upper end of the spectrum, then the InterContinental (Paseo de la Castellana, 49, Metro: Gregorio Marañón) caters to the business customer, which means the staff are friendly, accommodating and will make sure that your every need is met. Rates start at about €165 per night.
If you’re on a smaller budget, then Apartamentos Las Letras are self-catering apartments that are perfectly located just off the bustling Plaza Santa Ana in the heart of Madrid. There’s a small kitchenette for cooking up some food if you get tired of eating out, but it is an old building and not every room has a modern bathroom, if you catch our drift. Rates start at about €56 per night. A scout around on Airbnb will also turn up some more quirky and comfortable accommodation for every budget, but stick to somewhere near Plaza Santa Ana, as it's a pretty great spot.
Food & drink
Madrid is home to some of the best tapas in town, and one dish that you can't leave off your menu is a few patatas bravas. Across the city there are no shortage of places offering their take on it, but the ones at Las Bravas (calle Espoz y Mina, 13, Metro: Puerta del Sol) are some the most famous ones in the country, while Vi Cool (C/ Huertas, 12, Metro: Anton Martin) is doing a modern twist on the classic recipe.
The aforementioned Plaza Santa Ana is surrounded on all sides by restaurants and bars that can offer a cool refreshing caña, some berenjena frita (fried aubergine) or take your pick of what’s on offer in the Cervecería Alemana, a favourite haunt of Ernest Hemingway.
Pic via Angel/Flickr
In the kitchen of Baco y Beto (C/ Pelayo, 24, 28004, Metro: Chueca), part-Spanish part-Cuban chef Beto puts his twist on some classic tapas recipes, and the staff are happy to recommend something from their menu, and a wine to match. It’s hard to go wrong though, because everything is superb, and while this place has been favourite haunt of those who know it locally and were hoping to keep it secret, it’s beginning to find itself included in plenty of travel guides (not least this one) because it’s so good.
Calle Cava Baja and calle Cava Alta in the La Latina (Metro: La Latina) area are home to some of the best tapas bars in the city, and a wander up and down either of the streets will be sure to fill your belly with a range of classic dishes, washed down with a healthy serving of wine. As a particular favourite, Casa Lucas is a little bit more expensive than its neighbouring establishments, but worth the money. They have some more creative takes on the usual fare, and if you get any of the tostas (big enough to split between two) they have on the board that evening, then you’ll understand why this place has been getting a lot of attention.
Pic via FaimOuiOui.com
To drink, get a ticket to the top of the Circulo de las Bellas Artes (Calle de Alcalá, 42, Metro: Banco de España) and enjoy a rooftop view of Madrid, or head to J&J Books to have some reading material (or a quiz of a Friday) to accompany your drink. For beer lovers, don’t miss out on a Cereza Sagra, which you can get here, or if cocktails are your thing, try bar Guau (Calle de las Huertas, 24, Metro: Anton Martin).
Things to do
Even if art is not normally your thing, the it would be a monumental waste to not enjoy some of the galleries and museums of the Spanish capital. The Prado museum houses some fantastic works by Goya or Hieronymus Bosch, but if you only have time for one piece then make it Picasso's Guernica at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia (Calle de Santa Isabel, 52, Metro: Atocha). Leaflets provided will explain the work that went in to creating the piece, and the tragic events that inspired it. It is a genuinely moving experience to stand there and soak it all in, particularly if you time your visit for a weekday evening and you can enjoy it undisturbed by the flocks of other tourists.
There’s no shortage of shopping for those who want to come home with a couple of new outfits. Puerta del Sol is home to several large branches of El Corte Inglés that sell everything from groceries to high fashion and everything in between, while Fnac just up the road at Callao has every DVD, book and video game you could want. The Mercado Fuencarral is a bit more quirky, and the streets around there are what you might affectionately term Madrid’s hipster district, for those looking to keep up with the latest trends. Gran Via is home to the brands you’d be familiar with from home, including a H&M housed inside an old cinema on the city’s main thoroughfare.
Catching a La Liga game in the Santiago Bernabéu (Avenida de Concha Espina, Metro: Santiago Bernabéu) is also thoroughly recommendable, and as this current side of superstars is one of the best in the world, it's also money well spent. If you want a more authentic football experience, then you can travel to see Rayo Vallecano, whose more modest stadium (Avenida de la Albufera, Metro: Portazgo) is home to some very passionate fans, which means it's hard not to enjoy your experience there.
If you want to relax and the weather is good, then head to the Retiro (Metro: Retiro) in the centre of the city, rent a boat and paddle your way out in to the lake, allowing the world to pass you by.
Main pic via Jose Maria Cuellar/Flickr