Pukaar Magazine’s Ellie Walter explores Spain’s cultural capital, Madrid.
Madrid – the dangerously fun Spanish capital – offers a wealth of cultural attractions and is saturated with rich history. Often overlooked for the coastal charms of Barcelona, the capital serves up a vibrant crossroads between its historical past and its cosmopolitan present.
Situated in the heart of Spain, it more than justifies its status as capital with its breath taking architecture, abundance of gastronomic delights and its infectious appetite for hedonism and the arts.
From the landscaped parks to the elegant boulevards and cobbled plazas, Madrid exudes an effortless sense of style making it the perfect city break. The Madrileños are ready to welcome you with open arms and you’ll feel inclined to join them in the sun-soaked streets clanking glasses of sangria.
The bustling Gran Vía is the street that never sleeps. By day it is a mecca for shopaholics and the glamorous decor of the multi-floor Zara and H&M will leave even the most dedicated shopper gasping with amazement.
Whilst the multitude of shops will no doubt leave your eyes feasting, be sure to look up once in a while as the street is a showcase of lavishly decorated early twentieth-century architecture. By night, it becomes home to the insatiable nightlife that Madrid is so well known for, so grab a cocktail and put on your dancing shoes!
If all this leaves you hungry for culture, then just a short walk away is the Prado Museum, the Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Reina Sofía which house some of the continent’s most famous artwork, spanning the periods of Spanish masters from Goya to Picasso. Madrid prides itself as not only being the capital of Spain, but also the country’s art capital and few streets in the world can offer the artistic pedigree of the Paseo del Prado.
When your feet start to give up on you, the Parque del Buen Retiro provides the perfect haven for a lazy afternoon in the sunshine. Known as the ‘lungs of Madrid,’ the sprawling park is a refuge of greenery littered with stunning sculpture and manicured lawns.
Retiro was originally built as a royal retreat for King Felipe IV and his family, and ever since its opening to the public in 1868, the Madrileños gather here to take strolls in the sunshine, take a rowboat out on the lake or read novels on the banks. Sit back with a café con leche and churros at one of the terrazas that surround the boating lake, and lazily watch the boaters drift peacefully by.
If food is your first love, then you have come to the right city – Madrid is a goldmine for gastronomy. A particular highlight is one of the capital’s oldest and most beautiful markets, Mercado de San Miguel. The iron-and-glass market – built in 1916 – is an inviting space strewn with tables and brimming with tapas bars offering paella, cheeses, cured meats and fresh fruit to name but a few.
If that is not enough to get your taste buds tingling, the main square of the city – Plaza Mayor – is located next door and is teeming with restaurants that offer an array of culinary delights.
All that eating and drinking can make you feel like a King or Queen, so take a walk through the cobbled streets to the lavish Palacio Real. In 1734, the alcázar (castle) burnt down and the then King Felipe V, wanting to be the envy of Europe, ordered a new grandiose palace to be built. Felipe died before the palace was completed, and therefore the palace has just the 2,800 rooms – one-quarter of the original plan! 50 of the palace rooms are open for tourists and be prepared to marvel at the never-ending chandelier display and the ornate clock collection.
As dusk falls, pay a visit to the rooftop terrace at Círculo de Bellas Artes. Here you can unwind and take in the views of the bustling city below whilst the sun fills the sky with rich pink and orange hues. If it is a clear day, you will be able to see the mountains in the distance. If you would prefer a livelier end to the day, the trendy Malasaña district offers an eclectic mix of restaurants and bars drawing in diverse crowds. Malasaña oozes quirky charm and if you enjoy barhopping and something different, then this is the spot for you.
No trip to Madrid would be complete without visiting the legendary Santiago Bernabéu – the home of Real Madrid. The stadium offers self-guided tours where you can go up into the stands for a panoramic view of the stadium, visit the presidential box, press room, dressing rooms, the players’ tunnel and even touch the hallowed turf. But beware, if you think Madrid is solely full of Real Madrid fans, then think again – there is a bitter rivalry between Los Blancos and Atlético Madrid. Atleti also offer a stadium tour, but better still, try and go along to a game at either stadium and join in with the olés and electric atmosphere!
Direct flights to Madrid are very regular from Birmingham Airport, only taking a couple of hours!
So grab your sunnies, sombrero and a large glass of sangria and make your way to this mesmerizing city.
By Ellie Walter