Here I am again on the air. This time my destination is Madrid, Spain, the capital of tapas, architecture and art. You may figured out how much I love to travel, but I am sure that you don’t know how much I dislike the process of travelling, including packing and the time I have to spend in a plane. However, this time the 5-hour direct flight from Larnaca to Madrid was comfortable and more pleasant, maybe because I was so eager to visit this metropolitan European City.
What to see in Madrid
Madrid is considered a metropolis of art and culture. The two most important museums of the city are Prado and Reina Sofia. At Prado you can enjoy among other masterpieces, the famous paintings of Goya and El Greco. Reina Sofia Museum is the home of Picasso’s Guernica and other contemporary art. Before you visit the museum to admire Guernica, make sure that you read about the history behind the enormous mural-sized painting, since this will help you understand better the symbolism of the painting.
Even though Guernica is undoubtedly the highlight of the museum, another work of Pablo Picasso the “Monument to the Spaniards Who Died for France” captured my attention with its clear colors and the simple lines of the cubic style. In the case that you would like to admire only some specific paintings and do not wish to devote a whole day exploring these huge museums, it is a good idea to take advantage of the free admission policy, usually taking place 2 hours before the museums close.
If you love architecture then Madrid should be in your travel bucket list. From the emblematic Metropolis and the famous Rolex building to the Royal Palace, the Cybele Palace, and the Temple of Debod, an original ancient Egyptian temple in the heart of Madrid, they are all magnificent and unique. They reflect the royal and aristocratic part of Spain reminding you that this country used to be the largest empire during the age of discovery.
If you are in Madrid on a Sunday you should definitely spend your morning at El Rastro, the most popular open air flea market in Madrid and one of the biggest in Europe. At El Rastro you will find lot of junks but also some beautiful items if you have the patience to search a bit on the numerous stalls. From vintage records and old photos of the city, to antiques, paintings, and household goods, are all there to give you a taste of the retro side of Madrid. Personally, I found few nice posters of old Madrid and some good quality copies of Guernica and other famous Spanish paintings.
You may continue your lazy Sunday afternoon with a visit at Buen Retiro Park, a huge and magnificent oasis at the edge of the city center. You can easily compare the Buen Retiro with the Central Park in New York. The astonishing park is filled with various floras, beautiful paths for walking, many sculptures and monuments, galleries and events. In the center of the park is located an artificial peaceful lake, where you can hire a small boat and enjoy the sunshine and the amazing scenery.
WHERE TO EAT IN MADRID
When it comes to food, Spain is famous for the Tapas which are small plates of hot or cold appetizers, or snacks. Unfortunately, I have to admit that I was not thrilled with the Spanish kitchen. From my experience, the majority of tapas are all about jamon (traditional Spanish ham) with a variation of fatty and salty ingredients. As a Mediterranean, I am used to eat large dishes, generous portions of fresh meat (not snack products), minimum sauces and fats, and always having a salad as a side dish. The prices of dishes in Madrid are above average and portions are small. If you go for lunch or dinner to an average restaurant, be prepared to pay no less than 25-30 Euros including a drink and dessert.
During my 5-day stay in Madrid, the best food that I had was at Estado Puro, a tapas bar close to Prado museum which serves traditional Spanish food with an innovative and European twist. The venue is modern but the majority of the customers are 40 plus. Don’t miss to try the Porcini mushroom croquettes.
In addition, you should visit Mercado de San Miguel a covered modern market close to Plaza Mayor, offering various tapas from different stalls which are spread in the market. The venue is modern, vibrant, and energetic. I enjoyed some good tapas there but overall I was not very impressed with the food which was a bit pricey too.
Between visits and while exploring the Puerta del Sol area you should make a stop for a traditional sweet treat at the most famous Chocolateria in Madrid, San Gines. This Chocolateria was established in 1894 and serves since then chocolate with churros, a traditional Spanish fried-dough pastry. Be prepared to wait patiently in line to taste this Spanish sweet since the place is very popular and crowded, almost all year round.
Local Spanish youth love to gather mostly on Friday and Saturday nights at deli shops. The main product served there is jamon in many variations and the decor is jamon legs hanging from the walls! In my opinion, these shops are nothing special but Spanish people love to gather there in small group of friends to talk loud, eat basic tapas, and drink cheap alcohol. It is an interesting local food habit to observe but I was not fan at all, hence I did not give it a try. However, if you want to feel like a local you may want to experience this once.
When to go & Where to stay in Madrid
Autumn is a good season to visit Madrid because on the one hand it is shortly after the end of high season and the excessive tourism and on the other hand the weather is still mild and allows you to enjoy the city on foot. If you are visiting Madrid for the first time I am sure that you would like to see as many attractions as possible. Hence, staying in the city center and more particularly in Sol area is a must since all the top sights are a short walking distance or a metro station away from center. Puerta del Sol is like the Times Square of Madrid and It is very busy and full of young and older group of people, who meet there to drink, talk and socialize.
If you plan to visit Madrid soon make sure that you book accommodation as early as possible since Madrid is very popular as a tourist destination and the best lodges are running out fast. As mentioned before Sol is the best area to stay if you want to be close to the majority of the tourist attractions. If you are on a budget you may want to consider staying at a hostal. Hostals are very popular in Madrid and are something between hostel and hotel. This kind of accommodation includes private bedroom and bathroom, but is restricted only to essential amenities, like relatively smaller rooms, no breakfast etc., and that’s why it is cheaper than an ordinary hotel room. For this type of accommodation I would recommend you to take a look at TOC Hostel & Suites, Hostal Madrid and The hat.
How to move around in Madrid
During the first day of your staying it is always a good idea to take the hop on hop off buses in order to take a good overview of the most important attractions and monument of the city. Then you can decide which sights you would like to revisit thoroughly the next days. In addition, hop on hop offs are also a good way to become more acquainted with the environment and the layout of the city. I would recommend you to buy the bus ticket online in order to receive a small discount and also avoid the inconvenience of paying on board.
Where to shop in Madrid
If you love shopping, Madrid can fulfill your fashion needs, since it offers numerous options for shopping from small local traditional shops to big modern stores with international brands. I usually don’t go for shopping when I travel but I couldn’t resist not visiting my favorite Spanish clothing brand, Massimo Dutti. The store was enormous and the variety great. I have to admit that I bought so many things that I had a problem with my luggage weight at the airport. However, from my experience, I can assure you that the variety of clothes at Massimo Dutti in Spain is the same with that in Cyprus and the prices are only 10-15% more expensive here. The most famous streets for shopping that you need to have in mind are Grand via, Calle de Preciados and Calle de Serrano.
Madrid is a vivid European capital with friendly people, astonishing architecture and great museums. Overall, it was a nice break from the daily routine. Now that I have a clue about the Spanish culture, I look forward to travelling again to Spain and experience this time the cosmopolitan capital of the Catalonia region, Barcelona, the city of Antoni Gaudi.
– A. Yemenaris
How to arrive:
International flights to Madrid-Barajas Adolfo Suárez Airport
Where to stay:
Sol area (city center).
What to see:
The Metropolis at Gran Via, Plaza Mayor, Royal Palace, Prado and Reina Sofia Museum, Buen Retiro Park.
Where to eat & drink:
What not to miss:
Spend a Sunday morning at El Rasto open air flea market.
Hire a boat at Buen Retiro Park and visit the Crystal Palace.
Take photos at Temple of Debod during sunset.
Where to go for shopping:
Grand via, Calle de Preciados and Calle de Serrano.