The Saturday City: Madrid

Madrid Spain StreetsLast year, I went to Madrid during my summer European tour. Unfortunately, my visit coincided with a bad cold and I spent most of my time bed ridden. My week in Madrid – that my week I was supposed to be spent exploring one of the greatest cities in Europe – was instead more like 5 days in bed and 2 days dragging my sick self around the city because I at least needed to see something.

Madrid is famous for its museums and architecture but what it is most well known for is the food and drink. Madrid is synonymous with delicious tapas, midnight dinners, and cafes filled until dawn. Nightlife in Madrid could better be considered dawnlife as you can find people out until the wee hours of the morning here. This is not a city for early sleepers. Madrid comes alive at night. It’s a frenetic, vibrant, and moving city.

Madrid Spain StreetsUnfortunately, I was only able to catch a glimpse of it. I only saw a scratch of the excitement that makes Madrid a city on everyone’s favorites list. Madrid and I will reunite again. I suspect it won’t be too long from now either. The city beckons me. There’s much about Madrid I’ve yet to see and experience. If you find yourself in Madrid without a cold and are looking for things to do, look no further than these:

    • Palacio Real: Also known as the Royal Palace, this is the official residence of the King of Spain but it is only used for state ceremonies. The palace is partially open to public, except when it is being used for official business and on Sundays it is also closed. The Palace is free on Wednesdays for E.U. citizens and guided tours in English are also available.
    • Stroll Plaza Mayor: By taking a stroll through Plaza Mayor you will be able to walk the streets of historical Madrid. The Plaza Mayor is Madrid’s main square, and it located in the middle of the city. These winding streets will take you past churches, tapas bars, and give you insight into Royal history and architecture. While walking this plaza, not to be missed, include Ayuntamiento, San Pedro, San Francisco el Grande, and Calle de Cuchilleros.

Madrid Spain Streets

  • Puerta del Sol: This is Madrid’s most famous and most central square, located just a short walk from the Plaza Mayor. Originally it was the site of one of the city’s gates, which faced the east and was adorned with an image of the sun, hence the square’s name. The square is actually almost semi-circular in shape and owes its current form to the major renovation work carried out between 1854 and 1860.
  • See Flamenco Dancers: Madrid has been listening to the best flamenco since the early 19th century and has seen the best artists triumph here. Flamenco can be seen in many bars and taverns in Madrid. Normally you would go for an evening meal to one of these places, and listen to the music afterwards.
  • See a Bullfight: Madrid’s main bullring is called La Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas del Espíritu Santo, or more simply, Las Ventas. The best time to see bullfights in Madrid is during the months of May and June. The world famous San Isidro bullfight festival takes place during these months and brings together the best fighters, bulls and aficionados. There are fights every day for 20 days, starting at 7 o’clock in the evening.
  • Visit the Prado Museum: The Prado Museum is Madrid’s top cultural sight, and one of the world’s greatest art galleries. It;s dazzling display of works by the great European masters such as Velázquez, Goya, Raphael, Rubens, and Bosch (among other major Italian and Flemish artists), is housed in an 18th-century building that opened as a museum in 1819.
  • National Archeology Museum: This well designed museum houses an incredible collection of archaeological finds from across the peninsula. It leaves the visitor with a sense of the chronology of civilization in Spain. There are also a few pieces from ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.
  • El Retiro Park: The main of Madrid, the perfect place to take a rest during a sunny day, or take part in the drum circles around the statue of Alphonso XII on summer evenings. There is a large boating lake where one can hire a rowing boat. There is a monument to the victims of the Madrid 3/11 terrorist bombings, the Forest of the Absent, and the Crystal Palace.


Madrid main square

Madrid has a lot to see and do and given the city’s inhabitants desire for long dinners and late nights be prepared to see these sights over the period of a few days. Don’t rush Madrid. Take it slowly. Savior it like you will the delicious tapas you’ll be trying here because the energy of Madrid will envelop you and you’ll soon be changing your rushed plans, slowing down, and staying longer.

  1. I was in Madrid in 2005, and am headed back there in about 2 weeks. The lifestyle there is amazing.
    Really looking forward to lounging around Spain for a month — and a big chunk of that will likely be in Madrid :)

  2. I love Madrid myself, but I’m not sure if this is the best place to watch flamenco. I guess if you’re not heading to Andalucia, this is the second best place to watch flamenco dancing?

  3. I started my RTW trip in Madrid in May! I fell in love with the city and ended staying there longer than I was originally planning. I’d also add the Reina Sofia museum to your list because that’s where you can see more modern, contemporary art—like Picasso’s Guernica which is well worth the visit.

    And you’re right, the food in Madrid is some of the best!

  4. Raine

    What a shame you were sick!

    That happened to me when I was in Normandy, France. I was so sick I could hardly move – but I still loved it there and plan to go back.

    I haven’t managed to venture into Spain yet, and Madrid sounds amazing. I would love to witness a bullfight and flamenco dancers!

  5. Palacio Real is fantastic. Spent quite a few hours there when we were in Madrid. Oh, there’s this small square between Palacio Real and Catedral de La Almudena. Chilling out by the square on the stairs of the Catedral listening to the buskers is simply heavenly.

  6. I’m from Madrid, and for me the very best is the Debod Temple and its park, specially at sunset. You can see the Egyptian temple (a real temple from th 2nd century b.c, offered to Spain in the sixties), and also the amazing views of the Royal Palace, the mountains, the Casa de Campo Forest…

  7. Russell Benavides

    I studied abroad in Madrid and also recently visited Madrid before moving to A Coruña. It is an amazing city.

    For a grea night of tapas, start off at the Mercado de San Miguel and then walk 5 minutes to the tapas bars in the La Latina neighborhood. Txacolina is a great choice.

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