I’ve explored some coastal towns of Spain in the past, but it was time to give some attention to inland Spain. This journey to discover some towns towards the center of the country led me to none other than the metropolis capital city — Madrid.
One thing I have noticed about Spanish culture is that they certainly live life to the fullest. With things like Bull Fighting, eating dinner at 8pm, and flamenco, it’s no wonder why they need to take an afternoon siesta!
Visiting a large, bustling city always sparks something inside of me. A mission of sorts, the goal of which is to see how these big cities stand out. I ask myself “What about this city makes it unique?” I look for the places and aspects that really make the city shine in their own way and decide for myself whether what I’ve heard or read is true. The city of Madrid doesn’t have an Eiffel Tower or Colosseum type structure that comes to mind when thinking of Paris and Rome, but it does have plenty of cloudless days and a lot to be discovered.
The architecture in Madrid pleasantly surprised me. In big cities, I look to find character among the large apartment buildings and this was easy-peasy in Madrid. There is always something beautiful to look at. Does anyone out there have the same obsession of looking at how each individual city does their street signs? Anyone??? Madrid’s are stunning. They are made of the most ornate tiles with various designs, surely worthy of buying a magnet of your favorite, despite the high probability of it being made in China. I was surprised to learn that Madrid is the greenest capital in all of Europe – meaning it has more parks and greenery than other European capitals.
Located right on the edge of the city, Retiro Park is very picturesque. We set out on a jog here one morning and it was totally worth it. The park is filled with lavish fountains, a man made lake, gardens of various plant and flower species, and even an art gallery. Off in one direction, there is another small lake and a beautiful Crystal Palace. We paused the run temporarily to check this out.
The symbol of Madrid is the Bear and the strawberry tree. You can find this statue in the hustle and bustle in the main square of Puerta del Sol. The Puerta del Sol was a navigational landmark for us as we crossed this square many, many times while exploring the city. We always knew were were almost back to our hotel when we reached it. It is essentially the main center of the city, as the roads branch out from the center square like the rays of the sun. Puerta del Sol = “The Sun Gate.” With that said, I highly recommend staying in this area of Madrid on your next visit!
Plaza Mayor is not far from Puerta Del Sol and is much more unique. I’m a huge fan of artwork incorporated into cities. There’s just something about catching a glimpse of uniqueness among the “ordinary.” The beautiful paintings on the side of the Municipal building are the perfect example of this. This Municipal building used to be a Bakery some number of years ago. Also located here in Plaza Mayor, if you are facing the paintings on the old Bakery, the La Torre del Oro bar is located here.
I highly suggest that you pop in to the La Torre del Oro bar just to grab a drink and take in all of the bull fighting memorabilia that is contained within this tiny establishment. The walls are plastered with photos from actual bull fights, and whether you are an animal activist or not, it is clear that the matador does not always win. The traditional Spanish culture holds bull fighting as an art form, not a cruelty. Like the Indians used all parts of the buffalo they killed, the Spaniards use all of the bull. You can have soup here in Spain that includes the tail of the bull. If that’s not something you want, definitely learn some translations for the local food.
PS – the Spaniards don’t actually order Sangria. But hey, it’s ok to be a tourist once in a while.
I personally find that strolling through a towns market is a fun experience because well lets face it – I love food and I love seeing the unexpected. Markets in Europe combine both of these elements. Like Barcelona and Florence, Madrid has a kick @$$ indoor market – Mercato San Miguel.
I had some delicious calamari from one vendor, a yummy piece of pistachio baklava type dessert from another, and we discovered some very strange fish for sale.
The Royal Palace is one of the most beautiful buildings in Madrid. This Palace is owned by the Royal Family of Madrid, but they do not actually live here. They live in a smaller dwelling elsewhere in Madrid. The Royal Palace is a tourist attraction in Madrid, housing collections of artwork, ceramics, clocks, ballrooms and everything else. Don’t forget to check your book bag here for the walk through. My husband and I were followed by what appeared to be workers talking to us in Spanish and we had no idea what they were saying until they used their hands to indicate “book bag” and we quickly realized what they were talking bout.
Las Ventas – The Bullring is located in the Salemanca District and was constructed to look much older than the building actually is. Tickets to the fights can be purchased online or via their ticket office. Like most venues, ticket prices vary here especially on whether or not your seat is in the sun or shade. Matadors are considered to be celebrities and make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. I did not ever attend a fight (nor will I), but learning about this cultural aspect is interesting to me.
While we didn’t venture here, museum lovers shouldn’t miss the Prado Museum.
Spain is known for tapas, but also for the thick hot chocolate. Chocolate lovers – do not miss. Stop by the 24 hour Chocolateria of San Ginés for a cup of deliciousness. Dip a churro in it to see what the fuss is about. Churros (and desserts in Europe in general) are not nearly as sweet as all of the sugar-filled dessert treats in the United States. Let me state that this does not mean “not as good.” In fact, I think that they are much more delicious and enjoyable because you taste so many flavors and textures other than straight sugar. Go experience for yourself and see what I mean. There really are no words to explain this.
As mentioned in my Barcelona writeup, let me remind you that the Spaniards eat dinner extremely late. Also, on any trip to Spain, you must be prepared to see the entire leg of the pig, (hoof and all) propped near your table in a restaurant as the servers slice the thin pieces of this cured country delicacy for you to enjoy. There is no better way to prove that you are Spanish than eating pork.
Other foods that we enjoyed while in Madrid were gambas al ajillo (shrimp scampi on a tapas list), lobster ravioli made with black squid ink, avocado pizza, and none other than the quintessential Spanish dish of paella. Paella should never be ordered anywhere other than the Valencia region of Spain, or at a restaurant that you know does it up right. A lot of high traffic tourist places in Barcelona in particular that sell it dish out some overpriced frozen form. Knowing that the Las Cuevas del Duque (which we easily took the Metro to from our hotel) in Madrid knew how to churn up some authentic paella, we ended up ordering the paella (minimum 2 people to share this) and we were not disappointed.
Additionally, at some point in your Madrid trip, I highly recommend taking a day trip to the nearby towns of Avila and Segovia.
What do you recommend doing and seeing while in Madrid?