Unlike like a lot of other European capitals or, indeed, popular destinations for quick city breaks; Madrid’s sprawling Calle’s (look who picked up the lingo on their travels) and endless hidden gems offer a rich choice of variety that makes it hard to tick it all off in just a couple of days.
The bonus here, of course, is that there’s an excuse to revisit – and once you’ve been, unless you have a heart of stone, you’ll fall in love with the vibrant, welcoming city and be counting down the days until you return.
So what makes the city so appealing? Well, perhaps it’s the plazas that offer endless buzzing bars and tapas joints. Or maybe it’s the cultural options at your disposal? Then there are the parks, the pools, the shopp… well, you get the picture.
Once you’ve settled in to your hotel there is only one place to start your Madrid adventure – Puerto Sol. Madrid’s answer to Covent Garden; the huge square is home to a host of street performers and artists who set the tempo for the evening ahead. While the ‘Sol’ as the locals call it captures your appetite for fun and frolics, surrounding it are ample answers for when your real appetite kicks in. Your best option is to head in any direction and take a stroll down one of the quieter back streets for authentic, delicious, and mind-blowingly cheap, tapas. One place that comes highly recommended is the Museo de Jamon – and yes, the translation is what it sounds like… the Museum of Ham. But don’t be put off by the odd choice in name the savoury snacks in here are to die for and often all you’ll need to do is buy a beer (or whatever tipple you fancy) and before you know you’ll be plied with a spread of delectable cured meats and tapas dishes.
Continuing on with the plaza fun, and only a quick hop, skip and a jump away from Sol are both Plaza’s Santa Ana and Mayor. For food, look no further than Santa Ana, the square has tapas places dotted around the outside and they’re coupled with an energetic, friendly atmosphere that’ll put you right at ease. Santa Ana is regarded as the centre of tapas and the Chorizo a la Sidre (chorizo in cider) is a popular choice at most venues. The Mayor is slightly calmer, acting as a conduit for the more vibrant sections of the city but the architecture within the square is stunning and is well worth a visit during the daytime. If you do get peckish the Mercado San Miguel just off the square is a food-lovers sanctuary.
One thing Madrid isn’t short of is places for late-night revellers. Whether in the Malasaña district or in the equally hectic Chueca side of town there’s something for everyone. For a warm-up to events Chueca provides rooftop bars with stunning views of the city. Being the gay capital of the capital the vibe is always verging on carnival atmosphere and it’s the perfect spot to grab a tasty cocktail and plan the night’s festivities. If you do decide to stay out then just a short ride away on the impeccable metro line, is the wonderful world known as the Malasaña district. There are more pretty people here per capita than anywhere else in Spain (true fact), plus the endless bars, clubs and thumping tunes make for a blend of good nights and hazy memories. For a true experience of Madrid nightlife that bounds into the wee hours at weekends check out Kapital – and its seven floors of dancing!
When you’re all partied out Madrid has a plethora of destinations to chill out, soak up the sun and explore to your heart’s content. If you fancy a lazy day why not head to Piscina de Lago, the public pool, that boasts 50-metre and 33-metre pools. The one possible drawback of Madrid is the lack of sea-breeze to counteract the pleasant heat and humidity, so having a huge public pool in the centre of the city seems the only viable solution and it offers a welcome cooling tone to a day of relaxation. If lounging isn’t your thing then why not make a splash the only other way possible – shopping! Stroll down the impressive Gran Via, its beautiful architecture and host of dazzling shops make it the artery of Madrid’s bustling heart; offering everything that you could want. Take in some of the beautiful window displays, or the opulent Hotel de las Letras that hugs the skyline. Adorned with landmarks and impressionable features the Gran Via is a must-see strip of the city.
As if that wasn’t enough to squeeze in, even over a long weekend, I haven’t even touched upon the parks, the Royal Palace or the simply awe-inspiring Santiago Bernabeau – the home of Real Madrid. Sorry Atleti fans. For a day steeped in history and culture, and to get a sense of the very fabric that wove Madrid together, you need to visit the Palace and its gardens. The elegant fountains and verdant lands surround the stunning Palace, you’re free to roam the gardens and take in the scenery but save some of your cultural appetite for the Palace itself – one tip from me would be to take it in during the evening when it’s lit by floodlight and simply glorious. The rolling parks, too, offer an escape from the urban hustle and bustle that beats through the city streets. The Casa de Campo is a massive 1,700 hectares – which dwarves the likes of Central Park or Hyde Park by comparison – and with a romantic lake at its centre, it makes for the perfect spot to round off a weekend in this cornucopia of cool mixed with culture.