Having lived there, I have to say that Madrid is one of the most vibrant, lively and fun capital cities. You’ll find that as the Spanish capital, Madrid is the perfect city break, jam-packed with places to explore, history to soak up and local dishes to tempt you back! If you aren’t lucky enough to stay as long as I did, here’s an insider’s view to the best places to visit and some travelling tips, so you can make a beeline for the best of Madrid…
For getting round Madrid cheaply, hop on the Metro. Great news for young adults and students, in Spain you can get reduced rates for most tickets, including the Metro - as you’re still considered a concession up until 25! II bought a monthly Abono ticket because I was living there, but if you’re only staying a few days, I recommend buying a ten-trip ticket because it works out cheaper overall.
Must-see & do
Puerta del Sol, Gran Via & Callao
You can’t visit Spain without heading to Puerta del Sol and wandering around the main streets such as Gran Vía and the Callao area. Home to famous monuments such as the symbol of Madrid “el Oso y el madroño” (the bear and the strawberry tree), Sol plaza is worth visiting. Head down Gran Vía and browse some of Madrid’s oldest boutiques and high street stores as you go. At Callao, there’s a great cinema that shows both Spanish and international films (in English) too.
A beautiful square that comes into its own at night, Plaza Mayor has some great restaurants- they’re not cheap, but I found that if you went a bit earlier (in Spain it’s considered early to eat before 9pm!) it was easier to find a table and avoid raking up a hefty bar bill waiting! Madrid’s answer to Covent Garden, there’s lots of street entertainers, parades and people in crazy costumes.
This beautiful park, right in the centre of Madrid, is the perfect place to relax. You can lie back with a book, stroll around the gardens, go for a run or even take a boat trip on the lake for just a few euros.
For great shopping head back to Sol. I was always in Zara and Mango, in my view Spain’s best high street exports- and everything’s a fraction of the cost it is back home! There’s a Topshop, but be prepared to pay triple the price you would in the UK! Spain’s only remaining department store chain, El Corte Inglés, provides the “everything under one roof” shopping experience. I adopted the motto “if I can’t find it anywhere else, Corte Inglés will have it!”
Salamanca district is great for window shopping in the designer boutiques, or if you like a great bargain, I'd recommend El Rastro market for hippie finds and quirky one-offs. Centro Plenilunio is not far on the metro if you want a choice of bigger shops, outlet stores and a hypermarket.
Make like a madrileño and head for churros and chocolate. This is a staple snack/breakfast of deep fried donut sticks and thick hot chocolate for dunking. Madrid’s answer to a fry-up, churros are often the go-to hangover cure for Spanish students in the city centre in the early hours of the morning. Rich and indulgent, they’re perfect for sharing and I found the best were served up at Chocolatería San Ginés just round the corner from Sol.
Bocadillo de Tortilla
This was my go-to lunch option when I was living in the city. Essentially, it’s sliced tortilla sandwiched between two halves of a baguette. In theory, it shouldn’t work- but it does. Heavy on the carbs, this bread-potato-bread mix is a match made in heaven for anyone needing a quick bite to eat. Trust me, once you’ve tried it you’ll know what I mean.
I found the best tapas bars were dotted around the Latina district. The idea is you order a few plates at a time until you’re full. Don’t be alarmed if you order a main course in any Spanish restaurant and the meat arrives on its own without sauces or vegetables. It’s typical to serve all parts of the main course in separate stages, so you can really enjoy the flavour of the meat or fish.
It’s obvious why some of the best holidays in Spain are those spent in the capital, and I have to say it’s one of the best places I’ve ever been to. With great weather, culture, parks and plazas, Madrid’s well worth a trip for the best snapshot of Spain.