Madrid rarely hits the Top 10 lists of major cities in Europe, one should visit on an extended weekend. And that’s a shame. We fell in love with the Spanish capital, which buzzes with local charm, historical grandeur, trendy atmosphere and is a mecca for food lovers. Here you get our travel tips to Madrid.
Done was a combination of cheap airline tickets and the weather forecast in major European cities that we had not visited before that made the difference when I booked a surprise trip to Madrid for Martin. The occasion was his 40th birthday in February.
And while it would probably be more obvious to visit the Spanish capital in the spring or late summer, where the weather is warmer and the trees green, a weekend trip to the big city seemed to be the perfect gift for the man, where happiness equals cheese, sausage and a mountain of bread.
My plan, therefore, was to celebrate the forty-year-old’s birth certificate by rolling him in tapas and marinating him in red wine. The mission was successful. Madrid delivered it all, and more. Martin was both full and tender – and it is no secret that marinating prolongs shelf life. Bonus!
MADRID VS. BARCELONA
So we traveled first and foremost to Madrid to board the Spanish cuisine and had no great expectations for experiences in the city. Because when you read about European cities that are obvious for an extended weekend trip, the Spanish capital is rarely mentioned. On the other hand, it seems as if all Danes have been to Barcelona.
Before leaving, I funny enough stumbled upon a travel article in which the writer wondered how it could be that more people traveled to Barcelona rather than Madrid? For Madrid was far preferable. The explanation was that many years ago Barcelona saw economic opportunities in branding itself as a tourist destination. The Madrils, on the other hand, did not think it necessary to resort to advertising. They thought it was obvious that Madrid was a cool city.
THE MADRILS KNOW
THAT THEIR CITY IS THE COOLEST!
Thus, Madrid has moved under the radar of mass tourism in Spain , and it is today one of the city’s advantages. Madrid is an authentic experience, this is where the Spaniards live and work. We fell head over heels for the city and it was largely due to the fact that it was really nice just to stroll around and experience the Spanish life in the narrow medieval streets. If you ask us, Madrid has been shamefully overlooked.
TRAVEL TIPS FOR MADRID
Madrid was generous with far more fine experiences than we had expected.
Before departure, we had filled the notebook with lots of travel tips – far more than we could even manage to make use of on an extended weekend. However, do not be fooled by them. Therefore, you will also find a few tips that we have received from others, but still benefit from. We hope you can enjoy all the glory and enjoy Madrid as much as we do.
BEST NEIGHBORHOOD TO STAY
Madrid has many beautiful neighborhoods (called ‘barrios’), so it is a bit to your liking, wallet and hotel dreams, where one prefers to stay.
We thought it was perfect to stay in the city center, Centro . The old town is like a patch of butter in the middle of the city and consists of a wealth of narrow pedestrian streets, wide boulevards, historic buildings and large squares. If you choose to stay in Centro – around the city’s main street Gran Via or the two large squares Plaza Mayor and Plaza de la Puerto del Sol – Madrid is truly at your feet. From here it takes approx. 5-10-15 minutes to walk around to most things.
If you go west from Centro, you will find the royal quarter with the large royal palace Palacio Real . To the east is the so-called literary district of Las Letras with the cozy square Plaza Santa Ana and hilly pedestrian street Calle de las Huertas , an area known for its many bars, small eateries and memorial plaques to some of Spain’s greatest writers. Going further east, you will find the city’s famous art museums and the large, popular Parque del Retiro park .
North of Centro are the two hip bohemian districts Malasaña and Chueca , which are compared to the Marais in Paris and SoHo in New York – and for us reminded of a Spanish version of Nørrebro and Vesterbro. To the south is the famous tapas street Calle de la Cava Baja and the Sunday flea market El Rastro between the two hip and multicultural neighborhoods La Latina and Lavapíes , both of which have the most beautiful village-like city charm.
HOTEL AND AIRBNB TIPS
We stayed at Hotel Praktik Metropol – a charming 3-star boutique hotel with a roof terrace that had a wonderful view over the city roofs. The hotel is conveniently located in Centro between the two Gran Via and Sol metro stations. From here we were within a maximum of 10-15 minutes walking distance to most things – good restaurants, famous attractions and cozy neighborhoods. We can highly recommend the hotel.
If you prefer to rent through Airbnb, we have been recommended two cozy penthouses where some of our friends have lived. One is located in the Malasaña district and is perfect for couples (see HERE ). The other is located on Gran Via and the pedestrian street Calle de Fuencarral and has room for a small family (see HERE ). Both are centrally located and in quiet neighborhoods.
FIND AROUND MADRID
Over 3.2 million people call Madrid their hometown, and seen from the air, the Spanish capital is six times larger than Barcelona. In short – Madrid is big, but certainly not unmanageable. The city center is compact and easy to get around on foot, and it has a well-functioning metro when your feet get tired of asphalt.
Although it is often an experience in itself to get lost, it is mostly cool to be able to find your way around, right? Our two best tips for Madrid are: 1.) Bring Politiken’s pocket-friendly guidebook ‘Maps and good about Madrid’ , which has detailed fold-out maps and tips for selected experiences and places to eat, and 2.) download the map of Madrid on the app ‘Maps.me’ – a free GPS that can be used offline, so you are free to use expensive data abroad. Then you can always find your way and in addition see what there is of shops, restaurants and sights nearby.
THE SPANISH CIRCADIAN RHYTHM
Do you want to experience Madrid as a local? A really good tip is to start the first night of the city’s legendary nightlife. Grab an extra bottle of wine at one of the many tapas restaurants or board the cocktail menu at one of the city’s hip bars.
Thus, you get to bed later, sleep a little longer and tune in automatically to the circadian rhythm of the madrils, which begins later than ours. That way, you also avoid wandering around the streets alone the next morning – desperate to find an open café serving breakfast and your first coffee fix. We have tested that experience for you, so you do not need it…
DINE WITH THE LOCALS
The circadian rhythm of the madrils begins a few hours later than ours. You can have breakfast from around noon. 10, breakfast from kl. 14.30 and dinner is eaten no earlier than kl. 21.30 – if you want to eat with the locals. If you feel like a festive evening in the city, the streets are only really busy at 2-3 o’clock. In addition, it is good to know that some stores traditionally hold siesta between 2pm and 5pm.
In addition, it is worth mentioning that city life really flourishes on the weekends. We arrived on Wednesday night and there was a noticeable difference in the amount of people the following weekdays and weekends. Then you have specific eateries or sights you would like to experience, so book a table well in advance and consider which day you would like to see what.