Madrid is the capital of Spain and a city filled with art, culture and of course mouthwatering food. It’s also one of the best places to shop in the country and I love it. Each neighbourhood has its own special character and it is worth exploring a few of them.
We landed in Madrid at around 4.30 am so had to wait at the airport until 7 am before taking a taxi into the city to drop our bags at our accommodation. It poured with rain for most of the day creating a few challenges and stresses. We covered a lot of ground and did one of the routes on the red bus as well as visited the amazing Reina Sofía.
On this trip we decided to focus on staying in very central locations, smack in the middle of all the action. It’s fun to go out in the evening and not have to travel on public transport to get home late at night. Late nights are the order of the day in Spain. You often compromise on price or size in this instance, but you can find a few wins.
There are so many amazing museums in Madrid that it was hard to pick only two to visit. As fans of modern art, we narrowed it down to the Reina Sofía and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum.
The Reina Sofía has 20,000 artworks and is a must-visit in Madrid’s Art Triangle. It houses works by Spanish and foreign artists, including Picasso’s ‘Guernica.’ Just spectacular!
The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum housed in an early-19th-century palace displays Baron Hans-Heinrich’s private collection of 775 paintings.
These include Rembrandt, Degas, Manet, Cezanne, Derain, Van Gogh, Rothko, Klee, Picasso, Hopper, Dali, Lichtenstein, Bacon and De Koonig.
It offers a comprehensive journey through Western art history, and its temporary exhibitions are highly acclaimed. Sadly, some sections were closed when we were there including the 4th floor which has views over the city.
El Retiro Park, officially named Parque del Buen Retiro, has gained prominence as Madrid’s most famous park since its public opening in 1868. It is vast and simply wonderful to visit.
I think it’s probably the nicest inner-city park I’ve ever been to, and you can walk for miles. This was a highlight for me despite very sore feet from walking 15k – 20k steps a day. I loved the Crystal Palace.
Buy a sandwich and a few pastries and have a picnic.
Top Attractions in El Retiro Park:
- Estanque (Lake): A large artificial lake where visitors can rent rowboats to explore or take a larger boat ride. Located near the Puerta de Alcalá entrance.
- Monument to King Alfonso XII: An impressive monument on the lake’s edge, inaugurated in 1922. Often a gathering place for musicians on Sundays.
- Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace) was built in 1887 near a small artificial lake, this palace hosts contemporary exhibitions and was originally used as a greenhouse.
- Palacio de Velázquez (Velázquez Palace): An adjacent art gallery featuring temporary exhibitions, and it’s free to visit, making it a must-see for art enthusiasts.
- Paseo de la Argentina (Statue Promenade): A broad promenade adorned with statues dedicated to Spain’s monarchs, originally commissioned by Ferdinand VI to adorn the Royal Palace.
Top tip. For a small price, extend the Red Bus trip to two days and use it as a mode of transportation. The red bus is always a great way to see a new city in a short space of time.
We didn’t use any public transport other than 2 days of red bus and walking.
For trips to the station and from the airport we took taxis. They are found everywhere and reasonable. The trip from the airport is a flat rate of 30 euros and it’s the best way to get into the city.
What to eat in Madrid
There is only so much you can eat in three days in a city the size of Madrid, but after much research, we found a few amazing experiences & dishes I can highly recommend.
Joselitos is famous for Iberian ham. Regarded by many as the best jamón in the world and carefully sourced from pigs raised on a diet of home-grown acorns and expertly cured. I can highly recommend doing a tasting from 3 different years. They have a great wine list & their focaccia with burrata and jamón is pure heaven.
Paella at Restaurant St James is exceptional. They have 3 different restaurant locations in Madrid which are quite formal & traditional. We also ate simple dishes of anchovies and clams. You will find a lot of seafood in the city and it’s worth seeking out.
Restaurant Samm comes highly recommended as a place for authentic Valencian-style dishes & seafood (paella), but we didn’t have the time to get there.
Restaurante Botin is the oldest restaurant in the world (1725) and they are famous for their suckling pig which is roasted in a wood-fired oven that has burned continuously for the last 300 years. It’s incredibly busy and touristy but so amazing to experience this. The dish of suckling pig and new potatoes cooked simply with a bit of salt was so delicious and memorable. Book in advance to secure your spot or be prepared to go late at night on shorter notice.
You will find excellent bakeries all over Madrid and I fell in love with La Mallorquina. They have a couple of locations in the city. Try their custard Napolitanas or Palmeritas and ask for a takeaway ‘para llevar’ where each is beautifully wrapped in pink paper and string.
C. de la Cava Baja is a cool street with tapas bars, restaurants, and colourful buildings and it’s known for its lively vibe. Madrid is a late-night city so things only get going after 8pm. We spent one night bar hopping and tapas eating and loved it.
Churros with chocolate is a famous Madrid pastry which is often eaten for breakfast. After balancing my glucose consumption over the last year I would never be able to do this and I somehow only tried it in Barcelona for the first time and was a little underwhelmed. It’s worth seeking out the best.
Fried Calamari in a roll is another traditional Madrid dish which you will find all over.
I found the Mercato San Miguel completely touristy and underwhelming. Try one of the lesser-known markets if you are into that.
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