Flamenco dancers, tapas bars, bullfights and soccer games are some of the exciting things to see in vibrant Madrid. Madrid is the place to see the famous landmarks in Spain. Here are our top 10 things to do in Madrid.
As you sit in one of the alfresco cafes in the centre of Plaza Mayor sipping on a café solo, a shot of strong black coffee, it is easy to envisage the bustling marketplace that once took place right in Madrid’s historical heart.
This lively town centre also played host to royal festivities, ritual burning of heretics and gory bullfights.
Today’s entertainment, however, is a touch milder with local artists painting pictures of bullfights, people queuing up for promotional sachets of food samples and a myriad of busy craft shops filled with visitors hunting for souvenirs.
In the centre of the Plaza, there is a statue of King Felipe III astride his mighty stallion.
If you happen to be in Madrid on a Sunday morning, you’ll find a bustling stamp and coin collectors’ market here.
Stroll through Plaza Mayor into the charming Hapsburg section of town, known to the locals as the Austrian area.
In 1516 Carlos V rose to power and the Hapsburg reign flourished for almost two hundred years in Spain.
In the 9th century, the Islamic Kingdom of Toledo built a defensive fort on the site where Palacio Real now stands. As European palaces go, Palacio Real holds its own.
The current palace was built in Italianate baroque style by the Bourbons in the 18th century and served as the royal residence until 1931.
It’s a massive monument to a bygone royal era; with over 2800 rooms although only 50 are open to visitors.
Highlights include the opulent red and gold Throne Room, and a Gala Dining room which seats thousands.
The Royal Armoury displays some intriguing sets of armour that belonged to the various rulers of Spain.
The rooms of Carlos II feature a vault fresco known as The Apotheosis of Trajan by Anton Raphael Mengs.
The Gasparini Room has a delicate stucco ceiling and walls of embroidered silk. Watch the changing-of-the-guard on the first Wednesday of every month.
3-Flamenco Dancing in Madrid
Soak in the atmosphere and passionate rhythms of the Flamenco at one Madrid’s many Tablao Flamencos.
Although the Flamenco originated in southern Spain, some of the best artists continue to flock to Madrid establishing this city as one of Spain’s popular Flamenco hotspots.
Flamenco consists of three artistic elements – the singing, the dancing and the guitar performance.
While there is a basic structure for the performers to follow, much of the Flamenco is an improvised form of expression centred on the singing.
Corral de la Moreria (tel: +91 365 8446) has a nightly event with foot-stomping performances that convey that passionate Spanish soul.
This well-known Flamenco establishment features some of the best Flamenco performers, as well as an impressive list of international dignitaries and famous patrons.
You never know which famous person you might spot at the table next to you; recent notaries include George Bush, Samuel Jackson, Hugh Grant and Demi Moore.
4-Museo Nacional del Prado
With over 8600 paintings, the Prado is one of Europe’s best art museums. The museum has an impressive array of Spanish paintings that – over the centuries – graced the walls of Spain’s royal palaces for the private viewing of the royal family.
Most of these royal paintings were never shown to the public and the court painters remained unknown until the Prado Museum collection was formed to display these national treasures.
There are 12th-century Romanesque murals, Renaissance works by El Greco and over 100 works by Goya, as well as paintings by Ribera, Murillo and Velazquez.
There are also works by French, Flemish, Dutch, German and Italian painters and sculptors.
While bullfighting is a controversial sport in Spain today, it remains an undeniable part of Spanish history.
The best time to see a bullfight in Madrid is during the Feria de San Isidro (Festival of San Isidro) that takes place from mid-May through to June.
During the festival, there are fights every evening.
The festival has a variety of different fights including bullfights with novillos (young bulls), rejones (bullfights on horseback) and Goyesca fights (in period costume).
At other times, regular bullfights occur from March to October, generally on Sunday evenings at the Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas.
Head to Santiago Bernabeu Stadium and join the crowds cheering for soccer star David Beckham and celebrity team Real Madrid. Real Madrid recently beat Manchester United for the title of the world’s richest football club. This 100 plus year-old team were the 2002 European Champions and have a massive fan base.
7-Atocha railway station
On 11 March 2004, terrorist bombs ripped through a number of trains heading into Atocha railway station killing 191 people.
On the second floor or the station, there is an area which is dedicated as a shrine to the victims of that bombing. Visitors can leave hand-silhouettes and messages on one of the graffiti remembrance tubes that hang from the ceiling.
The station itself is worth a look for its iron-and-glass architecture that houses a 2,000-square-meter botanical garden.
Moist air is pumped into the centre of the station so that giant ferns, palms and massive banana trees are able to thrive next to lily-filled ponds.
Pop into the café beneath the rainforest for a drink and a snack.
Stroll along the tree-lined streets of stylish Salamanca where you will find some of Madrid’s luxury shops.
There are heaps of jewellery stores, European designers like Charles Jourdan and Max Mara, as well as Spanish designer-shoe stores.
While the shopping is great, just watching the well-dressed Madrilenos strolling around the stores after lunch is just as interesting.
Shops close down for lunch at 2 pm and open up again around 4 pm.
Act like a local and nibble your way through the city’s tapas bars. You’ll fill up on a huge variety of delicious titbits like albondigas (meatballs), bacalao (cod), chorizo (spicy sausage), jamon (ham) and tortilla espanola (potato and onion omelette).
The practice of eating tapas originated in the 18th century and is a way of life for the people of Madrid.
There is a large concentration of tapas bars in the old part of town around the Villa y Corte area. Favourite local haunts can be found around La Latina, Lavapies, Chueca and Malasana.
One of the best ways to get around the city is to buy a two-day ticket for the hop-on-hop-off bus network.
These bright red open-top double-decker buses follow three routes (historical, modern and monument) that cover most of the city’s main sights. Tickets can be purchased at hotels, travel agents or on the bus.
Christina Pfeiffer was a guest of the Spanish Tourism Board.