There are certain experiences in Madrid that are must-dos and well worth ticking off in your 20s, from discovering the city’s rich artistic heritage to trying some of its most famous local dishes and partying the night away.
See Guernica and Las Meninas
Madrid is home to some world-class artworks and two of the most famous are housed just metres from each other. Pablo Picasso’s horrifying depiction of the bombing of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War is the showpiece of the Reina Sofía museum, while Las Meninas by Diego de Velázquez is the star attraction at the nearby Prado Museum. Both paintings are huge, dominating the rooms where they are shown and really warrant being seen in person.
Football fans – and even those with a passing interest – shouldn’t miss the opportunity to see Spanish soccer giants Real Madrid play in their home stadium, the Santiago Bernabéu. The feeling of the crowd and the awe of watching world-class players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale will stay with you forever.
From the largest royal palace in Europe to the oldest restaurant in the world, Madrid is brimming with interesting historical nuggets that you will learn about when exploring its top sights. Just wandering the streets of Madrid de los Austrias, the city’s oldest area, is like a living history lesson.
Madrid is home to some excellent tapas bars, from traditional old taverns where chucking your napkin on the floor is the order of the day to high-end fusion restaurants that are bringing a new, modern style to classic tapas dishes. If you’ve only ever been to a tapas restaurant abroad, discovering tapas in Spain is a whole different experience. Pack into tiny places with locals and elbow your way to the bar for the best – and most authentic – tapas experience.
The Parque de Buen Retiro, better known as Retiro Park, is the jewel in the crown of Madrid’s green spaces. It is home to a pretty boating lake, the stunning Palacio de Cristal, which holds regular exhibitions, and enough green space to allow locals to spread out and enjoy a leisurely weekend picnic under the trees. It is also a great place to jog or cycle if you want to get a bit more active.
Madrid is home to some great rooftop bars, the ideal spot for an evening drink when the temperatures rise during the summer – you might even catch an elusive breeze that high up. From hidden hostel rooftops to a picturesque bar above the city’s Gran Vía, you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to panoramic views across the rooftops of the city.
It might be packed, but arrive a little early (before midday to avoid the biggest crowds) and you might just find a hidden treasure at Madrid’s biggest flea market. From antiques to flamenco paraphernalia, records to leather bags, this market really does have everything. Ideal for a laid-back route on a Sunday morning.
Eat a calamari sandwich
While the restaurants lining Madrid’s Plaza Mayor are renowned tourist traps, there are places just steps away that do one of the city’s most famous street snacks – a calamari sandwich, a crusty baguette packed with deep fried, battered squid rings. The little side streets just off the plaza are full of bars offering the delicacy. La Campana is particularly good.
Explore the city’s food markets
Madrid is home to some wonderful markets, many of which have a great mixture of stalls; some selling fresh produce and others selling prepared food that you can eat there and then. While San Miguel Market is the city’s most famous – and touristy – market, it is always worth a look. For a more local feel, explore Antón Martín Market or San Fernando Market, both in the multicultural neighbourhood of Lavapiés.
Madrid is over 300km (186 miles) away from the nearest coastline, so you’ll need to find a way to cool down in summer that doesn’t involve heading to the beach. One great option is lazing by a rooftop pool. It might not be the best place to do lengths, but for a relaxing and glamorous spot above the city’s rooftops, it is hard to beat.
Madrileños are confirmed night owls and no visit is complete without enjoying Madrid’s legendary nightlife. From flamenco shows and cocktail bars to mega clubs, there are nightlife options to suit every taste. One thing is for sure, though: it will definitely be a late one.