Madrid is quite an under-the-radar capital city compared to the likes of flashy Paris and Rome; it is even often eclipsed by its coastal cousin, Barcelona, when it comes to the weekend break crowd. But once you know where to explore, Madrid is a fascinating city, full of history, food and nightlife. We count down some of the best reasons to visit the Spanish capital in 2018.
Madrid is one of the best places in Europe to visit when it comes to art. The Prado, often named one of the top 10 art galleries in the world, holds the former royal collection, a treasure trove of classical paintings and sculpture. If modern art is more your thing, visit the Reina Sofía, home to many Spanish modern masters like Salvador Dalí and Joan Miró, as well as Pablo Picasso’s famous painting depicting the bombing of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War.
From the Sunday morning melee that is the Rastro flea market to the city’s covered food markets, Madrid has a great range of different mercados to explore. Visiting a food market is a great opportunity to sample some local delicacies without splurging too much money.
The biggest royal palace in Europe dominates the beautiful Plaza de Oriente square. You can visit for around €11, or just appreciate the grandeur by wandering around the tree-lined square and into the manicured Sabatini Gardens next to the palace.
Spaniards love a good festival and Madrileños are no exception. One of the biggest is the San Isidro fiesta in May, when locals celebrate Madrid’s patron saint with street parties, bullfights and traditional dress. Easter is a fascinating spectacle, when different church brotherhoods parade through the streets, and in the summer, street parties are the way to go, with three different fiestas centred around La Latina and Lavapiés.
Madrid is a must-visit for footie fans, whether you support the David, Atlético de Madrid, or the Goliath, Real Madrid. You can take tours of the home of Real Madrid, the Santiago Bernabéu and, if you’re lucky, catch a match there for an unforgettable atmosphere.
The whole concept of tapas is wonderful: stand-up bars where you squash in and order a small plate of food to accompany a drink. If you think you know tapas from Spanish restaurants at home, think again; dive into Madrid’s scene by visiting the neighbourhoods of La Latina or Lavapiés and get to know the real deal.
Whether it holds a bar, a pool, or both, a rooftop is a great place to catch a bit of coveted breeze during the scorching Madrid summer.
A 10-minute walk from the centre and you are by the River Manzanares. The area around the river was recently developed and is a lovely place to stroll, cycle or take little ones to play in the many play parks dotted along the route.
You don’t have to go far in Madrid to find some green space: Retiro Park, in the centre of the city, is a favourite spot for locals, whether to walk, do sport or have a picnic. Only slightly further out, the Casa de Campo is Madrid’s biggest park and home to the city’s zoo, a theme park and a cable car.
It’s worth the trip alone to try churros and chocolate the way they should be eaten. Very simple, light fried churros are dipped into an unctuous, thick hot chocolate that is almost more like a dessert than a drink. Enjoy!
Unlike some capital cities (we’re looking at you, Paris) Madrid is very reasonably priced when it comes to things such as food and drink. Plan a trip now, before prices start to rise as more tourists cotton on to the fact that Madrid is one of the best destinations in Europe.
Madrid is renowned for its nightlife, and bars stay open well into the small hours of the morning. The best thing about Madrid is that it caters to many different tastes; if you want to go clubbing, there are some great mega-clubs, but if you’d prefer to hit a vintage cocktail bar, there are plenty of those around, too.
While Madrid does have very hot summers (the temperature can rise to over 40°C) and dry, cold winters, one thing is almost certain: the sun will be shining. Whatever the temperature, Madrid is one of the sunniest cities in Europe, so even if it’s freezing, the blue sky will make you feel good and look great on all those photos you take.
Mad Cool Festival 2018
With acts on the bill like Pearl Jam, Queens of the Stone Age and Massive Attack, Mad Cool is one of the biggest summer festivals in Madrid. The popular festival takes place from July 12–14 2018 in a new location, the IFEMA, a huge space to the north of the city.
While many other cities have succumbed to big multinational chain stories, Madrid has managed to retain many family-run shops that have been making the same product for years. From an espadrille shop that has been making the famous shoes since 1840 to a modern leather shop where you can watch the products being made in the in-store workshop, you’ll be spoilt for choice, whether you’re looking for a gift for those at home, or a treat for yourself.
Find out how to do Madrid on a budget.