Start your romantic weekend as you mean to go on, by going to watch the sun set at the Templo de Debod (the Temple of Debod), Madrid’s very own Egyptian temple and one of the few in the world outside Egypt. Spain was given the temple as a gift by Egypt in 1968 after it helped in saving precious archaeological sites when the construction of the Aswan High Dam caused serious flooding.
Wander through the cobbled streets of Madrid de los Austrias, the city’s oldest area, until you reach the wrought-iron covered market, Mercado San Miguel. This is incredibly popular with tourists, so it can be crowded, but it’s worth a visit to sample a few Spanish delicacies such as jamón ibérico (Iberian ham; the black-hoofed pigs are fed on acorns to give the meat its distinctive taste).
After dipping your toe into the world of tapas, dive right in by heading down to the nearby Cava Baja, Madrid’s famous ‘tapas street’, lined with a vast array of tapas bars. The wonderful Taberna Txakolina is the place to go for pintxos, the Basque version of tapas that consists of little morsels on top of bread. The food is laid out on the bar top, so simply choose which pintxos you would like and pay at the end. La Perejila is a little bar decorated in a hotchpotch of vintage chic; chandeliers hang from the ceiling and the walls are full of framed photographs of old characters. It offers a good range of rebanadas, topped with lots of mouthwateringly good ingredients. Taberna El Tempranillo and its floor-to-ceiling wine rack is proud to sell only Spanish wines and has a good selection by the glass, as well as some good raciones – sharing plates that are the next size up from tapas.
End your tapas crawl with a cocktail on Plaza de la Paja, one of Madrid’s most beautiful squares. Delic, with its polka-dot table cloths, is a good choice and also does amazing cakes, if you have room for dessert.
La Mallorquina, on Puerta del Sol, is one of Madrid’s most beloved bakeries, and is famous for its napolitanas – pastries filled with either chocolate or custard cream. Takeaway orders are lovingly wrapped in the bakery’s bright pink paper and tied with string. You’ll see lots of people walking around central Madrid with these vibrant little bundles at weekends.
Get your historical fix with a visit to the Plaza Mayor, Madrid’s central square. The restaurants surrounding the square are tourist traps, so don’t bother eating here, but stop for a coffee (café con leche) if you want do a bit of people-watching. Next, walk over to the Royal Palace, the biggest in Europe and the official residence of Spain’s King Felipe and Queen Letizia (it is, however, only used for state occasions; the royals opt to live in the more modest Zarzuela palace on the outskirts of Madrid). Next door are the beautifully landscaped Sabitini Gardens, with lovely views of the palace.
Spain’s major department store chain, El Corte Inglés, has a branch on Plaza del Callo. Head up to the top floor Gourmet Experience, which houses lots of food stalls and has an outdoor terrace. From here, you’ll get a good view of the iconic Schweppes sign on Gran Vía and be able to pick up lunch at the same time.
Madrid is home to the Golden Triangle of art galleries, the Prado, the Reina Sofia and the Thyssen-Bornemisza, which hold vast collections of Spanish and international art and where you can see masters such as Velazquez (the Prado) and Pablo Picasso (the Reina Sofia). Be aware that all three galleries can get very busy, so if you are looking for a more relaxed cultural experience, you could visit the Sorolla Museum, dedicated to the works of Spanish painter Joaquín Sorolla. The museum is in his former home and his workshop has been preserved, including the easel he painted at.
Fans of urban art could spend the afternoon wandering around Lavapiés, one of Madrid’s most diverse and exciting barrios when it comes to modern art. Some of the world’s most famous graffiti artists have used the neighbourhood’s walls as a canvas. La Tabacalera, a former tobacco factory, is a community-run gallery with free entry, that shows temporary modern-art exhibitions comprising painting, photography, sculpture and video art.
Grab another opportunity to watch a beautiful sunset by visiting the rooftop bar of the Círculo de Bellas Artes, a cultural centre whose rooftop has some of the best 360° views over Madrid.
Head to Barrio de Las Letras for dinner. This is Madrid’s literary quarter, where Miguel de Cervantes wrote his masterpiece Don Quixote. Look out for the literary quotations written on the streets as you wander through the barrio. Casa González is a neighbourhood favourite; this deli/restaurant offers a range of hot and cold tapas and a vast array of Spanish wines by the glass. Grab the window seat and enjoy watching the world go by outside from its huge front windows.
The nearby Calle de las Huertas is one of Madrid’s most popular night spots, with lots of restaurants and bars lining the sloping, cobbled street. Enjoy a few drinks in whichever little bar takes your fancy.
After a well-earned sleep-in, brunch is in order. This concept, which is very un-Spanish (most Spaniards are used to having a small breakfast) has been really taking off recently, and Carmencita Bar in Malasaña is one of the city’s favourite spots – maybe its €1 mimosas have something to do with it?
Do as the locals do and spend a lazy Sunday in Retiro Park with a picnic to round off your anniversary weekend. Rent a wooden rowing boat for a romantic circuit of the park’s pretty lake and wander around the park, taking in the sculptures, beautifully designed gardens and the Crystal Palace, a glass pavilion that today holds regular exhibitions.