As well as being a major airport hub, Madrid has some pretty cool things to do. In no particular order, here are my top 12:
1 – Omelette at Pez Tortilla
The word ‘tortilla’ is used to describe different foods depending on where you’re from; in the Americas it refers to corn or wheat flatbreads whereas in Spain it describes something else entirely – something that we Brits know as ‘Spanish omelette’.
Traditionally a Spanish tortilla (omelette) is made with eggs, potatoes and occasionally onion but one particular bar in Madrid has decided to mix things up by offering a host of fantastic flavour combinations – welcome to Pez Tortilla! This place is the real deal when it comes to tortillas – a portion of freshly made tortilla served with bread is €3 (£2.6/US$3.6) and a small local beer just €1.5 (£1.3/US$1.8).
To give you an idea of the flavours here are some of the ingredients they use: brie; parmesan; blue cheese; prawns; octopus; tuna; aubergine; walnuts…delicious! Despite being popular for their tortillas, Pez also serve a range of different flavoured croquetas (yep, croquettes – fried breadcrumbed rolls) and American beers including IPAs, APAs and porters.
2 – Explore Malasaña
Madrid is famous for having one of the world’s largest congregations of cafes, bars and restaurants so distinguishing the good from the average is often a tricky task.
Head to the district of Malasaña though, and you’re in safe hands. This area is home to more of the authentic cafes and older bars. It’s perfect for wandering round, admiring the street art and stopping off for a drink and a tapa wherever takes your fancy.
3 – Calamari at Casa Rúa
Located at one of the entrances to Plaza Mayor, Casa Rúa is popular for serving up a Madrid speciality known as bocadillo de calamares – a calamari sandwich.
You can find them at cafes and bars across Madrid but don’t expect to pay more than €3 (£2.6/US$3.6); Casa Rúa is one such place that meets this price point. My advice would be to ask for takeaway and then enjoy your sandwich al fresco while soaking up the atmosphere, as well as the sun, in Plaza Mayor.
4 – Sunset at Templo de Debod
One of the most unique pieces of architecture in Madrid is the ancient Egyptian Temple of Debod. It was moved from Aswan, Egypt to Madrid in the 1970s and now sits among a hilltop park in the west of the city.
During the day you’ll be greeted with peaceful surroundings and uninterrupted views. At night however, you’ll struggle to find somewhere to sit as the Temple of Debod is one of Madrid’s most popular sunset spots…and rightly so! Watching the sunset from here was one of the best I’ve witnessed, and definitely not something to be missed while in Madrid!
5 – Euromania at 100 Montaditos
Cervecería 100 Montaditos is a chain of fast food outlets found across Spain. They specialise in montaditos which are essentially mini burgers/sandwichs made with baguette style rolls. Their menu is geared towards the tapas style of eating, with small portions and even smaller prices – great for filling your belly on a shoestring budget.
However, on Wednesdays and Sundays they go one step further with their Euromania menu where the majority of both drinks (including cañas – small beers) and food items are just €1 (£0.88/US$1.2) – incredible value for money!
6 – Get lost in El Rastro flea market
El Rastro is a historic open-air market held every Sunday in the La Latina district of Madrid. The flea market is understandably a tourist hotspot but it’s also the place to come if you’re shopping for unusual and quirky items.
To seek out the best bargains come earlier in the day – from 9am – and avoid the main avenue, instead wandering off down the side streets. For the busier, more atmospheric market experience, visit around midday and then head to one of La Latina’s famous tapas bars for an authentic Spanish lunch.
The main strip of market is held along Calle de la Ribera de Curtidores, between Plaza de Cascorro and Ronda de Toledo – just go to La Latina metro station, walk south east and follow the crowds!
7 – Snails at Cervecería Cruz
The most authentic Spanish tapas bars are often the ones with the best atmosphere- where there’s standing room only, waiters shout out orders and everywhere you look someone is drinking a glass of beer. But this crowded and noisy affair isn’t for everyone; if you’d prefer a sit down meal then I’d guess you’d better stick to one of Madrid’s many reputable restaurants.
However, if you’re keen to embrace the culture and get stuck in to some local tapas then look no further than Cervecería Cruz – the waiters speak no English (it’s even written on the wall!) but that only adds to the authenticity of the experience. My favourite dish was the caracoles – juicy, tender snails cooked in a delicious sauce.
Visit on a Sunday afternoon for the ultimate experience as crowds will be guaranteed due to the nearby El Rastro flea market!
Top Tip #2
Use a translation app on your smartphone to try to speak to the staff in Spanish. Read about my essential travel apps, including Google Translate, here.
8 – Retire to Parque de El Retiro
These vast gardens in the east of Madrid’s city centre are a popular place to relax, or retire, for the afternoon. They’re home to a boating lake, art museum, crystal palace and some prominent fountains and monuments.
For the energetic there’s a running track and bicycle hire while for the hungry there’s a cafeteria next to the boating lake – the food is nothing to shout about but a takeaway ice cream soon does the trick. Just outside the park’s northwest corner sits the arched Puerta de Alcalá in Plaza de la Independencia.
9 – Wander around Plaza Oriente
The area around Plaza Oriente is one of the most popular places in Madrid. It’s home to some wonderful architecture, beautiful gardens and an iconic opera house. Overall it’s also an area of great historic and religious importance.
Within walking distance of the Plaza are: Palacio Real de Madrid (Royal Palace); Real Armería (Royal Armoury); Catedral de la Almudena (Almudena Cathedral); Teatro Real (Royal Theatre) and Jardines de Sabatini (The Royal Palace gardens).
10 – Watch Real Madrid at Bernabéu
The most decorated club in European football – and arguably the best team in the world – is Real Madrid. Just as Barcelona have Messi (here are my top things to do in Barcelona), Real have…oh no, umm had…their own record-breaking talisman: Cristiano Ronaldo.
By beating Liverpool in the 2018 Champions League final they notched up an impressive 4 titles in the past 5 years and are thus regarded as being one of the greatest teams of all time. Watching Real play at their home stadium of the Santiago Bernabéu is therefore a must for any football fan; witnessing these players in action is the REAL deal!
Alternatively, if there’s no home match while you’re in Madrid, you could consider a stadium tour of the Santiago Bernabéu. Tickets cost €25 (£22/US$30) and include: panoramic views; visits to the tunnel, pitch & dressing rooms; a tour of the trophy room; an immersive ‘sensations’ room and much more.
11 – Admire El Jardines del Campo del Moro
Far less popular than El Retiro Park but with arguably better views are the Campo del Moro Gardens. From the main pedestrian entrance on Paseo de la Virgen del Puerto, a grassy avenue leads uphill past iconic fountains to the Royal Palace in the distance.
Set back among the trees are walkways and benches, peaceful apart from the sound of birdsong. The only amenities in this park are some public toilets; they’re located at the bottom of the stairs by the main entrance.
12 – Traverse El Puente de Segovia
The Segovia bridge is an iconic arched bridge that spans the otherwise rarely visited Manzanares River. Cycleways and footpaths run along the riverbanks in this relatively quiet part of town.
It’s not the best bridge in the world but it certainly does have great views back over the city of Madrid. Also in the distance, along Calle de Segovia, is El Viaducto de Bailén – another landmark bridge that sadly, until recent glass barriers were erected, was a hotspot for suicides.
Well, that’s a bit of a sad note to end on…how about a picture of a pigeon having a bath?