Madrid Travel, Spain

Palacio de Comunicaciones, City Hall, Madrid, Spain

Palacio de Comunicaciones, City Hall, Madrid travel. Photo by Carlos Delgado.

Why Madrid travel

Not quite making it into Europe’s top five cities but Madrid has many grand, ornate buildings, some superb museums, and the mother of all late night party scenes – and not just for the young tourists. Madrileños of all ages just love to walk, talk, drink and smoke late into the night.

Myths blown: Traffic! No worse than most other big cities; Roadworks! Not when we were there; Street litter! An army of cleaning conquistadores slay every scrap on sight; Pickpockets! No worse than etc etc. . .

The city centre is small, well signposted, the natives are friendly – apart from some harassed bar/restaurant staff, the metro/tube is efficient and the tap water is drinkable – if you like the taste of swimming pools.

Downsides

– Madrid Travel is not a cheap option, though the credit crunch has introduced a reality check into prices.
– Big baroque buildings can get monotonous after a while, there isn’t much architectural variety around.
– Church overdose is particularly rampant.

Best season for Madrid travel

Best: April-June, September-November. Very best? June and September.
Worst: July-August, the holiday period and extremely hot, averaging highs of 30C-35C (86F-95F), though it’s usually a dry heat).
October – December are the wettest and coldest months, with averaging lows of zero to 4C (40F). May is also quite rainy.

Things to Do

The most important sights are clustered in the Centro (the old city) so walking that route is Madrid’s main attraction, from the Royal Palace at the west end to the incredible Post Office at the east.
On the way between them visitors will stumble upon many and varied plazas that will offer refreshments and sights.

Best plazas are: Mayor (great murals), del Sol, de Oriente, and de España.

Oddest great sights: the most magnificent Post Office ever (Plaza Cibeles), the strangest train station waiting room (Atocha’s tropical forest).

Madrid’s best green relief is Parque del Retiro.

And don’t forget to try some of the little tiled bars where Carmen awaits you, possibly.

Arts/Culture

Museums: Among many in in this city three art museums stand out – the Prado, Thyssen-Bornemisza and Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, all featuring paintings and all in the Golden Triangle of Art on Paseo del Prado.

For something different Museo de America has Latin American artefacts and Museo Nacional de Artes Decorativas has an interesting collection of interior goodies.

The tiny Museo Sorolla is charmingly set in Sorolla’s former home.

Classical Music: Auditorio Nacional.

Dance/Opera: Teatro Real, Teatro Albeniz, Teatro de la Zarzuela.

Theatre: Some good theatre, but naturally in Spanish – try Teatro de la Comedia, Teatro Maria Guerrero or Teatro Alfil if you’re up to it.

Short Trips

El Escorial, 50km NW (plenty of trains from Atocha station) is a stunning palace/monastery complex (April-Sept only). Toledo 70km south (good trains) is a gorgeous town with a fascinating medieval heart and a million tourists checking its beat, while Aranjuez 48km south is a pleasant town with a superb palace.

Festivals

Feb/March, Carnavale.
From about 10-20 May, but esp. 15 May, Fiesta de San Isidro. Lots of dancing in traditional clothing, concerts, stalls.
27 July-15 Aug, lively local fiestas in La Latina, Lavapies and Calle de Calatrava.

For some precise dates or more information see: European Festivals or Arts Festivals.

Nightlife

There’s plenty of action in the old city in plazas and bars, but for more exclusively Spanish nightlife target the areas that locals frequent: Huertas (ages 18-30), Malasaña(30s), Chueca (gay), Salamanca (older/posh), Bilbao and Alonso Martinez(varied).

Shopping

Classy: especially convenient are the pedestrianised streets running off the Plaza Puerta del Sol – Preciados and Carmen, and Gran Via. And if you don’t know where to find something, try El Corte Ingles which is everwhere and appears to stock everything.
Wacky: El Rastro Sunday market is large and prettily located, tho’ a little short of originality.
ps. don’t buy the cheap CDs you will see offered by hawkers everywhere. Many have flaws.

Food

Madrileños famously start early with coffee, brandy and tasteless churros (unless you get the chocolate coated variety), and dine late, tho restaurants are well used to serving aliens early.
In fact many central places shut around midnight.
Madrid meals tend to be bread/protein heavy so dieters and vegetarian tourists will have a struggle.
Naturally price differentials between tourist places and local eateries are huge, so budget travellers should avoid the big plaza restaurants.
The most typical Madrid dish is ‘El Cocido Madrileño’ (chicken soup with noodles, chickpeas, meat, ham, chorizo and vegetables).

Madrid Travel Accomodation

There are plenty of hotels – both good value and not so – in the city centre, so stay there and save on taxis/tube hassles, unless you’re in Madrid for the big museums and have a big wad. However, since Madrileños like to party very late – often until dawn – it’s best to get a room in a hotel/guest house/hostal that’s away from potentially noisy street scenes.