Unlike its sexy sibling, Barcelona, Madrid isn’t in the business of wooing tourists. It’s a place for friends to hang out and jet setters to propel their careers. Take your time to absorb the atmosphere and stop every now and then for beers and (free) tapas.
The capital’s historic square, Plaza Mayor, is a good starting point for your stroll. It’s prettier than Puerta de Sol, the buzzing central square that’s only a short walk away.
This is the Madrid you see in the postcards – cobbled streets, lazy cafes and elegant balconies. Have a coffee and then make your way west towards the Palaceo Real (Royal Palace), via a few shops in Sol. The palace is huge and is full of beautiful tapestries, furniture, paintings and frescos. It’s also free for EU passport holders on Wednesdays.
Outside you may catch a glimpse of the old city walls, dating all the way back to the ninth century, but impossible to miss is the Almudena Cathedral.
Madrid is bursting with excellent museums. The Prado, Thyssen and Reina Sofia are all worth exploring. They are flanked by Retiro Park, a great escape for frazzled city dwellers. This is a great place for a stroll, with street performers, a boating lake and plenty of hiding places for a snooze.
You’ll need to conserve your energy because Madrid really comes alive at night. The Malasaña area is a cool part of town with bars and clubs packed into narrow streets. Everyone spills out onto the pavements and buys beers from guys on street corners. Pace yourself because it’s always a late one.
A great place to line your stomach is Pizzeria Mastropiero. Run by an Argentinean family, this crowded eatery is the locals’ favourite thanks to the offer of free cake with every pizza. Genius.
Rather than the Londoner’s choice of chips or greasy kebab, many revellers here head to Café Commercial for deep fried churros dipped in gooey chocolate at the end of a big night out. This is the city’s oldest and most popular café, so you may have to queue for your late night sugar fix.
Hopefully your head won’t be too fuzzy for the El Rastro Sunday flea market. The stalls line up along some of Madrid’s oldest streets and there’s plenty of antiques, jewellery and other trinkets to browse. For lunch I recommend tostadas con gulas (baby eels on toast). Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.
Next time: Escape to the Sun…