An Insiders Guide to Madrid

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Visiting a foreign city for a short break can be daunting — and exploring all the local hotspots and hidden gems in 48 hours can be a challenge. We took a weekend trip to the Spanish capital to experience Madrid like a local

Madrid is a city of picturesque boulevards, grand palatial spaces and manicured public gardens, and with the third largest population in Europe you can guarantee there’s a lot to do and see. Arriving in the capital we were surprised by the sheer amount of heritage we encountered in the short journey from the airport to our hotel. Every building dripping in culture and elegance. An air of relaxed sophistication runs deep through the veins of the city with something new to discover at every corner; experiencing all of this is easier than you might think. Even with excellent and affordable transport links (€12 for a ten trip ticket), not once on our trip did we hop on the metro or one of the 170 bus routes the city has to offer.

The best way to soak in Madrid is on foot. The centre is surprisingly condensed and you’re never far away from the next gem. We stayed in the El Barrio de las Letras (Library Quarter) neighborhood in the center of Madrid, close to the Prado museum and the ‘Golden Triangle of art’, which was the perfect base to explore.

Live like a local

A suburban view from our hotel

A suburban view from our hotel

When visiting a new city there’s nothing better than throwing yourself into the lifestyle of the locals. Madrid has a pleasant mixed pace of day-to-day life; there is a relaxed bustle about it. Start your trip by getting into the thick of it – exploring the streets will lead you to the Plaza Mayor. Surrounded with classical architecture, local shops and cafés, this plaza has been host to multitudinous events, including bullfights, football matches and even public executions. It’s the perfect introduction to the city, and, a great place for a light lunch if you can get a table at one of the many popular local eateries of an evening. Another great place to start your day is the Puerta del Sol – Spanish for ‘Gate of the Sun’, this plaza marks the very centre of the city and is right in the middle of the busy shopping streets of Madrid and close to traditional cape makers Seseña. If you’re looking to mix shopping and culture, then you have to pay a visit. It’s a hidden gem of the city and Picasso was even buried in a cape made at Seseña.

Just around the corner lies the San Miguel gourmet market. It’s host to a plethora of stalls selling fresh local produce – and as you might imagine from Spain there’s a vast amount of seafood on offer. Even if you don’t make a quick pit stop here to refuel it’s still a must see.

Further down the Calle Mayor, the Plaza de la Villa, once home to the town hall and prison of Madrid in 1696, is probably the finest example of the vast diversity of architecture Madrid plays host to everything from 15th century renaissance through to 17th century barroco madrileñ.

For those who want to experience Madrid in all its palatial glory, look no further than the Palacio Real de Madrid. The official residence of the Spanish royal family is surrounded by beautiful gardens, and the Plaza de Ote which separates the palace and the opposing opera house is a great place to take a break and soak in the culture and weather! The Catedral de la Almudena also sits next to the palace, well known for its colourful chapels and Neo-Romanesque crypt housing a 16th century image of the Virgen de la Almudena.

The Royal Palace

The Royal Palace

If you’re anything like us, sometimes all that sightseeing can be tiring! Parque del Retiro, one of Madrid’s largest 19th century parks at 350 acres, is located just behind the Prado museum and is the perfect way to relax after a morning of intense sight seeing. There’s a beautiful boating lake where you can hire a small rowing boat and soak up the sun in front of the huge colonnade and statue of King Alfonzo XII. Other attractions include the rose garden housing the Fountain of the Falling Angel, the Palacio de Cristal and two museums.

Eat like a local

Iberico ham from restaurant Botin

Iberico ham from restaurant Botin

The heart and soul of the Spanish foodie scene is without a doubt tapas, and Madrid has everything to offer. You can’t walk 500 yards through the centre without passing a local restaurant serving up local, fresh bite-size delicacies. Traditional tapas are small servings of meat and bread usually shared among friends with a glass of sherry. In a group, the Spanish take it in turns to buy the sherry that comes with free tapas at each bar they visit. Trust us, this is a good way to start off the night.

For a truly local experience, try Los Gatos, a quirky little bar complete with ceiling murals and indoor streetlamps. Order a glass of sherry and you’ll be readily supplied with a variety of salty moorish tapas to feast on.

Golfo de Bizkaia located on the Plaza de Angel is a modern friendly tapas bar with over 80 varieties of seasonal tapas dishes, just load up your plate with anything from the bar and enjoy. When it comes to settling the bill keep hold of the cocktail sticks and the bar staff will count them up and you can be on your way. All the dishes range between €1-€4.

A relaxed night out wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the oldest restaurant in the world – Botin, founded in 1725, it’s a benchmark of traditional cuisine in Madrid. Drenched in heritage and a real family success story; ask any of the super friendly staff to tell you stories about the restaurant and its’ customers and you won’t be disappointed, and Botin is a hotspot for celebrities when they visit the city.

Play like a local

'The Barrel' at Pinkleton & Wine

‘The Barrel’ at Pinkleton & Wine

It wouldn’t be a true getaway without time to experience the nightlife that Madrid has to offer. After you’ve started on a tapas tour of the local bars, you’ll be ready to jump head first into exploring the winding streets at twilight. Head back to the San Miguel gourmet market and visit Pinkleton & Wine. If you’re in a group, you can reserve ‘the barrel’ to ensure you have a space to relax and enjoy a nice glass of wine with friends. A good idea if you’re going later in the evening as the market can get very busy.

Finally before you head back to your hotel to recover, you need to experience a true Spanish flamenco show. ‘Flamenco Uncovered’ from insidersmadrid.com offers the best way to experience flamenco how it should be, with an insiders look into Spain’s best known art-form from dancers and artists that perform regularly. You’re sure to leave feeling suitably immersed in flamenco culture.

The Style Travel Guide

Norwegian Airlines offer low costs flights from Birmingham Airport to Madrid every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. Flights start from £29.90 and they even have free Wi-Fi onboard their aircrafts. Here’s to never missing the chance to share a holiday selfie with your friends! Book your tickets in advance at norwegian.co.uk

Radisson Blue Prado, Madrid is superbly located for a weekend exploring the city. Its clean, minimal design sets a high standard in luxury boutique city hotels. Complete with indoor pool, spa and gym make sure you take some down time to relax to get the most of your stay. Prices in June start from £104 for a standard room. Visit radissonblue.com/pradohotel-madrid

IMG_8806Norwegian Airlines offer low costs flights from Birmingham Airport to Madrid every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. Flights start from £29.90 and they even have free Wi-Fi onboard their aircrafts. Here’s to never missing the chance to share a holiday selfie with your friends! Book your tickets in advance at norwegian.co.uk

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