I’ve been postponing this post since I have so much to say about the city I called home for two years. So I decided to make at least two posts of Madrid. This one being about the best things to see and places to visit, including a DIY Walking Tour that I would give my friends when they visited.
DIY Walking tour in the city center
1. Start at Puerta del Sol
This is the busiest and most centric area in Madrid. It is also where you can find Km 0, the point from which distances are measured in Spain.
The most tourist thing to do here is take a pic with the sculpture of the Madrileño bear. You’ll have to be patient since many tourists line up for this pic. I personally preferred the picture with Km 0, something that tends to go unnoticed.
2. Walk to Plaza Mayor
Take Calle Mayor towards Plaza Mayor and enter from any of the many of the passages leading to the Plaza. During the day, you’ll be able to appreciate the fresco-like painting covering the façades. It is also beautifully lit at night.
3. Mercado de San Miguel
I had my first vermouth in Spain and my life will never be the same. This has become my drink of choice, and although Spaniards drink it as an aperitif, I drink it at any time of the day. There is a wide selection of types of vermouth in Mercado de San Miguel, starting from sweet, dry then bitter. My personal favorite is the “Andalucía” because is a good blend between sweet and bitter. Enjoy your vermouth with any of the many delicious tapas that the Mercado has to offer. You will need the strength to continue your walking tour. Remember to save your receipt since they’ll ask for it before entering the restroom, otherwise it’s ¢50 which is not bad if you are in dire need of a clean restroom in the center, but then you also have Corte Inglés for free.
4. Sabitini Gardens & Royal Palace
The Sabitini Gardens are located behind the Royal Palace, which can be easily accessed without entering the palace. The best pics are from the stairs heading down towards the gardens.
5. Plaza España from behind
Walk out of the gardens and head towards Plaza España. There’s a monument of Don Quixote & Sancho Panza next to a pond on the back side of the Plaza. If it’s not too busy, you’ll be able to take pics with the monument without too many tourists around.
6. Parque del Oeste & Templo Debod
Enjoy the views from Parque del Oeste and, if you’re lucky, Templo Debod will have water. At sunset, the reflection of the temple can be appreciated along with the colorful sky. The temple was donated by Egypt and it’s a must see while in Madrid. The park hosts free concerts during the summer.
7. Plaza España from the front
Walk back down to Plaza España, but this time walk in front of it, towards Gran Vía. This side has a large fountain representing the Birth of Water and other large sculptures. Definitely, more impressive with lights at night.
8. Gran Vía
Walk up to Gran Vía and check out the shops and theaters. I consider this area to be more beautiful at night with all the big city lights. If you plan on doing some shopping, most shops close around 9 or 10pm. Primark is a must if you want cheap shopping, but you have to be patient because this store will be crowded with every tourist in Madrid. Luckily, there’s toilets, Wi-fi, chargers and couches for shoppers to take a break. A local tip is to go pay and use the fitting rooms on the floor before the last. This is the floor with men’s clothes and home accessories.
Places to visit outside of the center
This is biggest park closest to the city center and it has several entrances. It is famous for the Crystal Palace and a lovely man-made lake where you can rent boats. The Crystal Palace is free and has a rotating art exhibit. Keep in mind there might be a long line to enter in peak season. Next to the Crystal Palace there’s the Palacio de Velázquez, a free museum. You can spend the whole day exploring Retiro and never get bored. There’s an innumerable amount of cool looking fountains (including one of the devil with its demons), gardens that look like something out of Alice in Wonderland, even peacocks.
Casa de Campo
This is another huge green area but it might be a bit dry if you go in the summer. Casa de campo is mainly for sports like biking and running, but it also has a beautiful lake surrounded by lounge chairs and restaurants. Inside Casa de Campo you can find one of the entrances to the Cable Car (Teleferico). You can either take it one way from Casa de Campo to Argüelles (where Parque del Oeste is) or viceversa. Roundtrip is 6 EUR as of summer of 2019.
Moncloa Tower (Faro de Moncloa)
Besides the cable car, another great way to overlook Madrid is Moncloa Tower, which is also near the center. It’s 3 EUR to go up an elevator and once up, you’ll be in a well ventilated lobby with an amazing bird’s eye view of the city.
Circulo de Bellas Artes
If you prefer the view without protecting glass, then I recommend going up to Círculo de Bellas Artes. This rooftop bar charges a 4 EUR cover and tends to have a line but that sunset view over Gran Vía is totally worth it.
One of my favorite places in Madrid is a little further south from the center. Matadero is off Legazpi metro station on lines 3 (yellow) and 6 (gray). It’s an old brick slaughterhouse along the river that is now an art hub. It is free to visit and it hosts rotating local art exhibits (naves) along with some free or cheap movie showing in the beautiful theatre. There is also a cantina with a lovely patio that serves drinks and pizzas, as well as a larger cafeteria with plenty of outdoor and indoor seating, including a small theatre inside. Make sure to check out the calendar for the many free events, such as concerts, food festivals, farmer’s markets, etc. It is also located next to huge, new mall if you prefer to avoid the crowds in Gran Vía.
If you’re in Madrid on a Sunday make sure to check out this enormous flea market. It begins in Embajadores every Sunday from 8am – 3pm. You will find everything from antiques, handmade jewelry and clothes, the cheapest coats and shoes, the most affordable souvenirs made by local craftswomen and men, and anything else you can think of. Beware of pickpocketters since it gets very crowded. I found that the best times to go are either 9am or 1pm, so as to avoid the rush.
In my other post I will make a brief reconnaissance of the coolest neighborhoods in Madrid, best times to visits the museums, where and what to eat, understanding Madrid’s public transportation, as well as tips and tricks to experience the city like a local.
Enjoy your time in this magical and underrated city. If you ever become annoyed by the heat, cold or crowds, just stop to have a caña (small beer) and tapa anywhere. You’ll be surprised how affordable this metropolitan city is. Have fun in beautiful Madrid and always BE PRESENT.