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 three posts about Madrid. In the All You Need to Know About Madrid post I make a brief reconnaissance of the coolest neighborhoods in Madrid, the best times to visits the museums, understanding Madrid’s public transportation, as well as tips and tricks to experience the city like a local. For the foodies, I recommend checking out the Where & What to Eat Madrid post. This one is 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 touristy thing to do here is taking 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.
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 to 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 in the other hand, you also have the option of the restroom at Corte Inglés for free.
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, shown in the pic above.
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.
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. The park has the most amazing views and plenty of space for a picnic. Be mindful you’ll have to go up a few stairs to reach the park and temple, also it tends to be windy up here.
Walk back down to Plaza España, but this time walk in front of it, towards Gran Vía. This side of the plaza has a large fountain representing the Birth of Water and other large sculptures. Definitely, more impressive with lights at night. If you’re lucky enough to be in Madrid during Pride Fest, this is area hosts one of the largest stages.
8. GRAN VÍA
Walk up to Gran Vía and check out the shops and theaters. I also 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 are 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 THE CENTER
This is the largest park closest to the city center. It has several entrances including one by the famous Puerta de Alcalá. The landmarks inside the park are 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!
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 vice versa. Roundtrip is €6 as of summer of 2019.
Besides the cable car, another great way to overlook Madrid is Moncloa Tower, which is also near the center. It’s €3 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.
If you prefer the view without protecting glass, then I recommend going up to Círculo de Bellas Artes. This rooftop bar charges a €4 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 of 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, even 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 a 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 pickpocketers 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 the All You Need to Know About Madrid post I make a brief reconnaissance of the coolest neighborhoods in Madrid, the best times to visits the museums, understanding Madrid’s public transportation, as well as tips and tricks to experience the city like a local. For the foodies, I recommend checking out the Where & What to Eat Madrid post.
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. Follow me on Instagram joyzcortez for more travel pics & ideas. Have fun in beautiful Madrid and always BE PRESENT.