Madrid is a large city and, when you only have a couple of days to explore, its huge expanse will no doubt leave both your mind and your feet racing. But rather than try to cram too much in, choosing small, bite-sized chunks of this vibrant capital will be more than enough for you to get a decent flavour.
Trying to decide where to go and what to do is a minefield but if you want to experience some of the most famous sights as well as trying some of the best tapas and wines, then follow MTM’s footsteps on How To Spend 48 Hours in Madrid…
Take a stroll around Puerto del Sol
Puerta del Sol is the most central point of Spain and one of Madrid’s most well-known plazas. It’s also the location of the most celebrated symbols of the capital city – a 20 ton statue of a bear eating fruits from a tree called El Oso y El Madroñ. According to legend, the original name of the city was “Ursaria” (“land of bears” in Latin) due to the high number of these animals that were found in the adjacent forests. The square also contains the famous clock whose bells mark the traditional eating of the Twelve Grapes and the beginning of a new year.
It’s buzzing with action from street performers, tourists and shoppers – and a great starting point to explore the rest of the city as its central location means it connects several other popular hotspots.
Wander the Gran Vía
If you’re in central Madrid, you won’t fail but to come across one of the city’s most famous streets – Gran Vía. Not only is it bursting with shops and boutiques, cinemas, restaurants, hotels and bars but is a hub of activity for tourists and city folk alike – over 13,000 people work along the street; and up to 55,000 vehicles pass through every day.
Enjoy the lively atmosphere and marvel at the belle epoque facades along this grand boulevard, as well as several notable buildings including French-designed Edificio Metrópolis built in 1905 and the 1920s Telefónica building , which was for years the highest building in the city.
Soak up the sun in Plaza Mayor
Only a few minutes walk from Puerto de Sol, Madrid’s grand central square may attract hundreds of tourists but there’s a reason why so many people enjoy flocking here. Grab a pew at one of several tables which are served by the cafes under the porticoes, and sip a cold beer while watching the vibrant street life pass by. Savour the grand architecture of ochre apartment buildings that surround the square and all 237 of their balconies. As well as thee Casa de la Panadería (Bakery House) and its intricate painted facades.
Plaza Mayor is steeped in history since 1577 and has seen everything from bull fights to public executions. While the statue of Philip III dating back to 1616 stands majestically in the centre. It’s now home to the city’s main tourist office, a Christmas market in December and several arches leading out onto the winding streets that you should get lost in.
Hang out at Mercado de San Miguel
You can’t visit Madrid and not go to one of the city’s oldest and most beautiful markets. We spent pretty much a whole afternoon inside Mercado de San Miguel’s glass walls that encase a huge selection of over-the-counter bars filled with a wonderful selection of tapas, treats and delicious wines.
Take a seat at one of several tables that are situated in and amongst the assortment of stalls and take your time wandering the different sections, wine glass in hand. Not only is it an assault on the senses, but the food is exquisite from jamon to sweet delights, sherry to cider and all of them kind on the pocket, too.
Feel majestic at the Palacio Real
The Palacio Real isn’t currently a residence of the Royal family, and only used for special ceremonies and state events, however, this sublime building built under King Felipe V in 1738 – who wanted a Palace that would surpass all other European counterparts – is well worth a visit just to walk around its majestic splendour.
Although we didn’t have time to go on the official tour which takes you through 50 of the Palace’s 2,800 rooms, just exploring the surrounding grounds including the Plaza de Oriente and the palace gardens is enjoyable enough.
Tapas crawl in La Latina
If you want to sample the best tapas in Madrid, then make some time for La Latina, one of the oldest barrios (districts) in the capital. Not only can you gorge on its medieval churches, elegant winding streets and large squares but you’ll be overwhelmed by the biggest concentration of tapas bars in the city.
Start from one end of Calle de la Cava Baja and just work your way up the street. It’s busy, popular and loud, but boy is it good fun. Best to wear loose-fitting clothes for this epic tapas crawl.
Get a drink at Plaza de Santa Ana
One of my favourite squares in Madrid, Plaza de Santa Ana is a calming open space situated in the heart of the city. Why is it so appealing? Overlooked by the famous Reina Victoria Hotel and its swanky Roof top bar (which by the way is well worth a cocktail or two), and the two statues of writers 17th-century writers Calderón de la Barca and Federíco García Lorca, it exudes a timeless elegance that isn’t so fraught as its neighbours Plaza Mayor and Puerto de Sol. Take a seat in one of the square’s several cafes and drink in the atmosphere from passers-by and the laughing children from the two play areas, before heading off to enjoy the popular nightlife of Huertas.
Party the night away in Malasaña and Chueca
Both barrios may be known for different things – Malasaña as the ‘cool’ neighbourhood which we were lucky enough to be staying in (see my Airbnb apartment review here), full of hipsters spilling out onto the street with lively clubs and drinking haunts, while Chueca to its west, is officially the city’s gay district, full of fantastic bars and restaurants filled with open-minded people who want to enjoy their city to the fullest and treat it and others with respect. Both areas which are side by side have a welcome, partying atmosphere. If the bars are a bit crowded just chill out on the street and grab a beer from the passing hawkers. It’s what everyone does…
Images: Matt Bramford and MTM
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