The brilliant thing about Madrid, aside from the friendly locals, beautiful food and lovely weather, is that it’s so easy to explore. Whether you’re visiting on your own, or – like I did – as part of a huge group of 14, this is one European city which makes seeing the sights and sampling the culture a walk in the park (literally). After spending a long weekend in the Spanish capital a few weeks ago, here are some of my tips for first time visitors…
1. Use the Metro
Easily the most convenient form of transport, Madrid’s Metro system is the best way to get into and around the city. With a designated airport line that will whizz you into the centre up until 2am at a cost of around three Euros, there’s no need to faff about with taxis. Once you’re there, it’s an easy city to walk around but if you’re planning on using the Metro a lot, you can buy a Tourist Travel Pass that covers the duration of your stay, which saves you having to queue for tickets every time.
2. Chill out in the park
Retiro Park, or “Park of the Pleasant Retreat,” does exactly what it says on the tin, and is perfect for an afternoon of relaxation in the city. Bustling with activity on the weekends, you can still get some downtime by hiring a rowing boat and gliding around the huge lake which dominates the centre, taking in the Palacio de Cristal, visiting the Rose Garden, or swotting up on Madrid’s military history at the Museo de Ejército, all contained within.
3. See the city
The Teleférico offers one of the best views of Madrid – from above. This cable car runs from the city centre to the park at Casa de Campo, giving you a bird’s eye view of landmarks such as the Royal Palace and the Egyptian Temple of Debod on your way up. You can either disembark for a wander around at the top, where there’s a park, a coffee shop and a photo opportunity, or head back down to see explore Madrid’s grandest buildings more closely. I recommend the latter.
4. Sample the nightlife
Madrid is well known for its lively nightlife. It’s worth noting that nightclubs don’t generally kick off until after 12am, and when they do, the party will last well into the morning. One of the most popular areas to sample the local night culture is Huertas, situated between Sol and The Prado museum, and Chueca, known as the gay district. You can also take a wander down the narrow streets around Tribunal, where there’s a nice selection of quirky coffee shops, bars and cocktails to be found.
5. Browse the market
El Rastro takes place every Sunday, and is believed to be Europe’s largest outdoor market. With every type of wares you can imagine on offer, you’ll need a good few hours to take it all in. The market happens in a busy residential network of narrow streets, the nearest Metro station being La Latina, and it’s a must-see for anyone who wants to sample the true atmosphere of Madrid at its best.
Jo H-C is a blogger and writer from London.