Barcelona might be one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe, but Madrid, Spain’s vibrant capital, combines grandness with a chilled out vibe that is hard to beat for those looking for a city break. From world-class museums to bustling tapas bars and Art Deco boulevards full of history, Madrid has a unique appeal and authentic charm that never ceases to amaze.
Discover the hippest neighborhoods and the finest exhibition spots and find out how to make your way from medieval squares to flamenco bars in the city where the sun (almost) always rises.
Madrid’s streets are jam-packed with tapas bars made for hopping around sampling small plates of food in as many places as possible during the course of an eve. Head to busy Barrio de las Letras for a wide array of colorful and mouth-watering bistros. The La Latina district and the San Miguel Market also offer superb plates for sharing for a taste of regional cuisine ranging from prawns and mussels to croquettes to mini-casseroles.
El Pimiento Verde has been a much-loved restaurant since opening their first establishment on Labasca Street in 1998. Today there’s five eateries across the city all offering Cantabrian cuisine in uniquely decorated spaces filled with greenery. Their speciality is tender and smooth artichoke flowers—the recipe may be secret but the delicacy of this dish is famous all over town. They also serve a Cantabrian Sea monkfish with black tripe bathed in a Bilbaine sweet sauce as well as cooked lobster paired with Murcian rice from Calasparra.
For great monkfish go to El Pimiento Verde and order the El Sapito, served with wild toad from the Cantabrian sea. Credit: El Pimiento Verde Citrus and greenery gives the interior an outdoorsy feel. Credit: El Pimiento Verde
For a slice of old Madrid, Lhardy has been serving traditional Spanish haute cuisine since 1839. Their signature dish, the cocido madrileño, is a stew of chickpeas, potatoes, cabbage and truffled pork. Then there’s the century-old recipe for Caneton Duck, which is roasted with orange, as well as more modern dishes set in an opulent setting boasting heavily draped red velvet curtains, dark wood wainscotting and an abundance of candelabras.
Time has stood still at Lhardy, a Madrid institution for almost 200 years. Credit: Lhardy
Madrid features three major museums for art lovers to explore: Prado, Thyssen-Bornemisza and Reina Sofia. Prado is the country’s main national art museum and is housed in an impressive Neoclassical building that displays classic works from Spanish artists from Velazquez to Francisco de Goya. Thyssen-Bornemisza showcases some of the finest pieces of western art from the 13th to the 20th Century with works by Rembrandt, Monet and Van Gogh. If contemporary art is more up your alley, don’t miss Reina Sofia, which opened its doors in 1990 and where you can admire paintings by Salvador Dalí as well as Picasso’s 1937 masterpiece, Guernica, which depicts the horrors of the Spanish Civil War.
It’s as if time has stood still in LCredit: Lhardy
Sun’s shining? Make your way to El Retiro Park, one of the largest public parks in Madrid that belonged to the Spanish monarchy until the 19th century. The UNESCO World Heritage Site boasts a Crystal Palace and a glass pavilion built in 1887 to host exotic plants. The park’s most popular spot is the large artificial lake where the navy used to host shows but where you can now rent boats (some wheelchair-friendly) to row in front of the scenic Baroque backdrop.
The Crystal Palace was originally built in 1887 as a greenhouse to showcase Philippine flora but is today owned by the Reina Sofía Museum. Credit: Shutterstock
Go from heaven to hell as you make your way to the world’s only statue dedicated to the archangel Lucifer that tops the park’s Fuente del Ángel Caído fountain. For more off-the-beaten track adventures, El Capricho Park offers opulent gardens and guided tours of an enormous underground bunker built in 1937.
The statue of the fallen angel can be found exactly 666 meters above sea level. Credit: Shutterstock
After a long day of exploring, head to Círculo de Bellas Artes, which has been around since 1880. Enjoy drinks with panoramic views from the rooftop bar or check out speakers, live performances and film retrospectives. To continue your evening, explore the hip Malasaña or Chueca neighborhoods for plenty of LBTQ+-friendly bars.
Located near the Plaza Mayor Square sits this trendy hostel that boasts epic sunset views from their spacious rooftop bar. With bright rooms, balconies, a fresh breakfast buffet and bicycle rentals all just a stone’s throw from the buzzing La Latina district, the Hat is an ideal location for a fun-filled Madrid stay.
Comfy beds will help you stay refreshed during your Madrid excursions.
Credit: The Hat Madrid/Facebook
Industrial chic meets a homey atmosphere at The Hat. Credit: The Hat Madrid/Booking
A one-minute walk from Gran Via, this luxe hostel is highly rated among solo travelers. It’s not hard to see why, with its mix of modern and classic room decor with industrial accents and two large hot tubs on a spectacular yellow-parasol rooftop terrace in an ideal location.
Classy and timeless elegance signifies the Generator rooms. Credit: Generator Madrid