As the capital and largest city of Spain, Madrid is one of Europe’s must-see destinations. After London and Berlin, it is the third-largest city in the European Union and boasts a population of around 3.3 million. Steeped in culture and famed for its lively nightlife, a night or two in Madrid is sure to make for a spectacular weekend.
One of the main attractions in Madrid, whether you’re into art or not, is the Prado Museum. It is one third of the city’s Golden Triangle of Art, the other two museums being the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. The Prado houses an extensive and brilliant collection of European art, spanning the 12th century to the early 19th century. Walking around the expansive museum it comes as no surprise that it is one of the most visited sites in the world, as it truly is a feast for the eyes. Highlights include the vast amount of works by Velázquez; most notably Las Meninas, which is a remarkable example of Western art.
While a full tour around the Prado is sure to exhaust even the most ambitious tourist, Madrid has so much more to offer if your feet can bear it. A leisurely stroll through the picturesque Paseo del Prado nearby will provide plenty of photo ops, and soon you’ll arrive at Plaza del Cibeles. This square contains many impressive marble sculptures with the focal point being the fountain, which has become a major symbol for the city. The majestic goddess and her chariot, along with the lions that precede her, are wonderful to look at. A panoramic view of this site can be admired from Calle de Alcalá.
While Madrid is best explored on foot, the metro is an effective way to travel around the city. Despite the less than perfect economic state of Spain at the moment, their subway service remains in impeccable shape and is quite cheap. The longest you’ll have to wait is five minutes, but be sure to hop on as soon as it arrives or you may miss it. The Spanish subway trains wait for no one and never linger in a station for long.
If there’s one place you cannot afford to miss during a trip to Madrid, it’s La Plaza Mayor. The arcades framing this impressive square are packed with shops and stalls; perfect for loading up on gifts and souvenirs. If you’re travelling light, or short on cash, it’s still a treat to wander around admiring the shop windows and soaking in the atmosphere. Here you’ll find plenty of other tourists bustling about in the open air, or quenching their thirst in one of the nearby bars.
The area surrounding La Plaza Mayor must be experienced at night. Madrid is home to an energetic nightlife, as tourists and locals alike hit the many intimate bars and clubs around the city. Steer clear of the large intimidating establishments and opt instead to spend the night in the tiniest place you can find. Once there, it’s essential that you try one of the local beers. Mahou is a favourite, and at prices ranging from 70 cent to €3 for a Caña (about half a pint), how could you resist?
Another worthwhile attraction to visit is Madrid’s Royal Palace, which is now open to the public. While the beautiful exterior is reason enough to visit the grounds, arriving early is advised if you wish to view the interior. By lunchtime the queues to get in are ridiculously long, and you’ll have to decide if it’s worth the wait.
Even if you’re visiting Madrid on a tight budget, make sure you take the time to see what shopping districts such as Sol have to offer. The area around Puerta del Sol, between Gran Vía, Calle Preciados and Calle Arenal, forms a truly diverse shopping quarter lined with both large department stores and trendy fashion chains. While the prices aren’t always reasonable, a walk down one of Madrid’s main streets can provide you with a laid back afternoon of window-shopping.
Headquartered in Madrid, El Corte Inglés is the biggest department store group in Europe. It seems there’s a chain on almost every corner and it’s almost impossible to resist going in, even if your empty, dejected wallet screams out against it. Yes, the price tags may cause your heart to sink, but with such an extensive range of clothing, electronic and housing goods, it’s hard not to look.
If after a visit to El Corte Inglés you’re still determined to remind yourself that you’re an impoverished student, indulge your inner geek and crush your spirit with a trip to Fnac. Conveniently, there’s one located across the street from one of the many El Corte Inglés stores. Fnac houses such novelty items such as a large, cuddly Yoda toy and numerous bobble-heads of icons such as Elvis, Tupac and Two-Face (Two-Face being the most iconic of the three, of course). The entire store is a smorgasbord of entertainment and electronic goods, though the prices are far from reasonable.
Even after visiting Madrid’s famous museums and tourist sites, discovering its exciting nightlife and exploring its many shopping districts, there’s still so much more to see. The city is permeated by an undeniably chill vibe that is perfectly suited to welcoming tourists from all over the world. If there’s one piece of advice to impart: make sure to spend time immersing yourself in all Madrid has to offer.