Madrid

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Why visit Madrid?

Padlocks attached to the fence of the statue of Felipe III, Plaza Mayor - Madrid, Spain (17)

Is there a city on earth that parties like Madrid? Throughout the night the streets hum with voices from the wine bar to the squat. Effortlessly cool and down-right grimy, Madrid is all things to all people whether you love shopping for Gucci or sharing a can with a down and outer. Not happy with merely being a great place to live the good life, is also one of the high culture capitals of the world, packed with some of the world’s most renowned art galleries. Throw in its passionate and friendly people and some of the finest tapas and restaurants in the land, the allure of the marvellous place is both spell-binding and varied.

Madrid rating

Rating: 1 – Bad Experience 5 – Good Experience

Madrid: the facts

Madrid has a city population of 3.3 million, an urban population of 6.5 million and is the capital and largest city of Spain. It is the 3rd largest city in the EU, after London and Berlin, and covers an area of 604 km2. With its high standard of living and economic output, Madrid is considered to be the major financial centre of southern Europe. It seats Spain’s national government and houses its royal family in numerous palaces in and around the city.

Madrid has always been a strategically important place due to its position in the heart of the peninsula and frequently changed hands between the Muslims and Christians during the Reconquista. It was not, however, until 1561, when King Philip II moved his court permanently to the city, that Madrid became the focal point of politics, culture and power in Spain. During the reign of Philip IV (1621 – 1649) a cultural golden age blossomed as masters such as Miguel de Cervantes, Diego Velázquez and Lope de Vega lived and worked in the city. King Charles III (1734 – 1759), who was hailed as “the best major of Madrid”, instigated the construction of many of the city’s iconic monuments and museums as well as raising the living quality of the inhabitants.

The Napoleonic annexation of Spain (1808) led to a violent uprising that was swiftly and brutally repressed by Murat, Napoleon’s trusted marshal. In paintings like “The Third of May 1808” Goya captures the mercilessness on those who choose to rebel on 2nd May.

View of Almudena Cathedral, taken from Park of the Meadow's Slope - Madrid, Spain (49)

In the 20th century Madrid was at the centre of the Spanish Civil War. The scene of crazed fighting when war broke out as citizens fought back against the military. The armed militias eventually forced the military rebels from the city and a 3 year siege (1936 – 1939) followed. The city was regularly bombed from the air and by artillery and eventually fell as the Republican war effort disintegrated.

The post-war boom saw an influx of rural economic migrants and of construction, with new barrios (neighbourhoods) springing up from the carnage. The south of the city became more industrialised as the new urban elite built new property to the north.

Nowadays Madrid is a major centre for international business and its financial centre is one of Europe’s largest. The service economy generates over 50% of the city’s wealth in which the international Barajas Airport plays a key role. Government-paid construction projects have also helped to rejuvenate the city, but the economic crisis has hit hard with record levels of unemployment.

Weather

Madrid has a Continental Mediterranean climate and so summers are glorious with temperatures often over 30oC but rarely above 40oC with very little rain. Strangely, Madrid has a reputation among Spaniards as being unbearably hot in summer, although the statistics don’t bear that out. However, due to its altitude (650m) winters can be chilly with temperatures often dipping below freezing.

madrid weather graph

source: weatheronline.co.uk

Weather in Madrid now

Madrid Now!

Madrileños are sport fanatics. Real Madrid, is one of the most prestigious football teams in the world and its stadium Santiago Bernabéu is a Mecca for supporters. Madrid is also home to three other teams in La Liga (Spain’s top league), two basketball teams, a handball team and a motorsports racing circuit. In 1972, 2012, and 2016 Madrid petitioned to host the Summer Olympics but was unsuccessful on each occasion. Recently Madrid has signalled its intend to bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics, time will tell if it is successful.

The cultural capital of Spain, Madrid is home to the spectacular ‘Golden Triangle of Art’. Centred around Paseo del Prado, it comprises three art galleries containing some of the most important artwork in the world. The Prado Museum, with works from Diego Velázquez and Francisco de Goya, the Reina Sofia Museum, where Picasso’s Guernica hangs, and the Thyssen Bornemisza Museum combine to form an unbelievable body of work.

Graffiti in La Latina district - Madrid, Spain (41)

The city is also a major stage for alternative performances and expressive art, playing host to numerous festivals including the Festival of Alternative Art and the Festival of the Alternative Scene. The week long party Fiesta de San Isidro takes place in May and is a chance for Madrileños to let their hair down and frequent the numerous bars, pubs, clubs and cafés of the city.

Las Ventas, the largest Plaza de Toros (bullring) in Spain, is seen by aficionados as the spiritual home and world centre of bullfighting and has a capacity of up to 25,000. The bullfighting season starts in March and ends in October and fights are held every day during San Isidro.

Statue of a Lady with the Almudena Cathedral in the background, taken in Jardines de la Vistillas - Madrid, Spain (48)

Orientation

Seen from above, two features are easily noticeable: the grand north-south artery Paseo de la Castellana which dissects the city and connects the old city to the newer barrios in the north and is surrounded by formulaic grid formations. In contrast, the old city, is an untangled mess of streets centred around Puerta del Sol, the heart of old Madrid. Madrid is divided into 21 barrios (neighbourhoods), each with their own individual flavour.

Here is a very rough guide for the uninitiated:

The historical barrios of Madrid are Los Asturias, Sol and Centro, they are buzzing with life and contain many of Madrid’s most important monuments.

To the south, the narrow streets and beautiful architecture of La Latina, is famed for its huge Sunday flee market – El Rastro. La Latina with its rough and ready multicultural neighbour Lavapiés form the basis of alternative Madrid and are packed with great bars and restaurants.

Bishop of Madrid's Chapel, taken on Square of the straw in La Latina district - Madrid, Spain (39)

To the east lies Paseo del Prado, home to Madrid’s best galleries and museums and the large city park El Retiro.

Salamanca / Serrano / Goya lie to the north of El Retiro and are home to Madrid’s wealthiest and thus the place to go designer-shopping.

Malasaña / Tribunal / Chueca are eclectic areas lying north of the historic centre. During the day home to some of the city’s best restaurants and shops, at night taken over by people filling the bars and squares, and drinking long into the night. Chueca is also the centre of Madrid’s gay community.

Madrid Free Walking Tour

Monument & Sights Guide

Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida
(Royal Chapel of St. Anthony of La Florida)

Monument Type: Church
Address: Glorieta de San Antonio de la Florida, s/n
Website: http://www.sanantoniodelaflorida.com/
Opening Times: Tues – Sun: 9.30 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Price: Free

Information: One of the lesser known treasures of Madrid, the Neoclassical Royal Chapel of St. Anthony of La Florida is best known for its ceiling and dome frescoes painted by the Spanish artist Goya. The frescos, which were completed over a six month period, portray miracles by Saint Anthony of Padua and every June 13, a lively pilgrimage is held in which young unwed women come to pray to Saint Anthony and to ask for a partner. The chapel is also the resting place of Goya.

Plaza de España
(Spain square)

What is it? Large square and popular tourist spot
Where is it? Located at the the western end of Gran Vía, just north of Palacio Real (Royal Palace)

Information: Located on the spot that the Napoleonic soldiers used to execute prisoners taken during the May 2nd Uprisings, Plaza de España is one of Madrid’s most well-known squares. Its most notable feature is perhaps the statue to Spanish novelist, poet and playwright Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. It was designed by architects Rafael Martínez Zapatero and Pedro Muguruza and sculptor Lorenzo Coullaut Valera in the 20th century and includes a stone sculpture of Cervantes, overlooking bronze sculptures of his two most famous creations Don Quixote and Sancho Panza

Palacio Real de Madrid
(Royal Palace of Madrid)

Monument Type: Palace
Address: Calle Bailén, s/n
Website: http://www.patrimonionacional.es/
Opening Times: Oct – Mar: 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Apr – Sep: 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Price: General Admission: 11€ Students, Pensioners: 6€: Oct – Mar: Mon – Thu: 4 p.m. – 6 p.m. Apr – Sep: Mon – Thu: 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.: Free

Royal Palace of Madrid - Madrid, Spain (60)

Information: The Royal Palace in Madrid is the official residence of the Spanish Royal family, although it is only used for state ceremonies, and is the largest palace in Europe by floor area. The current Baroque Palace which stands on the site today was constructed in the 18th century however it was built on the foundations of numerous seats of power tracing a lineage back to the Royal Alcazar of the early Castilian rulers. The palace contains a treasure chest of artworks including pieces by Goya, Caravaggio and Velázquez as well as numerous highlight important texts and maps.

Catedral de Santa María la Real de la Almudena
(Almudena Cathedral)

Monument Type: Cathedral
Address: Calle Bailén, 10
Website: http://www.catedraldelaalmudena.es/
Opening Times: Mon – Sun: 9 a.m. – 8.30 p.m.
Price: Donations of 1 €

The main façade of Almudena Cathedral, taken from Armoury square - Madrid, Spain (63)

Information: Construction only began on Madrid’s largest cathedral in 1879, and was originally Gothic revival in design. The interruption caused by the Spanish Civil War in 1936 saw the design change a little when construction resumed in the 1950s as a new baroque exterior was adapted to match the grey and white façade of the Palacio Real, which stands directly opposite. The Neo-Gothic interior is uniquely modern with chapels and statues given over to a vast range of styles. Construction was completed until 1993, when it was consecrated by Pope John Paul II.

Real Basílica de San Francisco el Grande
(San Francisco el Grande Basilica)

Monument Type: Basilica
Address: Plaza de San Francisco, s/n,
Website: www.madrid.es
Opening Times: Tue – Fri: 10 a.m. – 12.30 p.m. & 4 p.m. – 6 p.m. Sat: 10.30 a.m. – 12.30 a.m. & 4 p.m. – 6 p.m. Jul & Aug: Tue – Sun: 10.30 a.m. – 12.30 p.m. & 5 p.m. – 7 p.m.
Price: General Admission: 3 € Groups, Students, Pensioners: 2 €

The façade of The Royal Basilica of St. Francis the Great, taken on Calle de Bailen - Madrid, Spain (46)

Information: The San Francisco el Grade Basilica was designed in the Neoclassic style in 2nd half on the 18th century and once acted as the national pantheon and enshrined the remains of famous artists and politicians. The building itself has a sober, vertical façade with its principal feature being its massive 33m wide in diameter dome. In its interior hang a number of paintings by masters Zurbarán and Francisco Goya

Puerta del Sol
(Gate of the Sun)

What is it? One of the busiest and well-known squares of the city
Where is it? Located in the very heart of Madrid

Entrance to Puerta del Sol Metro, on Plaza de la Puerta del Sol - Madrid, Spain (4)

Information: Originally constructed as one of the gates in the city wall in the 15th century, today Puerta del Sol in the symbolic heart of Madrid. It was during the 17th – 19th centuries that the square first gained its notoriety as meeting place of the masses, as crowds used to mill around the House of the Post Office which today serves as the office of the President of Madrid. Other notable features include the mounted statue of Charles III of Spain, the famous Tío Pepe neon advert on the square’s eastern side and the statue of a bear and a madrone tree (madroño), the heraldic symbol of Madrid. Underneath the square lies the Puerta del Sol Metro hub served by lines 1, 2 & 3.

Plaza Mayor
(Main square)

What is it? Madrid’s most picturesque square
Where is it? Located in Madrid Old Town

La Casa de la Panadería, Plaza Mayor - Madrid, Spain (18)

Information: Plaza Mayor is Madrid’s best looking square and is located a few blocks away from Puerta del Sol. The origins of the square date back to 16th century but what we see today is the result of reconstruction in 1790 after a series of enormous fires. The square, or rectangle, to be more precise, is surrounded by residential buildings with 237 balconies facing the Plaza. There are 9 entrance-ways and over the years has seen an enormous array of events including bullfights, football matches, public executions and even “autos de fe”, heretical trials held during the Spanish Inquisition. Nowadays the square is lined with old and traditional shops, the tourist information office and many extremely expensive cafés.

Plaza de la Villa
(Town square)

What is it? Quaint small square with architecture of contrasting styles
Where is it? A short walk west of Plaza Mayor

Plaza de la Villa - Madrid, Spain (30)

Information: The largest building on the picturesque Plaza de la Villa is the 17th century, Casa de la Villa, the old medieval town hall. Also on the square is the Casa de Cisneros, a plasrtesque style resident and the even earlier Torre de los Lujanes, a 15th century Mudejar tower. At the centre of the square lies a statue to lvaro de Bazan, the Spanish Admiral who planned the failed Spanish Armada attack on England.

Plaza de Cibeles
(Cibeles square)

What is it? Neo-classical square that has become an iconic symbol of Madrid
Where is it? at the junction of Calle de Alcalá (east – west), Paseo de Recoletos ( north) and Paseo del Prado (south)

Palacio de Cibeles, taken on Plaza de Cibeles - Madrid, Spain (88)

Information: The busy roundabout of Plaza de Ciebles is dominated by four prominent buildings that are located in three different adjacent districts: Centro, Retiro and Salamanca . The baroque Palacio de Linares was built in 1873 by a rich banker but later fell into disrepair until in 1992 when it was completely renovated. The Buenavista Palace was constructed in 1777 for the Duchess of Alba and is surrounded by French style gardens. Today it is the headquarters of the Spanish Army. The Bank of Spain has been frequently modified since its construction in the latter half of the 19th century, and the most iconic building of them all the Palacio de Cibeles and the Cibeles fountain. The fountain, named after Cybele (or Ceres), the Roman goddess of fertility, depicts the goddess sitting on a chariot pulled by two lions. The Palace was once home to the Postal Service but today is Madrid City Hall.

Parque del Retiro
(Buen Retiro Park)

What is it? One of the largest park’s of Madrid
Where is it? To the east of the old city, behind el Prado Museum

Glass window in the Palacio de Cristal, inside El Parque del Retiro - Madrid, Spain (98)

Information: For an escape from it all Buen Retiro Park fits the bill. The park which originally belonged to the Spanish Monarchy until the late 19th century, when it became a public park, covers an area of1.4 km2 and is located on the edge of the city centre. Notable features include the Estanque del Retiro, a large artificial pond and the monument to King Alfonso XII close-by. The park also contaisn a number of art galleries in the Crystal Palace, Palacio de Velázquez, and Casa de Vacas buildings (with the Crystal Palace being the most extraordinary)

Golden Triangle of Art

Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza
(Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum)

Monument Type: Art Gallery
Address: Paseo del Prado, 8
Website: http://www.museothyssen.org/en/thyssen/home
Opening Times: Tue – Sun: 10 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Price: General Admission: 9 € Students, Pensioners: 6 € Mon: 12 p.m. – 4 p.m. Free

Information: Forming old point of Madrid’s Golden Triangle of Art is the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, which began life in the 1920s as the private collection of Heinrich, Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza de Kászon and has evolved into a collection of over 1,600 paintings. In many ways the Thyssen-Bornemisza fills the historical gaps in its counterparts’ collections: containing as it does the Italian primitives and works from the English, Dutch and German schools lacking in the Prado and the Impressionists, Expressionists, and European and American paintings from the second half of the 20th century missing in the Reina Sofia. The art here spans eight centuries of European paintings giving highlights rather than in-depth displays.

Museo Nacional del Prado
(Prado Museum)

Monument Type: Art Gallery
Address: Paseo del Prado, s/n
Website: https://www.museodelprado.es/en/
Opening Times: Mon – Sat: 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. Sun: 10 a.m. – 7 p.m.
Price: General Admission: 14 € G.A + Guide: 23 € Pensioners: 7 € Students, Children: Free: Mon – Sat: 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. & Sun: 5 p.m. – 7 p.m.: Free

The Cardinal by Raphael, taken at the Museo Nacional del Prado - Madrid, Spain (101)

Information: The Prado Museum is Spain’s national art gallery and widely regarding as one the finest collections of European art anywhere in the world. Based on the former Spanish Royal Collection, and unquestionably the best single collection of Spanish art there are a large number of works by Francisco de Goya, the artist most extensively represented in the collection, and Diego Velázquez. Other masters represented are Titian, Peter Paul Rubens, El Greco and Hieronymus Bosch but that is to name but a few as there are around 7,600 paintings, 1,000 sculptures, 4,800 prints and 8,200 drawings. The building itself was designed in 1785 on the ordrs of Charless III in order to house the Natura History Caibnet but it wasn’t long before it became the centre of Spanish art. Visit this museum!

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía
(Queen Sofía Museum)

Monument Type: Art Gallery
Address: Calle de Santa Isabel, 52
Website: http://www.museoreinasofia.es/en
Opening Times: Tue: closed: Mon, Wed,Thu, Fri & Sat: 10 a.m. – 9 p.m. Sun: 10 a.m. – 2.30 p.m. (whole museum) 2.30 – 7 p.m. (selected galleries only)
Price: General Admission: 8 € Mon, Wed,Thu, Fri & Sat: 7 p.m. – 9 p.m.: Free

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía - Madrid, Spain (79)

Information: Inaugurated on September 10, 1992 in a building that was once an 18th century hospital, the Reina Sofia forms the southern-most tip of the ‘golden triangle of art’ and its collection is mainly dedicated to Spanish Art. Its undoubted highlights are its collections of Spain’s two greatest 20th century masters, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí. To be found here is also the incomparable ‘Guernica’ perhaps Picasso’s most famous work.

17 things to do for free in Madrid

The best things in life are free as the old adage goes and we here at HitchHikers Handbook live and die by it. Here are our 17 things to do for free in Madrid and still leaving with some cash in your pockets.

Street performers getting ready, taken on Main square - Madrid, Spain (13)

1. The Templo de Debod (Temple of Debod) (Paseo del Pintor Rosales, 2) is an ancient Egyptian temple that was relocated and rebuilt in Madrid in the 20th century as a token of gratitude for the help provided by Spain in saving the temples of Abu Simbel. It can be found to the north of the city centre near the Pio Principal train station.

2. Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (Queen Sofía Museum) (Calle de Santa Isabel, 52), home to some of Dalί and Picasso’s greatest works, is Free on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday & Saturdays 7 p.m. – 9 p.m.

3. Plaza de España (Spain square) is one of Madrid’s best known squares and contains a stone sculpture of Cervantes, overlooking bronze sculptures of his two most famous creations Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.

4. Museo Nacional del Prado (Prado Museum) (Paseo del Prado, s/n) arguable the greatest art gallery in the world is Free to all 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. from Monday – Saturday and 5 p.m. – 7 p.m. on Sundays. The queue is always huge so start queueing up an hour before.

5. Take a stroll or scramble depending on the time of day down Gran Via, which contains some of Madrid’s most grandiose buildings and a showcase of early 20th-century architecture, with designs ranging from Vienna Secession style to Plateresque, and Neo-Mudéjar to Art Deco.

6. Palacio Real (Madrid’s Royal Palace) (Calle Bailén, s/n) is the official residence of the Spanish Royal family, and is the largest palace in Europe by floor area. It Free from Oct – Mar: Mon – Thu: 4 p.m. – 6 p.m. and Apr – Sep: Mon – Thu: 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.

7. If you happen to find yourself at Estación de Madrid Atocha (Atocha Railway Station) waiting for a train. Pass the time by checking out the tropical garden dominating the interior plaza, noting some of the thousands of different species and even an inhabited pond.

8. Museo Taurino (Bullfighting Museum) (Calle de Alcalá, 237), the city’s bullfighting museum is located in the arena and never charges a price. Be warned, not one for vegetarians, small children or the squeamish.

9. Take a stroll through El Parque del Buen Retiro (Buen Retiro Park) which is a lovely place to spend an afternoon. Also be sure to visit the Crystal Palace as well, a free exhibition hall that is by far the most interesting structure in the park

10. The quirky Anden 0 is spread across two sites: the old Chamberí station (Plaza de Chamberí) and the Nave de motores (Valderrribas, 49) and offers an interesting insight into the history of the Madrid as seen through its Metro system. It is open on Friday-Saturday-Sunday and is Free to all. Thanks to Andrea B for helping with this information.

11. The Espacio Conde Duque (Calle del Conde Duque, 9-11) was once a former army barracks but is now contains a number of weird and interesting things, including a contemporary art museum, the city archives as well as libraries of newspapers, history and music. There are also frequent live music concerts in its courtyards.

12. Plaza Mayor (Main square) is Madrid’s best looking square and although nowadays the square is lined with extremely expensive cafés it is still a lovely place for a sit down.

13. The Museo Arqueológico Nacional (National Archaeology Museum) (Calle Serrano 13), is affectionately known as M.A.N. and is Free Saturday afternoons and all day on Sunday. Highlights include a replica of the sprehistoric Altamira cave paintings; an elaborate astrolabe from 11th century Islamic Spain found in Toledo, a Visigoth votive crowns, and many other interesting items.

Inside the Crystal Palace, in Retiro Park - Madrid, Spain (95)

14. El Rastro market (Calle Ribera de Curtidores) is the largest open air flee market in Spain and is held every Sunday morning and public holiday and runs from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. There are over 3000 stalls and all manner of items of sale.

15. The Museo de América (Museum of America) (Av Reyes Católicos, 6) contains over 25,000 pre-Columbian, ethnographic, archaeological, and colonial objects, tracing the history of Spain’s turbulent relationship with the American continent from its discovery to the contemporary era. Admission is Free every Sunday.

16. Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida (Royal Chapel of St. Anthony of La Florida) (Glorieta de San Antonio de la Florida, s/n) is one of the lesser known treasures of Madrid and is best known for its ceiling and dome frescoes painted by the Spanish artist Goya.

17. You can visit the Congreso de Diputados (Congress of Deputies) (C/Floridablanca s/n), which is the lower house of the Spanish Cortes (Government), on Saturday mornings. Just make sure you are there at 10 a.m., no need for a reservation.

Accommodation

Madrid’s accommodation is hugely varied in both price and quality. Put simply there is something for everyone, from penny-pinchers through to flash-packers. Here are a couple of the cheapest selections in town:

Imposing façades along the ever busy La Gran Vía - Madrid, Spain (85)

No Name City Hostel (Calle de Atocha, 45) is located in the heart of the museum district, positioned a few minutes walk from the Golden Triangle. There are a wide selection of rooms available stretching from four (€17) to sixteen (€12) bed dorms. Prices are slightly higher at the weekends.

Backpackers Madrid (San Leonardo 12, Plantas 2ª y 3ª) is more of a student’s residence than a hostel that offers very cheap dormitory beds (8 € – 10 €) and private rooms from (12 €) Prices are slightly higher at the weekends but there is WiFi and lockers and breakfast is available from a Euro.

La Posada de Huertas (Calle Huertas, 21) is an international youth centre which has recently been refurbished and is popular, so be prepared to book ahead. Situated in the city centre there are a number of options available from four (€17) to twelve (€10) bed dormitories.

Going Out

One thing Madrid does better than most cities in the world is party. The streets are packed with people drinking, singing, performing, loving, fighting and crying long into the night. Every corner you turn seems to be covered in bars and the inevitable ring of smokers spilling onto the street outside. The nightlife is as varied as the clientele, as suits rub shoulders with punks and ladies in all their finery pass a gin bottle to the bum on the right. Each barrio has its own culture, below is a rough guide to drinking in the city, simply pick your favourite and go out and paint the town red. For further information check out Madrid listings here

Palacio de Cristal, El Parque del Retiro - Madrid, Spain (97)

Puerta del Sol, Gran Vía & Huertas

This is tourist town, so expect the usually array of Irish pubs, pop music and Spanish boys and girls looking for foreign talent. Nevertheless there are a few good jazz bars: Café Populart (Huertas, 22) and Café Central (Plaza del Ángel, 10) which are popular with the locals, as well as some decent tapas and flamenco joints. The best flamenco shows are based around Calle de Echegaray.

Gran Vía

Both north and south of Gran Via are numerous nightclubs, so expect a thronging mass at the weekends.

La Latina

Relaxed but growing in trendiness, the bars around Plaza de la Paja, Plaza de San Andrés and Cava Baja are packed everyday of the week and are a great place to eat tapas and drink a beer. Be prepared to fight for a much sought after terrace table, however.

Chueca

Home of Madrid’s gay scene, modern and stylish Chueca is a very welcoming place, and is one the most interesting and diverse of Madrid’s barrios. Fans of Reggae and Hip-Hop should head to Calle Barquillo’s Kingston’s. More information on Madrid’s gay scene can be found here

Malasaña

Once central to the La Movida counter-culture scene, Malasaña at night is still one of Madrid’s most alternative districts, with hipsters and rockers all contributing to the youthful vibe. The bars, clubs and streets around Plaza Dos de Mayo, Calle de San Vincente Ferrer and Calle de la Palma are heaving with an alternative crowd. A little further north Calle del Pez attracts a slightly more mature crowd with chill out bars and jazz cafés the norm.

Lavapiés

Throwing of its reputation as one of Madrid’s most rough and ready neighbourhoods, multicultural Lavapiés is fast becoming gentrified as new bars attempt to attract the alternative bohemian crowd. Once infamous for its street crime and drug problems, now Indian restaurants fight with Brazilian bars and chill out lounges in this diverse and interesting place.

Salamanca

If wine bars and swanky nightclubs are your thing, then Salamanca is for you. Home to some of Madrid’s wealthiest residents you can rub shoulders with TV stars and footballers at posh clubs such as Gabana 1880 and Shabay, assuming they let you in.

Things to try and buy

Although Madrid’s reputation for native cuisine is not as renowned as some other Spanish regions like Catalonia and the Basque country, there are still some treats to try. Rabo de toro (stuffed cow or bull’s tail), callos a la madrileña (tripe in a spicy tomato sauce) and oreja (pig’s ears) are not for the faint-hearted but are devoured by locals. Also be sure to try cocido madrileño, a tasty meat and chickpea stew. The ever present churros and the thicker version porras: fried batter taken with thick hot chocolate or coffee are revered by the locals and is a useful hangover buster.

The shop window of an Interesting light shop with street reflection - Madrid, Spain (71)

Madrid is a clothes shoppers paradise with leather-ware particularly well regarded. Paella dishes and the essential ingredient of saffron also makes an interesting holiday memento. El Rastro, the Sunday flea market held 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., is a great place to pick up a bargain. The market however does have an infamous reputation for pickpocketing, so be extra careful.

Internet

Here’s a useful map with lots of Wi-Fi places marked:

Transport

Perhaps, unsurprisingly given its size and position in the middle of the peninsula, Madrid is the best connected city in Spain by air, road and rail.

The Madrid-Barajas Airport serves as the Iberian Peninsula’s gateway to Europe, the Americas and the rest of the world. It is 13km outside the historical centre and is the 4th busiest airport in Europe.

The Cercanías Madrid is a commuter train service that serves Madrid and its metropolitan areas. Cercanías Madrid is part of the larger RENFE system than connects Madrid by rail to the rest of Spain. The AVE high speed train system also uses Madrid as its hub and connects the capital to numerous cities in Spain all in under four hours. The bulk of national trains leave from Puerta de Atocha (Calle Tortosa, 10), at the southern end of the city centre, whilst international trains tend to go from Estación de Chamartín (Calle Agustín de Foxa s/n), which lies to the north of the city.

Street art on the back of a kiosk, taken on Calle de Atocha - Madrid, Spain (65)

The Madrid Metro is used by four million people daily and is one the largest networks in the world. 12 lines run all over the city with one ride costing €1.50 and a 10 ride ticket €12. Clink the link to see a Madrid Metro map.

Intercity buses run frequently across the country with most leaving from Estacion Sur de Autobuses (Calle de Méndez Álvaro, 83), just south of the M30 ring road. Major bus companies serving Madrid include ALSA and Avanzabus.

City buses are run by EMT and stop all over town, a useful interactive map can be found by following the link here 

The city is surrounded by four ring roads the M30, M40, M45 and M50. The M30 is the most inward and circles the central districts, the largest and most outwardly is the M50. From the body shoot the many legged motorways all over Spain:

  • A-1 Autovía del Norte to San Sebastián,
  • A-2 Autovía del Nordeste to Barcelona,
  • A-3 Autovía del Este to Valencia,
  • A-4 Autovía del Sur to Cádiz,
  • A-5 Autovía del Suroeste to Portugal,
  • A-6  Autovía del Noroeste to La Coruña,
  • A-42 Autovía de Toledo to Toledo.

Put simply, it’s a minefield out of roads out there, so if you are driving be patient and expect to get lost.

Hitch-hiking Out

Spanish looking car complete with flags and bulls - Madrid, Spain (69)

South towards Cordoba

Outside San Cristolbal metro stop (line 3) there is a bus stop right outside. This road (Av. De Andulsia leads south to A-4 Autovía del Sur. From the bus stop if you can go about 10/15km along the Autovia there is a petrol station, get there and the whole hitch-hike is a lot easier.
or
Take the cercanias C-3 to Valdemoro. Leave the stations and walk down Paseo de la Estacion until you can turn left onto Avenida de Andalucia. Follow it until you get to the petrol station. In total it is a 30 minute walk.

South towards Toledo

Take the train to from Atocha to Las Margaritas Universidad. Cross the A42 to Av. de la Paz using the pedestrian flyover, turn right and head for the large unmistakable El Corte Ingles, it’s huge. Behind it is a motorway slip road where it is possible to catch a lift. We have tried this ourselves and we got to Toledo relatively quickly.

East towards Valencia

Take the metro to Rivas Vaciamadrid (line 9). Leave the station, turn right, and go under a bridge to a roundabout. Take the bridge that leads over the motorway, on the left there is a petrol station.

Northeast towards Barcelona

Take the train from Atoche to San Fernando, just outside Madrid. Behind San Fernando is an entrance to the motorway that is hitchhikeable.
or
Take the RENFE to La Garena (lines C7 or C2). Leave the station and turn right onto Av. Juan Carlos. Keep walking straight as the road turns into Av. Europa until you reach Daganzo where you take a left. Take the 1st left again to C/ Louis Pasteux. There is a petrol station here from which to hitch-hike.

North towards Burgos

Take the metro to Pinar de Chamartín, and head north along C/Arturo Soria, cross the M11 and follow Camino de la Fuente de la Mora, until a left hand turn called Avenudo de Manoteras. On the left there is a petrol station after 300 metres or you try at the end of the road.

West towards Portugal

Take the metro to Alto de Extremadura (line 6). Behind the station there is the major road Avenida de Portugal you can try from the roundabout but it doesn’t look ideal.. It might be necessary to hitch a ride to the next petrol station 48km along the A5 before continuing on your journey.

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Written by: Jon

This article was also published by Spanish Tapas Madrid on 28th November 2012. 

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