Madrid is a city of love…A love of art, a love of life, a love of food. Madrileños, as the locals are known, celebrate the beauty of life and take the time to enjoy the moment. Work is an afterthought, a disruption in the celebration of what life has to offer. The narrow streets, inviting cafes, and beautiful architecture can only be enjoyed at a slower pace. Here’s how to spend a day in Madrid like a local.
First, get up late. There’s no reason to hurry, no place you need to be RIGHT NOW. Besides, nothing really opens until after 10 am. Have a small breakfast pastry at a café before admiring the many art works at Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, a 20th century contemporary museum showcasing Spanish notables such as Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso. One of Picasso’s most famous paintings, Guernica, is portrayed here blatantly showing the world the chaos of war and the gruesome massacre on the innocent people of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War.
For lunch, eat at the oldest continually operating restaurant in Europe, Botin. Since 1725, this beautifully tiled restaurant has satiated patrons with its local cuisine. Suckling pig is its specialty.
Nearby is Plaza Mayor a popular and historic enclosed square that was the sight of many executions, bullfights, and tournaments. In 1846, Plaza Mayor was the location for Isabel II’s wedding. Today, it’s lined with shops, artists and cafes. Traveling exhibits and seasonal bazaars hock their wares in Plaza Mayor throughout the year.
Head east to the Plaza de la Puerta del Sol where all roads in Spain begin. The people of Madrid resisted Napoleon’s troops here, and it’s still an invigorating spot for protests and demonstrations today. Dominating one side of the square is a large historical Tio Pepe advertisement sign, the best-selling sherry brand in the world, with a bronze statue of Madrid’s emblem, a bear picking berries from a Madrono tree, standing below. On Noche Vieja (New Year’s Eve), people crowd into the square and celebrate the tradition of eating one grape for each stroke of midnight for good luck in the New Year.
Also along Paseo del Prado are the botanical gardens, El Jardin Botanico, with over 30,000 plants and flower species. Behind the gardens and the Prado Museum lies Parque del Retiro, which literally means “retreat”. It’s a green haven within this historic concrete city. Fortune tellers and street performers congregate around the beautiful manmade lake. Rent a rowboat for some smooth sailing under the regal statue of King Alfonso II.
Catch an evening performance of opera or ballet at the Teatro Real, or do as the locals do and create your own tapas crawl. Plaza de Santa Ana, a small courtyard lined with cafes and shops is a great place to start or end this true Spanish experience. Finish the night on the rooftop terrace bar, the Penthouse, at Hotel ME Madrid designed by American architects, Rande and Scott Gerber. The ultra-modern sleek hotel has tiny rooms, but provides sanctuary in the heart of Madrid.
View a map of Madrid