Madrid City Guide: best things to do in MadridMadrid is a vast, captivating city which lies on the River Manzanares in the center of Spain. Famous for its lively atmosphere as well as its rich artistic and cultural background, Madrid is a city offering endless possibilities for fun. It’s the largest city in Spain as well as the country’s official capital since 1606. With a metropolitan area that hosts almost 6,5 million inhabitants, Madrid is actually the 3rd largest city in the European Union.
Remainings of the old Arab wall, small Gothic churches and early Renaissance creations assemble a city with a rich historical past. Maybe the variation of times and styles in the city’s art and architecture is what makes this city so alluring. The history of Madrid officially starts in the 9th century, when the Moors constructed a citadel on the sides of Manzanares river. There have been many legends around the city’s name, but the word “Madrid” most likely comes together with the city’s earliest elements, from the arabic “Magerit” (mother of abundant water).
Madrid is full of chic avenues, historic neighbourhoods and bustling plazas. The most emblematic area of the city is probably the porch-lined Plaza Mayor. Nearby we find the baroque Royal Palace and Armory, which showcases a remarkable collection of historic weapons. The city’s art scene is remarkable, since Madrid features several top-class museums like Prado, displaying the creations of remarkable Spanish artists from Goya and El Greco to Velázquez and many more. It would be fair enough to say that Madrid is a green paradise, as the city is home to several extensive parks like the renowned Parque del Buen Retiro. It’s the city with the most trees and green surface per inhabitant in the whole Europe (!). Plenty of green oases like the Royal Botanical Gardens or Casa de Campo are just a few of the wonderful spots to enjoy the city’s blooming nature and eternal sunshine.
Getting aroundMost central places in Madrid are easily walkable, and what is a better way to feel the city’s vibe if not walking? But since Madrid is a very large city, you may need a little help when moving from one side to another. The public transport network can give you a hand on that. You can get the bus or metro to bring you closer to the long distance spot you wanna visit, and then set off on foot to explore it.
Metro is probably the fastest way to move around. It’s cheap and efficient, covering the whole city and even some suburbs. There are 12 major metro lines, 3 light rail lines and an additional special line connecting the Ópera and Principe Pío stations.
The bus network is also very efficient, covering areas the underground service doesn’t reach. Moreover, there are some bus lines operating at night, widely known as ‘búhos’ (owls), for all the party animals who wanna experience Madrid by night. The búhos depart from Plaza de Cibeles square and have an 'N' in front of the route number.
Tickets for public transport are relatively cheap (starting from € 1,50) and you can find them in tube stations and at some newsstands and tobacconists - never on the vehicle.But if you wanna skip the stress, you can also get a visitor’s pass that covers nearly everything and save some time and money.
The city’s train network covers the whole Autonomous Region of Madrid, while in some zones you can use them with the same tickets as buses and metros. The suburban trains are called ‘Cercanías’ - the best choice for getting to and from towns near the capital. Cercanías are also ideal for daytrips to the city’s outskirts, like the Guadarrama Mountains or the nearby towns like Aranjuez.
Bike fans will definitely enjoy Madrid’s very own electric bike hire service, BiciMAD. Through this service both locals and visitors can travel from one place to another quickly and conveniently while doing a bit of exercise. In case you’re not that much of an athletic type, there’s a flea of electric cars available for you. Car2go is an international service which you can use by making an account and charges by the minute. Pretty convenient, huh?
Culinary TraditionOffering an extreme amount of restaurants and bars (there’s a bar for every 200 residents! ), we wouldn’t exaggerate if we’d say that Madrid is one of the richest culinary capitals in Europe. Apart from the supreme traditional cooking of Spain, in Madrid you’ll find lovely eateries from almost every corner of the world. The number of options is overwhelming and boasts a wonderful variety. From slick tapas or sushi corners like Oribu and La Emulada, to Mexican resto-bars such as Tepic or authentic Italian cuisine like in Bosco De Lobos, eating in Madrid is a real pleasure.
Focusing in the Spanish delights offered in Madrid, the city is a melting pot of food from every region of the country. Galician restaurants serving authentic Pulpo Gallego (Galician-style octopus) or Andalucian bars with amazing gazpacho can be found all around the city. But between all the delicious dishes from every corner of Spain, there are some original madrileño delights that you should definitely taste when in Madrid.
No trip to the Spanish capital would be complete, without trying the world-famous Churros con Chocolate. A favourite late night (or early morning) snack after partying in Madrid, often eaten as breakfast as well, churros is a deliciously satisfying sweet treat. Some of the best churros in Madrid can be found in Chocolatería San Gines. For a savory snack or quick meal, get yourself a Bocadillo de Calamares (Calamari sandwich). Simple and delicious, you’ll find it almost everywhere in Madrid. Other savory madrileño delights you should try are the Pincho de Tortilla, (Madrid’s version of Omelette with potatoes), as well as Huevos Rotos.
If you wanna dive deep in the city’s culinary culture, Cocido Madrileño pork stew is a wonderful choice to begin with. But to continue you need to be bold and adventurous, cause some of the most typical dishes demand an open mind and strong stomach. If you have them all, do it like a Spaniard and try Callos a la Madrileña, a meat dish including pork stomachs and blood sausage, as well as Oreja a la Plancha which is literally a pan-seared pig’s ear.