This article original appeared in the Irish Daily Star
Flying in to Madrid, the city glitters like a golden oasis in the Spanish landscape.
Just a short flight from Dublin – Ryanair fly direct to Madrid airport in just over two hours – from the moment you step off the plane, you know you’ve landed somewhere special.
With blistering sunshine, stunning architecture, delicious food, an incredible nightlife and more culture than you could possibly soak up in a matter of days, the Spanish capital is the perfect city getaway, no matter your interests.
Not only is Madrid the dead centre of Spain, it is also one of the artistic centres of Europe, populated by people warmer than the sun that beats down over her tree-lined streets.
Madrid’s colours will surprise you in every way. It is one of the greenest cities in the world, and is a veritable rainbow of culture, which is only further helped by its proud LGBT culture and youthful exuberance.
But if you do manage to venture outside, the Walt is located just a stone’s throw from Madrid’s Gran Via, where the buildings are so beautiful you will be looking skyward so much you might just walk into a pole.
Don’t let the Neo-classical architecture of Madrid’s main thoroughfare fool you though, this city is more youthful and vibrant than her buildings would let you believe.
The Walt is conveniently nestled right between two of Madrid’s hottest districts – the city has 21 unique districts, each with its own personality and charm.
To the left of the Walt lies the Malasana, a popular spot with students and hipster types, littered with trendy bars, nightclubs and vintage clothes shops, and to the right lies Chuecca, Madrid’s LGBT quarter, which is pretty much the most fun place I have ever been in my life.
A stroll through Chuecca at 6am on any morning of the week and you will be greeted by people still partying from the previous night.
Albeit a city with a vibrant nightlife though, Madrid is one of the safest places in the world, and as a woman stroking around the city streets at 3am, I’ve never felt safer in my life.
If nightlife isn’t really your thing and you’re more inclined towards art and culture, Madrid also has one of the finest collections of art in Europe, and tourists flock from all over the world time and time again to visit one of the many museums in the city.
The Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen-Bornemisza museums all lie within five minutes of each other and house some of the finest collections of art in the world.
The queues at the Prado are long so get there early in the day if you want to visit; but even though the Prado is Madrid’s most popular museum, I would highly recommend a visit to the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum.
Walking through the Thyssen-Bornemisza is like walking through a timeline of art history. Their collection of art spans from the early renaissance, right thorough to modern art, so art lovers will find themselves admiring paintings by Van Eyck, Renoir, Picasso, Pollock and Mondrian and everything in between.
Of course, if you’d rather bask in the Madrid sunshine instead, right around the corner from the museum district lies El Retiro park.
A city park so big and beautiful that I decided the only logical way to see it all was to hop on a Segway.
After my initial wobbles and fearing for my very life, the Segway tour was the perfect way to traverse this sprawling park, which is popular meeting point for locals, who can be spotted learning how to rollerblade or taking one of the paddle boats out on to the lake to cool off.
Nestled deep inside El Retiro is one of the most beautiful rose gardens you will ever see.
The 3,000 square foot rose garden is in perfect bloom in June and July and the perfect haven from the heady and humid hyperactivity of the rest of the city.
Spend an hour or two among the fragrant roses and you’re good to go again; albeit somehow a little wiser and more appreciative of the simple beauty of nature.
Madrid’s botanic gardens are also worth a visit, for the bank breaking fee of 2 euro, you can take a stroll around the manicured gardens with some of the best exotic plants from around the world and a veggie garden with artichokes so tall they rival the city’s skyscrapers.
In fact, if you’re very observant, you will see artichokes all over Madrid, etched onto the many fountains around the city and engraved onto the facades of many buildings.
Of course, all this artichoke spotting will probably leave you hungry for some artichokes, or the thousand other beautiful foods Madrid has to offer.
For lunch, I’d highly recommend Gran Clavel, which is conveniently located on the Gran Via and serves up old-world charm with contemporary Spanish cuisine.
If you want a taste of real Madrid, Gran Clavel offers traditional Madrid cuisine, paired with vermouth or red wine. One tip though, don’t order the usual food you associate with Spain in here.
Let the enthusiastic staff recommend some local food. You’ll be tucking into squid sandwiches, tripe stew and meatballs so good you’ll never want to eat paella again.
And whatever you do, order the local red wine or you’re practically committing a criminal offence.
The Madrid skyline is one of her finest assets and you would be remiss not to take in the views of the city from above.
The Circulo De Bella Artes is found just off the Gran Via and is not only a cultural hub housing photographic exhibits, concerts, educational lectures and movies, but it has a rooftop terrace with the finest view of the Madrid skyline in the city.
Grab yourself an early morning coffee on the rooftop terrace and take in the spectacular views in the blistering morning sunshine.
Rooftop terraces are one of the finest ways to enjoy Madrid and another terrace you would be mad not to visit is the one housed in the La Casa Encendida.
This cultural centre is found right down the road from the Reina Sofia museum and offers a tourist the sense of what this city is truly about. La Casa Encendida opens its doors to the public and offers free art classes, photography classes, education and workspaces and it is bustling with life.
But the crown in their jewel is certainly their rooftop terrace, where they not only house a cool as a cucumber urban garden, but a bar and large flat screen, where they house parties at the weekend.
With some of the country’s top DJs blasting out hit after hit, La Casa Encendida is one of the city’s nightlife hotspot and has incredible staff and a view to die for to boot.
Another one of the city’s finest restaurants is just around the corner.
Arzabal is a culinary and visual treat just below the Reina Sofia, and the dining experience is more akin to eating in a secret garden than a restaurant.
With arches full of roses and a converted glasshouse/dining room, it’s the perfect place for some fine wining and dining and the tapas are out of this world.
Of course, if you believe a trip to Spain does indeed warrant some Paella, you can grab yourself some in Playa Major, the city’s main square and the hive of Madrid tourism.
You can grab a plate of paella at Gustos and watch Madrid happen before your very eyes.
With weddings, buskers and people dancing in the sunshine, you’ll feel right at home. And that is one of the charms of this golden metropolis, in Madrid, you don’t feel like a tourist. In Madrid, you feel at home.
- Fiona Kelly