Madrid sisters Almudena and Marcela de la Peña began the website My Little Madrid as a way to provide locals and visitors with a list of great places to go in their city including restaurants, theatres, museums, shops and bars. Every year, they publish an updated print version of the list with tips on how to explore Madrid like a local. With this year’s version already sold out online, we caught up with Almudena to get some exclusive recommendations.
“When a friend comes to explore Madrid, the first place I take them to is one of the museums: Prado, Reina Sofia or Thyssen, it depends on the current exhibition because there are always interesting collections visiting Madrid, plus I love art. On the way to the museum I try to walk around some areas such as Barrio de las Letras or Madrid de los Austrias. April or May is the best time of the year for exploring Madrid because the weather is excellent and the city offers plenty of outdoor activities. May is also when the San Isidro festival takes place, including the traditional feria de toros, all-night dancing and the pilgrimage to la Pradera de San Isidro. Public transport, including taxis, buses and the underground is the best way to explore Madrid because it is cheap and convenient. Biking is very new to the city and drivers need to get used to it, so I’m not sure if I’d recommend it to visitors just yet as I feel it is still a little bit dangerous.
A good place to enjoy a coffee is Cafe Gijón at Paseo de Recoletos 21. It was opened on 15 May 1888 and after the Spanish Civil War and it became a meeting-place for intellectuals, writers and artists.
Casa Dani at Ayala 28 (inside Mercado de la Paz) is my favourite place for lunch in Madrid. It is very authentic and the food is excellent – I always order Arroz con Bogavante or Tortilla de Patatas. Diverxo at Padre Damian 23 is a great spot for dinner in Madrid because its chef, David Muñoz, was awarded three Michelin stars and the restaurant is famous for its unusual cuisine. Just bear in mind that booking there is extremely difficult and you need at least three months in advance. A meal at Diverxo lasts up to four hours and is designed as much to shock as to delight the senses.
You get the best view of Madrid from the terrace of Circulo de Bellas Artes . You can see the whole city while enjoying a drink or something to eat at Tartan Roof.
Before exploring Madrid you should read something from Camilo José Cela (la Colmena) or Ramon del Valle Inclan (Luces de Bohemia). You can also read about Madrid nightlife during the la Movida movement in the 1970s or watch Almodovar films, most of them were filmed in the city. People think Madrid is crazy but it is actually very organized and safe. The people are very friendly towards foreigners. Yes, it’s true that nightlife can be non-stop and clubs don’t close until late but this is what makes Madrid such a unique place to visit.
The best thing to do for free while exploring Madrid is to walk around Barrio de las Letras or Plaza Mayor. You can also relax at the Retiro park or Parque del Oeste and visit the Debod Temple. Museo Cerralbo is somewhere that not many visitors know about but they should go there because it’s a small museum that’s filled with artefacts and is very interesting. It used to be the residence of Don Enrique de Aguilera y Gamboa, XVII Cerralbo Marquis during the 19th century. Today it hosts the Marquis collection of priceless art from around the world. All the rooms are perfectly preserved and feature original furniture and fabrics.
The Chueca area has the best nightlife because it is lively, young and liberal. One thing to keep in mind is that the nightlife in Madrid doesn’t really get going until late. And late means long after midnight so you might be frustrated if you want to party earlier!”
Flights to Madrid
- Fiona Hilliard