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Jet off to Madrid and enjoy a weekend full of sun, sightseeing, Rioja wine and regal palaces. When in Europe it’s easy to hop about the continent for a quick weekend here, a little getaway there. With that in mind, here’s our cheat sheet for the perfect 48 hours (give or take an hour) in Spain’s sunny capital, Madrid.
Madrid’s Plaza Mayor is a huge (and hugely important) grand central square. As the former venue of executions, bull fights and public ceremonies, if these walls could talk they would enthral. The inner walls, much every structure in Madrid, are supremely beautiful and the architecture is stunning. With 17th-century frescoes and wrought-iron balconies, settle in at one of the outdoor bars and order a jug of Sangria. From jostling tourists, bizarre street performers and dapper waiters wearing trim waistcoats, sitting in Plaza Mayor is better than front row seats at the theatre.
From Plaza Mayo, exit through one of the many archways and you’ll instantly find yourself in the tightly packed streets of central Madrid. Wander the backroads and alleyways which become a labyrinth of cobbled laneways, souvenir shops and tapas bars. Once you’ve picked up the obligatory Madrid magnet, sidestep into a bijou bistro for huge plates of Iberian ham, cheese and olives.
If ever you’ve wanted to explore somewhere so unbelievably extravagant, it almost feels fictional, then the Royal Palace of Madrid is the must-do for you. Although it is the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family, it’s only ever used for state ceremonies, and therefore the public are welcome to wander – open-mouthed – through several of its ostentatious rooms. From grand chandeliers to dining tables the length of a rugby pitch, the grandiose will astound.
According to The Guinness World Records, Sobrino de Botín is the oldest restaurant in the world. Serving hungry punters since 1725, the rickety staircase and creaking floorboards certainly suggest it’s long in the tooth. Look out for the wood-fired oven (also dating back to 1725) and tottery tiled walls which have warped with age, then feast on a menu which is as simple as it is traditional. Specialising in roast suckling pig and lamb, there’s nothing fancy about Botín’s dishes, but meat served with roast potatoes and gravy never fails to please.
Imagine a beautiful indoor market, housed in a 1916 storehouse of cast iron and glass, where stall after stall is spilling with fresh, colourful produce. Envisage display upon display of glazed pastries and mountains of empanadas, where figs, blueberries and almonds meet yoghurt, cheese and olives, and you’ll be dreaming of Mercado de san Miguel: arguably the best food market in Europe. It’s also the perfect spot for breakfast. You’ll pay more than Madrid’s average food price, and you’ll scramble with both locals and tourist alike, but one sip of espresso, complemented with a hot Portuguese tart, and you’ll be in heaven.
Nothing says tourist more than a hop-on, hop-off bus but we're still an advocate for them. It's such an easy way to familiarise yourself with a city, while also learning the history and getting from A to B with zero fuss. For NZ$37, grab a one-day pass and enjoy unlimited rides to and from all of the capital’s treasured landmarks. Part of the enjoyment is riding ‘up top’ on the double-decker bus, with the sun shining down and listening to the narrator through your headphones. Plus, you get fantastic elevated views of Madrid’s beautiful apartments.
Dubbed Madrid’s best rooftop bar, The Hat Madrid is a hostel, but venture upstairs and you’ll find the cosiest, most laid-back little haunt in the city. Home to some of the city’s best sunset views, the terraza looks across terracotta tiled roofs and secret courtyards, while the bar itself has all the trimmings of a hipster hangout (minus the precociousness). There are tea lights in mason jars and plenty of distressed leather furnishings. We highly recommend squeezing in with the locals and ordering a bottle of the house Rioja (it’s delicious) alongside a bowl of hot patatas bravas.
Even in the capital, Spanish Sundays are sleepy. Enjoy a lazy start while the Catholics attend Sunday Mass and everything else slowly emerges from hibernation, or, doesn’t open at all.
Just a stone’s throw from Plaza Mayor is a street that goes by the name of Calle Cava Baja. You might also hear to it referred as ‘Tapas Street’. A narrow lane that is framed on either side by crowded tavern-like restaurants, most of which sell tapas, the spaces are small and noisy, but have a genuine Spanish ambience. Seats are like gold dust so it's not unusual to stand while gorging on mouthfuls of potato, omelette and croquettes.
But of course. This is Madrid. The city IS art. In fact, Madrid has more art galleries than you could shake an easel at, but Museo Nacional Del Prado is definitely the city’s premier art venue. With paintings dating back to the 12th century, masterpieces from the Renaissance and artworks that scale the walls with so much stature, you’ll strain your neck just to see half, it’s no wonder people spend over four hours here. Tickets cost €14.00 per person, or free if you’re under 18 but you’ll have to prove it, and Sunday opening hours are 10am - 7pm.
Just 650m from Prado there is Parque del Buen Retiro. A green space that was once owned, and exclusively enjoyed, by the Spanish Monarchy. It is now a public park, and one of the most beautiful in Madrid. As large as it is lush, there is a commanding statue fronting the lake, and vast lawn space for lolling and frolicking. Hire a pedalo, walk the shaded pathways, or simply find a patch of grass and laze away the afternoon with a picnic and ice-cream.
No sooner has Madrid begun and it’s time to depart. Spain and Europe holidays are just a click away. Better yet, come in-store and chat with one of our friendly travel experts. We love pairing Kiwis with their perfect holidays!
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