Barcelona has great beaches and Art Nouveau architecture and San Sebastian is a must visit for serious foodies, but to experience the real Spain, set your sights on Madrid. Boasting world-class galleries, great shopping, and a music scene to rival even its wildest Balearic cousins, there is so much in the Spanish capital to explore. Whether you want to dance the evening away (not to mention the early hours of the morning) at one of the city’s clubs, tantalise your tastebuds with a broad array of mouth-watering tapas, or get a taste of the country’s rich cultural heritage with visits to the Royal Palace or the Prado Museum, Madrid has it all. As the Spanish author Javier Marías once said, “Madrid seems to be in a hurry to say everything.”
Brought to you with Aperol
MadCool 2023 With its iconic Ferris Wheel, swaying palm trees, and Mad Max desert setting on the outskirts of Madrid, Mad Cool is has quickly established itself as one of Europe’s best festivals just a few short years after its inception in 2016. This year’s line-up features heavy-hitters including Red Hot Chili Peppers, Lizzo, Lil Nas X, Queens of the Stone Age, Sam Smith, Liam Gallagher, The Prodigy, The 1975 and more. Plus the three-day festival in early July (6-8) has loads of other delights including markets, delicious food, and a space hosted by Aperol, where you can pass by to share an Aperol Spritz with your friends, enjoy the music, or just sit back and soak up the scene as the sun sets over this truly epic festival.
Mercado de San Miguel Sample the breadth of and depth of Spanish cuisine at the Mercado de San Miguel, a vibrant food hall housed in an historic ironwork building. Do as the locals do and graze your way around the market, trying everything from homemade salmorejo soup to sizzling pans of paella. Hot tip: grab yourself an Aperol Spritz before you set out on your exploration of the market and then pick out the tapas you want to sample with it. That way you won’t get thirsty along the way, and you can also create your own pairing menu, ticking off Spanish classics like jamón ibérico, pimientos de padrón (those irresistible salty roasted peppers), and some of the best tortillas in town.
Café del Río Unlike London and Paris, whose rivers are a focal point of both cities, Madrid is not terribly well-known for its river, the Río Manzanares, which many visitors never realise runs right through its centre. But there are some genuinely great spots along its banks, including the Café del Río – a terrace restaurant that is hugely popular with locals, who come daily to enjoy the excellent fresh food and uninterrupted view of the Royal Palace across the river. Café del Río also serves a superb Aperol Spritz, and has a tapas list that runs deeper than the Río Manzanares itself.
Museum of Illusions Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? This mind-melting museum where nothing is quite as it seems will have you asking yourself this question. Featuring a host of intriguing exhibits including an upside-down room, a vortex tunnel that gives the feeling of motion even though you’re standing completely still, and an antigravity exhibit, this interactive museum provides near infinite photo opportunities (it does have an infinity room after all!). The perfect escape from reality.
CaixaForum Museum Some people truly suffer for the ‘gram, but if you are on the slightly lazier end of the social media spectrum, then the CaixaForum Museum, located just ten minutes southeast of Madrid’s city centre, is an excellent spot for taking glorious snaps without having to go too far out of your way. The museum features a unique vertical garden, with a wide range of plants that have been meticulously planted into its surface, while its main facade appears to levitate above the ground, as it stops short just shy of ground level. An architectural oddity that is genuinely a wonder to behold.
Chocolatería San Ginés Whether your craving for churros strikes at 3pm or 3am, this legendary churrería has you covered. Serving Madrileños crispy churro fritters dipped into decadently gloopy hot chocolate since 1894, no trip to Madrid is complete without at least one visit here. It’s open 24 hours a day from Thursday to Saturday, so if you’ve been partying until the early morning, join the locals in the queue for a hangover-busting treat.
Gingko Restaurant and Sky Bar If you want to see the Royal Palace but also feel in need of an aperitivo, you can meet both cravings simultaneously at Gingko. Boasting epic views of the largest palace in Western Europe, not to mention the capital’s skyline, this popular spot has both an indoor area and a huge terrace so whatever the weather can enjoy both vistas. With a restaurant serving Mediterranean cuisine with an Asian twist and a bar that regularly hosts DJs and live music, it’s the place for a royally good time.
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía Bring some comfy shoes and prepare to lose yourself for an hour (or four) in this sprawling homage to 20th century art. The Reina Sofía is home to work by Spanish greats Miró, Juan Gris and Dalí as well as lesser known artists. And be sure not to miss the museum’s main attraction – Picasso’s Guernica, regarded by many critics as the most moving anti-war painting ever created. And of course, save up some euros to pick up some great loot when you exit through the gift shop.