I arrived in Madrid from the airport via its sparkling, modern metro system a bit lost and concerned at how inadequate my Spanish was. Stopping at a corner market for assistance, I was guided by a grocer whose desire to help more than compensated for our language barrier. My heart quickly warmed to Madrid.
Madrid is another European town for walkers. Once I made it to my hotel and was provided with a reliable city map, I found that many of the city’s major attractions were within walking distance, including the Royal Palace, the Plaza Mayor, the Puerta del Sol and the park.
My little hotel was also within a few blocks of one of the finest collections of museums in Europe: the Prado, the Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Reina Sofia, where Picasso’s Guernica is on display amidst electronic security after returning to Spain from New York. A statue of Goya, representing the artistic spirit of Madrid, greets visitors to the Prado. This museum has one of the most impressive, extensive collections of paintings in the world.
After a few hours in the Prado, you can take a reflective stroll through nearby Retiro Park and watch the locals at leisure. I got lost (again) after walking through the Retiro, but stumbled onto a wonderful tapas bar popular with the locals. Getting lost while walking in European cities seems to always lead to wonderful new discoveries for me.
On the opposite side of the city center is the Plaza Mayor and the Royal Palace, the center of historical Spain. Walk down the Gran Via and connect with Puerta del Sol and the Calle de Arenal, a pedestrian street bustling with interesting shops. You’ll soon find yourself in the Plaza Mayor, one of Europe’s most impressive squares since 1620. Explore, but keep in mind that the restaurants in the plaza are intended for tourists and are quite expensive. Then walk next door to the Palacio Royal, Madrid’s huge royal palace combining baroque and classical styles. Spain once ruled the world, and the Royal Palace connects you with this proud heritage.
If you arrive between March and June, and are so inclined, you can attend a bullfight every day you’re here. Between June and October, Sunday is bullfight day. Entire families attend, as did famous fans such as Hemingway and Picasso. You may choose instead to view the renowned local soccer team, Real Madrid, or witness the famous flamenco dancers.
Sample your preference of performances in this vibrant town – or simply dance all night long with the locals on the weekend. Before leaving Madrid, don’t forget to try the paella.