If Madrid, Spain isn’t in your travel bucket-list, add it now. Before we got there we heard all about the dramatic bull fights, the fruit laden sangria, the amazing paella. Of course, we learned once we arrived that most of those things are pretty much reserved for the tourists. But don’t let that deter you from visiting. Here are a few different reasons why Madrid is worthy of a visit.
1. The Buen Retiro Park. This huge grand park will leave you wondering whether you had gone off track and ended up in France. With its massive walkways surrounded by landscaped and wooded areas, the park was actually patterned after Tuscan and French gardens. It comes with a man-made lake that was installed so that King Philip IV could reconstruct naval battles where Spain would come out the victor, instead of what happened in reality, which was Spain’s loss of most of its empire under his rule. Enough to lead anyone to require a little cheering up. Today, the only naval activity are hundreds of rowboats captained by Madrileños enjoying a day on the lake.
2. Sample the tapas. There are restaurants stuffed with these delicious snacks throughout Madrid. Legend has it that the king once ruled that all bars needed to serve a bit of food with each drink. This decree came because poor field hands would return to work (or not) after spending their lunch money on drinks at the pub. Now it’s very rare that you will get a drink without a small snack. Our favorite place for more elaborate Tapa is Orio Fuencarral. In this Basque-style eatery you can pick out what you want yourself at the bar and save the toothpick from each. The server will count up the toothpicks at the end in order to figure your bill.
3. Stroll down Calle Mayor to the Prado Museum. You’ll pass the Plaza del Sol, one of the gathering places for locals, and see amazing architecture along the way. Beautiful buildings on either side of the street are adorned with statues in marble or bronze and are an amazing sight. A favorite is the iconic Palacio de Cibeles that currently functions as the city hall.
4. Enjoy the sights in the Plaza Mayor. This square used to be the major hub of activity in Madrid. Years ago, you could find anything here from meat and vegetable markets, to bull fights, to political debates, to public executions. Hygiene in the 1500s left something to be desired, so you can imagine what it was like in this packed plaza during the summer. Now it’s full of restaurants and some of the strangest street performers that I’ve encountered.
5. Bring the flavor home with you. Taking cooking class is one of my favorite ways to experience a place. And, I can remind myself of a place I enjoyed by cooking a dish that I learned to make from a local chef. Since our trip to Madrid both the Spanish Tortilla (a slow cooked egg dish with onion and potato) and Sangria have made their way onto our table. And the results: not bad if I do say myself. You can read more about our cooking experience in our Madrid Tapas Cooking Class post.
Here are some related posts about side trips from Madrid that you might enjoy: