Madrid, Spain’s central capital, is a city of elegant boulevards and expansive, manicured parks such as the Buen Retiro. It’s renowned for its rich repositories of European art, including the Prado Museum’s works by Goya, Velázquez and other Spanish masters. The heart of old Hapsburg Madrid is the portico-lined Plaza Mayor, and nearby is the baroque Royal Palace and Armory, displaying historic weaponry.

Madrid Things To Know

    Places to see: Prado Museum, Plaza Mayor, Buen Retiro Park
    Main currency: Euro
    Main language: Spanish

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Estadio Santiago de Bernabéu

North Americans don’t quite get it, but football holds a near-religious sway over vast swathes of the world’s population. They see in it poetry and geometry and genius, and also villainy and soul-crushing disappointment. Many call it ‘The Beautiful Game.’ The Estadio Santiago de Bernabeu is a veritable temple of the world game. For seventy years it has hosted the original aristocrats of European football, Real Madrid and the many world greats who have donned the imperious white jersey. Players like Puskas, di Stefano, Zidane and two Ronaldos. Its trophy room is bursting with Spanish and European championships (they lead the honors table in both). Italy won the World Cup there in 1982. Architecturally, the stadium is a triumph too: it seats 85,000 fervent fans with amazing sight lines. But more than all this, the stadium is the repository of a city’s hopes, dreams and longing for glory and gives you a sense of the passion that the sport evokes in fans the world over.

Markets

Madrid is a city for gourmets and gourmands. Tapas are popular, but you’ll also find plenty of Michelin stars knocking about in its charming streets. Its humbler fare is equally star-worthy; the food market is a big fixture on the Madrid food scene. Wander through, peruse the stalls and find yourself interacting with food in a way more tactile and interactive than in any restaurant. And finally, commit to a dish cooked fresh before your eyes and wash it down with a glass of Rioja. There are old markets which have been renovated with a hipster twist – and prices to match – such as the Mercado de San Miguel just off the Plaza Mayor. It boasts a great atmosphere and treats such as cava, oysters, chocolate and stuffed sea urchins. A market that has retained its workaday feel is the Mercado de Maravillas, which is Europe’s largest municipal market. It has over 200 stalls featuring the freshest fruit and veg, and regional specialties from all over Spain and beyond.

The Life Aquatic

Madrid is perched inland on a 650-meter high plateau. It has no beaches, yet Madrileños flock to the water each summer. Specifically, to one of over 20 huge community pools. They’re very well run and part of an extensive parkland. We’re not just talking a watery refuge here but a proper day out where you can kick a ball, enjoy a picnic, and then splash about in the pool. The pools are both gigantic and crowded, but that’s part of the charm – you’ll feel yourself part of the city. The one at Parque Deportivo Puerta del Hierro is a gob-smacking 130 meters long; this should give you some idea of how seriously they take summer bathing here. The more central Casa de Campo features three pools including one Olympic-sized one. So rub in the sunscreen, then rub shoulders with some people who have a far better tan than you.

Museum Triumvirate

In the center of Madrid there’s a holy trinity of museums that are individually impressive, but together would be the envy of any other world city. And what’s more: they’re within a 15-minute walk of each other. Now, doing all three in a day could send you into M.O. (Museum Overload), but it’s comforting that they’re all together. The gigantic Prado is in the top tier of world museums and Madrid’s most visited attraction. La Reina Sofía is Spain’s museum of 20th century art and houses Guernica Picasso’s most famous work. Miró and Dalí are also well represented in the collection. The Thyssen-Bornemisza was formerly the world’s largest private art collection, and was bought in the 90s by the Spanish government. It features an eclectic collection of works from many different schools and eras, from the 13th century to contemporary works.

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