Joanna Booth gets a taste for Madrid's art galleries, parks and cuisine
Madrid is Spain’s heart. It is the capital city and sits slap bang in the middle of the country, absorbing influences from different regions.
This is a proud city, with a stiff backbone of grandeur. A swift turn around the centre reveals majestic architecture, from baroque and neoclassical to art deco, and the city’s famous museums are home to innumerable art treasures. Add some of Spain’s best shopping, a handful of city parks and some of the nation’s most intriguing and experimental cuisine, and you’ve got the recipe for a great weekend.
10.00: Start with Madrid’s very own Golden Triangle, which is made up of museums. Three of the world’s greatest art galleries are all within spitting distance of one another, and a trip to the Spanish capital wouldn’t be complete without visiting at least one. Museo del Prado is perfect for those who want to see works by the Spanish greats of the last 500 years, including Goya, El Greco and Velazquez.
The Centro de Arte Reina Sofia is better suited to lovers of modern art, with plenty of weird and wonderful works, plus paintings from modern Spanish titans Dali and Picasso. It’s here you’ll find the incredibly moving Guernica, Picasso’s response to a bombing during the Spanish civil war. The tongue-twisting Museo Thyssen Bornemisza is a great compromise, a private collection of art from medieval times up to the present day.
Whichever gallery your clients head for, don’t let them make the mistake of waiting to buy a ticket on the door. Vast queues snake around the block at each museum, so do them a favour – and boost your commission – by booking in advance. Suggest something like Do Something Different’s Madrid Card, which includes entrance to these museums and many more in the price. Those who wish to save pennies can check when each museum has free opening hours, but these times will be extremely busy.
13.00: Take a short walk into the Chueca neighbourhood and head for the Mercado de San Anton, which was redeveloped in 2011 and is now a four-floor temple of culinary pleasure.
Above an underground supermarket, the ground floor is a traditional market, with piles of gleaming fruit and veg, rows of fragrant cheeses, and the cured meats for which Spain is famed.
The top floor is a restaurant with great views, but for lunch stick to the second floor, where stalls are piled with small bites of cuisines including Greek, Japanese, and, of course, Spanish.
A bar with stools runs around the balcony, so you can look down to the market below as you graze.
14.30: After spending the morning cooped in a museum, get some fresh air.
Parque del Retiro is one of Madrid’s most central green spaces. Formerly home to the royal palace, it’s all tree-lined avenues, sculptures and fountains, and there’s a pleasure lake where you can hire boats. Sports fans might prefer a tour of the Bernabeu, Real Madrid’s iconic stadium (pictured below). It’s in the north of the city near Metro station Santiago Bernabeu.
16.30: Hit the shops. High fashion can be found on Calle Serrano, up-and-coming designers in the Triball neighbourhood, just behind the Gran Via.
20.00: Don’t think of eating early in Spain – dine before nine and your only companions will be other tourists. Start with drinks at one of the city’s many rooftop bars. The terrace at the Ada Palace overlooks the Gran Via and is open year-round.
21.30: Time to eat. For an extra-special experience, book a table at Club El Allard. This two-Michelin-starred restaurant has a chef with tricks to rival Heston Blumenthal, with a tasting menu of multiple tiny courses that smoke, fizz with dry ice or look like something they’re not. The mango and chocolate dessert that looks like a boiled egg is simultaneously delicious and confusing.
10.30: Breakfast like a local on ‘chocolate y churros’ – doughnuts dipped in chocolate – and walk it off by taking a wander around La Latina, one of Madrid’s most historic areas.
It’s a maze of pretty streets, squares and historical buildings with wrought iron balconies and tiled roofs. Don’t miss the Plaza Mayor, the city’s grandest square.
12.00: It’s market time again. If it’s Sunday, head to El Rastro, an open-air flea market with 3,500 stalls on and near the Ribero de Curtidores. Open any day of the week, the Mercado de San Miguel is another mouthwatering food market, in a revamped iron and glass structure dating back to 1916, so pick up a few more tapas bites for an early lunch.
14.00: See how Spanish royalty lives at the vast and opulent Palacio Real. King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia actually spend little time here – it’s really for state ceremonies. The palace is in the grand Versailles style, so be prepared to be dazzled by frescos, chandeliers and gold leaf.
16.00: Take a turn along the river in one of Madrid’s newest parks. When a ring-road was moved underground, the area along the banks of the Manzanares was freed up for development. The resulting green space, crisscrossed by bridges ancient and modern, stretches from behind the Palacio Real south for six miles, punctuated by children’s play areas and even an urban beach.
20.00: Eat at one of Madrid’s new breed of gastrobars – cheap, and relatively informal, but providing tapas with a twist. Estado Puro makes its mini-hamburgers with brioche and deconstructs its tortilla, but cooks tripe in traditional stew to a family recipe.
There are two branches, one opposite the Prado and the other on the ground floor of the NH Palacio de Tepa.
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