Madrid is unusual for a capital insofar as it is found in the centre of the country, whereas most capitals are found on the coast or rivers in easily accessible locations on old trade routes. On the one hand, this does mean that, unfortunately, unlike the majority of popular Spanish destinations, Madrid doesn’t have a beach. However, it also means that the city benefits from a really unique character. So, what are the top 5 things to see and do in Madrid?
The Royal Palace
This palace is the official home of the Spanish royals, though they don’t actually live here. It shouldn’t cost more than €10 entry, and there are several concessions and ways to get free entry. Many of the rooms are open to the public and are decorated in an opulent, extravagant manner with lots of marble and luxurious velvets. Be warned that photography is forbidden inside the palace.
There are more than 30,000 plants from all corners of the planet residing in the botanical garden, making this a little slice of paradise and welcome respite from the intense heat of the city. Water features , shaded areas and sprinklers make this the perfect place to visit in the late afternoon when heat can become stifling, and there are beautiful blooms here all year round.
The Golden Triangle is the name for Madrid’s three major art palaces – the Prado, the Thyssen and the Reina Sofia. These three galleries between them contain the vast majority of the city’s priceless artworks, making it ideal for art buffs. A pass to the three should come to around €15, a small price to pay to spend time with some of the world’s most impressive, coveted pieces of art.
Scattered around central Madrid and the Gran Via Broadway are ‘ham museums’, or eateries specialising in various types of cured ham. Many of these act like the abundance of other tapas bars in the city, where you can order a drink and be brought a free tapa as an accompaniment. Wherever you are, the tapas on offer will vary broadly, from seafood to sliced meats and chorizo to vegetables to tortilla, so you can sample a huge variety of Spanish cuisine.
Most European capitals offer up some kind of river tour to visitors, but Madrid’s lack of river means that city tours should be done by bus. You will be given earphones and a map of the city so you can listen to Madrid’s history and figure out where you want to go, and it is a far better way to travel than by Metro as you get to see more of the tiny winding streets, hidden churches and bustling plazas for the price of one hop on, hop off ticket.
Madrid has much to offer its visitors, but anyone wanting to get out of the busy capital can hire a car to nearby city Valladolid, which should take around two hours, with a trip to the vibrant Salamanca taking around the same time.