Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Top Five To-Dos in Madrid

The traditional Spanish capital of Madrid is often overlooked as a top European destination, getting lost in the shadows of other cities like Paris, London, and Rome.  But with a plethora of outstanding food, a world class football team, green space galore, world famous art, and rich culture Spanish culture around every turn, it is fascinating how more tourists do not flood the streets as they do in these other hotspots in Europe.  With so much goodness to take in, how can visitors possibly decide how to fit it all in?  Here is a top five list of must-do activities for those fortunate enough to discover this absolute Spanish gem.

5) Tapas, Tapas, Tapas

 From upscale eateries to tucked away bars, one thing virtually all of the restaurant establishments in Madrid have in common is tapas.  This tradition of serving a small taste of food with each beverage began centuries ago as barmen sought out a solution in the hot summer months to keep pesky insects away from patrons’ drinks.  They would place a lid on the glass that was often a small plate, and eventually began to add a snack to the top, realizing that people tended to drink more when they were eating.  Since then, the Spanish have become increasingly creative in their tapas offerings.

Some minimal bars will merely plop down a pile of potato chips or fresh olives, while others provide creative pinchos (small bites served on top of a piece of bread) topped with goat cheese, salmon, or foie gras, to name a few.  One famous tapas bar in Madrid, El Tigre in the Chueca district, offers massive plates full of rich Spanish tortilla (popular egg and potato dish), fried croquettas (breaded balls of creamy dough), and spicy chorizo (Spanish sausage), piled high and free with the purchase of a cold drink.

4) Futbol!

After winning their third consecutive world championship, mentioning team Espana is a must.  And with several of the country’s team members regularly playing for local team, Real Madrid, catching a game at Santiago Burnabea Stadium makes the top of the list for things to experience while in town.  The famous football stadium is located in the north of the city, not far from the only towering skyscrapers in Madrid.

During off season or when there is a break in the action, the impressive sports arena offers comprehensive tours year around where visitors get a sneak peek into the modern dressing rooms, presidential balcony, press box, and trophy room, along with a walk around the pitch and a full panoramic view.  When it is game time, an elite group of the world’s finest football athletes show their skills.  World Cup and Euro Cup leading goal tender, Iker Casillas, and notorious celebrity sports star, Cristiano Ronaldo, sport the white B-win jerseys and guarantee an exciting match.

3) Green Space

Walking through the streets of Madrid, gazing up at the impressive architecture boasted throughout the main roads, it’s clear that this was a capital made for a king.  This goes for the parks as well.  The most central and famous park is Parque de Retiro, which was originally created for the royal family to enjoy a peaceful get away, or retirement, from the palace.  Today, several kilometers of green expanse and hidden nooks are free rein to residents and visitors to enjoy a leisurely day at the park.  In the center of the grounds is an elaborate fountain pouring into a small lake where paddle boats are offered at a steal.  Within the grounds are also small art exhibits and the famous glass palace, Palacio de Cristal.

Madrid’s largest park, Campo de Casa, was formally hunting ground for the royal family and now offers hiking trails, sports facilities, an amusement park, and a zoo.  And if that isn’t enough green, there are numerous smaller neighborhood parks always a stone throw away.

2) Art and Museums

Art is plentiful in this culturally rich Spanish city.  The most famous of the art museums is the world renowned, Museo de Prado.  It holds seven centuries of Europe’s finest art work, including the most impressive and largest collection of Spanish paintings and sculptures.  People come from far and wide to spend hours making their way through the massive halls of this monumental structure.

For a taste of modern art work, the Riena Sofia does not disappoint.  Fascinating seasonal exhibits utilize the senses and technology to create an entire art experience and great works of modern art geniuses span the walls.  In addition to the Prado and Riena Sofia, throughout the city there are always various temporary exhibits displayed anywhere from train stations to plazas.

1) A Walk through the Old Town and Beyond

The best thing to do in Madrid is simply walk around and experience the sheer greatness of this impressive Spanish city.  The best place to lose oneself is in the old town.  Plaza Mayor is situated in the heart of Madrid and must be experienced more than seen.  The accordion plays softly, couples amble by, and patrons fill patios.  People watching here is a must.  Beyond the walls of the square is the Mercado de San Miguel, filled with the finest food products and perfectly prepared cuisine.
Not far down the old cobble stone streets, the crowd parts and the massive palace, Palacio Real, fill your view.  The spectacular grounds give way to incredible views and tours are available to get a taste of Spanish royalty.  The famous opera house, culturally rich neighborhoods like La Latina and Lavapies, and the center of Spain, Sol, are all a short walk away.

1 comment:

  1. We are visiting Spain this September and I am reviewing your website in preparation. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and adventures. Judith