Madrid is an imposing, grandiose yet somewhat regimented capital.
When we think of Spain, our minds are (usually) drawn to the bucolic whimsical image of the Alhambra, the feistiness and zest of Barcelona or the historical and deeply religious smaller inner cities (Seville).
What are our minds drawn to when we consider Madrid? Franco and his disturbing legacy, and the Royal Family.
While Franco’s traditions and enforcements have long been misplaced, there is still a highly bureaucratic essence evident in Madrid, it’s difficult to shift.
Whether that is the imposing Royal Palace without a live-in King, the wild and endless parks or the imposing statues: what is it about Madrid that I didn’t warm to?
Capital cities are notoriously difficult to fall in love with. Canberra in Australia is no great beauty and a bit of a bore, Washington retains its reservations for the elite, London is like marmite: you either love or hate it, and Madrid: Madrid is the imposing elderly and far less fun brother of Barcelona. He’s astute, laced-up and difficult to penetrate.
For me, Spain is still a place of mystery. I haven’t explored it’s labyrinth and diversity in-depth, and only have naughty weekends in Barcelona, and backpacking stop-offs in Valencia as my guide to Spain.
Madrid was a chance to completely entrench myself into the Spanish discourse: here is one of Spain’s most important and historical capital cities. Surely this was where I’d learn about Spain?
Yet alas, there was something missing: the fun, the easygoingness, the effortlessness and the beauty of other Spanish areas were lost in this built-up and highly politicised capital. Nonetheless, everyone should still visit and use the city as a gateway to then explore rural Spain.
With that in mind, 24-hours was all I needed, and this is what I pass onto you:
9am: Early wakeup and the first thing everyone is in need of is coffee, and lots of it. Take a coffee and brioche and head to the Plaza de Mayor – one of the most important squares at the centre of Madrid.
My advice? Do a free walking tour (which starts from the centre of the square). It most certainly is worth it. While it may feel ashamedly touristy, it’s important to get to know your bearings, and to learn about the history of this city. It’s one of the most politicised capitals in the world – learn it from a local.
12pm: Finish your walking tour, and head off to try some of the gastronomic delights. One of the most important things about Madrid is the food: tapas, iberico ham, croquette, bocadillo de calameres…the lists is endless. Enjoy flitting from one small tapas bar to another, in search of the ultimate cuisine.
2pm: Epicurean heaven must be followed by another ‘heaven’, this time in the form of something a little more commercial: shopping.
Sartorial shopping is a little passée (the exportation of Spanish fast-fashion has ensured that) but the area of La Salesas is the perfect area to go to for object, designs and artistic artefacts.
5:3pm: time for an early tapas, and a bold Rioja. Please visit the area of Universidad and the tapas bar La Ardosa: it’s one of the best tapas places in town. Enjoy the ibierco ham and the unique decor and atmosphere. It’s punctuated with locals, so you know it’s good!
8pm: it’s time to head out on the town. But, beware: Madrid is no Barcelona. There isn’t dancing on tables until 4am, or jelly shots as a pick-me-up at 6. Enjoy the nightlife of Huertas. If you’re really feeling festive, kick on at 1am to Cabaret club, La Latina. It’s open until the wee hours and is lots and lots of fun! Disclaimer: we ended up staying until 4am and did enjoy the drag shows. Also, it’s full of locals, both young and old!