Madrid, the bustling capital of Spain, is chocked full of world-famous art museums, characteristic tapas bars and cultural spots. Often overlooked by travelers, Madrid doesn’t need to be just an entry point – it can be a destination for anyone looking to learn more about Spanish culture and history. Many of Madrid’s public squares are the core of activities – head to Plaza Mayor on a weekend to catch street performances, or Puerto del Sol to hang out with the local youths. Whether you are here for just a few days to soak up the Spanish vibes or a month-long stay to pick up the language, Madrid is definitely a rewarding destination for travelers and Oikos Hotel (Hotel Oikos Recoletos and Hotel Oikos Prados) would be ideal in location. These areas are with walking distance from our hotels.
Puerta del Sol
Madrid’s historic center is relatively big but still rather compact and easy to walk around. Start at Puerta del Sol, the center of Spain literally – this is the point from which all of Spain’s major roads originate. Puerta del Sol is one of Madrid’s main public squares, a popular hangout among both tourists and locals. It has some of the more commercial elements common to tourist traps, as well as street performances and a younger local scene. But if you brave the common hoards long enough to veer off a random side street, you’re sure to find yourself on a quaint road littered with garden balconies and picturesque laundry lines hanging above your head. Puerta del Sol also has some of the cheaper accommodation central to the city and has some relatively nice hostels for the backpacker scene.
Weave through the bustling street, Calle Mayor, past souvenir shops, boutiques and tapas bars to get to another public square, Plaza Mayor. The cultural scene here is explosive, as jugglers and street artists fight for attention from the hordes of tourists. There’s always something happening here, be it the Christmas fair or a local festival (the square is the staging ground for Madrid’s San Isidro Festival). Plaza Mayor is the most crowded on Sundays – as street performers from the nearby Rastro flea market stream here. You’ll also find some authentic chocolateria (traditional stores that sell thick, liquid chocolate) here.
Madrid’s main artery is the Gran Via, a wide boulevard with bright, glitzy shops and restaurants spilling out onto the driveway. The city’s hippest stores are all found here – restaurants ranging from fast food diners to chic fine dining outlets are all spread out along the long boulevard. You’ll also find plenty of hostels along Gran Via – with rooms overlooking the busy boulevard. End your day here with a sumptuous traditional Spanish dinner or light tapas and drinks after.
Teatro Real – Opera House
Catch the metro to Opera station or simply walk from Plaza Mayor. Art-lovers can catch a ballet or opera at the historical Teatro Real. Famous ballet troupes, such as Diaghilev’s Russian Ballet, often performed here when traveling through Spain. Although the theater has been remodeled in the 90’s (in order to enable operas to be performed once again rather than just orchestras), the building still maintains its original architecture. Elegant and antique, the house gives tours to those interested in the history of the structure itself, rather than just the performances.
Madrid’s Palacio Real is the official residence of the King and Queen of Spain but part of it is kept open to the public. The courtyard displays fantastic views of the city and countryside through ancient aquaducts that line the cliff. The majestic building enables a walk through the old medicine cabinet with massive shelves lined with ancient herbs, concoctions and containers, as well as entry to numerous main parts of the palace including the throne room, dining room and ballroom, all of which are absolutely breathtaking.
Each salon is different and usually has some kind of magnificent fresco either on the wall or ceiling, in addition to velvet and gold adornments at immense heights above your head. The palace is white on the outside and surrounded by beautiful gardens, kept perfect throughout the year. This site is definitely worth stopping by and a self-guided tour around the grounds is highly recommended.
Museo del Prado and Reina Sofia Art Museums
Although Barcelona is better known for its art collections and modern galleries, Madrid boasts two museums that would put Barcelona art history to shame. Head out to the Museo del Prado art museum first: the phenomenal edifice contains some of Europe’s highest regarded works from well-known names such as Francisco Goya, El Greco, Rembrandt, Caravaggio and Botticelli, to name a few. This site even has the famous “Garden of Earthly Delights” painting by Heironymous Bosch, which you could literally examine for hours, and you very well might.
Another site worth visiting is El Reina Sofia art museum. This site is a tribute to Spain’s greatest artists, although it does house a few foreign names. Some of the better-known works shown here include Picasso’s “Guernica” and Dali’s “The Persistence of Memory”, which if seen in person, puts all those mass-distributed dorm posters to shame. The museum itself is also quite stunning including a glass elevator for an entrance and modern architecture that plays with the elements of natural lighting.