You’ve just arrived in Spain’s beautiful vibrant capital; a city of endless sunshine, beautiful architecture, gorgeous green parks, a winning soccer team, tireless nightlife, and great food and drink. We’re pretty sure you’re going to like it. To help you get settled, here are ten things you should know about Madrid.
1. El Rastro flea market is a weekly institution
Where: Calle Ribera de Curtidores, between Plaza de Cascorro y Ronda de Toledo in the Embajadores neighborhood (nearest Metro station is Puerta de Toledo on Line 5 or Embajadores on Line 3)
When: Sundays 9am to 3pm
Madrid’s El Rastro flea market is the largest in Spain and a weekly Sunday institution that dates back to 1740. Here, you’ll find everything from clothing and artisan goods to furnishings and utensils. Even if you’re not a shopper, it’s worth going on a sunny day to see the street performers and soak up the overall atmosphere. Go early to get the best bargains and don’t be afraid to haggle, as vendors will drop their prices by 10% to 15%. For more unique bric-a-brac, veer off from the main drag and browse the offerings down the side streets. And once you’re all shopped out, do like the locals and head to the nearby Plaza de Cascorro for a late-morning Sangria and some tapas.
2. Some of the best food can be found in the local markets
The food markets in Madrid are a great place to gorge on tasty, authentic Spanish fare without spending a fortune. The most famous is the picturesque Mercado de San Miguel located in a striking old glass and wrought iron dome just off Plaza Mayor. Eat your way from stand to stand sampling the mouthwatering array of seafood bites, jamón ibérico, mini tortillas and other tasty pinchitos (tapas), washing them down with a cold beer or glass of fruity Rioja. Mercado de San Antón is another popular spot for fresh produce and bite-size eats. It also has a cool rooftop bar for a post-food cocktail.
3. Some local restaurants serve free tapas with the purchase of a drink
Back in the day, the tapa was a complimentary chunk of bread or piece of cured meat used to tapar (cover) your wine glass and keep the flies away. Some of the city’s more traditional restaurants such as Entre Cáceres y Badajoz still observe this tradition and will serve you some free tapas with your glass of beer or wine.
4. Trendy cafes with great coffee abound for study sessions
Madrid now has its fair share of expert baristas serving up the perfect cup of coffee using the latest brewing methods. Toma Café is one such coffee haven in the Malasaña neighborhood. Pum Pum Café is another popular hangout with hipster coffee aficionados and a good spot for an afternoon study session.
5. Madrileños love going out for a few drinks (then getting home at dawn)
Some say the Spaniards drink more beer per capita than any other alcoholic beverage and they certainly love a good night out. To party like a true Madrileño, start the night at La Latina in Plaza de la Cebada with a few cañas (slang for half pint) and see where the night takes you. Cava Baja and Cava Alta streets in the Malasaña neighborhood are also good for barhopping. Just pace yourself as the nightlife runs late and it’s not unusual to find yourself getting home at dawn.
6. Go to at least one Real Madrid soccer match (even if you don’t like soccer)
Soccer fan or not, you’ve probably heard of Cristiano Ronaldo, who plays on the Real Madrid team (a.k.a. Los Galáticos) along with some of the soccer world’s other finest players. Having accumulated more trophies than any other club in Europe, it’s considered one of the most successful teams in soccer history so if you’re going to see one game in your lifetime, this should be it. Their 81,000-seat home stadium Santiago Bernabéu is another sight to behold along with the hoards of adoring fans going wild when their home team scores.
7. Everyone loves being outdoors
Thanks to Madrid’s 300 days of sunshine per year, the locals love to spend their time outdoors in the city’s beautifully maintained plazas and parks. One of the most popular parks is El Retiro, where you can find a shady spot on the grass or take out a rowing boat on the picturesque manmade pond. It’s also a good place for an outdoor workout. Casa de Campo is another great park for a picnic or some quiet time and a ride on the Teleférico, where you can appreciate Madrid’s beautiful cityscape from a bird’s-eye view.
8. Churros con chocolate is the guiltiest of pleasures
A plate of crispy churros and a mug of warm melted chocolate to dip them in is Madrid’s sweetest indulgence and available in most traditional cafes around town. The most famous is the century-old chocolatier San Ginés that has been using the same failsafe family recipe since 1894.
9. It’s a city for walking and public transport
Fortunately most of Madrid’s main attractions sit within walking distance of one another and so the best way to get around the city is on foot. For longer distances, avoid expensive taxis and hop on a local bus or the metro (a one-way will cost you just 1.50 euros). And in the era of transport apps such as City Mapper, navigating your way around the city couldn’t be easier.
10. Watch for pickpockets
Violent crime isn’t common in Madrid but pickpocketing can occur, particularly in the touristy areas, so be street smart and watch your belongings in crowded plazas or markets and when on public transport.
Got any more useful tips for Madrid? Tell us about them in the comments section below!