What are the five best things to see and do in Madrid?

Ryan Craggs

You’ll either need a jam-packed itinerary or a long vacation to fit in all the wonderful sights, sounds and smells Madrid serves up. But should you be short on time, our Forbes Travel Guide editors say these are the five things you must experience:
 
1. The Museum District. Whether you plow through hundreds of years of art in several hours or spread the visits out over the course of a few days, the Museo Nacional del Prado, Reina Sofia National Museum and Art Center, and Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum of Art are an art lover’s dream. The Prado is one of the finest art museums in the world, heavily featuring El Greco, Velázquez and Goya, while the breathtaking Reina Sofia houses works by Miró, Dalí and Picasso, including his profound Cubist Guernica.
 
2. El Retiro Park. Much like Central Park in New York, El Retiro cuts a placid oasis in the middle of urban chaos. Stroll through tree-lined paths or stop by the striking steel-and-glass Crystal Palace — and be sure to rent a row boat on the lake for a romantic moment. Sunday afternoons are especially lively, with hundreds joining in the drum circle near the lake.
 
3. Plaza Mayor. The most iconic plaza in Spain, the area tends to be a bit of a tourist trap when it comes to shopping and eating, so leave those activities for another place. But it’s still worth a visit. Bullfights, markets and executions have all taken place in this square — you can almost hear the history as you amble through — or it could just be the street performers and tourists’ chatter, too.
 
4. Puerta del Sol. While Plaza Mayor may embody the soul of Madrid, Puerta del Sol is its heart. The Royal Post Office and its clock tower look down on the center of the city, and some of its most famous streets radiate from Kilometer Zero, the point from which all others in the Iberian Peninsula are measured. The Bear and the Madroño statue (the animal chomps at fruit on a berry tree) is a popular place to meet up, and the neon Tío Pepe sign — which includes a guitar-toting sherry bottle dressed in a red cordobés hat and matching bolero jacket — is in almost every tourist’s photo collection.
 
5. El Rastro. On Sunday mornings, La Latina, the area immediately south of Sol, turns into the city’s largest flea market. There you’ll find all sort of handmade goods, including leather bags, artisan jewelry and art. Watching the waves of people moving up and down the streets can be an activity all in itself.

  • On August 16, 2012
    Ryan Craggs answered the question: Ryan Craggs

    What are the five best things to do with kids in Madrid?

    While Madrid offers some of the best nightlife in the world, families will find plenty of activities to keep kids occupied during the day. Here are our Forbes Travel Guide editors’ picks for five best things to do with kids in Madrid:
     
    1. El Retiro Park. Spend a sunny afternoon on the lake in the city’s biggest park, rowing about at your leisure. You’ll forget you’re in the middle of one of Europe’s largest metropolises.
     
    2. Real Madrid. The most successful club in Spain and in Europe, Los Merengues play at Santiago Bernabéu stadium, a Spanish soccer mecca. Stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo always leave the team at or near the top of La Liga. Catch a game between August and May.
     
    3. Teleférico. The cable car that connects the city-center area with the Casa de Campo park provides a majestic view of Madrid unlike any other. The ride lasts more than 10 minutes — and once you’re there, be sure to check out the Zoo Aquarium, too.
     
    4. Parque Warner. Though they may not understand what the Spanish-speaking Superman, Bugs Bunny and other Warner Bros. characters are saying, children will be too busy hopping from ride to ride in this amusement park to notice.
     
    5. Madrid Vision. The double-decker buses that zoom around Madrid may be touristy, but they offer one of the best chances for the short set to see the city. Once kids find out there’s a palace where a king and queen live, they might even want to learn more about Madrid’s history.
  • On August 16, 2012
    Ryan Craggs answered the question: Ryan Craggs

    What is the best thing to bring home from Madrid?

    You can’t go wrong bringing home a bottle of wine or two when returning from Madrid — just make sure they’re properly packed to ensure your precious cargo makes it back intact. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to take the delicious cured hams, fresh olives or tortilla española with you, but one sip of red wine may bring all the food memories back.
     
    Outside of food, fine leather goods are great souvenirs and gifts, whether it’s a belt, purse or wallet. And the sheer variety of scarves and capes sold in Madrid — as chic a city as you’ll find — can add a distinct punch to your wardrobe once you’re back in the U.S., and you can be sure that no one will be sporting the same accessories.
  • On August 16, 2012
    Ryan Craggs answered the question: Ryan Craggs

    What are the five best Madrid food experiences?

    Spaniards have a lively and individual food culture — producing the likes of José Andrés and Ferran Adrià — and Madrid sits at the center of much of it. Here are the five best food experiences in Madrid:
     
    1. Wine. Oenophiles have more than a little to celebrate in Madrid; here you’ll find bottles from Rioja and Ribera del Duero, and cava from Catalonia, just to name a few Spanish standouts. Almost every bar or restaurant in the city stocks a few great bottles, and in many spots, even the house wine will surprise you. On a hot day, few drinks are as refreshing as a tinto de verano, red wine mixed with gaseosa (a low-sugar lemonade), or a classic sangria.
     
    2. Jamón. Spanish for “ham,” jamón comes classified by breed of pig, what it’s fed and how it’s cured. Jamón Serrano is the more common type, a dry-cured meat similar to prosciutto, though cured longer. Then there’s jamón Iberico — made from a specific breed that’s fed only acorns. The smooth texture and rich flavor burst in ways you didn’t know ham could. Pop into a Museo del Jamón to marvel at the whole pig legs adorning the walls, even if you nosh elsewhere.
     
    3. Tapas Tour. No need for gastronomic monogamy in Madrid — in the evening, stopping at multiple taverns, bars and restaurants is the way to go. Many locales have their specialties, such as patatas bravas or tortilla española (a sort of potato soufflé, not a Mexican tortilla), and you’ll receive a plate of food when you order a round of drinks. And the less touristy the spot, the better off you’re likely to be. Check out Cava Baja for a whole strip of bars.
     
    4. Botín. The world’s oldest restaurant, open for nearly 300 years, serves a variety of traditional dishes. Our Forbes Travel Guide editors recommend the cochinillo, a roasted suckling pig that’s so tender it’s sliced with a plate rather than a knife, and angulas, baby eels, which can easily cost 500 euros per pound.
     
    5. Chocolate con churros. Nothing helps take the edge off a long night at the clubs quite like chocolate con churros, fried strips of dough similar to a doughnut, but aerodynamic enough to be dipped into your cup of chocolate. And this isn’t any old hot chocolate — if you’re in the right place, such as San Ginés, you can leave a spoon on top of the chocolate, and it won’t even break the thick liquid’s surface.
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  • On August 16, 2012
    Ryan Craggs answered the question: Ryan Craggs

    Where is the best nightlife in Madrid?

    Qualifying the best nightlife in Madrid is like talking about your favorite dish at Thanksgiving. “Uff,” a Madrileño would say. Some of the most famous nightclubs in the world are in the Spanish capital, including glam Pacha (which blasts everything from house to R&B) and packed Joy Eslava (which is heavy on house). The seven-floor Kapital plays different music on each floor, while Palacio Gaviria is a 16th-century castle replete with marble staircases and the latest dance music — not exactly what you imagine goes on inside a royal residence. Keep in mind, these places stay open until 6 a.m. or later in many cases, so be sure you’re ready for a night out — the whole night.
     
    Aside from the big clubs, Madrid offers some of the best bar scenes in the world, with possibly more bars per capita than any other city on Earth. The Barrio de las Letras and Huertas area, near Plaza Santa Ana, has dozens of bars, pubs and clubs, so if you don’t like a spot, play Goldilocks and head next door or across the street; you’ll find something that’s just right.
     
    For an alternative scene, check out Lavapiés, which shows the distinct influence of its foreign inhabitants, with world music, hookah bars and international cuisine. And we’d  be remiss to not mention La Latina, the neighborhood for tapas and stylish bars. Don’t miss La Cava Baja, a well-known street in La Latina. Pop into one of its bars, order a round of drinks and get your complimentary finger foods to learn what it really means to be a Madrileño.
  • On August 16, 2012
    Ryan Craggs answered the question: Ryan Craggs

    Where is the best shopping in Madrid?

    Madrid’s best shopping is right in the center of the city; the Sol-Salamanca area is filled with chain stores you’re already familiar with — Zara, Sephora and H&M — anchored by the country’s famous Corte Inglés department store. For haute couture, such as Versace, Louis Vuitton and Adolfo Domínguez, stroll over to Calle Ortega y Gasset. Spaniards are high on fashion, so you’ll be sure to find something from your favorite designers.
     
    For more boutique shopping, check out the Chueca-Fuencarral area of the city, just to the north of Sol and Gran Vía. The streets of Chueca, home to Madrid’s gay community, is lined with chic and bohemian clothing and accessories stores. And while you’re there, you’ll have plenty of restaurants and cafés to pop into, if you need a pick-me-up café con leche or a glass of tinto de verano (the red wine spritzer is a local favorite) during your afternoon of hitting the shops.
  • On August 16, 2012
    Ryan Craggs answered the question: Ryan Craggs

    What are the five best things to see and do in Madrid?

    You’ll either need a jam-packed itinerary or a long vacation to fit in all the wonderful sights, sounds and smells Madrid serves up. But should you be short on time, our Forbes Travel Guide editors say these are the five things you must experience:
     
    1. The Museum District. Whether you plow through hundreds of years of art in several hours or spread the visits out over the course of a few days, the Museo Nacional del Prado, Reina Sofia National Museum and Art Center, and Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum of Art are an art lover’s dream. The Prado is one of the finest art museums in the world, heavily featuring El Greco, Velázquez and Goya, while the breathtaking Reina Sofia houses works by Miró, Dalí and Picasso, including his profound Cubist Guernica.
     
    2. El Retiro Park. Much like Central Park in New York, El Retiro cuts a placid oasis in the middle of urban chaos. Stroll through tree-lined paths or stop by the striking steel-and-glass Crystal Palace — and be sure to rent a row boat on the lake for a romantic moment. Sunday afternoons are especially lively, with hundreds joining in the drum circle near the lake.
     
    3. Plaza Mayor. The most iconic plaza in Spain, the area tends to be a bit of a tourist trap when it comes to shopping and eating, so leave those activities for another place. But it’s still worth a visit. Bullfights, markets and executions have all taken place in this square — you can almost hear the history as you amble through — or it could just be the street performers and tourists’ chatter, too.
     
    4. Puerta del Sol. While Plaza Mayor may embody the soul of Madrid, Puerta del Sol is its heart. The Royal Post Office and its clock tower look down on the center of the city, and some of its most famous streets radiate from Kilometer Zero, the point from which all others in the Iberian Peninsula are measured. The Bear and the Madroño statue (the animal chomps at fruit on a berry tree) is a popular place to meet up, and the neon Tío Pepe sign — which includes a guitar-toting sherry bottle dressed in a red cordobés hat and matching bolero jacket — is in almost every tourist’s photo collection.
     
    5. El Rastro. On Sunday mornings, La Latina, the area immediately south of Sol, turns into the city’s largest flea market. There you’ll find all sort of handmade goods, including leather bags, artisan jewelry and art. Watching the waves of people moving up and down the streets can be an activity all in itself.