Five ¡Fantástico! Things to Do in Madrid
December 15 2015
The first time I visited the Spanish capital of Madrid, I fell in love with it. The relaxed attitude of the people, the style of the buildings, and the historical centre enraptured me in a way that so many cities rarely do.
My visit was only a few short days, so certainly not enough to truly understand the city. But, the emotions I felt whilst wandering around Madrid were unlike any I’d felt in Barcelona, which I’d left only a week prior. The atmosphere that swells and resounds outwards like a heartbeat from the people can be felt like the beat of a drum. Every. Single. Emotion.
Madrid also feels highly regal, which certainly isn’t astonishing or surprising to anyone who knows their Spanish history.
As a capital, there’s also plenty to keep both locals and visiting travellers busy, too, and I enjoyed every single event that happened during my stay – especially when food was involved.
Here are a few ¡fantástico! things to do in Madrid that I loved, and I think you’ll enjoy as well.
1. Eat Too Many Churros
Everyone knows that dipping churros in a cup of thick hot chocolate is the only way to start a day in Spain. They’re unlike the classic sugary donuts that most people have probably already tried. They’re crunchy outside, soft on the inside, and usually far too oily than can possibly be good for the human body. But who cares, right?
It’s hard to imagine that so many people start their day off this way, but you only need to pop into any local cafe in the morning to see enough folks eating the same long, crunchy sweet pastries, although they’ll be more likely to dip them in coffee and not hot chocolate.
I can promise you now that one churro will not be enough.
2. Leave Room for a Food Tour
If you can leave room for it after all those churros, then a food tour of Madrid is a great way to spend a few hours.
On one bright sunny day, Franca and I met with our tour guide and a small tour group to explore every aspect of a typical Spanish day of eating. We started with one cream-filled pastry each, which was big enough to split between three people. Then we tried a locally-produced sweet called turrón, which is like nougat, but a thousand times better.
There were stops for biscuits, freshly made hot food, and trips to some of the oldest markets and shops in the city, where some families have been trading for decades, which is always fascinating to see in a world so overflowing with chain-after-faceless-chain.
Joining one of the many food tours on offer is a fantástico way to learn where locals really eat, when they do it, and what’s the best food worth trying.
3. Grab a Drink with Locals in Plaza Mayor
If enjoying local life is something you enjoy more than signing up for tours, then there are several neighbourhoods in the city where you can walk with, talk with, and have a drink with the locals.
Chueca is a fantástico district full of trendy bars, and is home to the largest LGBT community in Madrid. Malasaña is also another great, hip neighbourhood where hipsters and the coolest of the cool hang out late into the night.
However, one area that will surprise you with how popular it is for locals is Plaza Mayor, the square at the heart of the city that’s filled with photo-snapping tourists during the day, but filled with nothing but locals at night.
As the sun goes down, the crowd starts to swell. Everyone from every age group meets with their friends, together with bags of whatever foods and alcoholic drinks they can lay their hands on.
If you’d like to spend an evening more like a local rather than inside an overpriced bar aimed at locals, try Plaza Mayor at night.
4. Don’t Go to the El Rastro Market
One problem with people sharing ‘the best place in town‘ is that they very quickly become overpriced and overpopulated. That’s exactly the case with El Rastro Market.
Sure, it’s interesting to walk along for a few minutes, but if you’re really a bargain hunter, then it’s highly unlikely you’re going to find much worth haggling over at the stalls. You might find a few genuine items on sale that have been hand-crafted, but a lot of the stock is the same imported stock you can find almost anywhere.
Choose a better market instead. Something that’s still loved by locals and full of interesting items that you can’t find anywhere else.
For example, try the weekly design market at the Matadero Culture Centre that’s on once a week and organised for the local college of design students to showcase their latest products.
If you love new Spanish trends in design, then it’s another fantástico place to visit. I just hope that my mentioning it won’t make it go the same way as El Rastro.
5. End the Day with a Special Sunset
If you’re not ending the day in Plaza Mayor, then the only other place you should be spending it is amongst the crowds of locals in Parque del Oeste.
Right alongside the Royal Palace, the park welcomes dozens of people every night, who come to sit on the grass with their friends or loved ones to watch the sunset go down. The sunset itself is highly remarkable, but what makes the whole affair so fantástico is how everyone behaves as the light disappears.
People laugh, dance, play, and altogether feel a part of something other than themselves. It’s only for a brief moment, but when the sun starts to slip beneath the surface, people subconsciously get closer and whisper in excitement.
What was more interesting to me than the sunset was standing up against the fence at the edge of the park by the drop of the hill and facing towards the crowd, watching as people came together for one single moment that people so rarely do in the fast-paced, modern world.
Moments like that are special, and Madrid is full of them.
Have you ever been to Madrid? What’d you think about it? Let us know your thoughts down below!
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