Spain is a beautiful country, and let me tell you its Capital city stands out for sure. Madrid really impressed me, dare I say… maybe even more than Barcelona. It is definitely one my of the top 3 Capital cities. From the architecture, to the beautiful Retiro Park, the delicious tapas and the hip quarters of Malasaña and La Latina, Madrid combines old and new in a spectacular way.
So, without further ado, I invite you to join me in a little adventure through the Spanish capital and discover 8 of its beautiful secrets – myths & legends, cool bars, an indoor beach, a tropical jungle and a stunning sunset.
1. The fallen angels of Madrid
I really found this first little secret fascinating… Did you know that Madrid has not one, but two fallen angels? The first one you will discover on the alleys of the beautiful Retiro Park – Fuente de Ángel Caído. The statue was built by the Spanish sculptor Ricardo Bellver and apparently this is the only public depiction of Satan himself – Lucifer – the angel fallen from Heaven and the grace of God. Now this is great material for a scary story for the faint of heart, isn’t it? But, coincidence or not, the chilling fact is that the statue is located at exactly 666 m above the sea level.
The second “fallen angel” has a completely different story though. The statue entitled “Air Crash”, by Miguel Angel Ruiz, has nothing to do with angels or devils. It is actually an allegory to the fact that you know… shit happens. You are “flying” quietly through life, until something happens and you crash. You fall flat on your face. The important thing is to get up, dust off and carry on. This is some solid advice to take and comes at a time in my life I really need it.
2. Eat your heart out: Churros and Tapas
People who know me, know I’m a total foodie and more over, a total desert freak. So you can imagine how my face lit up when I entered in Mercado de San Miguel. You can feast your eyes and your mouth with hundreds of delicious tapas: sweet, savory, meaty, fishy, cheesy or veggie, you name it. Hands down, Mercado de San Miguel is a foodie’s Paradise.
If you are interested in a more “seated” type of lunch/dinner setting, then you might as well go to the oldest restaurant in the world. According to Guinness Book of Records, Sobrino de Botín has been continuously running since 1725. But in order to get in, you should call in advance with a few days and book a table. Otherwise, you will be stuck in front of it, just like I was, dreaming of the suckling pig you’ll be having… next time you come to Madrid.
And now for desert… My mouth is already watering just thinking about it. When in Madrid you HAVE to try the churros. Ok. This is no secret, but THE place to go for this delicious treat is Chocolatería San Ginés. A few minutes walking distance form Plaza Mayor you will find the famous chocolateria that has been open since 1894. But be prepared for a long line of tourists. However, you can satisfy your sweet-tooth even in the middle of the night. This place is open 24/7!
3. Fancy a drink?
What better place to enjoy a cool drink, the warm rays of the sun and a spectacular view of Madrid other than a rooftop terrace? The absolute best rooftop in Madrid is on the 7th floor of the Circulo de Bellas Artes. The access is 4€ but that is money well spent. It is definitely a place I recommend to try next time you’re in Madrid.
Another interesting place to go is actually below ground. So, from the top of the city let’s go to an actual indoor beach. Yes! They do have a beach in Madrid. Located in the heart of the hip Malasaña district, Ojala bar is the place where you can go and have a drink while digging your feet in the sand.
4. Discover the indoor jungle at Atocha
Madrid does not only have an indoor beach, but also a tropical jungle. Atocha is the largest train station in Madrid (and in Spain) and it was build in 1851. After a fire almost completely destroyed it, the station was rebuilt and reopened in 1892. Responsible for the new vision and design, with cast iron and glass ceiling, was architect Alberto de Palacio Elissagne, pupil to non other than Gustave Eiffel. 100 years later, the old building was given a new destination. With cafes, shops and a 4,000 sq m tropical garden, Atocha became more than a train station. It became home to over 7,000 plants from 260 different species and sanctuary to over 300 turtles and fish.
5. Chamberi ghost station
Chamberi was part of the original 8 stations that represented the first metro line of Madrid back in 1919. With everything evolving quickly and trains getting bigger and faster, Chamberi was abandoned in 1966. However, the ghost station was brought back to life in 2008 and fully restored as a museum with old ticket offices, turnstiles and maps. The beauty of the station is however represented by the original ads, made from tiny little colored tiles, that cover the walls of the platform. The entrance to the museum is free, however, there is a limited number of people that can go in at once.
6. Discover the street art of Madrid
I love a good display of street art and even if Madrid is not that famous for it, I found some nice murals. You can find some amazing street art in the hip quarters like Malasaña, Lavapiés and La Latina Quarters. Coincidence or not, these quarters are not only vibrant with street art, but will offer also a colorful nightlife, with bars and cafés for every taste. In fact most of the street art is actually a representation of the local business.
7. Souvenir hunt
What is a trip without a cool souvenir to remember it by? I have my little stash of fridge magnets and key chains, however, finding a “little something” to bring home that is outside the box is much more challenging.
So what better place to find a souvenir other than a flea market? Probably the most famous one of all is El Rastro Flea Market, located in one of the oldest quarters of Madrid, La Latina, between Calle Embajadores and the Ronda de Toledo. You can find all kinds of knick-knacks, old and new, anything from clothing, jewelry, handbags and handmade things. With a little bit of patience you could actually find some hidden treasures. El Rastro is open every Sunday and public holiday form 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. so make sure you reach it in time. You should reach it before lunch and after a few hours of digging for treasures, you can enjoy some cervezas and tapas in La Latina.
Another little secret of Madrid is ideal to bring back home as a souvenir. It’s unique, sweet and has a beautiful shade of purple. It can be found just off Puerta del Sol in the little elegant candy store called La Violeta. This charming souvenir shop has been open since 1915 and it offers these unique violet sweets in shape, color and essence of the flower that is part of the ingredients list. You cannot miss the shop since, in a sea of concrete, it has kept its original wooden façade. This family-run business, now at its 3rd generation, makes all the sweets locally, so you can’t get more Madrid spirit back home than a little box of violets.
8. Catching the golden hour
Each sunset has its own unique beauty. And Madrid has this absolutely amazing “secret” spot for catching the golden hour – Tempolo de Debod. This is an actual ancient Egyptian temple, dating back early 2nd century BC, that was dismantled and rebuilt in Madrid. Out of all the amazing sunsets that I have been privileged to witness and capture on camera, this has to be probably the top one. The way the light falls, the way it reflects in the water, the colors… everything creates a breathtaking scenery and the perfect closing to my Madrid experience.
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- Airport transport to and form the city is really easy. You can check your options here, but I recommend taking the metro and avoiding traffic.
- Get around the city with the Madrid travel card – valid on bus, metro and train – check out the prices here.
- Rent a bike and enjoy the city on two wheels. Check out Donkey Republic, 15€ to rent a bike for one day.
- Enjoy a drink and a spectacular view of Madrid on the terrace of Circulo de Bellas Artes. Entrance fee is 4€.
- Treat yourself with some delicious chocolate and churros at Chocolateria San Gines.
- Catch the breathtaking sunset at Debod Temple.