After having spent a week exploring Porto and Lisbon, it was time to return to Spain and continue traveling the Iberian Peninsula. I said goodbye to the capital of Portugal and hello to the capital of Spain, boarding the overnight train in Lisbon and arriving in Madrid the following morning. A city rich in culture and deeply rooted in tradition, Madrid is bursting with interesting places to see and unique things to do. Based on my adventure-filled weekend in Spain’s capital, these are six parts of the city that I believe you do not want to miss on your next trip to Madrid.
1. Plaza Mayor
A striking square in the heart of Madrid, the Plaza Mayor is home to the Statue of King Philip III and has been the center of important happenings for hundreds of years. Bullfights, public executions, and crowning ceremonies are just a few of the significant events that have taken place here. Today the square is lined with cafés and restaurants that are ideal for people watching and provide a perfect setting to appreciate the surrounding architecture. Various concerts and festivals are also held here throughout the year, as well as the annual Christmas market.
2. Barrio de La Latina
The La Latina District is the oldest neighborhood in Madrid, filled with antique shops, second hand bookstores, tapas bars, and more. The artsy streets and picturesque buildings are worth exploring during the day, and the nightlife is something to experience at dusk. Every Sunday morning, hundreds of vendors set up stands that spill from one sidewalk into the next for El Rastro de Madrid, the largest open air flea market in all of Spain. Make sure you eat a big breakfast beforehand because you’ll be in for hours of treasure hunting and haggling.
3. Catedral de la Almudena
Interestingly enough, the Almudena Cathedral is built on the site of Madrid’s first mosque. Talk of building this cathedral first came about after Spain’s capital was moved from Toledo to Madrid in 1561, but its construction didn’t begin until 1883 and was only recently completed in 1993. Today you can step inside this magnificent gothic structure and admire its stained glass windows and stunning domes.
4. Mercado de San Miguel
The Market of San Miguel combines Spanish and international flavors to deliver a one-of-a-kind culinary experience. Packed with locals and tourists, tapas and cocktails, meat and seafood, and more, come here to immerse yourself in Madrid’s food culture. Expect to push your way through the crowds and embrace the hectic scene, it’s all part of the fun. For a more local atmosphere and a less touristy environment, the Mercado de la Cebada is a great alternative.
5. Palacio Real de Madrid
The Royal Palace of Madrid is the official residence of the royal family, but it is only used for state ceremonies as the family does not live here permanently. With 3,000 rooms, 870 windows, 240 balconies, and 44 staircases, this impressive architectural landmark will not disappoint. And with the Jardin De Sabatini and the Plaza de Oriente just outside, you can easily spend a half day enjoying the palace and its grounds.
6. Parque del Buen Retiro
The Buen Retiro Park is a beautifully landscaped green area that offers much more than what you typically find in a park. From fountains and sculptures to the man-made lake and serene rose garden, no visit to Madrid is complete without a walk through this park. Better yet, lace up your running shoes and sweat out the sangria you drank the previous night, there are 350 acres to explore!
What’s your favorite place to visit in Madrid?