GREAT THINGS TO DO IN MADRID PART 2
Continuing our guide to the festivals, culture, cuisine… discover all the capital has to offer!
Every Sunday it seems like the whole of Madrid is in one place: C/Ribera de Curtidores, in the Embajadores neighbourhood, where dozens of stalls are set up selling second-hand clothes, vinyl records, jewellery and just about any object you can imagine. This is El Rastro, the most famous and oldest flea market in town.
Get there early in the morning unless you’re really into crowds, because later in the day the street turns into a raging river of shoppers trying to elbow their way against the current as the vendors wage a shouting war over who has the best deals. Bar and café owners have taken advantage of the draw El Rastro has and have opened up nearby, so you can always find a place to duck out for break or an energy boost. And don’t forget to visit the antiques shops down the side streets. Back in the day, Gran Vía was nicknamed ‘the Broadway of Madrid’ thanks to the sheer quantity of cinemas and theatres that lined the street. Even though many of those have since closed, the strip from Plaza de Callao to Plaza de España keeps the culture alive and draws long queues at the box office. Dating back to 1944, the Teatro Compac Gran Vía is one of the oldest theatres in the city, and its stage has held dance performances, musicals and more.
The Teatro Lope de Vega has hosted the best and most successful musicals on the Madrid stage, including ‘The Lion King’, ‘The Phantom of the Opera’, ‘Mamma Mia!’, ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ and ‘Les Miserables’, while the Rialto was home for nearly two years to the wildly popular Spanish musical ‘Hoy No Me Puedo Levantar’ (‘Today I Can’t Get Up’), based on the songs of Mecano, the best-selling Spanish band of all time that was active in the 1980s. At the foot of Gran Vía is the Teatro Coliseum, built in 1932 as a cinema. It’s welcomed such works as ‘Cats’, ‘My Fair Lady’, ‘Saturday Night Fever’ and ‘Chicago’, among many others.
Over a century ago this chocolatier’s opened its doors in a hidden alleyway between Puerta del Sol and Plaza de Ópera. Today San Ginés serves up the most famous churros in Madrid, and it’s a popular meeting point for clubbers heading home after a serious night out.
Surrounded by authentic decor and the classic snapshots of celebs on the walls, you’ll wait anxiously for your mug of warm dipping chocolate, churros or porras (just like the tasty fried bread of churros, but even bigger around). Be sure to get a glass of water to wash all that delectable sweetness down. The waiters are constantly running up and down the stairs, inside and out, to satisfy the never-ending cravings of their clientele. The churros and porras are made by San Ginés, using the same reliable recipe since 1894. The chocolate is also made on the spot and can be mixed with any of the liqueurs they’ve got to hand for an added jolt. The quintessential symbol of Madrid and the meeting point for lost tourists and friends heading out on the town, ‘The Bear and the Strawberry Tree’ sculpture, at 4 metres and 20 tonnes of bronze, is not only in the centre of the Puerta del Sol, which is in the heart of Madrid, but is also the starting point (0 km) of all the motorways in Spain.
Don’t shy away from the typical tourist photo. Be sure to wait your turn with the groups of admirers crowding around for their shot of ‘El Oso y el Madroño’, which also appears in Madrid’s coat of arms. For years the statue was in front of C/ del Carmen, but now stands at the mouth of C/Alcalá and the Carrera de San Jerónim. The streets of the Malasaña neighbourhood were the centre of Madrid’s post-Franco ‘Movida’ countercultural movement, and they’re still abuzz with nightlife. Bars like El Penta, La Vía Láctea and Tupperware are heaving with party people into the wee hours at weekends. It’s worth wandering around the barrio to stumble upon some of the new spots that have opened in recent years.
If a night out dancing is more your thing, you’re also spoiled for choice. You’ll hear a lot of talk about Kapital, pumping out house and dance music – the funkier the better – in its seven floors. To boogie the night away to the top pop hits of the day, head for Shôko. And indie kids won’t be disappointed at Independance Club or Ocho y Medio.