GREAT THINGS TO DO IN MADRID PART 3
Concluding our guide to festivals, culture, cuisine… discover all the capital has to offer!
Whether you’re feeling flush or counting every penny, you’ll find shops in Madrid to suit your budget. For exclusive brands, you might not need to go any farther than C/ Serrano, known as the Golden Mile and home to boutiques by Prada, Loewe, Armani, Roberto Verino, Adolfo Domínguez and more. If you’re into big names but low on cash flow, try heading north of the city to Las Rozas Village for some outlet shopping.
When you’ve got a bit less to spend, you’re sure to find a treasure or two in C/ Fuencarral. The city centre’s high street is where you’ll find brand-name shops intermingling with costume jewellery and affordable cosmetics. If you still haven’t found what you’re looking for, never fear. El Mercado is around the middle of C/ Fuencarral and is popular with the hipster set. But if you’re short on time, try C/ Preciados, just next to Puerta del Sol, where you’ll find all kinds of window displays tempting you to part with your euros.
When you’re getting to know a city, it’s just as important to try the local cuisine as it is to take in the art and culture. Madrid makes it easy with two essential traditional dishes. ‘Cocido’ is a stew that is typical of Madrid’s fare, and there are a thousand different ways to prepare it. The locals love their ‘cocido’ so much that there are even tours you can go on to try the best in the province. Some of the best ‘cocido’ can be found at Lhardy, with one of the oldest recipes in Madrid; La Bola, where it’s not unusual for them to serve a hundred a day; and Malacatín, a traditional Madrid tavern in La Latina.
For the best calamari sandwich, take a seat at El Brillante café, opposite Atocha station. Be sure to ask for it with or without lemon or mayonnaise, to suit your taste. And the streets around Plaza Mayor are laden with home-grown café bars like Postas and Ideal, where you’ll always find these sandwiches filled with tender breaded calamari on the menu. If you’re looking for live music, you’ve come to the right place. Madrid boasts plenty of venues, enormous and intimate, where the biggest national and international stars have played. If you’re a jazz fan, you’ll find the real thing at Café Central and Café Populart – both host live jazz nightly. If you’re looking to rock out or get down and funky, look no further than La Boca del Lobo, where all concerts are free. La Coquette is a meeting place for blues lovers, El Búho Real is where you want to go to catch unplugged singer-songwriters onstage, and Gruta 77 is a favourite among fans of good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll.
Bands that fill stadiums take their big sounds to the Palacio de los Deportes, in the heart of Madrid; La Riviera, next to the Manzanares River, with a slightly lower capacity; or Palacio Vistalegre, which is the farthest out of the city. These are just a few of the highlights in a city hopping with live music, including big festivals such as Dcode. When you talk about Madrid’s gay centre, you’re talking about Chueca, where the bars, shops, clubs, travel agencies, bookstores, and other shops mostly focus on the gay community living in the area and always welcome the respectfully curious. At the heart of the barrio is Plaza de Chueca, where you’ll find the eponymous metro stop is a popular meeting place, especially in summer when the terraces take over the entire square. Among the best known clubs in the scene are the Black & White, Delirio, Why Not, Truco, and Fulanita de Tal.
If you want to plan a visit during the biggest gay celebration of the year, be sure to save the dates at the end of June and beginning of July, when Gay Pride hits Madrid in all its shimmering glory. The streets are packed with revellers, beer or mini ‘calimocho’ (red wine with Coke) in hand, watching the Pride parade float by along Gran Vía. Once that’s over, the party carries on and Chueca is chock-a-block with shiny happy debauchery for a few more days. When you’re in town with time to spare, why not take a day trip and explore the surroundings? Strolling through the gardens of La Granja de San Ildefonso, a royal palace formerly used as a summer residence by the Spanish monarchs, is a real treat. As is a visit to the immense San Lorenzo del Escorial Monastery, about 45 kilometres from downtown.
Find more green spaces in the gardens of Aranjuez, which are located next to another royal palace and have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And for some hearty traditional cuisine, be sure to visit Chinchón and its old town square. When you’re planning your skiing holiday, the first destination that pops into your head probably isn’t Madrid. But keep in mind the city is surrounded by mountains where you can slide into winter. Valdesquí is the most popular resort, with 27 tracks (3 red, 15 blue, 9 green), 15 ski lifts, 9 snow-making machines, and several cafés and rest areas.
Families in Madrid more typically spend the day at Puerto de Navacerrada, where they can rent sledges for the kids to play on gentle slopes. As the first flakes fall, the nearest parking area is immediately overstuffed, and traffic jams can be monumental. If the weather’s not cooperating, you can always have a go on the covered slopes at Snowzone, open all year round in the Xanadu shopping centre.
There’s a park in Madrid that even a lot of the locals don’t know about where the almond trees bloom each spring. The Quinta de Los Molinos, in the El Salvador barrio, boasts 21.5 hectares that make a lovely home for a large number of tree species, including olive, pine and eucalyptus, plus several fountains and a lake.
But the real stars are the pink and white flowers of the almond trees, which also give off a heady scent. This garden was owned by the Count of Torre Arias, but in 1920 became part of the estate of César Cort Botí, an engineer and architect.
Since 1997 it has been considered a Historical Park, and at weekends it welcomes families kicking a ball around, couples taking a romantic stroll and groups of friends who can’t stop snapping shots of the colourful trees with their mobile phones.
If you can stand the heat, Madrid’s summer festival season is the best time to see the capital in all its splendour. Spring has its share of celebrations, with Dos de Mayo, marking the 1808 uprising against French occupation; and the San Isidro festival honouring the patron saint of Madrid with outdoor concerts, street stalls selling food and drink, and spending the day in the park named after the saint.
Once those are history, the parties really pick up, with the streets filled with festivals and merry-makers virtually every weekend throughout summer. The big one in mid-July is the Virgen del Carmen, which is a big deal in the barrios of Puente de Vallecas, Chamberí and Villaverde Alto. And August celebrates the Verbena de la Paloma in La Latina, honouring the neighbourhood’s very own patron saint.