Spain’s capital city, it gives you all that’s great about the southern European country and you can experience it from a fabulous Madrid hotel at your own pace and pleasure.
When thinking about what makes a great weekend away, many tourists consider how easy it is to get there, accommodation, places to visit and many people’s favourite two things in the world – food and shopping!
Being a European capital city, Madrid is incredibly easy to get to of course, being only a couple of hours direct flight from any UK main airport. As for hotels in Madrid…well, where to start?! There’s such a range to choose from, whatever your budget or need – whether you want nothing more than a place to rest your head between excursions or a hotel with a pool to chill out besides, you’ll find what you’re looking for, and there are always plenty of deals on offer too.
Madrid has been in existence since Roman times, although it was only adopted as Spain’s capital city in 1561, so there’s plenty to see if sightseeing’s your thing. Particularly recommended is the Palacio Real (Royal Palace), the Spanish monarchy’s official residence, which is open to the public. The royal family only use this palace for state occasions, which means we get the chance to see how European royalty live.
Let’s not forget that Spain was the departure point for Columbus, who, sent out by King Ferdinand in 1492 discovered the Americas and the fabulous wealth of gold and precious stones that flooded back to Spain paid for some pretty amazing stuff! This enormous and imposing building is filled with lavish halls, banqueting rooms, the throne room (which has the most amazing mirrors and even rock crystal spiders to admire) residential areas and a royal armoury. There are also fabulous gardens with planting that will take your breath away. You can choose to stroll around by yourself, or join a guided tour. This takes 45 minutes and is well worth it.
If after a morning’s bustle around Madrid’s busy streets you’re feeling like introducing a little calm back into your life, then Madrid has some simply beautiful parks to visit. The Retiro is perhaps the most famous; originally built as pleasure gardens for the royal family, it was scattered with palaces, all of which have now unfortunately disappeared. There is however a fabulous lake to take a break alongside and a really beautiful and highly fragrant rose garden.
For the true garden enthusiast, the Real Jardin Botanico (Royal Botanic Garden) is Spain’s answer to Kew Gardens, with over 20 acres planted with over 100 different kinds of tree and 3,000 different plants and flowers. Probably deserving of a day all by itself!
However, the venue that perhaps best sums up what Madrid is all about is the Plaza Mayor, a really stunning enclosed square in the city centre, with three-storey buildings on all sides, sheltering traditional shops, cafes and bars beneath ancient porticos. The buildings are all fabulously painted with murals, so beautiful you’re likely to get a crick in your neck as you wander round admiring the artwork.
While you’re there, see if you can spot the blood on the walls – oh yes, this square has a long and varied history…you can still see splashes of blood from when it was used for bull-fighting, though there are, thankfully, no hints of its use by the Spanish Inquisition for executing heretics! Today it’s filled with tables from the cafes that surround the square and is a perfect place to watch the locals enjoy the ‘paseo’ every evening. The paseo is a typically Spanish affair, when families young and old take to the streets to stroll in the cooler evening air, meeting friends and sharing a glass of excellent Spanish wine and a few tapas.
Mmmm, tapas… another typically Spanish affair and one which many city breakers quickly develop a love for. To understand the concept of tapas, those little dishes of delicious local foods found in almost every bar in Madrid, you need to understand the Spanish lifestyle a little bit.
Spanish people love to eat and are often shocked by our ‘eat and run’ culture! They see food as the glue that binds families and friends together. They take a very relaxed approach to eating, starting the day with a light breakfast, but doing it all again around 11am, when coffee and cakes are the order of the day!
Lunch rarely starts before 1.30pm; in fact, most businesses operate from 8am till 2pm, when workers disappear for a couple of hours for a relaxed lunch, to return at 4pm for a few more hours at their desks!
Evening meals are equally late (by our standards, that is), with dinner never starting before 8pm, and some restaurants not even opening till 9pm. In the summer, many families won’t sit down together to eat till 10 or even 11 o’clock, which is where tapas come in so useful!
If you really want to make like a local, you should take your time over lunch, having two courses with bread and a yummy dessert, then hit the street again around 8pm for the paseo, when anybody who’s anybody strolls in the cooler air and stops at a bar for a glass of excellent Spanish wine and a few tapas – tiny little meat balls in sauce (albondigas), Spanish omelette served warm in wedges with garlic mayonnaise (tortilla), chorizo sausages or even just a bowl of olives and some fresh bread.
Finally, no weekend in Madrid can be said to be complete without a visit to the El Rastro flea market, which takes place every Sunday. This is Madrid’s most popular flea market and is held every week and on public holidays between 9am and 3pm. Packed with stalls selling everything from funky clothing, bags and jewellery to original art to antiques to all that’s cheap and cheerful, you could very easily spend a few hours here just pottering and bargaining for goodies, before decamping to a local bar for a glass of something cooling and, of course, some tapas!
If you’ve never stayed in Madrid hotels, you’ve missed out and should set out to rectify that immediately!