Tapas and toreadors, flamenco and fashion, Madrid has it all – and no need for a tour bus. Instead, take a walking tour downtown and explore Madrid’s vibrant culture and cuisine on foot. Here are five ways to see Madrid, Spain on foot:
1. Get Carded
First priority: buy a Madrid Card. This one time payment gives free entry to palazzos and museos, discounts on food and shopping and, best of all, no waiting with tedious ticket purchasers.
History is intermingled with contemporary living in Madrid; heritage buildings dotted among department stores, boutiques and cute cafés. Having the Madrid Card means no need for strict scheduling, just wander through grand plazas and ambling alleys, marveling at majestic museums as they materialize.
2. Hit the Art & History Buffs Trail
The Prado is the must-do museum with its haunting Goya room and old masters.
To see religious paintings and regal portraits in situ, however, nothing beats the Royal Palace. The Palacio Real transports visitors room by room into the world of Spanish royalty with opulent art, exquisite antiques, statues and friezes all framed by flamboyant frescoes, gargantuan curtains, tapestries, wall coverings, priceless carpets and marble mosaic floors with a different color scheme in each room. Better than HGTV for décor inspiration!
Touring the hip Chueco area, the Museo del Romanticismo is hidden away between shop fronts and restaurants. It has its own elegant eatery – a quiet courtyard café filled with towering trees and plants and serenaded by the sounds of fountains and birds. Its 19th century paintings and artifacts are more upbeat than the broody and bloody works of the old masters and, although small, it’s a less crowded attraction.
3. Shop Till You Drop
Well-dressed and fashion-conscious at every age – and any time of day – the Spanish excel in retail offerings. Outdoor malls are set among the heritage areas of Madrid, anchored by the ubiquitous El Corte Ingles department stores and multiple Desigual outlets. Either pack your chicest wardrobe or bring an empty suitcase!
Although nightlife revolves largely around the stomach in romantic restaurants and tantalizing tapas bars around Puerta del Sol and Plaza Major, it was flamenco which embodied the heart and soul of the city for me. Dramatic, emotional and exciting, it’s a combination of Spanish guitar, African-like drums, Arabian-influenced singing and flamboyant heel-tapping dancing. The guys wear natty, slimline suits and the ladies don brightly-hued, multi-layered, velvet and lace dresses with flowers in their hair.
4. Flamenco & Flavours
Of course, all this touring and sightseeing has to be interspersed with ristorante rest and respite. In early October when I went, outdoor life was prime with canopied cafés sprinkling cobbled streets and grand plazas, perfect for people watching, tapas tasting and appreciating street performers.
The Retiro Gardens are a lovely, lush place to chill with churros and chocolate by the boating lake. The Mercado de San Miguel is a the place to appreciate Spanish delicacies from all over the country including Iberian hams, artisan cheeses and crispy croquettes. Not many tables, though, so be prepared to swoop when a sought-after seat frees!
Listed in the book 1000 Places to See before you Die, the Corral de la Moreria offers an exquisite tasting experience alongside its award-winning Tablao Flamenco. Here a six-course exploration of Spanish cuisine and wines precedes the show. Dinner – in an intimate dining room surrounded by flamenco art – is a feast of tiny portions accompanied by freshly-baked breads and wine pairings. Scallops, sea bass, Iberian ham, braised beef, Toledo lamb are all served in succulent sauces with delicate accompaniments on decorative platters. The cuisine culminates in a simple but sumptuous dessert reminiscent of cookies and cream.
This bijoux banquet is followed by the spectacular stage show in the main bar area. Sipping after dinner drinks, my applause gained momentum with each segment of the show and I was bellowing “baile” along with everyone else by the end. Just like the city of Madrid, the hour and a half performance was energetic, polished, authentic and utterly unforgettable.
IF YOU GO:
The Innside Madrid Suecia is a newly renovated, ‘green’ hotel set halfway between the Prado and the Palazzo Real with most of Madrid’s museums, attractions, restaurants, cafés and shops ranged between.