Buen Retiro Park
Plaza de la Independencia, 7, Retiro
A royal retreat until the 19th-century, the city's main park is dotted with evidence of its princely origins, whether it's the Paseo de la Argentina with its flank of royal statues, the Palacio de Cristal, a former greenhouse for rare species from the Philippines (now an art space curated by the Reina Sofía), or the 18th-century Neoclassical observatory. Today it's simply where locals gravitate for a dose of the outdoors. The park bustles with visitors year-round and offers numerous activities, thanks to outdoor Flamenco concerts, new exhibits, boat rides on the man-made Estanque lake, and the rose garden. Photo: Håkan Svensson
Casa de Campo Park
Paseo Puerta del Angel, Moncloa-Aravaca
Casa de Campo translates to country home, and did indeed once house the royal hunting lodge—in fact, you can still spot deer and rabbits. While it's been engulfed by the city, it still feels much like an escape, and an enormous one at that: There are winding bike trails, a boating lake, Madrid's zoo and aquarium, along with a massive, rollercoaster-laden amusement park. And, If you take the cableway in, you'll also benefit from some of the best views of Madrid down below. Photos: Jose A.
Calle de Santa Isabel, 3, Centro
This iconic movie theater is the home of the Spanish national film archive, which makes it a good spot to catch art house films (at great prices). It also houses a pretty comprehensive shop for film nerds, though even non-filmophiles will appreciate the restored, Art Nouveau architectural details, evidenced by the old-fashioned café, red velvet theater interiors, and incredibly-detailed ceilings. Photo: Manuel Martin Vicente
Calle de la Ribera de Curtidores, S/N, Centro
This may be the biggest flea market in all of Spain, but don't head to El Rastro expecting too many vintage treasures, as much of what's sold here nowadays is new. Serious shoppers can hit some of the side streets for the odd antiquarian's stall, though the aim for most locals is mainly the lazy Sunday morning stroll—finished with a beer and some tapas at the nearby Mercado San Miguel, recently restored and brimming with traditional food stalls. Fairly central, many of the main museums are nearby and make a good afternoon destination. Photo: Promo Madrid
FC Barcelona at Camp Nou
12 Calle Aristides Maillol, Les Corts
Watching this storied club play at their home stadium is a bucket list item for fútbol aficionados. But seeing a game there is really an incredibly cool experience even if you don't know who Lionel Messi is. The stadium, which was originally constructed in the mid-1950's, now seats a staggering 99,000+ people, many of whom are die-hard fans, meaning the collective energy of the crowd can be insane. If you're planning a trip to Barcelona during season, check the team's schedule to see if they're at home while you're in town. Although the games can get rowdy, this can also make a really fun outing for kids (who are old enough to sit for a couple hours) and teen travelers.
Lola de los Reyes
6 Avenida de Blas Infante, Coria del Rio
Even if the idea of dancing in public is mortifying, you need to spend a night at this popular local’s bar, if only to watch a whole bunch of excellent Flamenco go down to live music and exceptional singing.
A city redevelopment project of gargantuan proportions, this 10km stretch of green space along the city's Manzanares riverbank replaces the former M-30 freeway, which now runs underground. Its completion in 2011 brought local Madrileños back to the riverbed with a system of restored bridge monuments, new footbridges, or Cáscaras, an urban beach for sunbathers, 17 new playgrounds, and kayak docks. What's more, it's stitched neighborhoods like Arganzuela, Carabanchel, and La Latina—once dissected by the city's traffic—back together, making them all completely walkable. Rent a bike or stroll the riverbank to check out the park's features, such as the fruit tree arboretum recreating that of the formal royal palace, or the pine walk which is almost directly above the now submerged M-30. All of this is the work of an impressive, 4-year collaboration between the Dutch firm West8 and Madrid's own MRIO. Photo: © West8
Although there is plenty to do in Barcelona, Montserrat makes a good day trip outside of the city. About 50 kilometers northwest of the city, you can get there via train in a little over an hour. The mountain is home to the Benedictine monastery of Santa Maria de Montserrat, which can feel overrun with tourists at times, particularly near the statue of Catalonia's iconic saint, La Morenetta (the Black Virgin). For outdoors lovers, the real draw is Montserrat's hiking trails, which unwind above the monastery, and afford stunning views of the jagged, rocky cliff faces—and, as you climb higher—Catalonia sprawled out below.
Setas de Seville
18 Plaza de la Encarnación, Centro
Other than being a head-spinning architectural feat, Jürgen Mayer-Hermann’s Metropol Parasol is a fully functional public space. Its size alone is impressive and the meandering paths along the edges of the “parasols” offer dizzying views of the city.
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