To watch a Real Madrid match in Madrid is a football fanatic’s holy grail. In fact, you don’t even have to really like football to have a blast. The “real” in Real Madrid stands for royal. And in Madrid, they might as well be royalty. Secure tickets for a match at the Estadio Alfredo di Stéfano first, and plan around that. The restaurants in the Spanish capital are some of the most exciting in the world. Take, for instance, Platea Madrid, the food hall to end all food halls, or Ten con Ten, which is the kind of tapas bar that the ones back home aspire to be. As for hotels, go slick and modern at Dear Hotel or full-on palatial opulence at AC Santo Mauro. You’re in Madrid: There’s really no going wrong.
Madrid is renowned for her museums and despite the city’s classical overtones, street art—which oftentimes acts as visual commentary of the civic, political, and cultural overtones of a society—is alive and well with Boa Mistura—a multidisciplinary art collective. Made up of five creatives—friends since their teens when they would graffiti their neighborhood—their art, so decidedly in the public realm is intended to make a statement, to be community building, and to disrupt the notion that graffiti is vandalism. A guide can steward you through many of their large-scale murals that dot the city. More of their work is to be found in places as disparate as the favelas of Brazil and the Venice Biennale.
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
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
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 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