Unlike its traditional rival Barcelona, Madrid – the political and social heart of the country – is openly and quintessentially Spanish. You’ll find a passion for bull fighting and flamenco, sunny streets and balmy evenings, a love of soccer that borders on hero worship and restaurants full of paella.
Madrid has some great sites, but for many travelers it’s more about the atmosphere and the experience. Evenings at a flamenco restaurant, or sampling tapas in the window of Botin Restaurant (the oldest restaurant in the world), before strolling to the cable car and taking a panoramic ride over the city or getting indulgent with chocolate con churros (strips of dough dipped in chocolate) is more a part of Madrid than any site.
Having said that, this city is gorgeous, and to come all this way without ogling the best of it would be a real waste. In the heart of it you’ll find The Royal Palace, – the largest of its kind in Western Europe – an ornate, 18th century building home to walls full of notable artwork and tapestries that make it significant as a museum in its own right, too. If it’s art you’re after, though, The Prado is still more impressive, as home to the work of many a European master tucked away behind its columned façade.
Madrid Cathedral is a towering white building that took 110 years to build, and the Templo de Debod is a 2nd century Egyptian temple in the heart of Madrid, donated by the Egyptian government in 1968 and now surrounded by a still water moat on the side of a central hillside, an unlikely resting place. Elsewhere in the city there are ample squares in which to collapse and people watch, many coming alive at night with markets or playful drinking sessions.
After splurging the cash over the summer, Real Madrid FC have many of the world’s best football players kicking leather in the magnificent Bernabeu Stadium, including 80 million Euro purchase Ronaldo. An entertaining, impassioned way to spend an evening, if you can tear yourself away from the tapas, alcoholic coffee and sumptuous chocolate snacks.