Published 13th August 2019
As is the case in many countries, as the capital, Madrid is the heart of Spain. But what is Madrid known for? With almost 3.5 million people, it is not only the most populous city in Spain but the third biggest in Europe, after London and Berlin. Madrid is the seat of government and home to the Spanish monarch, but it is also considered the political, economic and cultural centre of the country.
No trip to Spain would be complete without a visit to Madrid, but you need to make sure you really get to know the city. This means not only seeing the sights but also getting to know its people, eating its food and, of course, hanging out with the locals.
Puerta del Sol
This is the spot in Madrid which is the geographic centre of Spain. It is the point where all six of Spain’s major roads meet. It might not be the most exciting thing to do in Madrid but it’s the place to be on New Year’s Eve and it’s pretty cool just to check out on any other day.
Yes, you heard right. On any street in the city centre you are likely to find a restaurant selling bocadillos de calamares – a baguette stuffed with battered calamari, slathered in mayonnaise. To be washed down with an ice-cold cerveza, of course. The best in the city are to be found in the Plaza Mayor.
Restaurante Sobrino de Botin
Sobrino de Botin is, according to the Guiness Book of World Records, the oldest (still-trading) restaurant in the world. It was founded in 1725 and is famous for its suckling pig and roast lamb. In fact, the food is so good it used to be a favourite hangout for Ernest Hemingway, who set the final scene of his novel The Sun Also Rises in the restaurant.
But not just any Zara. The Zara in Paseo do la Castellana in Madrid is the biggest Zara in the world. It’s approximately 6 000-square meters, which is more than half a rugby pitch. Need we say more?
Though this is definitely controversial, Cristiano Ronaldo may be the most famous Madrileño of them all. Okay, maybe the most famous footballer. The Real Madrid striker is considered one of the best footballers of all time, having won the Ballon d’Or five times and being the first player in history to win four European Golden Shoes.
Madrid is simply heaven for art buffs. The golden triangle is where you want to go with the Museo del Prado, the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia and the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza all being within easy walking distance of each other. The Prado Museum is one of the most visited museums in the world and is home to masterpieces by the likes of Velazquez, Rubens and Goya.
There are quite a few parks in Madrid but none like Retiro Park. It has a huge artificial lake where you can row boats, there is a Crystal Palace that houses art exhibitions, and there are usually puppet shows or musicians to entertain the kids.
Mercado de San Miguel
Next to Plaza Mayor, this historic food market retains its orginial twentieth century iron structure. Here you can buy amazingly fresh fruit and vegetables, but also the most delicious tapas. The market is known to showcase the different cuisines from all over Spain – from Iberian ham to Galician shellfish to Asturian cheese.
Any chocolate-lover worth their salt will know what churros are. Long, thin fingers of fried dough, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, churros are best eaten dipped in deliciously think hot chocolate. The most famous spot to indulge in churros in Madrid is the Chocolateria San Gines, hidden away in a tiny side street off the Plaza Mayor.
There you have it: food, shopping, football, art and culture. If you’re considering teaching English in Spain, Madrid should definitely be on your short list of teaching destinations.