There is much more to Madrid than football. Experience fine dining, great culture, glorious gardens and celebrated art that's worth even more than Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo in this vibrant city.
Home to the most celebrated football team of the last century, Madrid’s 80,000-seater Bernabéu stadium houses the city’s greatest football treasures including 31 Spanish league titles and a record nine UEFA Champions League trophies.
But what attractions are there away from the legendary stadium for Madrid's celebrated number nine and his teammates to enjoy in this historic Spanish city?
Whether it is sampling a traditional tortilla in the expensive and atmospheric eateries, sipping on a jug of sangria or simply people watching, Madrid’s Plaza Mayor and Plaza de La Puerta Del Sol are the beating heart of the city.
Among the crowds of shoppers beneath the iconic sign of Tio Pepe lies the centrepoint of Spain itself - Plaza de La Puerta Del Sol. A popular meeting place among Madrileños, especially for New Year’s Eve when the traditional 12 grapes are eaten in time with the clock, the square is home to the iconic Post Office and a statue of the symbol of Madrid - the bear and tree.
To the south-west of Del Sol lies Plaza Mayor, possibly the most popular tourist attraction in the city. Surrounded by three-storey residencies and reached by nine entranceways, the square has seen everything from bullfights and public executions to football games. It is now a popular venue for concerts, restaurants and markets. The exquisite frescoes of the 17th-century Real Casa de la Panaderia provide the perfect backdrop for a spot of al fresco dining and drinking.
State of art
Home to three of the finest galleries in the world, Madrid will satisfy Ronaldo’s every artistic whim.
Inaugurated in 1992, the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia is most famously the home of Picasso’s Guernica. Easily found by following the crowds to its alarmed area, Guernica is reason alone to pay the 6 euros admission fee (or wait for the free admission on Saturdays: 2.30-9pm and Sundays: 10am-2.30pm) and is complemented by the cubist, surrealist and abstract offerings of fellow masters Joan Miró, Juan Gris and of course Salvador Dali.
Home to more than 7,000 paintings, the Museo Del Prado on Calle Ruiz de Alarcón is arguably one of the most important museums in the world. Displaying the likes of Goya, Rubens, Velazquez and Rembrandt is easy to see why. With a building as beautiful as the collections it houses, it is understandably popular with queues of people forming on Tuesdays to Saturdays between 6-8pm and Sundays 5-8pm, when admission is free.
The Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza is often the gallery of choice for tourists. With something for everyone, from medieval to cubist, Monet and Matisse to Gauguin, it is a definite crowd pleaser.
A serene haven in the compact city centre, the Real Jardin Botanico Gardens on Plaza de Murillo, completed under royal orders, is as educational as it is exquisite. A hay fever sufferer’s nightmare but botanist’s dream, its 20 acres are divided into three terraced areas and two greenhouses and are home to several thousand varieties of plants. Watch out for the low-flying bird population. While there are no lawned areas on which to relax, benches are spotted around the gardens for those wishing to while away the hours in this haven of tranquillity. An entrance fee of 2 euros ensures the high level of maintenance and relative exclusivity of the gardens.
The six-floor De Las Letras Hotel on Gran Via is an oracle of literature and art and the perfect place to unwind after a hard day’s sightseeing. With inspirational phrases adorning the walls and classic texts complementing the comfy sofas, it is an inspiring hideaway along the fashionable Gran Via. With thoughtful staff and a selection of contemporary rooms and suites offering enclosed terraces and even private Jacuzzis, the luxury doesn’t stop at the candle-lit basement spa.
A relaxing library reminds guests of the hotel’s ethos, while the roof top terrace offers a popular nightspot with panoramic views of the city. While the prices may seem as sky-high as the bar itself, the ground floor offers a more affordable drinking and dining experience with the relaxed restaurant serving a selection of new Spanish cuisine.