48 Hours In: Madrid

Things are hotting up in the Spanish capital, with a packed cultural calendar for spring

Travel essentials

Why go now?

There may be a slight chill in the air, with temperatures hovering around 15C in March, but Spain's handsome capital is slowly starting to warm up. Even more enticing is the cultural calendar. A new exhibition on the living and working spaces of Spain's greatest artist, Picasso, has just opened in the studio at the Fundación Mapfre (1) at Paseo de Recoletos 23 (00 34 91 602 5221; fundacionmapfre.org; free). It runs until 11 May with rarely seen pieces on loan from his family.

Later this summer, the 400th anniversary of the death of the Renaissance painter El Greco will be marked with a blockbuster exhibition at the Museo del Prado (2) at Paseo del Prado (00 34 902 10 7077; www.museodelprado.es; €14) from 24 June to 5 October.

The Independent Travel Offers: Our favourite Madrid holiday

Touch down

The widest range of flights is on easyJet (0843 104 5000; easyjet.com) – from Bristol, Edinburgh, Gatwick, Liverpool and Luton. British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) and its sister airline, Iberia (0870 609 0500; iberia.com), combine forces from Heathrow and London City. Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com) flies from Manchester and Stansted; Air Europa (0871 423 0717; aireuropa.com) flies from Gatwick.

Barajas airport is 13km north-east of the city centre and is served by frequent trains on Metro line 8, but the underground journey is tricky with at least one change at Nuevos Ministerios station (3). The fare to any station in the city centre is €4.50.

The airport express bus runs every 15-35 minutes around the clock; €5 one way. It takes 40 minutes to reach Atocha station (4). A taxi takes half the time. A flat fare of €30 covers most of central Madrid.


Location map: Click to enlarge Location map: Click to enlarge Get your bearings

Perched on a rocky plateau 667m above sea level, Madrid rose to prominence in 1561 when King Felipe II made the small market town his capital. It was, he said "a city fulfilling the functions of a heart located in the middle of the body". Besides a brief spell in the 17th century, when Valladolid was top dog, Madrid has been the capital ever since, growing steadily to become a city of eclectic architecture and fine food.

At the very centre is Puerta del Sol (5) – the Gate of the Sun – where the old east-facing gates once stood. Nearby, and slicing through the city diagonally, is Gran Vía, a busy road lined with ornate buildings: a mix of chalk domes, Baroque towers and flourishes of Art Deco style.

The main tourist office (6) (00 34 91 454 4410; esmadrid.com) is at Plaza Mayor 27; 9.30am-8.30pm daily.

A Madrid card (€55 for 48 hours) gives discounted entry to many museums.


Your personal palace: the ME by Meliá hotel Your personal palace: the ME by Meliá hotel Check in

The ME by Meliá (7) at Plaza de Santa Ana 14 (00 34 91 701 6000; memadrid.com) has 192 slick rooms in a 19th-century palace. Guests have access to the popular rooftop bar, while those who upgrade to a suite are given their own "personal assistant". Doubles from €258, including breakfast.

Overlooking the Parque del Retiro (8), the Hotel Hospes (9) at Plaza de la Independencia 3 (00 34 91 432 2911; hospes.com) has 41 comfortable rooms (think soothing taupe interiors with a splash of fuchsia) and free bike rental. Doubles from €170, including breakfast.

Art and design feature heavily at the Hotel Artrip (10) at Calle Valencia 11 (00 34 91 539 3282; artriphotel.com). Beyond the 17 white-themed rooms are small exhibitions showcasing up-and-coming artists. Doubles from €93, with breakfast.

Day one

Take a view

The €6 entry to the museum of Santa María la Real de la Almudena (11) at Plaza de la Almudena (00 34 91 559 2874; museocatedral.archi madrid.es; 10am-2.30pm, daily except Sunday) covers admission to the chambers of the cathedral and access to the rooftop terrace above the Palacio Real (12), the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains and the Casa de Campo (13), Madrid's largest parkland to the west, a former royal hunting ground.

Take a hike

Start next door at the Baroque Palacio Real (12) on Calle Baile (00 34 914 54 8700; patrimonionacional.es; 10am-6pm daily; €10), the seat of Spanish royalty since the 1760s. Now primarily used for ceremonial events, a few of the 2,800 rooms are open to the public. Walk south and turn left on to Calle Mayor. About half way along on the right is Plaza de la Villa (14), with medieval buildings including the former town hall and jail.

Continue and veer right through the northern archways of Plaza Mayor (15). The square is dominated by the Casa de la Panadería (Royal Bakery), its bright façade decorated with frescos of zodiac signs by Carlos Franco. It was once the site of the Spanish Inquisition, gruesome executions and bull fights, but these days it's filled with street entertainers and cafés.

Lunch on the run

Dating back to 1907, the renovated Mercado de San Miguel (16) at Plaza de San Miguel (00 34 915 42 4936; mercadodesanmiguel.es; 10am-midnight daily) has been transformed into a tapas hall with cast-iron exterior and floor-to-ceiling windows. Inside are dozens of stands with everything from oysters and salty Ibérico ham to plump croquettes and stuffed olives, from €1 each. Compile a plate then, grab a drink (try the €2 sangria).

Window shopping

There's good retail therapy in the neighbourhoods of Chueca and Malasaña to the north. Wander down Calle del Piamonte (17) for stylish boutiques while the pedestrianised Calle de Fuencarral (18) and nearby Calle Colón (19) have independent stores. Typical opening hours are 9am-8pm (Monday-Saturday), noon-5pm (Sunday).

An aperitif

Venture to the trendy 7th floor roof terrace of the Círculo de Bellas Artes (20) at Calle Alcalá 42 (00 34 91 360 5400; circulobellasartes.com; 11am-9pm daily) for fine city views (entry €3). The cocktail list is unimaginative – cosmopolitans, mojitos and the like for €10 – but the views compensate. Grab a spot on the decking or a day bed and gaze down at the palaces of Plaza de Cibeles (21) and its fountains of Neptune and Apollo, and the distant snowcapped peaks.

Dining with the locals

The best place to try the traditional (and hearty) callos a la Madrileña (stewed tripe) is at bustling La Bola (22) at Calle Bola 5 (00 34 91 547 6930; labola.es). You may spot King Juan Carlos at the next table. For the city's best tapas, head to Calle Cava de Baja (23): a narrow strip in La Latina lined with cramped but cosy taverns including Taberna de Conspiradores (00 34 91 366 5869; conspiradores.com) at number 7. Ask for the tiny private dining room at the back – about the size of a cupboard – and order the paprika-dusted patatas bravas and chorizo in wine and honey. From €3.

The new Ana la Santa (7) at Plaza Santa Ana 14 (00 34 90 214 4440; memadrid.com) has a modern menu that includes roasted suckling pig with tomato marmalade (€16).

Day Two

Sunday morning: go to church

Built in 1760 on the ruins of a monastery founded by St Francis of Assisi, the Basilica San Francisco el Grande (24) at Calle San Buenaventura (00 34 91 365 3800) is a striking Neo-Classical masterpiece. Under its vast, 33m diameter, domed roof are ancient frescos and artworks by Francisco Goya. Tourists are welcome to attend the five Sunday masses (8.30am-1.30pm). In the week it opens 11am-12.30pm and 4pm-6.30pm Tuesday-Friday, Saturday 11am-1.30pm.

Out to brunch

Head across town to Magasand (25) at Calle Columela 4 (00 34 91 576 8843; magasand.com; 10am-5pm daily). This lovely café offers delicious hampers (from €18), filled with salads, sandwiches, brownies and crêpes that can be enjoyed in nearby Parque del Retiro (8). There's a basket deposit of €50.


Green retreat: Parque del Retiro Green retreat: Parque del Retiro A walk in the park

Until 1767, Parque del Retiro (8) at Plaza de la Independencia (00 34 91 530 0041; 6am-10pm daily) was for the exclusive use of royalty and its sprawling lawns, large lake and sculptured cypress trees were often the backdrop for lavish theatrical productions. These days, it's open to all. Rent a rowing boat (€6 for 45 minutes) beside the King Alfonso XII monument and wander down to the domed Palacio de Cristal, erected in 1887 as greenhouse.

Cultural afternoon

The best museums are within walking distance of each other. Start at the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia (26) at Calle Santa Isabel 52 (00 34 91 774 1000; museoreinasofia.es; €8) to see Picasso's Guernica (open 10am-9pm Monday and Wednesday to Saturday, to 2.30pm Sunday – several but not all exhibitions remain open until 7pm).

Then stroll north to the Prado (2) (10am- 7pm daily; €14). Its four floors house works spanning more than seven centuries by such greats as Raphael and Caravaggio.

Finish at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza (27) at Paseo del Prado 8 (00 34 90 276 0511; museothyssen.org; 10am-7pm Tuesday to Sunday, noon-4pm Monday; €10), famed for its collection of Renaissance, Abstract and Surrealism pieces.

Icing on the cake

The open-air El Rastro flea market takes over Plaza de Cascorro (28) and the surrounding streets every Sunday from 9am to 3pm. Considered to be the largest of its kind in Europe, with an estimated 3,500 stalls, it's the place to go for antiques, art and all stops in between.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Arts and Entertainment
arts + entsWith one of the best comic roles around, it's no wonder she rarely bothers with films
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Life and Style
A small bag of the drug Ecstasy
Life and Style
Floral-print swim shorts, £26, by Topman, topman.com; sunglasses, £215, by Paul Smith, mpaulsmith.co.uk
FashionBag yourself the perfect pair
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Day In a Page

    Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

    Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

    In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
    Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

    How has your club fared in summer sales?

    Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
    Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

    'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

    Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
    The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

    The best swim shorts for men

    Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup