‘Must See List’ for Madrid
There is so much to see and do in Madrid that it can be hard to narrow down the choices, especially if you’re on a time budget! While we make sure to visit all the main sites, we here at Isla make sure to find a few off-the-beaten-path gems as well. Here are a few of my favorite mainstays and hidden finds:
Centrally located in the historic heart of the city, the Plaza Mayor is the main square in Madrid. One of my favorite spots in the city, the plaza is a wonderful place to sit in one of the outdoor cafés on a sunny day, enjoy a glass of sangria and a plate of tapas, and watch the world go by. I love the graceful architecture and dragged my poor friend here a few times a day on my last trip just so I could takes photographs with different lighting effects!
Lining the archways and surrounding the plaza are various souvenir shops. While some have the usual tourist knick-knacks, there are a few that carry authentic hand-painted fans and hand-embroidered mantones. The manton, or flamenco shawl, is centuries old and yet has survived not simply as a piece of folkloric costume, but as part of modern-day fashion. Due to the intricate stitching, these shawls can be expensive, but dig around and you can find some affordable styles that are perfect for an outdoor summer party back home!
Madrid’s most popular park, the Retiro is a great place to end your visit by taking a relaxing stroll. Tree-lined avenues run throughout the park and are dotted with whimsical statues and fountains. Rent a boat and row around the large central lake underneath the large statue of King Alfonso XII or buy a refreshing horchata* and sip it on a bench, watching the street performers entertain the crowds. It’s a wonderful place to people watch and soak in authentic Spanish culture!
Interesting fact: Did you know there is a fountain solely dedicated to the devil? It’s thought to be the only such statue in the world. Try and find it!
* Horchata is a simple, sweet drink made from water, sugar, and chufa nuts. For those with allergies, never fear! The chufa nut is actually the root of the chufa plant and not actually a nut, which makes this popular Spanish drink perfect for vegetarians and those with nut allergies.
Templo de Debod
Plaza de España
Did you know there is an ancient Egyptian temple in the middle of Madrid? Not many do! Brought to Spain in 1971 as a thank you gift to Spain for helping to save another ancient site in Egypt, the temple sits behind two large gateways, all surrounded by a pool of water. The Temple sits in a high park, which offers amazing panoramic views of the city. Come in the evening to watch the amazing Spanish sunsets!
Fun tip: After visiting the Temple, make sure to stop at the Jardín Secreto (the Secret Garden), a popular restaurant specializing in unique dishes, teas, coffee, and chocolate. The main menu constantly changes and many dishes are vegetarian friendly, but the main attraction is the wonderful array of homemade desserts. Enjoy a bite along with a traditional Moroccan mint tea, all while sitting beneath twinkling fairy lights and locally sourced Spanish candles.
Atocha Train Station
The central atrium in the Atocha train station houses a marvelous tropical garden. In a city full of green spaces, this botanical garden offers something out of the ordinary. Admire the more than 500 plant species situated under the soaring roof of the 1850s building. There is even a fish and turtle pond—very popular with children! Enjoy a coffee at the adjacent café and take a break out of your travel schedule amid this unique urban jungle. Before leaving, stop at the tall banana tree, also known as the Traveler’s Tree, and make a wish. Legend has it all visitors who stop at this tree and make a wish will have it come true!
All Photos © Britta Duncan