Madrid was the very first Spanish town I visited as an adult. It was love at first sight, at least on my part, and the more I go back the more I’m convinced that Madrid is probably the finest capital city in Europe. Vibrant, cultured and friendly, but a little rough around the edges. Madrid is home to incredible history, world class museums, food rivalling anything on the planet, a fabulous nightlife and an easy going attitude. It’s Spain condensed – every Spanish region represented amongst its barrios – but more than the sum of its parts. To cement the deal, it is an affordable city – at least for a European capital.
It’s probably impossible to not to feel a little overwhelmed by the sensory overload Madrid induces. When you’ve just spent several days in rural Spain, out in the wilds of Andalusia and Extremadura, you have to try not to overdo it in the first 48 hours. Madrid is just too alluring and we definitely overdid it. We walked for miles through the buzzing streets, visited historic houses, small galleries, large museums, dozens of tapas bars, a couple of traditional sherry bars, some great restaurants and sat soaking up the sun, people watching in the wonderful plazas in which Madrid specialises.
It was exhausting and completely exhilarating. I know I’ll upset a few people, but there is nowhere else in Spain that can match Madrid for sheer excitement. I’ve been to Barcelona, liked it, but wouldn’t swap it for Madrid, where they at least give you tapas with your drink. We stayed in Chueca, which I’d describe as up and coming if it hadn’t already up and come. It’s handily located for the centre of town, but has everything a visitor might want in a barrio, including an alternative vibe with fabulous bars, food and atmosphere. It reminded me of my former home of Shoreditch in London.
We decided not to over-plan our visit and headed off in whatever direction seemed appropriate. Since we hadn’t been in Madrid for a few years we retraced our steps through some of our favourite areas: La Latina, with historic and fun Calle Cava Baja and the open air market of el Rastro; Lavapiés where traditional Spain rubs shoulders with modern immigration; the buzzing area around Plaza Santa Ana and down towards Atocha train station; and not to forget a pilgrimage to Paseo de la Florida, bordering the Casa de Campo, for lunch at the wonderful Asturian restaurant, Casa Mingo.
It was a veritable trip down memory lane. We might have been overcome with nostalgia, but Madrid doesn’t allow that. There were familiar streets, familiar sights, familiar tapas bars and restaurants, but in none of the areas we visited has time stood still. Traditional Spain never seems far away, but these areas seemed renewed and more vibrant than ever. We may have had sore feet by the end of each day but we had a huge amount of fun. Madrid’s that sort of town.