This excerpt from Lonely Planet nails our sentiments down on Madrid. We barely had a week there, but thanks to friends and good tips, we enjoyed almost every bullet point about the city outlined below.
An Artistic City
Few cities can boast an artistic pedigree quite as pure as Madrid’s and many art lovers return here again and again, so rich is the city’s art collection. For centuries, Spanish royals showered praise and riches upon the great artists of the day, from home-grown talents such as Goya and Velázquez to a stunning pantheon of Flemish and Italian masters. Masterpieces by these and other Spanish masters such as Picasso, Dalí and Miró now adorn the walls of the city’s world-class galleries. Three in particular are giants – the Museo del Prado, Centro de Arte Reina Sofía and Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza – but in Madrid these are merely good places to start.
Rising above the humble claims of its local cuisine, Madrid has evolved into one of the richest culinary capitals of Europe. This is a city that has wholeheartedly embraced all the creativity and innovation of Spain’s gastronomic revolution. But this acceptance of the new is wedded to a passion for the enduring traditions of Spanish cooking – it’s no coincidence that the world’s oldest restaurant is found here – for the conviviality of the eating experience and for showcasing the infinite variety of food from every Spanish region. From tapas in sleek temples to all that’s new to sit-down meals beneath centuries-old vaulted ceilings, eating in Madrid is a genuine pleasure.
Killing the Night
Madrid nights are the stuff of legend, and the perfect complement to the more sedate charms of fine arts and fine dining. The city may have more bars than any other city on earth, a collection of storied cocktail bars and nightclubs that combine a hint of glamour with non-stop marcha (action). But that only goes someway to explaining the appeal of after-dark Madrid. Step out into the night-time streets of many Madrid neighborhoods and you’ll find yourself swept along on a tide of people, accompanied by a happy crowd intent on dancing until dawn.
The Spanish tradition of tapas, or small plates of appetizers with a drink, is said to have started in the Middle Ages, and there is no better place to enjoy them in Madrid than in La Latina district. Dishes can include one of the many types of olives, with small portions of fish, cooked meats, sausage, cheese, ham or nuts, served in a variety of ingenious forms with an array of sauces. Wine, needless to say, is the traditional drink taken with tapas.
The general idea of tapas is a snack to bridge the long gap between main mealtimes in the Spanish day. It is said to have been started by King Alfonso X who was forced to take small bites of food with his wine during an illness. When he recovered, he decreed that no wine should be served in Castilian inns without food, and a tradition grew up of wine being served with a plate of tapas on top. It had the two-fold advantage of mitigating the effects of alcohol on drinkers, and keeping insects out of the wine on a hot summer’s day.
Madrid may not have the architectural cachet of Paris, the monumental history of Rome, or Barcelona’s reputation for Modernista masterpieces. And no, there is no equivalent of the Eiffel Tower, Colosseum or La Sagrada Família that you can point to and say ‘this is Madrid’. But Madrid has nothing to be envious of when it comes to architecture. Instead, the broad sweep of architectural history provides a glorious backdrop to city life, from medieval mansions and royal palaces to the unimagined angles of Spanish contemporary architecture, from the sober brickwork and slate spires of Madrid baroque to the extravagant confections of the belle époque. Put simply, this is one beautiful city.
No city on earth is more alive than Madrid, a beguiling place with vibrant energy. It is a city that knows how to live. Madrid is reference to many categories: astonishing art galleries, stunning architecture, relentless nightlife, fine restaurants and tapas bars. Other cities have some of these things. Madrid has them all in loads.