The Palace is a magnificent construction, unlike anything else in the city. Both inside and out, the building is classy, beautifully-designed and exudes an absolute sense of wealth and power. Similarly it shines during the day and is lit subtly and powerfully after the sun sets. You can get tickets for a tour around the palace, and it is not money wasted if you can afford it. It’s the official seat of the Spanish monarchy - you have to check it out.
Home to arguably the greatest football team of all time, Real Madrid FC, the Santiago Bernabeu is an absolute colossus of a stadium. It seats a ludicrous 80,000 fans and, given the quality of the players on the pitch, the numbers aren’t far from capacity for every match. Even if it’s against a lower-level team, you should try to see a game, or at least attend a tour. The real prize would be to get a ticket for El Clásico, the great Spanish rivalry against the giants FC Barcelona.
If you want a treat, then the view from the rooftop terrace at the Círculo de Bellas Artes is one of the best in the entire city. Not enough fuss is made over the Madrid skyline, and it is magnificent. With tall stools, tables and a selection of great drinks, it’s a fine place to pass a sunny afternoon. If you can manage it, the sunset from here is like nowhere else in Madrid.
Property of the Spanish monarchy until just a hundred or so years ago, the Parque del Buen Retiro is one of the largest in Madrid and easily the most spectacular. Featuring a massive artificial pond, a stunning semicircular colonnade of white stone, stunning boulevards and more green space than you could shake a stick at, this is the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city centre.
El Museo del Prado boasts one of the finest and extensive collections of art in all of Europe. With a range spanning over 800 years from the 12th century, the 200 year-old museum is almost as stunning on the outside as it is inside! There isn’t another art museum in Spain which comes close to the Prado, so even if you haven’t got a vested interest in art, it would be rude to ignore such a monument to the city’s culture. You can get tickets online.
In traditionally callous Spanish style, this cool bar is like an ode to the sport of bullfighting. With mounted bulls’ heads adorning the walls, it’s certainly not going to appeal to everyone. However, the dimly-lit space has a great range of drinks and traditional tapas and tortilla you can snack on. It’s a unique drinking experience, and I recommend checking it out.
Is a throwback to another time, a stronghold for socialist soldiers and journalists during the Spanish Civil War. Today you don’t need to go there to hide from raving fascists, but rather to enjoy the fine wine and original interior. The design hasn’t changed one bit and, even though smoking is now illegal inside, the whole place is stained with decades of incessant tobacco use. Remember to hold your sherry glass by the stem so as to not out yourself as a fascist spy!
This isn’t an every-night-of-the-week option, but more for when you have an occasion to celebrate and want cocktails done right. The cocktail menu is extensive (around 30 of them, and I’m sure they’d take requests if they weren’t too busy) but there’s also 150 different vodkas and gins behind the bar just waiting to be sampled.
Situated on calle de la Cruz, this is a super-traditional Madrilenian drinking establishment with generous servings of tapas (with equal attention to quality), full meals if you’re feeling famished and an excellent wine list to boot. Since it’s a hotspot for locals, maybe learn how to order your drinks in Spanish before heading in!
The final entry on the list is a club, not a casual bar. Moma 56 is a haven for those in their 20s who want to dress up, dance all night and have a class time. It seems to attract a good-looking and fun-loving crowd, but quite often people won’t show up until 3am when the party really gets started. The club doesn’t close until 6, so you might need a red bull or two before heading out.
Now this is a slightly cheeky one, since El Tigre is actually bar, but don’t go running just yet - they give out free tapas! Whenever you order a drink, you’ll be served with complimentary tapas in the form of patatas bravas, tortilla or a number of others. It’s a chilled atmosphere, and as a student, you can’t ask for much more than free food in a delicious Madrilenian bar.
This is a step away from traditional Spanish dining. During exchange however, you sometimes need a little reprieve from local culture and yearn for the food of home! For many westerners, the hamburgers, sandwiches (mingled with tasty mexican dishes) are exactly what the body needs. Found at the busy Plaza de San Ildefonso, it’s inexpensive and one of the best places to eat as a student.
Just by the plaza de los Mostenses is Subiendo al Sur, a rustic joint with a great mission. The little fair-trade cafe is run by a friendly couple. Their food is simple but inexpensive, and all of their profits go directly to charity and other deserving causes. It’s a lovely interior and the food just reminds you of home.
Usually overrun by local hipsters these days (who may well be the crowd you’re desperate to hang out with), Casa Camacho is pretty much an old-man pub. The interior is virtually unchanged since it opened in the 1920s and the floor looks like it may only have been scrubbed once or twice in the same period, but the food is quality and the atmosphere is super chilled.
We also have a blog post for you to see Madrid through the eyes of locals!