You HAVE to visit the Museo del Prado, the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia. Goya, Picasso, El Greco, Dali etc etc, but there are superb works from many other artists who are less well-known. The Prado is mainly 16th/17th century, the Thyssen gives an excellent history of art (the 12th/13th century 'religious' art is amazing, as is the Van Gogh, Mondrian and Degas)and the Reine Sofia has splendid modern art, including 'Guernica'. Cheap entry without special cards.
Prado, Passeo de Prado; Thyssen, Passeo de Prado 8; Reine Sofia, Calle Santa Isabel 52.
We spent a day birdwatching within an hour of Madrid with Santiago Villa. It is amazing what can be seen in the area and we were delighted to see magnificent views of Spanish Imperial Eagle, Black Vulture and Eagle Owl amongst the 50+ birds we saw in the day. Santiago is a great guide and a very congenial companion. A great day.
This looked a good thing, but we found that by walking and judicious visits to attractions, it was not cost effective. I can appreciate families may have youngsters, but we oldies can walk and we spent far less than the card in our week in Madrid.
The perfect place for a mid-morning vermut (martini rosso) with obligatory free bowl of green olives. Sit at any of the historic bars and admire the views of this beautiful square and the Teatro Espanol. Don't miss the heladeria next door serving delicious dulce de leche ice cream.
Plaza Santa Ana
Malasaña is a street and an area well known by all true 16-30 Madrileños. In the day time you can shop for some retro treasures in the two 'Popland' boutiques (one for bags, badges and tee-shirts, the other for sixties home decorations and posters). Then, well after dark, you can return and be part of the Madrid sub-culture night life. Go into some bars off Plaza Dos de Mayo and you'll think you've stepped onto the set of Austin Powers (without the irony!) There are all types of bars and clubs round here, but they all have one thing in common: the cool factor. The music is cool, the people dress cool, but most importantly, the attitude is cool, that is to say, laid back.
Malasaña district. Nearest tube: Tribunal.
A slightly less touristy version of the Plaza Mayor, here you can find fantastic authentic Spanish restaurants and tapas bars. The food is delicious yet cheap. Start your evening in the plaza itself, with a glass of rioja and some tapas. Then, choose any side street leading off from the square and you'll be sure to find a good quality restaurant. Once you have dined on 'oreja' (pork's ear fried in garlic), chorizo, jamon serrano and other carnivorous delights, you can walk down calle Huertas and choose a late night bar in which to finish your evening.
Plaza Santa Ana. A short walk from the tube station 'Sol' or 'Tirso de Molina'
Situated in the heart of Chueca, Madrid's vibrant and welcoming gay district, Aquarella is a bar you'll want to go back to. Tucked away on Calle Gravina, you will notice the flickering lights and luxurious interiour of this quiet bar. Take a seat on one of their antique chairs and you will be waited on by a friendly, handsome waiter. An intimate hide away, you can go with friends, a lover or alone. If you do go alone, be sure to brouse through Aquarella's small but always interesting collection of second hand fiction. Order a cocktail and keep your voice down. If you become a regular, the waiters will invite you to a drink. Que disfrutes.
Turn left down calle Gravina, just out of Chueca tube station. It's a 30 second walk from the metro, next to a funky hairdresser's.
El Retiro is the nicest park in Madrid. It's pretty big and has loads of interesting features: the lake, where you can hire little rowing boats; Casa de Vacas where you can see art exhibitions; and the Palacio de Cristal where art exhibitions are shown. El Retiro is great all year round for walking, running, cycling, having a drink or simply lying on the grass.
Calle Fuencarral is where the cool is in Madrid. All the "in" shops are there, from global brands like Levi's to national or local ones, you'll find stuff cool enough to impress your mates over here. Once on Calle Fuencarral, go to Mercado Fuencarral, a gathering of shops of all kinds. The area is called Chueca and it's the gay quarter.
I recommend walking up Fuencarral towards Malasaña and walk the pueblo-like narrow streets finding your way to Plaza Dos de Mayo, then choose a bar or cafe and you might be lucky enough to see director Alejandro Amenábar, who lives in the area.
Metro Gran Vía or Noviciado
Smokey blues bar which gets impossibly packed on the free gig nights on Tuesday-Thursday - get there early to get a seat. Top quality musicians squeeze onto the minuscule stage.
Between Sol and Opera on the top part of c/Hileras, just down from Plaza de las Descalzas
Most of the villages around Valencia have outdoor swimming pools which open during the summer months (July and August). These are incredibly cheap (less than a couple of euros to get in) and you can spend the whole day there.
The easiest ones to get to are those served by Valencia’s metro. Try Rocafort (right next to the station), Moncada (a bit of trek from the station, but in a nice location on top of a hill) or Betera (quite far from central Valencia, but the swimming pool is one of the best).
Moncada - POLIDEPORTIVO MUNICIPAL BADIA – PEDRERETA,
C/ Lepanto final.
Opera and the Palacio Real are two specific buildings but they also describe the area in which they are located, which is pedestrianised and beautifully preserved. There are gardens and bars which, on Saturdays and Sundays, are full of madrileños promenading and street artists playing music or dancing tango.
The Palacio Real (or Palacio de Oriente) is quite ugly itself, like an oversized wedding cake, but the Jardines de Sabatini are worth investigating. The area takes you to the end of Calle Mayor or to Pintor Rosales on the opposite side.
Metro Opera or Plaza de España
Centro Cultural Conde Duque, on Calle Conde Duque, is a very little known permanent museum, temporary exhibition and concert venue. The 18th-century building is impressive in scale, and the area around is quiet and relaxed. Full of bars, restaurants and some beautiful shops, it is difficult to believe that you are in the centre of town, surrounded by Calle Princesa, San Bernardo etc.
Take a stroll to Plaza Comendadoras for a drink in one of the many "terrazas" while you look at children playing in the playground. On the same plaza there's a "Sauna" (a brothel); opposite you'll see the also impressive building of the Convento de las Comendadoras. The area has the air of a small village about it; it's a mix of bizarre, genuine and unique Madrid.
Zona Conde Duque, nearest tube is San Bernardo or Noviciado
This is the perfect place to stop off on the way home after a night out. It's open all night, and at 6am on a Sunday morning it was rammed with people enjoying churros con chocolate (cups of hot chocolate with fried doughnut-like strips). Mmm … delicious.
Plaza San Gines (nearest metro station is Sol)
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