Hopefully your first impression of Madrid (like ours) is just how easy it is to get around see/do things. Relatively young by European standards, this city was a planned capital, so it is much more efficient a place to explore than other cities which grew over millennia. Roadways, plazas, parks, hotels, museums and shops are all easily accessible and that’s why its a great place to layover or visit even on a short two day schedule.
Here are some activities that are just as appealing to a first time visitor as someone who has visited many times and which can be done easily during a short visit:
Walking in the Retiro Park
This is the place where the city comes to breathe. What’s beautiful about this area was that it was once forested hills where the royals hunted. Much of that isn’t evident today except in this wonderfully large and preserved park. Join the locals in a Sunday morning jog, walk by fountains, monuments and ponds or simply shuffle about the leaves in the beautiful autumn weather.
Shopping in Paseo de La Castellana
This is the most iconic boulevard in the city and walking it is a must, whereas shopping is optional, but recommended. If there is anything happening during your time in Madrid take a stroll through here to catch it. Parades, car shows, festivals and pretty much anything citywide happens along here. It has many access points from the Metro and its probably the place to begin any walking tour.
Almudena Cathedral and Royal Palace
The heads of Church and State were virtually inseparable in most of the history of Spain and that is pretty clear here in Madrid as well. The glorious Cathedral is one of the most visited attractions in the city. It is much more modern than many of Spain’s famous Churches but captures all the splendor and glory of the Empire. The Royal Palace has admission as well to selected parts, but the lines are much longer than those of the Cathedral, so most people opt to see the former.
Exploring Plaza Mayor,
This square market is one of the most ancient spots in the entire city. From here radiated out the modern town as it stands today. There are always open air festivals, demonstrations and the pulse of the city can be felt here especially on holidays. Just off the square sits Mercado San Miguel which is one of our favorite markets in the world. You can wander from stall to stall taking in delightful gourmet Spanish food as well as drinks and desserts. The entire neighborhood is worth wandering, especially without a map.
Puerta de Alcala,
This celebratory gate marks the entrance to the city and it probably one of the most photographed places for tourists. The site itself doesn’t hold that many attractions, but it is a view of the town many consider to be legendary and quintessentially “Madrileno”.