Soak up arts and culture in Madrid
WORDS AND PHOTOS DOMINIC ELLIS
Art, plazas and tasty churros all make for an enjoyable short stay in the Spanish capital 1 Royal Palace of Madrid
From my ninth floor terrace at Barceló Torre de Madrid (Tried & Tested, October issue), the official residence of the Spanish royal family looks impressive but it’s only close up that you grasp the sense of scale – it spans 135,000sqm, contains 3,418 rooms and features art from Carvaggio, de Goya and Velázquez among others.
The admission fee is a reasonable €11, though if you want to see all it, you might not have much time for anything else – but you can’t visit Madrid and not see the largest royal palace in Europe by floor area.
2 Museo Reina Sofia
Spain’s national museum of 20th century art, now into its 26th year, was originally the city’s first General Hospital. It boasts a range of galleries and the biggest draw is Pablo Picasso’s mural-sized Guernica which is a remarkable sight – worthy of its own gallery – and made all the more fascinating by photographer Dora Maar, who documented the creative stages that went into it. Cubist fans won’t know where to turn and on a short visit, you need to be selective. I missed the 8,000sqm expansion which houses an auditorium, bookshop and restaurants.
3 Prado Museum
The Prado has free opening times (6pm-8pm Tues-Sun, 5pm-8pm Sundays) but expect long queues, so it’s advisable to visit any other time and pay the €15 entrance. The worldrenowned museum, best known for hosting Las Meninas by Velázquez, will mark its bicentenary next year (it opened November 1819) and celebrations include a new exhibition space, Salón de Reinos (Hall of Realms), which is being designed by Sir Norman Foster. Hotel Ritz Madrid (Mandarin Oriental), located opposite, is expected to open late 2019 after a major restoration.
4 Plaza Mayor
It’s a tourist trap but, like the Royal Palace, nothing says ‘I’m-in-Madrid’ more than a walk round Plaza Mayor, which was built during Philip III’s reign. Surprisingly, for such a popular spot, the F&B around the vicinity is affordable and filling. Order the local speciality Bocadillo de Calamares (fried squid sandwich, €5) at La Campana, or wander through to Mercado de San Miguel where today it’s standing room only. I enjoyed the fresh anchovies in olive oil and more hearty options include meat and cheese empanadillas, yours for the princely sum of two euros.
5 Bite into churros
Locals and tourists are queuing round the block when we arrive at Chocolateria San Gines, which has been going since 1894. That’s a long time to be selling churros – the delicious fried-dough sticks which you dip into chocolate – and this venue is considered among the best. We find the last table in the corner and it’s so busy the waiter is adeptly carrying seven coffees. The walls are lined with the great and the good who have popped in to enjoy the sweet treats. It’s a short walk from Puerta del Sol which today looks all the more magnificent, framed by a rainbow.