As the capital of one of the most vibrant European countries, it’s no surprise to find that Madrid is a microcosm of, and a perfect showcase for, Spain.
Located in the centre of the Iberian Peninsula, Madrid boasts a tapestry of cultural riches. Here, you’ll find majestic castles, enchanting wineries and picturesque villages, museums bursting with art, flamenco bars keeping a centuries-old art form alive and kicking, and a culinary scene that is undergoing a gastronomic revolution.
Indeed, the region unfurls rich pickings for those who seek out UNESCO Heritage Site gems. Three towns are accorded such status – Alcala de Henares, San Lorenzo de El Escorial and Aranjuez – which frame the metropolitan area in the shape of a triangle, all of them easily accessible and offering a unique glimpse into the soul of Madrid.
The city centre offers hidden gems galore: secret passages, royal patronages and 400-year-old shops – if you take the time to wander around, you might just discover them all.
Fire up your soul with flamenco
There is nowhere better to experience the passion and intensity of this captivating art form than Madrid, the world capital of flamenco.
It’s here where the most talented flamenco performers ignite their careers and where the essence of flamenco tablaos (a place where flamenco shows are performed) truly comes to life.
Book a show at Corral de la Morreira (above), the most prestigious tablao in Spain, where you can enjoy the performance along with Michelin-starred dining.
For something quite different, try Cafetin la Quimera. This small and intimate tablao prides itself on not using microphones or any form of modern technology, ensuring that you get an authentic 19th century experience.
Enter a time-machine by shopping
Shoppers will enjoy Madrid for its atelier routes and shopping districts like the atmospheric Barrio de las Letras and the glamorous Barrio Salamanca (below). The city is also the birthplace of luxury brand Loewe and Duran, supplier of jewellery and tableware to the royal family since 1899.
Tumble back in time with centenary shops like wine shop Licores Cabello, which has been in business since 1902. Especially captivating is La Violeta, a tiny sweetshop established in 1915, which sells exquisitely crafted violet pastilles.
But the most fascinating must be Farmacia de la Reina Madre, which opened in 1578, making it the oldest shop in the city. The original structure has been preserved, so the entire shop – counters, ceiling beams, ceramic tiles and drawers – capture the essence of a bygone era.
Even more intriguing: This pharmacy was used by Spanish royalty in the past, and hence has a secret passage – now walled up – leading directly to the palace.
Indulge in gastronomic masterpieces
Madrid’s culinary scene is a blend of historic charm and contemporary flair, boasting 28 Michelin-starred establishments that range from time-honoured eateries to chic modern venues.
Foodies will savour the chance to dine at Casa Botin, which has been confirmed by the Guinness Book of Records to be the world’s oldest restaurant. Maintaining standards for 298 years can’t be easy, but Botin has managed to do it, continuing to delight customers with its famous fork-tender cochinillo (suckling pig), juicy roast lamb and richly flavourful garlic soup.
Atop the Four Seasons Hotel Madrid – itself a heritage monument as it was once a historic bank – Dani by three Michelin-starred chef Dani Garcia offers a rooftop dining experience like no other. Here, you can indulge in a fusion of Michelin-starred elegance and traditional flavours of the region, all while enjoying breathtaking views of the city skyline (below). A culinary journey that’s both luxurious and authentically made in Madrid.
Another must-try restaurant is Roostiq, the sleek asador (Spanish barbecue house) located along the historic Paseo de la Castellana boulevard. The chefs here display absolute mastery over the fire, cooking in wood-burning ovens or over open white-hot embers.
The result are dishes that food writers rave about and chefs cite as their personal favourites. Order the pork cracklings, the picanha steak and the artichokes, and don’t forget the pizza – triple Michelin-starred chef Dabiz Munoz says it is the best in town.
Dive into history at the “UNESCO triangle”
A mere 30-km west of Madrid city lies Alcala de Henares, famous for being the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes. This beautifully planned 16th century university town is crammed with museums and monuments, and offers the opportunity to take photos next to statues of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.
To the east is San Lorenzo de El Escorial (below), the historic residence of the King of Spain. It is a palace with a basilica, library, museum, hospital and monastery. The latter has been called the eighth wonder of the world, being the largest granite building in existence, with over 4,000 rooms.
Drive south to discover the royal palace of Aranjuez. It is famous for its elaborate architecture and lavish interiors as well as gorgeous ornamental gardens, which have been meticulously designed and developed by the Spanish royal family for three centuries.
Explore medieval fortresses and villages
Around Greater Madrid, you will find 11 towns, known as villas, each filled with charm, character and history. A 30-min drive from the city will take you to Chinchon, famed for the straight-out-of-a-movie quality of its historic Plaza Mayor and cobblestone streets.
A 30-min drive from Madrid city will take you to the picturesque wine-growing region of San Martin de Valdeiglesias, where you can wander through enchanting forests, a 15th-century castle and beautiful wineries.
Here, immerse yourself in Madrid’s 900 years of wine-making tradition amidst hectares of vineyards and century-old villages.
Embark on a journey of flavours at the Tierra Calma winery, known for their natural and organic wines. This winery offers an immersive experience into the world of local viticulture, showcasing the region’s prized Albillo (white) and Garnacha (red) grape varieties which you can enjoy with exclusive and private tasting conducted by the owner himself – and even bring home a bottle or two. Tours like these often culminate in tastings paired with Iberian ham, cheese and other local delicacies.
Brought to you by MADRID TURISMO by IFEMA MADRID