Skyline of Madrid with Metropolis Building and Gra
Ernest Hemingway once said of Madrid: “It is the most Spanish of all cities, the best to live in, the finest people and the finest climate”. The iconic American writer held a special place in his heart for Spain’s capital, returning time and again, and immortalising its streets, parks and iconic buildings in his books.
Some of Hemingway’s most active literary years were spent here and, on a recent trip, I began to understand why.
We started our weekend by visiting one of the writer’s favourite spots, which featured in his novel For Whom The Bell Tolls – the beautiful Buen Retiro Park. With the sun shining and the cool spray from the fountains filling the air, we made our way past the dramatic monument to Alfonso XII, the King of Spain (who ruled from 1874-1885). The monument was erected in 1922 by order of the King’s mother, Maria Cristina of Austria, and presides over the boating lake.
Hiring one of the small rowing boats, we spent an idyllic hour cruising, soaking up the eclectic music of a local band playing by the water’s edge. It was a perfect afternoon activity, proving that, even in a city of three million, there are always quiet enclaves to escape the crowds.
Having worked up an appetite, we decided to check out Madrid’s foodie offerings in the afternoon. We headed to the Chocolatería San Ginés, situated in a passageway near to San Ginés Church, for their traditional churros (a mouth-watering choux pastry snack) with chocolate.
They are famed for being the best in Madrid and have been produced here since 1894. The churros were perfectly hot and crunchy without being overly sweet, and the dipping chocolate was dark, thick and easily eaten with a spoon after all the churros were gone (well, it would have been rude not to finish it!).
Buen Retiro Park
One of the best ways of seeing Madrid is on foot and it’s worth investing in a Madrid Card, to give you access to the palazzos and museums, and discounts on food and shopping. Gran Vía, the city’s main tourist street, runs from the famous Metrópolis building to the Plaza de España, and has a colourful array of shops and bars.
Make sure you stop off at the Prado Museum to see the Old Masters, such as El Greco and Francisco Goya, and take a wander through Plaza Mayor, the central plaza in the city.
Fancy taking a break from sightseeing? Madrid is famous for being home to not one, but two of the world’s most famous football clubs – Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid. So if you’re a football fan, make sure you time your visit on a match weekend.
We were lucky enough to arrive on the final day of the La Liga season, with Real Madrid in with a chance of being crowned champions. Even though the match was an away game in Málaga, the atmosphere within the city was electric with excitement at the prospect of a Real Madrid victory. We took the opportunity to join in and ventured out to meet some of the locals at a bar near to the Bernabéu Stadium to watch the game. At the final whistle, the score was 2-1; Real had won and the city went wild, with crowds flooding the streets.
Eat at the famous Chocolatería San Ginés for your churro fix
After enjoying the merriment, we hopped in a taxi back to our hotel, which was only 15 minutes away. We were staying in the newly opened DoubleTree by Hilton, close to the major museums (the Prado, Thyssen-Bornmisza, Reina Sofía and CaixaForum) and a wealth of tapas bars, in the traditional neighbourhood of Barrio de Las Letras. The boutique 61-room city hotel is a wonderful blend of old and new, situated in a traditional former apartment block (we loved the wrought-iron lift and gorgeous ceiling mouldings) but with all the swish amenities you would expect of a Hilton.
The following day, still high from the excitement of the victory, we visited the Bernabéu for the Real Madrid CF stadium tour. Even if you’re not a huge football fan, there is a real sense of history with the vast array of silverware and images on display, ensuring the tour has something for everyone. The tour includes panoramic views of the stadium, access to the pitch and a look around the dressing rooms.
You can’t visit Madrid and skip on its famous tapas supper, washed down with a glass of local red wine or a punchy sangria. So before we headed home, we visited the Plaza de Santa Ana and dined at one of the many relaxed tapas bars with tables fronting the street. It was a wonderful setting to observe the city winding down, with the temperature cooling after the heat of the day. Afterwards, with a taste for Spanish Rioja, we moved on to sample some of the other bars in the Plaza Mayor.
It was the perfect final evening on a whirlwind tour of this vibrant city, and we raised a glass, promising – like Hemingway – that we would be back again soon.
Way to go
Rooms at the DoubleTree by Hilton Madrid – Prado start from €230 (based on double occupancy). Hilton Honors members will always get the best rate by booking direct. Visit doubletree.hilton.com, or call +34-91-3600820.
Marvel at the Royal Palace of Madrid
Ten things you must do in Madrid
1 Take a tour around Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabéu Stadium.
2 Head to Buen Retiro Park for a walk, and hire a boat on the lake for only €6.
3 Eat at the famous Chocolatería San Ginés for your churro fix, open 24 hours a day.
4 See the city from above, be it from a balcony or a rooftop. Try Círculo de Bellas Artes for one of the most spectacular vistas.
5 Appreciate a stunning sunset view from the Egyptian Temple of Debod, originally built in Egypt, and dismantled and reconstructed in Madrid.
6 Settle down for a selection of tapas and fine wine in the Plaza de Santa Ana, and watch the city go about its day.
7 Join the rest of Madrid on Sundays at El Rastro Market, the most popular open-air flea market in Spain.
8 Experience the sights, sounds and smells of the Royal Botanical Garden of Madrid, covering 20 acres and containing around 30,000 plants and flowers.
9 Immerse yourself in the culture of Spain’s National Art Museum, the Prado, which houses paintings by Goya, Velázquez and other Spanish Masters dating from the 12th Century to the early 20th Century.
10 Marvel at the Royal Palace of Madrid, the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family, and centrepiece for State ceremonies.