Food and wine activities in Madrid
With so much to see and do in Madrid, it's hard to decide what to do during a short visit. We have selected some very interesting activities to ensure you enjoy and taste Madrid and enjoy things locals do. Wine and food activities, combined in some cases with history and culture. Enjoy!
Madrid is a cosmopolitan city where culture and fun are equally shared.
There are many things that can be done in Madrid. In this post we are going to talk about activities related to wine and gastronomy, but we will cover other essential things in Madrid for you to enjoy your stay.
There are few people from Madrid who really consider themselves from Madrid. Being called a “gato” (cat in Spanish) is a person from Madrid whose 3 generations of relatives, on maternal and paternal side, were born in Madrid. Spain’s capital is a host city for a huge part of its population, which has established itself in Madrid over the years. Not infrequently, a brief initial stay has turned into a permanent. This reality has made people strive to integrate with the locals, and the city itself makes it easy for you to do that and enjoy it.
So let’s move on to the things we recommend you do during your days in Madrid.
1- Tapas and wines
We had to start this list of recommendations with wine and, by extension, tapas. Tapas are not a Madrid creation, but of Andalusia. Nevertheless, Madrid welcomed them with enormous taste and diversity.
The kingdom's capital was full of taverns. They mainly served Valdepeñas wines. All the Royal Courts of Europe have always consumed wine, and in Madrid it was drunk in large quantities. The past has not just disappeared, but today many of those taverns remain standing. The wines are better, the hairstyles and the clothes have changed, but its walls and bars keep many secrets that make them special places.
Our favorite places to enjoy wine in Madrid? In this link you will find a selection with our favorite spots. Make sure you stop by the neighborhoods of La Latina (La Cava Alta and Cava Baja). If you are looking for a modern version of town and full of venues you can find plenty of options near the Parque del Retiro (Menorca street) and the Ponzano area. A highly recommended option to enjoy tapas in Madrid in a simple way is to join one of the walking tours that are organized throughout the city. There are many, and not all will offer you the best quality, so be careful when choosing. We propose these options that may interest you.
2- Art in the “lesser-known museums of Madrid”
Madrid hosts three of the most important art galleries in the world (The Prado Museum, the Thyssen Bornemisza Museum, and the Reina Sofía Museum). However, there are other museums, smaller and less known, offering enormous artistic value and very interesting collections.
They are less popular than the "big ones", but their visits are highly recommended. We’ll share with you three of these museums: El Sorolla, el Lázaro Galdiano, and the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando. The first of them is the beautiful Sorolla museum, located in the palace in which the artist lived. If you have never heard of Sorolla we are sure that his art will surprise you, especially if you like paintings depicting traditional scenes. The second of these museums is the Lázaro Galdiano museum, not well-known to the general public, but it exhibits works by Goya, El Bosco, or El Greco. Just to admire Goya’s impressive work, “El akelarre de las brujas” is worth the visit.
The last of these three, the Royal Academy of San Fernando, is one of the biggest surprises that Madrid offers. 1,500 framed paintings, 1,500 sculptures, 15,000 drawings, 2,000 photographs, porcelain and silverware. In others cities, this museum would be more than a must. In Madrid it almost goes unnoticed in the shadow of the three giants.
We saved for last this little-known gem: Goya’s frescoes in the chapel of San Antonio de la Florida. A masterpiece.
3- Art on the Golden Mile of the Museums
Madrid hosts three of the most important art galleries in the world.
The Prado Museum is one of the best art galleries in the world. Touring the Prado is to recap Spain’s history through its painting. The imperial past is present in all of Velázquez's works, and the great number of Flemish artists are witness to the power of the Spanish Empire at the time. The two most important and best represented artists are Velazquez and Goya. But you will find works by many other Spanish artists; works by El Greco, Italian and Flemish artists, etc. The museum has over 7,000 works, although around 1,700 are on display. Since touring the entire museum could be overwhelming, we recommend the following 10 artworks:
- Las Meninas from Veláquez
- Veláquez's Las Lanzas (surrender of Breda)
- Goya’s Black Paintings
- Goya’s The Shootings of May 2nd and 3rd
- Las Majas (naked and dressed).
- El Bosco: The Garden of Earthly Delights.
- The Three Graces, from Rubens
- David Defeating Goliath (from Caravaggio)
- Artemis (from Rembrandt)
- The Trinity (by El Greco)
The second of the Great Museums is very close to the Prado. The Thyssen-Bornemisza is one of the most important private art collections in the world. It does not focus on a particular group of artists (such as the Prado with Goya and Velázquez, or the Reina Sofía with Picasso and Dalí) but there are works of great value and it is a tour of the history of first-rate art. Our favorite section is on the first floor, with works ranging from Van Gogh to Renoir. Manet, Monet, Cezanne, Gauguin, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, Pizarro, Picasso, Kandisnky, Hopper, and Juan Gris… among others. Simply spectacular.
The Reina Sofía is the third of the iconic museums in Madrid. The museum is located in two very different buildings. An old hospital structure houses the central part of the museum collections. The extension that was built in 2005 was the work of the French architect, Jean Nouvel. The building is impressive, and the space welcomes the
temporary exhibitions, the administration area and cinemas, library, etc.
The most important piece of the museum is Picasso's Guernica. This fundamental work of the Andalusian painter, of enormous dimensions and a tragic content, shows what cannot happen again.
The Museum offers in its collection other pieces of enormous value,
including Picasso, Dalí (Girl At The Window, The Great Masturbator) and works by many other artists such as Miró, Braque, Barceló, Chillida or Tapies.
4 - Day trips to get out of the city
Madrid is one of the few cities in the world that can boast of having 5 destinations that are Unesco heritage sites less than a 2-hour drive away. Each one of these places deserve an excursion to know them, but time is scarce. In addition to these options with the endorsement of Unesco, the outskirts of Madrid also offer the opportunity to get closer to the wine country and enjoy fantastic wineries, vineyards, and wines.
We begin this brief review of the wine tours (after all, it is our passion!) and we will continue briefly with the Unesco heritage sites.
- Wine tours near Madrid
The former capital of the most important empire of the world in its time, Madrid consumed a lot of wine and has an important wine region. This wine arrived in Madrid from vineyards located mainly in the Castilla La Mancha area, but also in areas closer to Madrid and Castilla León. Currently, the vineyard areas that can be visited for a wine tour departing from Madrid. Some of these tours can also be combined with the visit to Unesco heritage sites in the same excursion.
- Unesco Heritage
1) Aranjuez Palace and its gardens (summer palace of the royal family), 2) El Escorial Monastery (monastery, palace, museum and mausoleum of the kings of Spain), 3) Toledo: the city of the 3 cultures, old capital of the kingdom, and a museum in open air and a day tour to Toledo should be among your top priorities during your stay in Madrid . 4) Segovia: with its Roman aqueduct, one of the best-preserved in the world, its beautiful palace and its cathedral, it has been for decades Madrid's favorite town to eat on weekends. 5) Ávila: its impressive wall captivates all visitors and 6) Cuenca: its iconic cliff-hanging houses, a perfect and precious example of architectural ingenuity.
5 - Soccer
Madrid is home of the most important soccer club in the world. The Real Madrid. It is the club that has accumulated more awards in the sport’s history, and a legend for soccer fans.
Real Madrid’s stadium, Santiago Bernabeu, is located in the financial district of the city and it is a must-see for any sports lover. It has a museum area that has been transformed with many technical innovations and the visit is very interesting, specially fun for kids. Within the stadium itself there are several restaurants, so after a guided tour you can eat at the stadium facilities overlooking the playing field.
Atlético de Madrid is the other great club in the city, and its stadium is the Wanda Metropolitano, an architectural gem. Atlético does not have the number of trophies that Real Madrid has, but its story is full of great moments and the fans are its most valuable asset. The club has moved out from the legendary Vicente Calderón stadium, located in the Madrid Río area, to the modern and awesome Metropolitan Wanda field. The visit includes passing through the benches, the lawn and a tour of the history and legends of the club.
6- The Retiro park
A very interesting and well-know fact about Madrid is that it is the capital of Europe with most trees. Madrid has large parks and, among them, the most important is the Retiro, right in the center of the capital. El Retiro was a park for the royal family until it opened its doors to all Madrid residents. In those days it had a zoo on its premises. It is a perfect place to take a breath and stroll through it after a day of visiting the city. It is also a perfect place to do a little exercise.
Among the most outstanding attractions of park we should mention its pond (you can rent rowing boats, a great activity with children), the Crystal Palace; a beautiful art-deco style construction used as an open-sky art collection showing the Fallen Angel statue; the rose garden, or the Forest of Memories; a spot that holds a special meaning for the city, as it was built as tribute to those killed in the brutal attack in March 2003 at the Atocha station in Madrid.
El Retiro is one of the 10 essential things to do in Madrid, but outdoors enthusiasts can find more interesting options. La Casa de Campo is a huge forest located on the edge of Madrid. It can be accessed from the cable car close to the Temple of Debod. It is one of the favorite activities for children in Madrid.
Other parks of interest are the Berlin Park, very close to the Santiago Bernabeu. The Oeste Park, near Moncloa and where the temple of Debod is, or the Parque del Capricho, a beautiful park near the airport. Its romantic style and decoration explains its name: the whim. The King Juan Carlos Park is huge and full of surprises, like the statue of a hand coming out of the ground. It is located on the outskirts of Madrid, as well as the new forest park Felipe VI.
7- Madrid Squares
A tour of Madrid always includes its squares, or plazas. The most famous are the Plaza Mayor, the Plaza de Oriente, and Puerta del Sol, but there are many more.
The urban squares in most of Castilla (Madrid was part of Castilla) show arcades in their architectural design, with arches holding the structure. The roofed-arcades surrounding the squares allow pedestrians to walk under when it rains . The origin of these plazas was mainly to be used as market places, but this is not the case for all of them. Older people in Spain still call them “market square” sometimes. The main square (Plaza Mayor) is a huge plaza in the center of Madrid. A view from the air clearly shows us how the city grew outward from its main square.
The Plaza de Oriente is an elegant square between the Royal Palace and the Opera Palace. Sol, on the other hand, is the busiest: a meeting point that connects very commercial streets of the center of Madrid.
But as we say, there are many more places in Madrid. The Plaza de España, at the end of Gran Vía is where we find the statue of Don Quixote and Sancho, along with some of the old skyscrapers from the city. The Plaza de la Independencia, next to the Retiro park, has in its center the famous Puerta de Alcalá. Plaza de Santa Ana, humming with activity, is a key gathering place for neighbors and tourists alike, looking for a free table to sit down and enjoy its terraces. The list goes on
and on. Some of our favorites are not even that famous: Plaza de la Paja, in Madrid's Austrias district, which was the place where straw was delivered by the peasants for the horses of the clergy. The square of the Villa de Paris, elegant and close to the Paseo de Recoletos. And last but not least, the Villa square, the oldest in the city and which still preserves its medieval character, very close to the Palacio de Oriente.
8 - Royal Palace
The Royal Palace, despite its name, is not the palace where the kings of Spain live. The royal family lives in the Zarzuela Palace, while the Royal palace is used for events and ceremonies. The Royal Palace is one of the largest in the world. It has "only" about 3,400 rooms. The Palace is located in a privileged location in Madrid: opposite to the Plaza de Oriente, and surrounded by the Campo del Moro, and the Sabatini gardens. Monday is possibly the least suitable day to visit the Palace, as many places close on Mondays in Madrid, there are lots of people opting to visit the Palace that day and, as expected, the queues are very long.
9 - Shopping in Madrid
Like any large city, Madrid is an important center for shopping. A lot of tourists who come to the city dedicate an entire day to this activity. Apparently, compared to others big cities, the prices of established brands are somewhat more reasonable in Madrid.
The shopping street for high-end brands par excellence is Calle de Serrano. In this street you can find a good number of prestigious brands. Its surrounding streets are also a zone where major brands gather up. Calle de Goya, square angle to Serrano, is a highly commercial street, although with more generalist brands and franchises of great volume. You can still find some authentic shops scattered around the neighborhood of Salamanca and other districts further away from the city center. Departing from Madrid there are daily tours to shopping centers specialized in luxury brands with great discounts.
10 - Luxury terraces and viewpoints.
Some city spots and buildings offer exceptional viewpoints of Spain’s capital. One of the best views of Madrid and the Casa de Campo is in the temple of Debod. The views of the Royal Palace and the Almudena Cathedral are fantastic from here, especially at sunset. The Madrid City Council (Ayuntamiento de Madrid), located in Plaza de Cibeles, has a terrace on the top floor with fantastic views of the city center. You’ll find even better sights from the terrace of the Center of Fine Arts, and those from the Ático restaurant, in the Principal Madrid Hotel. In Plaza de España there is another hotel, Ríu, with unbeatable views from its rooftop lounge bar. The views from the terrace of the Corte Inglés mall in Callao are also fantastic. Hopefully this guide will be of help when you are preparing your trip to Madrid.