Things to do in Madrid, Spain – Daytime

Royal Palace

If you go to Madrid, you simply must stand in this open plaza, surrounded by this beautiful structure with a cathedral nearby and mountains in the distance, and wonder about everything that’s happened here over the years. The palace is stunning, lavish, fascinating… and open for tours. There’s a whole day’s worth of history and exploring to do, everything from a display of official royal crowns and scepters, to actual legitimate thrones, to the plate mail worn by King Ferdinand himself during battles. You can tour the palace and the armory, and both contain many wonders of history.

Statues of Isabella and Ferdinand, and a distant picture of the palace, for scale:

Botanical Gardens

This garden contains beautiful and interesting plants from all over the world. They’re all extremely well cared for and labeled appropriately–varieties from New Zealand grow next to plants from Belize. It’s pretty amazing. The garden seems endless, with many places to stop and relax or snap photos. It’s a true sanctuary.

My travel companion, being exceptionally tall, liked the exceptionally tall plants (“for scale”).

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Plaza Mayor

This is the most ‘touristy’ plaza of all in Madrid, but it still offers a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon. During my visit, I caught the royal family rolling through!

I enjoyed (immensely) my dinner at a restaurant named Eboli… during the Ebola outbreak. Jokes were made. But the food was delicious, and the plaza brimmed with families, lights, entertainers and vendors selling funny noise makers.

Plaza de Santa Ana

Santa Ana is charming and quaint plaza, and it feels less touristy than Plaza Mayor. Relax and have dinner outdoors at one of the cafes. I loved Ginger Restaurant for breakfast and Cerveceria Santa Ana for dinner. Have a glass of wine, watch the sun set… then hit Mauna Loa, a Tiki Bar decorated like a grotto. Even the streets surrounding the plaza are full of interesting murals and shops.

Plaza del Sol

This is the main plaza, central to the city, and the most full of activity. It’s busy and exciting at any time of day and surrounded by great galleries and shops. One highlight is the Mallorquina Bakery. It’s a Madrid staple, opened in 1848! Plaza del Sol is where I found some gorgeous trinkets to take home, stunning metal, glass and wood souvenirs, beautifully made.

El Rastro Flea Market

The flea market is one long street full of vendors selling clothing, souvenirs and food treats. It’s only open on Sundays, but it’s worth scheduling around. It’s crowded with tourists and locals alike, and there are plenty of places to stop for a drink or lunch along the way.
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My travel companion in La Latina neighborhood, Sunday afternoon. Crowded!

Downtown

The central business district feels like any other bustling city… but with really, really old buildings and plenty of statues and museums. And, um, this monster’s creepy crawly legs coming for you through windows:
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Gran Via

Think: Chicago’s Michigan Avenue, New York City’s Fifth Avenue, or Los Angeles’ Rodeo Drive. All the fanciest shops and restaurants are here. It divides the Plaza del Sol and center-of-the-city area from the charming old neighborhoods to the north.

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My travel companion stopping for a picture on Gran Via.

There’s great shopping here, with the latest modern fashions and design. But keep heading north, because that’s where you’ll find my favorite neighborhood in all of Madrid: Malasaña.

Malasaña

This mostly-locals neighborhood has a great non-touristy feel and is full of vintage stores, boutiques, sunny plazas and dive bars. Wandering around here, I get a feel for what I think must be the real Madrid. Getting there from the center of town takes you through old streets lined with local bars lovely buildings. I may or may not have stopped off for a couple of glasses of wine (unbelievably priced at 1.8 euros and always including free tapas).
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My travel companion, very proud she helped me find this neighborhood.

Malasaña is where I scored a gorgeous piece of art that’s now one of my all time favorites. The galleries here are all local and include fashion, art and furniture. Shop, then have a cappuccino along with the students and artists at Pepe Botella, overlooking Plaza Dos De Mayo.

Spend at least a day wandering this neighborhood–you won’t regret it.

Templo De Debod

Trek even further north, to the northwest quadrant of the city, to find modern buildings and a thriving business district… and this ancient Egyptian temple, originally built near Aswan, Egypt, second century, B.C. It moved to Madrid in 1968. This temple is interesting and strange and exudes mystery, especially being surrounded by so much modernity.
Madrid is a magical wonder. I can’t wait to go back. If you go, and you like it, please comment and let me know.

With love,

 ~Page Light Studios

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