“Nobody goes to bed in Madrid until they have killed the night” – Ernest Hemmingway.
A lot has changed in Madrid since Hemmingway’s days, however Spain’s capital city is still renowned for a good night-life whether you are looking for a quiet romantic evening drink with a loved one or a sleepless night enjoying the shows and spectacles Madrid has to offer. I have visited Madrid numerous times and it has easily become one of my favourite European capital cities for its architectural grandeur, bustling plazas, rich culture and excellent cuisine. My city break to Madrid in July was for my best-friend’s birthday. She loves food, art and action-packed days. I was quietly confident she was going to like her present and fall in love with this city!
We arrived on a Thursday evening and met my close friend of mine who lives on Gran Via – the main thoroughfare of the capital. This road has an extensive number of hotels that are an ideal location to stay at as it is close to main metro hub, the fashionable shopping outlets and, more importantly, a stone throw away from the old city of narrow streets bulging into exquisite squares. I am quite lucky to have a close friend who has a vast knowledge of the city’s sights and attractions. He recommended we go for an evening meal of tapas in one of his favourite restaurants called Lateral. Lateral has a chain of restaurants, which generally deter me from entering as I find such places poor quality due to the mass-production of their food. However, Lateral was different. We went to their restaurant on Plaza de Santa Ana. At 20:00, the hottest time of the evening, Lateral was buzzing with customers and the waiter said it would be thirty minutes until we get a table outside. Despite the waiter being under pressure dealing with an over-booked restaurant, he kindly invited us to their restaurant inside that has a large bar and tables inside. We decided to wait and had a drink inside which had comfortable couches and stools. I am quite fond of Spanish draught beer and saw they had a Mahou on tap and I could not resist my cravings for an ice-cold cerveza. Mahou is brewed by the same company of San Miguel. San Miguel does not match the crisp fresh taste of Mahou! It satisfied my taste buds and was a perfect coolant for the evening heat. It was not long until we were seated outside. I was pleasantly surprised to see that this restaurant was full of Spanish people and was confident that my friend’s recommendation was excellent. Lateral serves genuine authentic tapas but with a slight modern twist. Their tapas range from €3 to €6. We ordered patatas bravas (a typical tapa found in most restaurants that consist of diced crispy potatoes drizzled with a spicy but tangy tomato sauce), jambon iberico (thinly sliced cured ham), chorizo (spiced sausage), grilled veal with melted cheese on toasted bread, lamb meatballs and… mini-beef burgers! When I see burgers served in lavish restaurants I must try it to taste a real gourmet burger! Mini-burgers as a tapa were a perfect opportunity! There were four one inch-sized burgers on the plate that were so delicious I ate more than a fair share of them that my friend was only left with one! Lateral is a restaurant I would definitely rush back to on my next visit to Madrid. It is superb! The quality of food is generally excellent wherever you eat in the city. I would avoid the over-priced restaurants tourists frequent on Plaza Mayor. Ironically, some of the best restaurants in the city are ones that you would easily walk by as they are down an alley way or just don’t look pleasant. My friend who lives in Madrid sound advice for restaurants is – ‘the smaller, darker and dirtier the restaurant is, the better it is’. He could not be further from the truth!
On Friday, we went to Parque Warner (the Warner Brothers Theme Park) because we loves adventurous activities. Madrid has two theme parks. Most locals and tourists favour Parque de Attracciones as it is closer to the city and has a cheap entrance fee. I went to Parque de Attracciones last year and was not impressed because I considered it an average theme park. Parque Warner is located one hour outside of the city and is very expensive but it is worth every cent. It has numerous intense but thrilling roller-coasters, named after famous action heroes and villans, that will leave your legs feeling like jelly! The park also has many rides perfect for families with children and entertaining live shows for all.
When I am abroad I usually do not go to the cinema because I feel it is a waste of a holiday and I would not have the motivation to find a cinema that has films in English and not dubbed. Madrid has many cinemas with films in English. Ideal Yelmo Cineplex is perfectly located in the city near the tourist sights and attractions. Friday was the premier of the ‘The Dark Night Rises’, a must see movie, and after a long day on our feet, a relaxing night in the cinema was perfect for us.
Despite the size of Madrid, the capital is a walking city. A lot can be seen and done in a day. One of my favourite activities was walking around the parks in the city. Most Spanish people live in apartments therefore parks are very popular places for the locals to relax in. Parque Del Retiro is my favourite park with its beautiful walkways around gardens and fountains, small museums housing modern exhibitions, and outdoor entertainers such as musicians and artists. Within the park there is a small lake where you can rent a boat for an hour for approximately €7. This was thoroughly enjoyable to soak in the peaceful ambiance of the park.
Museo Renia Sofia is located a few minutes away that is a must do for any visitor to Madrid. It is the home of Picasso’s famous Guernica. Even if one is not interested in art they will be from seeing this magnificent piece of 20th century art! From Museo Renia Sofia take a slow walk around the old streets that lead into squares where you can stop for an ice cold sangria, cerveza or coffee. I became fond of ‘chocolate con churros’, which are doughnut-like sticks of pastry served with melted rich chocolate. They are a popular dessert or snack among locals along with ice-cream. The ice-cream in Madrid is superb and can be found on most streets. I would recommend trying ‘dulce de leche’ flavoured ice-cream. ‘Dulce de Leche’ is an Argentinian sauce comparable to toffee but it is more distinctive. ‘Dulce de Leche’ is hard to find outside Spain and Argentina so it is worth a try! Along our walk around the old city we made it to the iconic Plaza Mayor. Plaza Mayor is an expensive place to eat or drink but it is definitely worth having a drink outside on the square to enjoy the simple pleasure of people watching. I wouldn’t spend an evening here if you are on a budget as my cerveza cost €5 at Plaza Mayor where it would cost half that price in a smaller square!
Leaving Plaza Mayor we walked to the Royal Palace of Spain which is five minutes away. You can do a tour inside the palace however my we were not interested as we took in a lot of culture today! We decided to walk to Mercado de San Miguel, which is a food hall with numerous food and drink stalls. It is a vivacious place that it can get quite cramped as the evenings get later but it is worth a visit. After food and a few drinks we met my friend in Madrid and went to a well-known nightclub called 69 Pélatos (located here). This nightclub caters for people in the mid-twenties and up. It is easily the best nightclub I have ever been to as it is a club with a live show of musicians and dancers. They have themed dancers who move about the club to entertain everyone. The most popular dancer was a man dressed as Austin Powers!
Sunday was our last full day in Madrid. There are two thing tourists must do on a Sunday in Madrid. The first is a trip to El Rastro Flea Market. It is a bustling place with hundreds of stands that sell almost everything! It is very popular among the locals and tourists of Spain. The second is to attend a bull-fight in La Plaza de Las Ventas. Although we were aware that bull-fighting is a grotesque sport that should be banned, we could not help our curiosity. The bull-fight is absolutely shocking and not for the faint-hearted but at the same time it is quite an amazing spectacle watching the skills of the matador.
Certainly ‘nobody goes to bed in Madrid until they have killed the night’. It is a buzzing city that doesn’t seem to sleep. If you are looking for lively late evenings in quality nightclubs, traditional music shows or flamenco performances, Madrid is the place to be. However, the city is also a perfect resort for quiet romantic times with your loved one from the walks around parks, boating on a lake and having a tranquil drink of sangria under the stars of the night sky.