Madrid: A Capital with Heart and Art

Puerta del Sol is the Km 0 of Spain—the literal center of the radial network of Spanish roads.

Compared to the elaborate cathedrals and monuments of Paris, Athens, or Kyiv, Madrid’s most prominent landmarks like the popular plaza of Puerta del Sol or even the royal palace seem modest. But in the absence of abundant loftiness is an affable attitude. The Spanish megalopolis is expressive, tolerant, and surprisingly easy to get along with. In recent decades, it’s earned the title of one of Europe’s great art capitals: three of the continent’s most decorated museums—the Prado, the Reina Sofía, and the Thyssen—can be found within walking distance of one another. The city also hosts one of the world’s largest pride festivals. Every summer, the Fiesta del Orgullo attracts nearly two million attendees for over a week of celebrations centered around the vibrant neighborhood of Chueca.

What to see

The Madrileños seem to live their lives outside whenever possible: basking in the sun, strolling down the broadway of Gran Vía, or cocktail-sipping on one of the city’s countless rooftops. However, there’s just as much of Madrid to see indoors: Spain’s capital has some of the world’s finest art. Begin on the Paseo del Prado at either of the two large national museums: the Museo Nacional del Prado houses a plethora of masterpieces from the 12th to the early 20th century, while the Museo Reina Sofía specializes in 20th-century art. Both offer free admission at select times of the week, and works on display include Picasso’s Guernica (1937), Velázquez’s Las Meninas (1656), and Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights (1490—1500).

The tryptych painting The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch
Hieronymus Bosch’s tryptych The Garden of Earthly Delights on display at the Museo del Prado in Madrid
Where to stay

Located in the pulsating center of the city, there’s no better base from which to explore the trendy barrios of Chueca and Malasaña than from Bastardo: a hotel, bar, restaurant, and creative space all rolled under a beach-inspired roof terrace. This self-described “cultural laboratory” is a hip meeting point for both visitors and locals alike. It’s also a stone’s throw away from the pedestrian-only stretch of Calle Fuencarral, indisputably the street for modern fashion. Beds in 4-person dorms start from €26 per night; private rooms from €84.

What to eat

Madrid is a hotspot for creative gastronomy, and one doesn’t need to search far for good food. Over in Malasaña, the chefs behind La Musa have turned tapas into a global affair, fusing classics such as deep-fried calamari with faraway flavors of wasabi and ponzu. Dinner for two around €30.

There are also several dishes unique to the city, the most beloved of which is the traditional cocido madrileño—a winter stew comprising chickpeas, potatoes, pork belly, and other meats and vegetables. Another regional speciality awaiting the adventurous eater is callos a la madrileña, a similarly hearty dish featuring tripe, chorizo, and morcilla—black blood sausage. For a quality interpretation of authentic Madrid, the retro-chic Gran Clavel is the perfect place for a midday meal. Starter, main course, dessert or coffee, and one drink starting from €14.50 per person.

A Spanish dish consisting of tripe, chorizo, and blood sausage

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