by Bill Fink
Lost amid the more popular tourist capitals of London, Paris, and Rome, and getting less travel press than its colorful countryside cities of Barcelona, Valencia, and Pamplona, there are some solid reasons why Madrid should be considered an essential stop in any European itinerary. And no, it’s not just the old palaces, cobblestones, and cathedrals. There are a thousand reasons you should visit this vibrant, modern capital now. Here are just seven of them:
1. It’s the economy, stupid
“Madrid is absolutely one of the best deals in Europe,” James Costos, U.S. ambassador to Spain, told Yahoo Travel. “It has all the great hotels, restaurants, entertainment that capitals like Paris and London have, but at a fraction of the cost.” Spain was one of the countries of Europe which suffered the most after the 2007 recession, prices plunged, and are still below average, despite the country’s continuing recovery. Expect to see prices running 30 percent less than comparable cities for everything from a sangria to a siesta at a high-end hotel — one recent travel cost index cited 30 more expensive cities in Europe than Madrid. Take advantage of the exchange rates and splurge at the new VIP rooms at the NH Collection Eurobuilding hotel in the financial district, where the ambassador was recently spotted at its opening event.
The many jamon options at the Mercado Centrale (Photo: Jennifer Fox)
2. Jamon, jamon
If you have some hankering for some ham, then Madrid is the city for you. The combination of Madrid’s tradition of a connoisseur’s market for ham combined with the modern farm-to-table movement has brought the best products of Spain to a thriving gourmet scene. I thought the first “Museo del Jamon” I saw was a joke, but the restaurant really did treat its extensive varieties of locally sourced ham as museum-quality display (and dining) items. Add some fresh cheese and bread with your ham purchases at Mercado Centrale, grab a ham sandwich at one of many delis in town, at a specialty ham restaurant, or have some thinly sliced specialties as one of your tapas courses on Cava Baja Street.
Fans cheer for the local team, Real Madrid (Photo: Juan Jiménez Martínez
3. Sports are Real Madrid
Madrileños are crazy about their sports—their city is home to the famed Real Madrid soccer team (with Cristiano Ronaldo as one of the world’s most recognizable stars), playing home matches in front of 80,000 screaming fans in Madrid’s Bernabeau stadium, but also their rivals Atletico Madrid, as well as Rayo Vallacano and nearby Getafe. Not a soccer fan? Check out this year’s quadruple champion Real Madrid pro basketball team, catch native son Rafa Nadal tearing up the clay courts at a tennis tournament at the “magic box” of Caja Magica, or even attend a bullfight, if you’re into that sort of thing, joining the passionate crowds in regular events at historic Las Ventas stadium.
Picasso’s Guernica at the Reina Sofia museum (Photo: PromoMadrid/Flickr)
4. Capital of art
Madrid boasts three of the best art museums in the world, the rightly famous Prado, with its Velazquez and Goya masterpieces, the modern art of the Reina Sofia featuring Picasso’s iconic Guernica, and the eclectic collection in the lesser known Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum spanning the 13th to the 20th centuries. The three museums are within an easy walk of one another, although you’d be hard-pressed to fully tour even two of them in a single day. To get a feeling of what’s happening now in Madrid’s vibrant contemporary art scene, be sure to stop in the many art galleries thriving in clusters across the barrios.
People relax in near the boat pond in Retiro park (Photo: Corbis Images)
5. Walk this way
Madrid is a great walking town, beyond the galleries, the shopping, and the historical sites, you can spend hours among the greenery – promenading along the pathways inRetiro Park, Madrid’s “Central Park.” Stop to tour the many formal gardens, gawk at the Glass Palace, or just grab a cerveza at a pathside vendor and sit and people-watch. Outside the park, take a Madrid walking tour with a local (always the best way to learn about a city) with the friendly and well-informed folks at Trip4Real, which offers themes ranging from art, history, tapas, and true-crime. Bring comfortable shoes, and be sure to schedule a siesta to escape the midday summer heat.
Vermouth on tap at a local bar (Photo: Kerenin/Flickr)
I did not know this was a thing. I vaguely remember vermouth as something my gramma drank in a tiny thimble glass, or as a cocktail ingredient. But wandering Madrid at night and sampling each bar’s home-made vermouth from the tap is today’s Madrid hipster version of the craft beer scene, except that it’s been around for a few hundred years, and the old guys in the corner are wondering what all the fuss is about. Try a glass poured from an oaken barrel at Bodega de la Ardosa, a hugely popular old-school pub with fading yellow football photos on the walls, or at one of theserecommended vermouth spots.
Flamenco dancer takes the stage (Photo: PromoMadrid/Flickr)
If New York is the “city that never sleeps,” Madrid is the “city that seldom siestas,” with a non-stop nighttime scene that begins with dinner at 10 p.m., a bar happy hour at around midnight, with the party just getting started around 1 or 2 a.m. The variety of neighborhoods provides entertainment for everyone, from the culture of classical concerts andflamenco dancers, to impromptu “bottelón” street parties with people downing beer and pizza sitting out in a cobblestone square. Bring your sunglasses when you go out at night, because that Spanish sun is strong when you leave one of the many nightclubs around 8 a.m., or so I hear.