Madrid is a city where they take 3 things very seriously: food, art, and enjoying life. So it’s a beautiful, sophisticated, and interesting city where people are gracious and friendly. It is a city where ice cream parlours sit beside art galleries and the days are spent drinking sangria, eating good food, and getting lost in the artistic heart of Spain. And when the sun goes down, the nights are spent learning to dance the flamenco or experiencing the legendary Spanish nightlife at a 7-story discoteca (a super nightclub where the music and dancing goes on all night). The Spaniards are known for partying until the sun comes up. South African travellers need a Schengen visa to visit Madrid and the rest of Spain.
Most of the best things to do in Madrid revolve around food, art, and music. Go on a secret food or wine tasting tour to get a taste of Spanish food or take a cooking class to learn how to make it yourself. For the best churros and chocolate in town, Chocolatería San Ginés opened its doors in the 1800s and is still going strong. Go searching for original masterpieces by legendary artists such as Goya and Picasso. The three main art galleries in Madrid are the Mueso del Prado, Musseo Thyssen-Bornemisza, and Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (or just the Prado, Thyssen, and Reina Sofía). For something a bit more underground, the La Tabacalera Museum is an edgy street art gallery and visual arts centre in the basement of an old tobacco factory that hosts regular shows, exhibitions, and classes. Café de Chinitas and Casa Patas have the best flamenco shows in Madrid while Café Central and El Junco are iconic jazz bars and Café La Palma is great for live music.
Some of the most popular shopping streets in Madrid are located near the city centre and Salamanca district. The grand 19th century boulevards of Salamanca are lined with designer boutiques and luxury stores. Some of the other best places for shopping in Madrid are Calle Gran Vía, a 1km long street lined with brand stores and trendy department stores. Calle de Serrano is 3km long and home to some of the swankiest designer stores in the city. And if you are interested in vintage shops and Bohemian stores, Calle Espiritu Santu in Malasaña is where you want to spend your money. And of course no shopping in Madrid is complete without a Sunday trip to El Rastro Market, the most popular flea market in Spain. The best time to go shopping in Madrid is from January - March and July - September if you want to catch the winter and summer sales. Madrid is also one of the cheaper cities in Europe and about the same as prices in major South African cities.
The best way to get around Madrid is by walking. All of the best attractions in Madrid are within walking distance of each other. You can use public transport to get from neighbourhood to neighbourhood and then explore on foot. If you want to venture further out of the city, you can also use public transport. It is safe, efficient, and reliable. The Airport Express Shuttle operates between the airport and city centre and is about €5. The metro has 15 lines linked to over 300 stations in the city and is quick and easy to use. The bus is also an easy and reliable way to get around Madrid. The Tourist Travel Pass lets you take unlimited trips on the public transport system. It is available for various time periods and can be bought at the train and metro stations and from authorized retailers (many tobacco shops sell them).
The best place to stay in Madrid largely depends on your budget. Some of the best (a.k.a. expensive) hotels in Madrid are located around the art galleries and historic city centre, Centro. If you want to stay at 4 or 5-star hotels in Madrid, the heart of the city is where you want to be, or the areas north of the city. But Centro is worth the extra money if you want to be near great restaurants and energetic buzz of the city centre. To the east is the neighbourhood of Lavapiés, which is within walking distance to the city and better suited for travellers interested in mid-range and budget accommodation. Huertas is an easygoing neighbourhood with sidewalk cafés and bars that has everything from 5-star hotels to budget accommodation. Malasaña is a cool little grungy neighbourhood with an array of restaurants, live music venues, and boutique budget hotels.
There are currently no direct flights to Madrid, but connecting flights are available from most cities in South Africa. A connecting flight to Madrid with one stop over is about 14 hours. Flights to Madrid land at Madrid-Barajas Adolfo Suárez Airport (MAD). Some of the most popular airlines operating flights to Madrid are Lufthansa, Qatar, British Airways, and Emirates.
The Mercado de San Miguel is an enormous food market in the centre of the city where you can taste food from all around Spain under one roof. Whether you are planning to go watch a flamenco show, spend the night dancing, or take a moonlit stroll back to your hotel, dinner at this popular food market is delicious spot to have dinner. You will find artisanal cheeses, roasted meats, fresh seafood, and local delicacies such as sea urchins. Madrid is a city of experiences and culinary indulgence, so let your mouth lead you through the popular Mercado de San Miguel and don’t feel guilty about treating yourself to a custard pastry or three.