Madrid is hard to love. Every time I visited, I left disappointed. Next to colorful Andalucía, captivating Basque Country and fascinating Barcelona, the capital seems industrial and plain. Sure, the city is home to some stunners like the Palacio Real and the Prado, but they somehow get lost in the shadow of commercial Gran Vía, touristy Plaza Mayor, and too many restaurants claiming to have the best paella in the peninsula.
Madrid seems to close itself off to visitors. Tourists run the risk of getting lost in the parts of the city made just for them. I know I did. In all honesty, I was terrified of having the same negative reaction I experienced both times I passed through before.
Third time’s the charm, it seems. I persevered, moved my life here, and the heart of Spain opened up its heart to me.
My secret? Well, I’ve walked down Gran Vía twice, have only gone to Plaza Mayor for five minutes, and avoid any restaurant with international flags on the menu like the plague.
Madrid is a city meant to be lived. It rewards you for going off the beaten path and into lesser-known neighborhoods with boutique galleries, artisan shops, avant-garde graffiti and every type of food you could ever want.
I spend my days here weaving my way through Chueca’s vibrant streets, people watching in the ultra chic Barrio Salamanca and discussing culture and politics with new friends over vino in outdoor cafés. I only go to the Centro and Sol at siesta time during the week, when I can really see how the locals live. I’ve found that the Palace is best seen just before sunset, when the sky sets itself on fire and the swarms of tourists stop in their tracks, and that the only way to do the Prado is an hour or two every other week.
The most important thing is to not let the capital overwhelm you. Stop for a big lunch and linger over café con leche. Browse in any shop that catches your eye. Don’t get bogged down with “must-do’s.” Instead, let the social atmosphere guide your plans, as it does for the city-dwellers. Go to a pincho bar where you can sample everything, or better yet, let an expert guide you. Check out Plaza Mayor for a moment, then head down to La Latina where you can see the real madrileño culture. All you need is a curious mind, adventurous spirit, good walking shoes, a tapa and a great bottle of wine at the end of the day, and you’re golden.
The remnants of Madrid of years passed are important, but it’s modern life that will capture your heart. That’s how it got a hold of mine.
If you visit Madrid, don’t get caught up in research and planning. Get caught up in moments. Moments of la vida madrileña, like the ones I leave you with below.
I am happy that you fell in love with Madrid. From an architect’s perspective it has so much to offer… maybe you find some interesting and new places here 😀 http://duranvirginia.wordpress.com/2012/12/13/architecture-planning-a-trip-to-madrid/
Thanks so much for sharing! x
Liked this post, Julia! I’ve got a typical tourist blog post in the works summarizing all the Big Things to See in Madrid (some people completely miss some big stuff, okay? hahaha), but I will definitely be linking back to this post when I publish it because Madrid is so much more than Centro—all the neighborhoods like Chueca, La Latina, etc. give the city a lot of soul.
I loved those pictures with the orange/sherbet-painted walls and iron grating balconies…beautiful and typical Madrid!
Thanks, Trevor! Can’t wait to read it 🙂 I always love your guides! I mostly have to stick to alternate routes because I’m a planning disaster and have Midtown Manhattan PTSD so I must avoid crowds at all costs haha, but the “Big Things” should not be missed. I may learn a thing or two! xx
I’m so happy to have just found your site! I’ve been to Madrid before and it was my least favourite place on that trip. Now I’m going to be studying there come January! I’m excited, though, to get behind the tourists’ Madrid and get to know the real thing.
You will love it! xx
Really nice ode to Madrid! I completely know what you mean on first being unimpressed with the city. When I moved here a couple months ago I of course had to see all the touristy things first and found it very hard to like my new home. (I still can’t understand the hype about Gran Vía…its so commercialized and boring) I couldn’t find the beauty in it or see its history, which is important to me. I didn’t not like it, but I wasn’t in love with it either, so I traveled on many weekends. But these past few weekends I’ve been staying here and giving Madrid another chance, and I’m not regretting it! Going out to see live music in little bars in Malasaña, walking around random but beautiful parks on the outskirts of the city, and stumbling across hidden plazas to enjoy a drink has really made Madrid grow on me! You’re right that living here is about the moments like this. I feel like it’s one of those places that tourists leave underwhelmed; I know I would have if I had just spent a few days here, so I’m glad I’ve had more time to let Madrid and I bond!
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