My 8 Favourite Places in Madrid

So my time here in this beautiful city, Madrid, is reaching it’s final days so I wish to share with you my favourite places here that I have discovered over the past nine months, all of which make living here particularly special for me.

If you are still living here and haven’t been to these places yet, they are definitely worth taking a look at before you leave. If you are visiting Madrid, choosing a few of these to go to will make your stay here even more charming.

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Opera

The first tourist stop that most people make in Madrid is Puerta de Sol, which is a beautiful plaza that is the literal centre of Spain. However, one of my favourite plazas in Madrid is that Plaza de Oriente that is very close to the metro Opera. Not only does it recognisably contain the famous Opera house, Teatro Real, but it is framed by some of the grandest buildings in Madrid in an arch, with the largest palace in Europe as it’s backdrop. To the north of Plaza de Oriente, there are beautiful gardens (Jardines de Sabatini) linking the palace to Plaza de España. Just a short walk to the south, near the end of Calle de Bailén, there is a small park with a magnificent view of the Palacio Real hanging over the city that I find particularly stunning, as well as inside the palace itself. I must when visiting Opera at night there is something magical about the majestic buildings lit up against the dark sky.

Parque Cerro del Tío Pío

If you want to see the best sunset in Madrid, Tío Pío is undoubtedly the place to go. Although it is quite a trek if you live anywhere north of the centre in Madrid, it is a trip worth making. This park is just a ten-minute uphill walk from metro stop Buenos Aires on the blue metro line (linea 1). At first this park may not catch the eye, but after climbing to the top of one of the small hills, a breathtaking view of Madrid can be seen like no other in the city. It is the perfect place to visit with a loved one or a group of friends with some vino to watch the sun go down over the sleepy city.

Lago

Just one part of Casa de Campo, the largest park in Madrid that stretches for miles and miles, Lago is the perfect escape from the city’s heat in the summer! With many different activities, it is perfect for anyone and everyone. There is the option to either go for a short stroll around the lake, sit and relax with a glass of tinto de verano overlooking the palace and cathedral, mountain bike or hike through the many trails in the park, take the cable cars over the large park or even go swimming at Piscina de Lago (my favourite part of lago!)

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Malasaña

Oh Malasaña… what a quirky, fun barrio it is! I must say this will be one of the neighbourhoods I am sure to miss the most when I return back to England. If it is a bar crawl, food crawl or vintage shop crawl you are looking for – Malasaña has it all! I keep finding new quirky things there each time I visit, for example last time I stumbled into this shop (Pinta en Copas) where you get free tea and coffee as you unleash your creativity by painting your own piece of pottery. There is nothing much more satisfying than getting some work done at one of the laid back cafés such as Café de la Luz or Toma Café, then browsing through the vintage stores such as Magpie Vintage or Templo de Susu, having a healthy lunch at Bluenasaña or the Greek & Shop, moving onto to a natural ice lolly for desert at Lolo Polos then meeting friends at one of the many unique bars in this wonderful place to sip sangria or cocktails until it is time to move onto to the party in one of the neighbouring barriosChueca or El Centro. Day well spent!

El Retiro

This may just win the prize for my favourite park in Madrid, which is a hard place to earn as Madrid boasts such wonderful parks. But there is something about El Retiro. This park is located just off the centre, bordering Atocha, Banco de España and Ibiza, but by stepping into this park it takes you miles away from the feeling of the hustle and bustle of the capital city in just minutes. Although El Retiro is slightly busier than the other parks, it is easy to see why. With its beautiful vast lake, the Crystal Palace, exquisite statues, sculpted gardens, la Rosaleda (a charming collection of roses), and last but not least the Monumento a Alfonso XIII which often attracts talented buskers that never fail to transport me to another world in the beautiful surroundings.

La Latina

Not only do I love the way this neighbourhood’s name sounds “La Latina”, but I also love the relaxed, cool vibe that comes with being here. Every week this barrio hosts a large flea market, which is definitely my favourite way to spend a Sunday morning in Madrid, wandering through all the wild and wonderful stalls before stopping off at Mercado San Fernando in Lavapíes for lunch or relaxing in La Latina’s square (Plaza Cebada) listening to the free live music with a bite to eat from the Mercado de la Cebada that backs onto it. But La Latina is not merely good for a lazy Sunday morning, but it’s also great for the bustling nightlife too! Walking though the streets at night in this neighbourhood is like no other, with the excitement for the night to come radiating from the buildings and the streets hard for anyone to squeeze through due to clusters of locals and visitors alike pouring out onto the streets from the bars (such as Leka Leka, La Buha or Los Pajaritos) in animated chatter – even in the dead of winter! 

Gran Vía

Coming up the stairs from the metro to Gran Vía never fails to take my breath away, whether it be on a peaceful winter morning or at dusk on a teeming Friday night, it’s magnificence always touches me. Callao tends to end up being the meeting place for a good day or night ahead, with the Schweppes sign towering above the plaza and the stained glass windows above Desigual, Plaza del Callao always makes it’s statement. Gran Vía is the place for shopping, with all the brands scattered down its elaborate street and Fuencarral leading off it with alternative and hip stores. It is the place to be. But Gran Vía is also the place for parties, with international clubs such as Independence, Moondance and ‘locals’ club Star Coyote that are hosted on the infamous street or nearby.

Parque del Oeste

Quite different feeling to that of Casa de Campo, although it is no where near as large as it’s neighbouring park, Parque del Oeste has many different elements all interlinked through beautiful walkways and maintained gardens. At the top of the park towards the north there is part of the park that rests just beneath the Faro de Moncloa, an observatory tower that allows visitors to see all the way across Madrid in an 180˚ glass observatory zone. At the bottom of Parque del Oeste is the Templo de Debod, a 200bc gift from Egypt rebuilt in Madrid in 1972, it is a place that feels like no other, arguably in the whole of Spain. Because of its high position, the temple is also a wonderful place to watch the sunset as guitarists or saxophone players that leave their impression upon the young night often serenade it.

 

Although I have been here almost 10 months, there are still things that even I have not done but plan to do in the next couple weeks that may be worthy of this list, this includes to:

  • Drink the famous milky cocktail in the cave bar El Champadaz near Moncloa.
  • Visit Mercado Antón Martin and Barceló
  • Watch the sunset from Circulo del Bella Artes
  • Eat the homemade tortilla from La Buha
  • Watch a flamenco show at La Taberna de Mister Pinkleton
  • Listen to the live jazz music in Café Barbieri
  • See the turtles and oasis in the Atocha Railway Station
  • Watch the guards change at the Royal Palace
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Discovering Marrakech

“Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go” – T. S. Eliot

Morocco has been a wave of wonderful emotions, I’m not sure that words can describe this mind-altering trip, but I shall make my best attempt. From the beginning I have felt excitement, uncertainty, grief, amazement, inspiration, loss, wonder and hope. But most of all Africa gave me peace.

An utter sensation of peace has washed over my soul.

But that didn’t come straight away. This post is about my first night and day in Marrakech. The first night I barely slept out of apprehension and excitement. We arrived in Marrakech at 22.15 and the city was enveloped in darkness, we were the last ones out the airport and as the four of jumped into the large taxi from our hostel, we had our first glimpse of Africa. Motorbikes rushing past one anther, lit by the full moon and white street lights. Some of their owners had their groceries hanging over the edge, others with their shoes flying behind them and a couple of bikes with many people crammed onto one seat. It was nothing like I had ever seen before, and already I was excited of what was to come.

You may wonder why I had decided to go to Morocco, well, it’s a country I hadn’t really heard of before moving to Spain and when I constantly saw cheap flights going there from Madrid – it caught my interest. I read a little about it, and ever since October last year I have wanted to visit and luckily I found people like me that wanted to go too! My decision to go to Morocco was met with some concern, but although it is undoubtedly a place where you have to take care, I’m glad it didn’t hinder my decision.

As we arrived in the hostel, Dream Kasbah, we were informed that they only had two of the four beds we were due, and we could either move elsewhere or they would sort something out for us there. As tired as we were and as late it had become, me and my friend said we would share, one would take the floor, and another of us on the top bunk. It was a nice hostel afterall. As soon as our beds were sorted in the cramped hostel room, we went to fill our rumbling bellies. We stumbled out onto the windy lanes of Marrakech and on to the main street closest to us where we had spotted some ‘hole-in-the-wall’ type restaurants during the taxi ride. We ordered four sandwiches with chips and wandered back to the hostel. However, we kept walking down the wrong streets and inevitably, a group of men waiting like vultures for this very moment came up to us. Although we tried desperately to shake them off, they lead us into the night, even though we had just spotted the sign for our hostel.

I have only felt uncomfortable in Morocco twice, and this was one of them. As my friends continued walking, I had fallen behind just a couple of steps, but during this time one of the men put his arms around me. I pushed him away as my other friend shouted at him in her karate-trained manner. He left pretty hastily. But the other followed us all the way to our hostel door and asked for money to which we politely declined and went to eat. I will just say that these men were not good representatives of Moroccans and I was otherwise overwhelmed by the kindness of these people.

Around 8am, we awoke having slept very little and begun our day with the free-breakfast at the hostel. Although the food wasn’t to be desired, the spiced coffee was something special. Then, we went to see Marrakech in the daylight.

To four students who had never stepped foot in Africa before, it was like a whole new world. Men perched on the side of mules on the main roads, scooters weaved in out of one another and donkeys clattered down the streets laden with tons of bags. And, as we soon found out, zebra crossings didn’t work. So as we hopped, skipped and jumped across the roads in awe of the beautiful buildings and people alike, and soon realised we had no idea where we going and that we needed a map. Pronto.

So off we went to the first store we could see and asked the man where we could buy a map and he produced a whole book of Morocco.

“Take it!” he uttered

We tried to explain we didn’t really want to pay for a whole book, just a small map.

“No, no, for free. Please, have it.”

We groveled our thanks and offered the little change we had on us, to which he denied and went on our way to the large plaza featured in the book.

It was bizarrely surreal. Monkeys walked around with chains round their necks doing back flips; snake charmers sat in the middle nose-to-nose with a hissing python; women came over and grabbed your hand trying to sell henna tattoos; horses proudly trotted past with a carriage of tourists trailing behind; stalls sold their fresh fruit juices and people crowded round the buskers. It was hard to know where to look or what to think of this strange spectacle.

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Plaza in Marrakech

So, we decided to divert to the more peaceful area of the mosque before tackling the markets again. It was hurtful to see the beggars dotted around the beautiful building, with their kind eyes and pleading expressions trying to sell their hand stitched rugs or cookies, none of them got angry if we turned down their items, instead they simply smiled and said “maybe tomorrow?” before walking on. We realised we weren’t allowed to enter, as we came to find with most of the mosques, so we moved onto the souks.

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Mosque in Marrakech

If the plaza was crazy, the souks were something else. But they were incredible. Fresh fruits, piles of herbs and spices, different kinds of olives, juices, fish, meat and animals in tiny crates. Then there would be a jewellery section full of different golds and silvers gleaming in the late morning sun. After that, leather bags, colourful shoes, embroided dresses and exquisite scarves. It’s fair to say we all spent a little more than expected during our time in Morocco, everything was amazing.

Time had been passing very slowly and at around two in the afternoon, we decided we should find somewhere to rest and eat, so we went to the closest place that had a vegetarian friendly menu. It wasn’t anything special from the outside, but upstairs it had a beautiful terrace with an incredible view over the city. The food was delicious and we topped it off with some mint tea. We somehow sat there for hours, talking a little, but mainly just enjoying the warmth and the calm buzz of the city down below. At sometime after five, we decided we should walk back to the hostel via the palace, which was closed. So back to the hostel it was as the sun began to set behind the clouds.

We spent the evening chatting to a lovely German couple who were travelling through Morocco on their study break and another inspiring girl who is a freelance writer/blogger travelling long-term with her partner, as well as the lovely hostel workers before retiring to bed ready for our early start in the morning.

Tomorrow we would embark on a journey across the Atlas Mountains, through Berber villages and onto the Sahara desert before finishing in Fes.

Our adventure in Morocco had only just begun.