Madrid travel files: Answering a traveler's basic questions

By George Margaronis

I am almost ashamed to admit that Madrid was not one of my first choices when I started to travel. I had the info that it was a beautiful city, with world-class art museums, interesting people and great nightlife but I still kept postponing visiting in favor of other European attractions such as Paris, London, Rome and Berlin. When I finally made it to the Spanish capital I realized that this postponing was a HUGE mistake, on my part.
The majestic, imperial architecture, the museums and the bustling nightlife might be the first enthusiastic impressions of the visitor but the spirit of the city, the lively crowds flocking the streets and the open-hearted character of Madrid are the true attractions of this beautiful, majestic city and the ones that will make you a friend of Madrid for life!
I have visited Madrid many many times since that first journey and I am happy to say that I am still exploring and discovering the city. So here I am, trying to answer the first-time traveler's basic questions and hope to get you to love the city as much as I do!
 
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Gran Via - Madrid - National Tourist Office of Spain
 
Where should I stay?

The city-centre is rather small and easy to walk through so you can choose to stay wherever you like and still be close to everything you want to visit. Most luxury hotels are located on the Gran Via (The Principal Madrid), near the Prado Museum (Ritz, Westin Palace) or near the elegant Calle de Serano (Único Madrid, Barceló Emperatriz). Urso hotel is also a fine and convenient choice, located north of the lively Chueca district. Madrid also offers a great variety of spacious apartments in a wide range of prices: choose the ones closer to the Chueca or Malacana districts if you want to be in the heart of the city’s nightlife.

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Chueca district - Madrid - Tourism Media
 
How should I move around?

Due to the relatively small size of the centre and the beauty of the streets, Madrid is a walker’s delight! A combination of walking and metro will get you everywhere within minutes. Even the sites further from the centre (Palacio Real, Almudena Cathedral, Temple of Debod) are quite close to walk to. Santiago Bernabeu Stadium (home of Real Madrid football team) is 5 metro-stops away from Gran Via Station. You can go to Toledo by train (from Atocha station) or by bus (from Plaza Eliptica). For Segovia prefer the train (from Chamartin station).
 
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Plaza de la Villa - Madrid - Tourism Media
 
Which is the road I should know?

Gran Via and Paseo del Prado are the two streets that will help you orientate yourself. Gran Via connects Plaza de España with Plaza de Cibeles. Malasaña and Chueca are located north of Gran Via while Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor are to the south). Paseo Del Prado (named after the famous museum that dominates the tree-covered avenue) starts from Cibeles and leads you to Atocha Station, opposite Reina Sofia Museum. El Retiro Park is situated behind the Prado Museum while the busy Paseo de Recoletos (which becomes Paseo de la Castellana after Colon Square) starts from Cibeles and leads you to the North. The classy and elegant Calle de Serrano is parallel to Recoletos, to the east.
 
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Gran Via - Madrid - National Tourist Office of Spain

Which sight should be the first one on my list?
 
For me Puerta del Sol, Plaza Mayor and the surrounding area are the place to start exploring and understanding the city’s spirit and life! Two grand squares connected and surrounded by narrow streets (most of them unaltered from the medieval times), packed with small shops, cafés, sandwich shops, bars and pastry shops, that will rapidly get you to see what Madrid is all about!
 
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Plaza Mayor - Madrid - Tourism Media

I have time for only one museum...
 
That’s not an easy one to answer; choose Prado Museum if you like art from the 12th to early 19th century from grand masters of the likes of El Greco, Velasquez, Goya etc. (and if you visit until September 10, a grand Bosch 5th centenary exhibition). On the other side, if you are a modern-art-lover you should choose Reina Sofia Museum for your dose of Picasso, Dali, Kandinsky, Miró, Rothko, Magritte and the rest of the who-is-who of 20th century art pantheon. The first time you’ll see Picasso’s Guernica in person is a moment you’ll remember all your life!
Note that Prado Museum, Reina Sofia and Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum (a hugely important art collection covering everything from 14th century pre-Renaissance masters to the Impressionists, Post-impressionists and Expressionists, also situated on paseo del Prado) can be all visited with a combined ticket (Paseo del Arte) of 28,80€ instead of the 36€ required if purchased separately.
 
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Reina Sofia Museum - Madrid - Tourism Media
 
What about contemporary art?
 
Reina Sofia Museum can feed your appetite for 20th century art but if you are in the search of today’s emerging talents you should look for exhibition spaces and galleries such as CaixaForum, Matadero Madrid, La Casa Encendida or Centro de Arte Dos de Mayo (CA2M). Make sure to check cityartnow for updates on current exhibitions in Madrid.
 
What should I avoid doing?

Don’t be skeptical about food! Try everything that suits your taste and be open to new culinary experiences. Also try not to plan a dense visit-schedule; allow time for fooling around and strolling and coffee-breaks and snack-nibbling and all the relaxed stuff that you miss in your every-day life. 
 
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Mercado de San Miguel - Madrid - National Tourist Office of Spain
 
Which are the best places for picture taking?

The climb up to the terrace of the Circulo des Bellas Artes (a 4€ ticket is required, 5€ if you get a combined terrace & exhibitions halls-ticket) will compensate you with a great view to the Gran Via and Plaza de Cibeles. The mercados (San Miguel, San Ildefonso, San Antón) are a great place to score close ups of tasty tapas and colorful food-vitrines as well as people eating and having a great time (be careful there)! The Retiro Park is full of beautiful corners for the relentless instagramer as well as the gorgeous botanical garden nearby. The statue of Don Quixote & Sancho Panza at the Cervantes monument (Plaza de España) is also a great place for pictures as well as the Ancient Egyptian Temple of Debod (Oeste Park) and its reflection on the shallow pool in front of it. Furthermore, the city of Toledo is a massive photo-experience on its every corner!
 
 
Is Madrid easy to visit when you have children?
 
The city is safe and calm which means that you can move around with your family without worries. Children will love the Ancient Egyptian Temple of Debod (Oeste Park), the imposing Romanesque crypt under the Almudena Cathedral and the view from Circulo des Bellas Artes. Renting a boat for sailing at the pond of El Retiro park and a mid-day snack fiesta at the San Miguel Market are highly recommended family activities.
 
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El Retiro Park - Madrid - Tourism Media

Should I plan any nearby excursions?

You’ll need at least four days to see the main sights of the city. If you have more time you could plan a one-day visit to Toledo (for a splendid El Greco-overdose and the picturesque medieval architecture) or Segovia (a city famous for its very important Roman and Gothic sights) or the Escorial Royal Site, a monastery, museum, palace and Spanish Royals' burial place. All three destinations were declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO!
 
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