Madrid: More than a Capital

When most people think about Spain, the first city that probably comes to mind is Barcelona because of the famous Gaudí architecture and its close proximity to the ocean.  Honestly, I was one of those people at one point too, mainly because “The Cheetah Girls 2” was filmed there, and that is a quality film.  However, as the third largest city in Europe, Madrid is so much more than just the capital (and some people don’t even know that much).

The Spanish culture is strong and distinct with many common traditions throughout the entire country despite its regionalistic tendencies, and you can find all examples of this right here in Madrid.  With daily flamenco shows, theaters, rooftop bars, museums, parks, and much more, Madrid is a cultural hub.  Whether you’re a tourist or a local, Madrid has so many things to do and places to explore that it’s absolutely impossible to ever be bored.  In fact, I don’t think that word is even in the Spanish dictionary.

Stretching to every corner of the city and having several stops in each neighborhood, the best way to get around Madrid is with the Metro.  Just like our Pitt IDs allow us to use all public transportation, the student metro card also allows you to use the buses and cercanías, too.  However, if you’re like me and you love exploring cities and culture by foot, Madrid is very walkable depending on where you want to go and where you live.

I’ve gotten lost many times walking around Madrid because there are so many tiny streets in different directions that it’s like a maze.  Not to mention the street signs are very small and posted on the sides of buildings rather than on street poles.   I really don’t know what I would do without Google Maps.  This design was not by accident, however.  Madrid was designed this way so that if it were ever to be attacked or enemies tried to infiltrate the city, they would easily get lost.

Sol is a large plaza in the center of Madrid, and actually, the exact middle of the Iberian peninsula.  It marks Kilometer Zero, so this is where all buildings and highways stem from and are based on in Madrid.  You’ll know you’re in Sol by seeing huge crowds of people gathered in the square, street performers, a large statue of man riding a horse, but most importantly, the symbol and coat of arms of Madrid: el Oso y el Madroño.  As such, this bear and strawberry tree statue serve as a tourist hub and the perfect meeting place.

Down the street from Sol, you’ll find yourself in Plaza Mayor, the most historical plaza in Madrid.  Once used during the Spanish Inquisition as a site for public killings, it is now a lively place to wine and dine or enjoy the events of San Isidro.

Just a little bit further of a walk from there, you will find yourself near the most famous museums in Madrid: La Reina Sofía, which is a modern art museum, featuring exhibits on Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí, and El Prado, which features more traditional art.  Both of these musuems are quite extensive; you will need to take several visits in order to make it the whole way through both of them.  That won’t be a problem though, since both of these museums are free every day from 6-8 p.m.  In fact, there are countless things to do in Madrid for free, which I think is absolutely awesome since I am a poor college student trying to save money where I can.

The royal family of Spain no longer lives in the royal palace, so El Palacio Real is open to the public and is a must-see.  Although the royal family doesn’t have any governmental power in Spain, there have been many generations who have passed through those beautiful walls, and it is very interesting to learn about Spain’s rich history as you walk through.

Madrid has many more sights to see like El Templo de Debod, an Egyptian Temple gifted to Spain, the Moncloa arch, Plaza de Toros, the bullfighting ring…  I could go on forever.  Once you’ve seen all the sights of Madrid, you can take a break by walking through El Parque de El Retiro, the largest park of Madrid.  This is the perfect place to relax after work with friends, exercise by going for a run or using the free workout equipment, or for a romantic date renting rowboats on the large pond.  I love coming to Retiro, as it is a nice break from the busy streets of Madrid.

However, if you’re still up for the crowded streets, look no further than Gran Via.  Gran Via is the shopping district of Madrid, and is home to the largest Primark in the world.  At over 5 floors, I find it to be quite overwhelming, but there are plenty of other stores to choose from like H&M, Bershka, and Zara.  Gran Via is also home to the arts scene: musicals, dance performances, and concert venues.

Although Flamenco originated in the South of Spain, there are plenty of places to go and watch a show in Madrid.  This is one of the most distinct aspects of the Spanish culture, and is absolutely breathtaking.  With live singers, a very talented classical guitarist, and strong female and male dancers, it will amaze you.

Bullfighting is, of course, another distinct cultural part of Spain, and was actually the most popular sport in Spain until fútbol was born.  However, I don’t think I’ll make it to one of these as I do not support the bullfighting, since the bulls are tortured and killed each fight.

In order to make sure I experience everything Madrid has to offer, I have a list of all the things I want to do and see.  The only problem is, every day I discover something new that I want to explore and my list keeps getting longer.  I only have about one month left here and I intern full time, so I’m not sure I’ll get to do everything.  However, this is a part of living my life as true Spaniard.  I can’t express how happy I am here in Madrid.  It’s more than just a tourist destination, it’s my home.