Searching for the Bear and the Strawberry Tree in Madrid

My trip to the capital of Spain can be easily described by this statement: the beauty of having no real expectations. Why? Beats me, but for one of the few times in my life I didn’t have a clear plan to follow. One reason can be the fact that I was pretty busy the week before and had little time to organize it. The truth is that I don’t care right now, because it ended beautifully: Madrid was, overall, after three days and more than 80 kilometers walked in total, one of the best cities I’ve ever visited and well deserves a place in my top destinations so far.

But what’s not to love about Madrid? The city is simply sublime; always lively, it’s a joy to wander its streets, admire the gorgeous architecture, visit some of the world’s best known art museums, eat tapas and drink good wine at reasonable prices. Honestly, I didn’t expect to find such a fantastic city. Take my advice: visit at least once in your life Madrid.

Teatro Calderon

Let’s start the journey with some history – and don’t worry, cause it will be short, with a lot of pics. Madrid is not an old city, comparing to other European capitals, like Rome or Paris. It was mainly developed in the last 500 years, after the Habsburgs decided to move the capital from Toledo. The architecture of Madrid reflects various styles from different historical periods. There were four main periods which influenced the looks of the city:

– Reign of the Habsburgs, when most of the historic buildings were built. My favourite part of the city. Below, the facade of Casa de la Panaderia, in Plaza Mayor:

Casa de la Panadería, Plaza Mayor

– Reign of the Bourbons, which added a completely new touch to the city. Below, Palacio Real:

Palacio Real de Madrid gates

– Modernization, between the end of the 19th century and middle of the 20th, marked by the extension of the city limits. Below, Gran Via, a perfect example of early 20th-century architecture:

Gran Via

– Current era, starting with the end of the 20th century, when the skyscrapers were constructed. Below, AZCA business district:

AZCA financial district


Accommodation

Once more, I’ve decided to use Airbnb, and found a small apartment 50 meters away from Puerta del Toledo. I totally recommend the area for Madrid, because it’s situated close to the city center (10-15 minutes walk) and has a lot of pubs and restaurants. I found the hotels pretty expensive, and for the same money I’ve spent for the apartment I could have only afforded a bed in a shared dorm at one of the many hostels from the city center. Using Airbnb, I had my own room, equipped with a kitchen and a bathroom.


Guide to Madrid

  • The heart of the city is nowadays disputed between Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor. The two are close one to the other, being separated by just a few blocks. In my opinion, Plaza Mayor is way nicer than Puerta del Sol – although this is where I “finished” my quest and found the bear and the strawberry tree. My tip: visit it in the morning, it’s not that crowded. And if it’s Sunday, have a look at the small flea market, you might find some bargains.

Petit Palace Posada del Peine

  • Nearby, you will find Mercado San Miguel, the most popular market in Madrid. It’s not organized as a traditional market, but more as a tapas and drinks market. It’s a cool place, yeah, and you will find good recommendations on many websites, but I personally believe that the prices are too expensive.

Mercado de San Miguel

  • Palacio Real is the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family, but nowadays it is only used for ceremonies. It is an impressive building, both outside and inside and well deserves a tour. Cost of a ticket is €11, but the palace can be also visited for free, more details on the official webpage. Taking photos inside is forbidden (except for the main staircase). Tip: at 12 PM you can watch the changing of the guards on its east side, towards Plaza de Oriente.

Main staircase fresco at Palacio Real de Madrid

  • In front of the palace you will spot the Almudena Cathedral, the biggest church in Madrid:

Catedral de la Almudena

  • If you wish to take a break, enjoy some sun and eat an ice cream, you can choose one of the following places: Jardines de Sabatini, Parque del Oeste, Plaza de España
  • …or sit down and have some wine and tapas at one of the restaurants or bars in the area, I can recommend La Mi Venta (Plaza de la Marina Española 7) or AS Jamonería (Plaza Jacinto Benavente 2). One thing you have to take into account: the bars and restaurants usually open around noon, close in the afternoon (4-5 PM) and reopen at 8-9 in the evening.

Spanish starter at AS Jamonería

  • From Plaza de España, the Gran Via, named the “Spanish Broadway”, spans till it meets Calle de Alcalá. What can you find here? Iconic buildings, like Metropolis, Edificio Grassy or Telefonica, theaters, shops, cafes, restaurants and many more. Gran Via is Madrid, and it’s one of the coolest boulevards I’ve seen so far.

The Metropolis Building

  • Other iconic landmarks in the area are the Fuente and Palacio de Cibeles, which nowadays is the home of the City Council:

Fuente and Palacio de Cibeles

  • When it comes to museums, Madrid is definitely the place to be. There is a wide variety from which you can choose, from fine arts and history to archeology and navy. My tip: you have to visit Prado, one of the world’s best art museums, famous for displaying the works of Francisco de Goya and Diego Velázquez. There is no admission fee in the evenings (for more details check the museum’s official page), and don’t be discouraged by the long line, it moves pretty quick.
  • If you’re up for a walk, I recommend the neighborhoods of La Latina, Justicia and Salamanca. Nice narrow streets, with beautiful buildings.

Torre de Madrid seen from Noviciado district

  • Parque de El Retiro might be worth a visit as well, but not if you’re in search of peace and quiet. It’s way too crowded, especially in the weekend.
  • Want to do some shopping? There are a lot of possibilities in Madrid. El Corte Inglés, the biggest department store group in Europe, has several big stores around the city center, and a long list of products. Calle de Serrano, one of the major shopping street, is always vibrant and is packed with stores, from medium priced to luxury ones. In the west of the city, close to the Palacio Real, there’s a shopping mall built inside an old railway station, called Principe Pio. Its location is quite unique and you might want to have a look around.

Some final words…neah, I think it would be pointless now. Go and visit Madrid! And you can thank me later.

PS: The quality of the photos is automatically adjusted on the blog, but you can see them here in full resolution.

Author: Marian Bulacu

Live. Love. Travel. Make a difference.

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