The Jakarta Post
Puerta Alcala (Madrid Tourism/File)
The Spanish capital will surprise the first-time visitor with its size, charm and efficiency, says Madrileno Sean Retana Vallely.
“This city will always be home to me,” says Sean, a tour guide born on the outskirts of the metropolis in 1975. “I could see Madrid in the distance. As soon as I got permission from my parents, I started taking the bus into town.”
We asked Sean where to go beyond the Palace and the National Museum. Here’s what we found out.
What’s the perfect lazy Sunday in the city?
Sundays are for Rastro, as we say in Madrid–and Rastro is the Sunday street flea market with 2,300 street vendors! It is so authentic and huge. It makes you wonder how these things can still coexist with Amazon and eBay. Then tapas, down by La Latina.
A walk in the Casa de Campo park, the largest forest park in Madrid, to end with tapas (of course) at one of the restaurants around the lake. Take a siesta and enjoy the stunning views of Madrid from the west before you decide what’s next.
What’s the best part of the city?
Madrid's Gran Via (Madrid Tourism/File)
Old world architecture paired with some of the best urban infrastructure in Europe, the intensity of Spanish street life–plus perhaps the highest ratio of bars and restaurants per capita in the world.
What’s your magic Madrid moment?
Evenings are a strange and fascinating part of the day, and they can be long and warm in Madrid. The sun sets behind the mountains and leaves a violet and orange dye in the sky. Everybody notices the day is breaking down and finally surrenders. It is a great time for a little chat and a little walk in the old part of town, along the viaduct towards Las Vistillas, in Retiro Park or Alcalá Street–and if you are into bullfighting, then an evening at Las Ventas bullring is a must.
Where to see the real Madrid?
Take a stroll down the Salamanca district, starting at Mercado de la Paz and ending by Cristopher Columbus square–doing a bit of shopping along the way, having a drink at Platea or tasting some wine at Mantequerías Bravo. On the opposite side of Castellana Avenue, explore the Chamberí district and find yourself in Olavide square sharing the morning with the locals and sitting down for some Spanish omelettes with salad and sangría.
I would dare say that would be La Latina area, which is totally overrated when it comes to nightlife and infested with young Madrileños trying to look trendy. I wouldn’t stay too long at Puerta del Sol either.
A statue of the Spanish author Don Quixote (Madrid Tourism/File)
Visitors tend to stay within the east-west axis connecting the Prado Museum and the royal palace south of Gran Vía. Whereas the old part of town north of Gran Vía–Chueca, Malasaña, Conde-Duque and Salesas–is just as rewarding, as are the 19th century neighborhoods of Salamanca, Chamberí, Moncloa, Retiro and Delicias.
How about food?
Lamb is religion in this part of Spain. The Castilian tradition in Madrid dictates that the lamb should go to the slaughter house at the age of 21 days. Madrid is home to probably the second largest fish market in the world after Tokyo. Spain is really the only western nation where people know about fish and take it seriously. Try the restaurant La Castela in the Retiro district, or El Barril de Argüelles in Chamberí.
A good tip for fish and seafood lovers: every Saturday at Mercado de la Cebada in La Latina, the fishmongers sell their stuff fresh after the sale is done to take away or eat on the spot, which is what most locals do. White wines and beer available at ridiculously inexpensive prices, as is the food! Messy, sticky, noisy, smelly, crowded... absolutely great!
Off-the-beaten track tips from Sean
Sean Retana (Courtesy of Sean Retana/File)
For art: Beyond the Museo Nacional del Prado, Sean recommends Museo Sorolla, Museo Lázaro Galdiano, Museo Cerralbo and the Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando.
Exploring pop-ups: Sean says to check out Kitchen 154 at Mercado de Vallehermoso in the Chanberí district to see how traditional markets are turning into hip food courts.
And for people watching: Try the university enclave of Moncloa, a neighborhood that’s almost never visited by foreigners, as well as the Retiro district, east of Retiro park, a local area with many bars and authentic street life.