We’re going to spend our second day in Madrid exploring the stark contrast between two different neighbourhoods. First we’ll enter the somewhat gritty, up-and-coming Lavapiés district before venturing into the manicured green lawns in the parks and gardens surrounding Madrid’s Royal Palace and Renaissance and Baroque buildings in the Austria’s area.
09:00 – Exploring Lavapiés
Start your tour of Lavapiés in the triangular plaza of the same name. Madrid’s Jewish Quarter until 1492, the area is now known for its bohemian multi-ethnic scene. Browse the wares in the eclectic variety of shops on the narrow pedestrian streets radiating out from the plaza, then head up Calle Ave María towards el Mercado Antón Martín, a typical 2-storey market. Shop for cooking essentials like local meats, cheeses, freshly baked bread, and seasonal fruits and vegetables.
11:00 – Tour the Royal Palace
Check out the place where the Spanish Royals stay when they’re ‘officially’ at home in Madrid. Built by Felipe V., the first of the Bourbon kings, there are 2,800 rooms in this Italian baroque-style mansion, but only 50 are open to the public. Enjoy amazing views of the city, the surrounding countryside and Roman aqueducts from the Palace’s courtyard. Frescos are all around, and there’s no shortage of velvet or gold in its decorating scheme, either. Crowd-pleasers include the Palace’s manicured gardens, and old pharmacy packed with ancient herbs and concoctions. To get there from Antón Martín Market, stroll up Santa Isabel to Puerta de Sol and take line 2 direction Cuatro Caminos to the Opera metro stop.
12:30 – The Convent of the Royal Barefoot Nuns
Cross Plaza de Oriente and pass the Royal Theatre to get to Convento de las Descalzas Reales. Beyond an imposing and grim exterior live a few nuns, numerous chapels, the bones of Saint Sebastian and priceless tapestries of works by Rubens. Not to mention a number of Renaissance frescos and murals by Claudio Coello, an important 17th-century Madrid School artist.
Feast on Spanish fare with views of the royal palace at one of the restaurants on Plaza de Oriente, a semi-circular plaza with a statue of Philip IV on horseback in the middle. On sunny days, try to get a table on Café de Oriente’s terrace.
15:00 – Hapsburg Madrid
Amble over to the Austrias District and stroll the narrow streets that lead to two of the oldest and smallest churches in Madrid – San Nicolás de las Servitas and San Pedro el Viejo. Stop to soak up the historic ambience in Plaza de la Paja, a square dating from when the Hapsburgs ruled Spain. Check out the gothic Torre de los Lujanes, as well as the red-orange old town hall, Casa de la Villa, in one of Madrid’s oldest squares, Plaza de la Villa.
16:30 – Scenic Moments
Snap shots of the Guadarrama Mountains in the distance at Vistillas Park. Afterwards, plant-lovers and gardening aficionados can carry on to the more extensive gardens at Campo del Moro.
Take a leisurely half-hour stroll towards the Plaza Mayor through the garden and along Calle Mayor until you get to the square. The Plaza Mayor and surrounding streets are a great place to sample food-on-the-go, madrileño style. Snack on a ‘bocadillo de calamares’, fried squid on a baguette slathered with mayonnaise chased down with a frosty beer, and supplemented with a side portion of chips. You can try this at Cerveceria Plaza Mayor right on the main plaza, or Casa Rúa, on Ciudad de Rodrigo Street near the plaza.
20:00 – The Evening Ahead
From ballet and opera in historic theatres, to sporting events and flamenco dancing in tablaos, Madrid offers up a veritable all-you-can-eat buffet of entertainment options. So many, in fact, that you may be loath to choose just one.
Option 1: Shell-out a few euros for a show at Madrid’s Royal Theatre. Enjoy an opera or a ballet in this historic building restored in the 1990s. While it may be impossible to fit in all three in one night, you may be able to combine an early opera or football game with late night Flamenco.
Option 2: Score tickets to a Real Madrid Game at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium and scream your loyalty to the home team in the company of 75,000 spectators. If you can’t get tickets to a match, show your team spirit with local fans in one of a multitude of sports bars near the stadium.
Option 3: Get your flamenco fix at Casa Patas. Relax with a drink at the bar until the show starts (usually after 10pm). Get your fill of this gypsy tradition, declared intangible heritage of humanity by UNESCO. After the show the metro is likely to be closed, so call ahead for a taxi.
Midnight and beyond – Go Loco
To satisfy late-night cravings for flamenco singing, dancing and guitar-playing, grab a taxi to Clan. Flamenco shows begin at midnight on Fridays and Saturdays and admission is free.