Your essential guide to the best things to do in Madrid, from the coolest bars and restaurants to the museums and attractions you absolutely shouldn’t missLess
Quite simply the most important art museum in Spain. Go for the huge concentration of masterpieces, among them Spanish Romanesque murals, Gothic altarpieces, Renaissance sculptures and the world’s greatest collection of works by Hieronymus Bosch – plus plenty of El Greco, and Dürer’s extraordinary 1498 ‘Self-Portrait’. Don’t miss the Velázquez Rooms, featuring the artist’s massive state portraits of Felipe IV and his court, with pride of place taken by the timeless ‘Las Meninas’.
On any given day, this 118-hectare park brims with joggers, boaters, picnickers and dog walkers alike. Casual strollers will enjoy checking out the monument to Alfonso XII; the Casón del Buen Retiro, a majestic ballroom that currently belongs to the Prado; and the Palacio de Cristal, built for the 1887 Philippine Exposition. The real highlight is one of very few statues dedicated to the devil, the famous Fallen Angel (Ángel Caído).
In a short time, Sala Equis has become wildly popular. The last X-rated cinema (‘sala x’) in the city has now been converted into a vast cocktail bar – though they’ve kept the projector for slightly more salubrious screenings. The 700-square-metre space is split into three areas: there’s the Sala Plaza, with its huge screen and cocktail bar; another sit-down space where you can relax on wooden benches and swings; and a 55-seat cinema where Sala hosts its well-curated film cycles.
Once one of the city’s main slaughterhouses, Matadero Madrid is now a super-cool cultural centre whose programme spans theatre, film, literature, cabaret and live music. Built in the early twentieth century in the Neo-Mudéjar style, the former abattoir was done up as a large, multidisciplinary arts space and reopened to much fanfare in 2007. Perched right on the bank of the Manzaneres, Matadero is worth a trip above all for its excellent free exhibitions and bustling weekend markets.
After two decades of decline, a group of shopkeepers at the Mercado de Vallehermoso decided to give new life to their historic workplace – allowing restaurants and bars like Prost Chamberí, Graciana and Craft 19 to set up on site. These days, the once-empty stalls are thriving thanks to the Galería de Productores initiative, made up of 22 local suppliers who sell foods produced exclusively in the Madrid region. Asian-Peruvian fusion stand Tripea has proved a particular hit.
Madrid’s biggest tourist attraction draws millions of visitors every year – mainly thanks to one painting, Picasso’s ‘Guernica’. But there’s so much more to this modern art museum than just that one masterpiece: its permanent collection takes in a broad sweep of twentieth-century Spanish art, while the temporary programme stacks up blockbuster show after blockbuster show. Its latest, ‘Mondrian and De Stijl’, runs until March 2021.
In Alameda de Osuna in the Barajas area, you’ll find this epic monument to eighteenth-century Romanticism. Spread across the 14 hectares of El Capricho (literally, ‘The Whim’), you’ll find an artificial river, lakes, woods, gardens, fake ‘temples’ and all manner of other surprising nooks. Though the park’s principal architect was Jean-Baptiste Mulot, a French gardener who worked for Marie Antoinette, most of Capricho feels more reminiscent of England’s landscaped gardens.
This project from Argentinian bartender Diego Cabrera came in at number 22 on a recent list of the world’s 50 best bars. The psychedelic neon decor is the perfect match for a menu that overflows with stupendously imaginative cocktails – think unusual ingredients, cutting-edge techniques and very original receptacles. Pair your cocktail of choice with one (or more) of the gastro offerings by Estanis Carenzo.
Housing the private collection of the late Baron Hans-Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, this museum displays more than 775 paintings, many of which are instantly recognisable. They initially arrived in Madrid on loan, but in 1993, a purchase agreement was signed with the Spanish government. Even among all the Van Goghs, Dürers and Hoppers, Roy Lichtenstein’s ‘Woman in Bath’ is the undeniable standout.