Learning Spanish in Spain’s capital, Madrid, means living and studying in one of Spain’s most energetic and fun cities. With so much to see and do, where should you start? Here are just 10 things to see, do, and check out while you learn Spanish in Madrid.
1. Check Out Madrid on Foot
Though Madrid is a large city, the center of the city is a walking city. People who live in Madrid make use of public transportation, but in the center you’ll see and experience more of the city when you use your feet to get around! As a tourist or a student learning Spanish, the main walking route you will find yourself on in Madrid’s center runs from Madrid’s Metropolis building and will take you over to the Plaza de España. It’s a wide, busy street filled with shops and businesses in the heart of Madrid’s city center. Starting from the Metropolis building, a landmark building with a statue topped dome, you will see a number of Madrid’s landmarks, including the Hotel de las Letras and the Museo Chicote (not a musuem but a famous Madrid cocktail bar visited in the past by such personalities as Hemingway, Grace Kelly and Ava Garder, as well as many famous Spanish actors, writers and artists.)
When you reach the famous Telefónica building, a building actually inspired by buildings in New York but with an added touch of Spanish baroque style exterior ornamentation, you’ll be entering a more commercial zone filled with clothing and other shops. You’ll pass the Palacio de la Prensa, Callao and Capitol theaters, which are Madrid’s most notable movies theaters. Between these theaters and the Plaza de España you will pass the Lope de Vega and Compac theaters, known for their Broadway style shows. At the end of Gran Via you will come to the Edificio España and the Plaza de España.
2. Have a Cafe in the Plaza Mayor
One of the greatest pleasures of learning Spanish in Spain is having a cafe with your friends and classmates at a Spanish cafeteria. And there’s no better place to do it than in one of Spain’s many central squares. The Plaza Mayor in Madrid has a number of old and traditional shops and cafes under its porticoes. It is a place where you can meet with your friends, talk, have a cafe, people watch, and relax. When you enter the Plaza Mayor you will definitely have a “Wow, I am really in Spain moment!”
The Plaza Mayor in Madrid was completed in 1621. Over the course of its existence it has hosted numerous types of events, including markets, bullfights, and festivals, such as the celebrations for San Isidrio, the patron saint of Madrid, which continues to be celebrated in the Plaza Mayor.
3. Stroll Around in One of Madrid’s Parks
Madrid’s history have left Madrid with some very nice green public spaces. The Casa de Campo is the largest of Madrid’s parks and dates back to 1553! The park is located to the west of Madrid’s city center and has a large lake where you can rent a row boat or kayak, and it has sports facilities and plenty of paths for walking, running, or bike riding. In the park you’ll also find other fun stuff to do, including an amusement park, Zoo Aquarium, fair ground, and the Madrid Arena.
To the east of Madrid’s city center is the Parque del Buen Retiro. El Retro has tree-lined walks, a pond, fountains and numerous monuments. It’s one of our favorite parks in Madrid because it’s centrally located and is a short walk away from the Paseo de Recoletos and Gran Via. It’s one of Madrid’s best parks to take a quick escape from the busy feel of Madrid and to enjoy some greenery and fresh air. It’s also a beautiful park to visit in the fall, when the leaves change colors!
Next to el Retiro you’ll find the Real Jardin Botanico de Madrid (the Royal Botanical Garden of Madrid). Have a visit and enjoy a collection of around 90,000 plants and flowers and some 1,500 trees! In the Botanical Garden’s greenhouses you can enjoy exhibits of plants from tropical, temperate, and desert regions. The main entrance to the park is located at Plaza de Murillo, next to Madrid’s famous Prado museum.
4. Have A Beer and Eat Tapas!
Tapas in Spain is the real deal. When tapas make their way to America, restaurants usually have to adapt them to American sensibilities. In this case, it means large portions of food, even though they are called “tapas” on the menu. In reality, tapas are small portions of yummy food. We have seen them described as “apetizers” – but they are not followed by a main dish. Rather, when you are in a tapas bar in Madrid, you order several tapas and enjoy the mix of flavors. Having a beer or wine and plenty of conversation with your friends is an essential part of having tapas. While nobody seems to mention it, eating tapas in Spain is a very social and relaxing venture. Eating tapas is as much about socializing with friends as it is about getting a bit to eat – and that is what makes eating tapas in Madrid so special! If you’re learning Spanish in Madrid, don’t be surprised to find yourself eating tapas several times a week with your friends and classmates!
5. Check Out Some Great Museums
If you had to name a few European cities with great museums, Madrid would be right up there with the best. Madrid is home to the Museo del Prado, the Reina Sofia, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza museums. The Prado is Madrid’s most famous museum and it is Madrid’s biggest tourist attraction. Housed in an enormous neo-classical building opposite El Retiro park, the Prado is home to works from such famous artists as Diego de Velazquez and Francisco de Goya, and many others. Helpful hint: take some time to read up on the museum before you go visit, familiarize yourself with the museum and its collections, and you’ll enjoy your visit all the more!
At the Reina Sofia you will be treated to contemporary art collections, especially Spanish contemporary art, including works from nearly all of the most notable Spanish artists of the 20th century. Works from PIcasso, Dali, Miro, and others are exhibited there. The Thyssen-Bornemisza musuem houses some 800 works of arts that expose you a history of Western art through the centures. Again, if you read up on the museums’s collections before you visit, you’ll enjoy your visit even more!
6. Visit Puerto del Sol
If you go to Madrid to learn Spanish, you’ll definitely visit Madrid’s Puerto del Sol, which is one of Madrid’s busiest and best known locations. The Puerto del Sol was originally one of the gates through Madrid’s defensive city wall and gets its name from its orientation to the east, where the sun rises. In the immediate vicinity of the Puerto del Sol there are a number of well-known sights, including the office of the President Madrid, a mounted statue of Charles III of Spain, and the famous Bear and Madrone tree, which is the heraldic symbol of Madrid. The Puerto de Sol is an open, semi-circular public space from which a number of streets emanate outwards, including the Calle Preciados, which is has quite a number of shops and stores. The Puerto del Sol is so central to Madrid that you can’t miss it.
7. Have a Look at the Catedral de la Almudena and Royal Palace
At the western edge of Madrid’s city center you’ll find the Madrid’s cathedral, the Catedral de la Almudena, and the Royal Palace. If you don’t have a cathedral and a royal palace in your town, take the opportunity to see both while you are learning Spanish in Madrid! The Catedral de la Almudena is relatively new by Spanish standards and not build on the same scale as other cathedrals in Spain, such as the ones in Salamanca or Seville, but is nonetheless worth a visit. In the Royal Palace, which hosts state functions, you will find rich decorations and important frescoes. There is a central interior courtyard, Central Gardens, and the Royal Armory, which houses one of Europe’s best collections of armor (and it’s really cool stuff to see!).
9. Concert Time!
Madrid is a very lively city. It has an energy that few cities in Europe have – or even in the world. Life in Spain goes on until the late evening and the night. Be sure to check out some of the many music venues in Madrid, check out the tunes, and have some fun! Notable places for music include Cafe Popular and Cafe Central for jazz. Check out La Coquette for blues, and Gruta 77 if you’re looking for rock. Other venues include Cafe Berlin, Rock Palace, Moe, Fulanita de Tal, and Tempo Club. In Madrid you’ll find almost every kind of music you could want, plus fusions and music you might never even heard before. Venture out and enjoy the music and Madrid’s vibes!
10. Check Out a Festival!
One rule that applies to all of Spain is this: if you hear music outside, go check it out! We can’t tell you how many times we have heard music (even late at night sometimes) and gone out to explore. And what did we find? A festival! Spain has some of the best festivals you will ever come across. Festivals in Spain take place by day, and by night – and often both. And sometimes they happen in places you wouldn’t expect – like right in the middle of a residential neighborhood!
If you are learning Spanish in Spain in the spring, be sure to check out the Dos de Mayo celebration, which marks the 1808 uprising of the Spanish against the French, who had occupied Spain. The San Isidrio festival honors Madrid’s patron saint. During the festival of San Isidrio there are plenty of outdoor concerts and street fairs to explore. You might also want to check out the Virgen del Carmen festival in July and the Verbena de la Paloma festival in August. Spanish festivals, if you haven’t already experienced some, are an experience you really don’t want to miss!