Brandon is currently studying Spanish at UT Austin and has spent a year in Seville as part of his curriculum. You can see more of his time abroad in our Spanish language webseries Perdido en Madrid!
I recently had the opportunity to explore Madrid. The trip got off to a rough start (I’m not great with maps), but my new friend Cristina showed me around, and I have to say it was really enlightening having a local lead the way. For anyone planning a trip to Spain’s capital city, I offer these 5 recommendations to make the most of your experience.
Take a step back to view the complex history
I don’t know about you, but when I think of Spanish history, my mind goes to Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand on the throne. It’s an important era, sure, but represents only a small piece of the puzzle. Madrid has a rich, dynamic history that stretches all the way back to the ancient Romans and continues through the settlements of the Visigoths, the Moors, the Catholic monarchy, and more. To put such a long history in perspective, I recommend heading to the Muralla Árabe (The Muslim Walls). From a single vantage point you can see over 1000 years of history, and it really helps show the city’s layers.
Explore the neighborhoods
Just like its history, Madrid is not a monolithic city. One minute you can be standing in front of an 18th century palace and the next you’re in the winding streets of a residential barrio. Definitely take time to see the tourist spots, such as the Plaza Mayor and the royal residence, and then check out the vibrant neighborhoods, like Chueca and Malasaña. You’ll find great food and get to see day-to-day life unfold away from the tour groups.
Get out on the water
A great contrast to the rush of the main city center is El Parque del Buen Retiro. The park’s 350 acres include gardens, green lawns, walking paths, and most famously, the lagoon at the center. For just a few euros, you can rent a boat and row all across the water. Just be sure to watch your personal belongings out on the open sea. My phone didn’t survive the trip.
Eat a little of everything at a local market
There is a LOT of good food to try in Madrid, and as Cristina showed me, one of the best ways to sample many dishes is to eat at a local market. We stopped at Mercado de San Antón, but I’ve also heard great things about Mercado San Miguel. Different stalls sell cheese, meats, pasta, fruit, ice cream – you name it, they probably have it – and you can bring your food to a table right in the middle, which makes getting up for seconds and thirds easier.
Even when you’re afraid, try to speak the language
When I first got to Madrid, I was nervous about speaking the language. I didn’t want to stand out like a sore thumb or embarrass myself. The more I threw myself into challenging situations, though, the more comfortable I became with speaking. By the end I was ordering ice cream perfectly (well, almost. I forgot the difference between cone and bull’s horn). It was intimidating at the onset, but I’m happy I found my voice – and a new friend in Cristina!
To see Brandon’s full adventure, download Perdido en Madrid!