Madrid: The Beginners' Top 10

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The Andersons love Madrid - it's cleaner than Rome, less noisy and its people more helpful. Here is their top 10 for the capital of Spain.

Photography by the authors

We have a Czech friend who says cities are either introvert or extrovert. Paris and Las Vegas he labels extrovert and London and Brno, his country’s second largest city, he calls introvert.

Interesting — Spanish novelist, Carlos Ruiz Zafón also has something to say. He calls his two favorite cities “living creatures. To me, Madrid is a man and Barcelona is a woman … a woman who's extremely vain.”

Well, certainly Madrid pulsates with macho pride. How could it not? This is not the north of Spain with its less chauvinistic attitudes. Yet this strutting conceit is surely part of Madrid’s fascination.

We love Madrid; it’s cleaner than Rome, less noisy and its people more helpful. And you can walk its cobblestones without being knocked down by vehicles or motorbikes. Or gouged by the prices in tourist spots.

We have our favorite spots we come back to when we visit Madrid. We have limited knowledge of the city, of course, but here’s our top ten for the capital of Spain — one attraction, the Royal Armory, is a new appreciation thanks to our Insight Vacations guide, Toni Aguilar.

1. Three museum musts

We like to prioritize visiting Madrid’s three museums first. We don’t always have the same amount of time for each and sometimes there are special exhibitions, such as Pissarro had this year at the Thyssen Bornemisza.

It’s convenient to find all three of Madrid’s largest museums, the Prado, the Thyssen Bornemisza and Reina Sofia all close together.

The Prado is generous in allowing photography; it is surely the least prickly of Europe’s art museums. It just wants its guests to enjoy all those Goyas in its halls.

Self-portrait Rembrandt; Domenico Ghirlandaio. Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni, 1489-149. Thyssen Bornemisza; Guernica, Picasso. Reina Sophia.

2. Palace Apartments and Royal Armory

The Royal Apartments impress visitors but the Royal Armory will knock them over. Near to the Royal Palace is the next must-see location — Madrid is a city that is easily walked.

3. Cervantes Monument

It is charming to find that although the sculptor Lorenzo Coullaut Valera began the monument in 1925, his loyal son, the sculptor Federico Coullaut-Valera Mendigutia, finished it for him in 1957.

4. Spain’s history

The main square Plaza Mayor saw a statue of King Phillip III on horseback erected in 1616 but this was where the Spanish inquisition tortured and executed its victims from 1478 to 1834, one of Spain’s least savory stories. Queen Isabel stands in the Royal Apartments; her role in encouraging Columbus is well established but she surely had a complicated reign.

Americans have trouble embracing European history. In fact authors Will and Ariel Durant once said, “We Americans are the best informed people on earth as to the events of the last 24 hours; we are not the best informed as to the events of the last 60 centuries.”

In some ways European history is simple. Although the great maritime powers overlapped, it seems the Portuguese had their 15th century, Spain the 16th, and Dutch their marvelous Golden Century in the 17th. The French perhaps had the end of the 18th, Britain the 19th, the United States the 20th and, supposedly, it’s now China’s turn.

5. Madrid Hop On Hop Off Bus

We understand a simplified form of Spain’s history but the Madrid Hop On Hop Off bus can simplify your entire visit.

6. Afternoon tea at the Ritz

Cesar Ritz created his special hotel in Madrid three years before he gave the world one in Paris, France. To our surprise it seems more elegant in the capital of Spain — it seems to belong more.

7. Lunch at Botin

Botin is the “oldest restaurant in the world.” Do we believe that? Yes, the Guinness Book of Records has certified it and we’ve even made it an article to follow on its own.

8 .The Flamenco show to die for

The Corral de la Moreria gets favorable reviews everywhere including at TripAdvisor, where a summary would be “a little crowded, very pricey, and a little touristy, but well worth it.”

It’s authentic and exciting. This is where celebrities go to see flamenco.

9. Walking city

Exploring the city on foot is a pleasure. The distances are not great, plus there is lots of shade. Furthermore, there’s a sense of fun wherever you turn.

It’s easy to get your bearings as you walk in Madrid, and the surroundings are so colorful.

10. Retiro Park

What used to be the recreation area for the Royal Family is now the city’s largest park and its favorite. With its shade trees, it’s a cool oasis on a hot summer day. You’ll have company enjoying it.

The Andersons, who live in San Diego, are the resident travel & cruise columnists for Physician's Money Digest. Nancy is a former nursing educator, Eric a retired MD. The one-time president of the NH Academy of Family Practice, Eric is the only physician in the Society of American Travel Writers. He has also written five books, the last called The Man Who Cried Orange: Stories from a Doctor's Life.