MUST SEE MADRID

MADRID IS OFTEN OVERLOOKED FOR THE TOP SPOT IN PEOPLE’S MUST-SEE MAINLAND SPAIN ESCAPES, BEATEN OUT BY THE TOURIST MECCAS OF BARCELONA AND MARBELLA. BUT IF YOU WANT TO EXPERIENCE LIFE AT A DIFFERENT PACE AND ESCAPE THE TOURIST CLICHÉS IN FAVOUR OF A PERFECT BLEND OF LOCAL HOSPITALITY AND UPMARKET SOPHISTICATION, THEN MADRID MIGHT JUST BE PROVE TO BE THE PERFECT CITY BREAK FOR YOU. KEVIN URQUHART EXPLORED THE CITY AND EXPLAINS WHY MADRID REALLY IS THE ULTIMATE SPANISH SURPRISE.

Boasting quaint cultural corners, bustling bars, an unrivalled artistic pedigree and incredible cuisine, Madrid is fast establishing itself as the perfect destination for a well needed weekend getaway. And with Norwegian Airlines now flying to Madrid direct from Birmingham Airport, there really is no excuse not to get on-board.

Arriving in the city the feeling within the streets and among the local people (of which there are around 3.5 million) is delightfully understated. With a blend of cosmopolitan cafe culture and rustic Spanish authenticity it’s the perfect place to sit and let life pass stylishly by. The problem is there is just so much to see! So relaxed is the city that it can be an effort to put down your coffee, open your guide book and start exploring the rich culture and amazing sights this historic city has to offer – believe me the architecture is stunning – even the city’s post office rivals Buckingham Palace in the stateliness stakes. We suggest emplying the services of a guided tour company for a personal walking tour so that you can get to know the city like a local.

The Plaza de Villa, the oldest square in Madrid,(15th Century) is the perfect beauty spot to take some truly stunning photographs and the stylish designer haven of Salamanca, just north of the city, is well worth a visit as is the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, home to works by Rembrandt and Dali. The piste de resistencia though has to be the Royal Palace of Madrid. Whilst the Spanish Monarchy no longer resides here, you are sure to feel like a king or queen yourself as you explore the breath taking gardens and exquisite décor of some 3,418 rooms. Yes, 3,418 rooms. Whether you want to take in the luxurious surroundings at your own leisurely pace or with the help of a tour guide, the Royal Palace of Madrid, the largest palace in Europe, should definitely be made a priority for your trip.

All of that exploring should have built up your appetite and luckily on almost every corner in Madrid you’ll find a quirky bar serving Tapas alongside their drinks, anything from crisps and olives tochorizo and manchego cheese, eating and drinking really do go hand in hand in this city. One way to enjoy true Tapas in the city, and a must on every travellers list, is to visit the bustling indoor market. Crammed with artisanstalls all offering dishes from 1 or 2 euros the trick is to explore each stall’s offerings with a glass of chilled cava in hand. It makes for a truly magical dining experience which is as entertaining as it is filling. Visit over the summer months and you can enjoy their program of opera in the gardens too.

Plaza_Mayor_de_Madrid_02Madrid-Spain-Capital

For those who prefer their dining a little more formal, restaurants such as Botin, the world’s oldest restaurant built in 1725 offers a menu to match its rich culinary heritage. This famed restaurant has had only two family owners throughout its 300 year history and was a meeting place for rebels duringthe civil war. Since then, it has welcomed the great and good, including Royalty and movie stars. Inside, much of its traditional charm is retained and its speciality dish of slow roasted suckling pig is certainly evocative but not recommended for more squeamish visitors. For a more bohemian vibe, the Central Café offers an affordable alternative. Perfect for a laid back lunch; a three course pre siesta feast costs as little as 12 euros. Loved by the locals, it’s also the place to catch some late night jazz in the city.

If jazz is not your thing Madrid offers a multitude of options for a top notch night out. Madrid’s infamous cocktail bar and cosmopolitan club culture is the ideal backdrop to a night of drinks and dancing. For a more authentic Spanish take on a night out on the tiles though, the Tablao Flamenco club is a hive of dancing, singing and clapping, all backed by classic Spanish guitar. If you’re more into people watching than toe tapping then Madrid has more bars per capita than any other city on Earth, so we can guarantee you will find one (or one hundred and one) which are more to your taste.

A must visit location for drinks day or night is the roof top bar at ME hotel on the Plaza Santa Ana in t h e centre of Madrid. Offering stunning views and a great gin and tonic (served in a huge balloon glass) the rooftop bar is stunningly stylish and very much the place where pretty people go so make sure you prepare by ditching the flip flops and sport something more moda.

It’s no surprise then that we’ve fallen head over heels for Madrid; it’s the perfect destination for couples and lone adventurers alike. With its safe streets, easy navigation, sophisticated bar scene and authentic local charm, you may arrive as a tourist, but you will definitely leave feeling like one of the locals. We can’t wait to get back.

Norwegian operates flights to Madrid from Birmingham on Tuesday, Thursdays and Sundays Fares start from £29.90 from norwegian.co.uk We stayed at Radisson Blu Hotel Madrid Prado, Calle Moratin, 52, Plaza de Platerias Martinez,28014 Madrid, Spain www.radissonblu.com