Point of Interest: Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor

Popular today among tourists and locals alike, Plaza Mayor has certainly been through its fair share of changes over the years (or centuries, rather). Built in the 1600s, the square has been used for coronations, celebrations, bullfights, and even executions. Now, the square is a common gathering place and a popular tourist attraction, featuring a wealth of cafés, restaurants, and shops.

The easiest way to get to Plaza Mayor is to get off at the Sol metro station, Madrid’s most active station, which will drop you off at another famous square, Puerta del Sol. Puerta del Sol is often packed with tourists, residents, shoppers, and more, and it can easily be considered the true heart of Madrid, with many attractions and landmarks nearby.Puerta del Sol

Regardless, just a few blocks away is Plaza Mayor. The vibe there is, for lack of a better word, awesome. Mark my words: You can literally spend an entire day simply sitting at an outdoor cafe in Plaza Mayor, and it will be one of the best days of your life. The sights, the sounds, the chatter, the laughter, the wine, the street performers– it’s all great.

Step one: Have a glass of white wine (guard your olives; trust me)

Step two: Order a coffee/cappuccino/latte/hot caffeinated beverage of your choicecafe

Step 3: Kick back, relax, and enjoy the street performers

street performer

street performer

street performer

Yes, that is a human being

If you're lucky enough to catch this guy at Plaza Mayor or Puerta del Sol, you are in for a treat. He hilariously toys with passerby, and nearly every gag he pulled had me laughing out loud.

Point of Interest: Parque del Retiro

parque del retiro

With a royal history dating back to the 16th century, Madrid’s largest park is also its most popular, and for good reason. Aside from being a large space worthy of various physical activities, Parque del Retiro features a plethora of beautiful sculptures, monuments, fountains, buildings, and vegetation, among other things.

The park’s main entrance, which is located across from the famous Museo del Prado, invites visitors to what at first seems like a casual walk in the park on a fairly straightforward path. Before you know it, and for better or for worse, you will be lost in the immense park, facing branching pathways, each leading to drastically different features. Choosing a path can be a difficult life decision. Seriously. On the bright side, no matter which path you choose, you’re in for a treat.

One of the park’s most popular features is the massive monument to King Alfonso XII of Spain. The monument, located behind Estanque del Retiro, features an abundance of statues and fountains depicting lions, mermaids, fish, and others. The most prominent feature of the monument is, of course, the tall equestrian statue of King Alfonso XII. At the base of the monument are statues of people representing Freedom, Peace, and Progress.

Monument to King Alfonso XII

Monument to King Alfonso XII of Spain

Another popular park feature is the Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace). Perhaps the park’s most impressive building, the palace was originally built to house flower exhibits, but is now used primarily for art exhibits, although the building itself is quite a work of art as well.

Palacio de Cristal

Palacio de Cristal

crystal palace

Walls inside Palacio de Cristal

The beautiful scenery makes Parque del Retiro a great place for people to enjoy the day. Street performers, athletes, children, senior citizens, musicians, and more can always be found at the park, and who can blame them? Be sure to check out Madrid’s best park.parque del retiro

¡Arriba, abajo, al centro, pa’ dentro!

“So how’s the nightlife on weekdays?” I asked a Madrid local as we shared tapas on a Monday night. “Hah,” she said with a smirk on her face. “It’s Madrid.”

Soon after dinner, I realized exactly what she meant.

Madrid’s nightlife is… intense, to say the least. No matter what your tastes or interests, Madrid offers plenty of exciting after-dark activities, many of which involve copious amounts of drinking and last until all hours of the night.

A typical night out will start with a late dinner (9 or 10 p.m. is customary). Of course, this dinner will be accompanied by a glass (or several) of vino, cerveza, or sangria. If you’re lucky, this dinner will also be accompanied by live music or a show.

On that note, do not miss out on a traditional Spanish Flamenco show; Madrid has some of the best displays of the passionate and powerful music/dance.

But perhaps spectating isn’t your style. In that case, try your luck at one of Madrid’s numerous salsa clubs, where (usually) older crowds will be drinking, dancing, and socializing until the sun comes up.

Don’t know how to salsa? No worries. There are bars and clubs throughout the city that will cater to any and all musical tastes. Younger crowds can enjoy their favorite pop, house, dubstep, rock, reggaeton, etc. music at a variety of lively locations.

I’m not going to beat around the bush; Madrid’s party scene is absolutely crazy. The music is loud. The drinking is heavy. The dancing is endless. And this behavior goes on every day. Every night. At all hours. In all seasons. As another local told me, “Madrid parties 24/7.”

So raise your glasses, folks. “¡Arriba, abajo, al centro, pa’ dentro!”

Chow Down Madrid

Oh, tapas. Sweet, sweet, tapas. You’d be hard-pressed to walk down a street in Madrid and not find a tapas bar. Quite frankly, this is a great thing.

Cheap, tasty, and abundant in variety, tapas are the true stars of Spanish cuisine (aside from paellas, of course). The small dishes can be used as a snack to accompany a drink, or ordered in bulk to make one hell of a meal. This style of cuisine also makes great for groups to eat together, sharing the various types of dishes, which often consist of meats, fish, vegetables, rice, fruit, potatoes, and anything else you can think of. Paellas take this one step further by practically serving all of these things on one dish!

No tapas dinner is complete, however, without some sangria to wash it down.

My personal favorite tapa: the spicy and delicious Patatas Bravas

Point of Interest: Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas

Many Americans often turn to Travel Channel’s Man Vs. Food for amusement and amazement at what humanity is capable of. Spaniards, on the other hand, are a bit more fascinated by the historic (and much more impressive) sport of Man vs. Bull.

Both loved and loathed by many, bullfighting has always been a traditional part of Spanish culture, and Madrid’s Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas is perhaps the greatest venue to observe the tradition. Las Ventas is the largest arena of its kind in Spain, seating 25,000 people, a capacity which is almost always filled.

The sport involves one or more bulls being baited and fatigued in the ring by the toreros until the leader, the matador, finishes the job by slaughtering the bull(s). Obviously, there is plenty of controversy surrounding the sport, but it remains a Spanish tradition nonetheless.

Bullfighting season goes on throughout Spring, Summer, and early Fall, so I was not fortunate enough to attend a fight, but it is surely one of the top cultural spectacles Madrid has to offer.

City of the Week: Madrid, Spain

Let’s get one thing out of the way first: Madrid is one hell of a city. The massive Spanish capital is so rich with culture, so rich with places to see, so rich with things to do, so rich with charm, and so on and so forth. From the delicious tapas to the endless amounts of sangria to the friendly locals and the laid-back yet lively lifestyle, Madrid is simply a place like no other. Whether day or night, indoors or outside, Summer or Winter, Madrid always (and I mean always) has something exciting to offer.