Important note for students and teachers: Anything in Spain that is considered "patrimonio nacional" (basically all museums and historical sites), is FREE for you, so be sure to bring your ID.
So, what to do in Madrid... let's start at the center of the city, Puerta del Sol.
1. La Mallorquina. Serving traditional Spanish pastries since 1894, La Mallorquina, in the plaza Puerta del Sol, is a dangerously delicious way to start the day. Walk right in and order in the front of the store for a pastry to go, or stand at the bar in the back for a coffee/tea and sweet. If you go upstairs, you can sit at a table and be waited on.
|Breakfast at the bar in La Mallorquina|
2. Plaza Mayor. From Puerta del Sol to Opera/Palacio, stop by Madrid's main plaza, one of those tourist must-sees. I actually found the walk to and from a lot more interesting than the plaza itself, especially on a very hot, sunny day with no shade in sight. Just around the block is the Mercado San Miguel, a great place to grab a snack.
|Intense heat and sun in Plaza Major|
4. Museo del Prado. Of course, this truly must-see could take a week. Or, you could go in with a plan. Pick up the museum map at the info desk as soon as you walk in, and target your visit to the masterpieces list. For 5 euros at the gift shop, you can buy a small guide to the 50 masterpieces, which has an easier to navigate map, as well as pictures and descriptions of all of these major works. Well worth it, as is the visit to one of the most celebrated art museums in the world.
|Resting after a marathon visit to Museo del Prado|
|Museo Reina Sofía: More modern than expected|
6. Lavapiés. A historically working class neighborhood, Lavapiés is the most diverse area of Madrid: dynamic, colorful, and definitely the place to go when you are tired of Spanish food. In this neighborhood, you will find authentic Asian, North African, and Latin American restaurants, as well as interesting art galleries, including La Tabacalera, former tobacco factory turned art/community center. During my first visit to Lavapiés, I walked into the plaza and passed by an Indian restaurant playing salsa music, bought a lychee juice at a corner shop, and admired beautiful Turkish pastries at a bakery. A few days later, I returned and ate my favorite lunch in Madrid at the Restaurante Achuri (delicious dishes and great vegetarian options!).
|Barrio Lavapiés, home to a diverse community and thus, great restaurants!|
|An example of hybridity in Lavapiés: An Indian restaurant offering Spanish tapas and raciones, as well as kebab|
|Awesome window/shop displays in Las Letras|
Finally, on the north side of Puerta del Sol...
8. Museo Sorolla. What a treat! This museum was the home of Spanish impressionist artist, Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida, and its courtyard and gardens are nearly as beautiful as the paintings. Sunlight, sea, and family life were Sorolla's primary subjects, and the paintings are truly luminous.
|Inside Sorolla's studio|
|Too pretty to eat? Gluten-free cupcakes in Chueca|
|Spices at the Mercado San Anton, in Chueca|
Madrid, like any big city, can be overwhelming at first, but when you look at it as a group of unique neighborhoods, it's easy to appreciate the city's diversity and charm. So take a walk outside the typical sites, eat some great food, and enjoy the nonstop night life of MAD.