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A beginner’s guide to Madrid: funky street art, warm cinnamon rolls, and modern gastrobars

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Many students who visit Spain are likely to beeline to one of the Iberic nation's coastal destinations such as Barcelona, Valencia, or the Costa del Sol. Madrid, despite being Spain's capital, is often overlooked compared to other big European capitals.

However, Madrid is a bustling, vibrant, cultural hub, best known for its world-class museums and art galleries. Having lived there for 9 months, I personally know there is so much more to the city than this.

Credit: Chloe Connolly

Unmissable experiences

El Parque del Buen Retiro features on all the travel websites, and for good reason. The huge park has plenty going on inside it, including a boating lake and a stunning rose garden which is at its prime in May. However, my advice is to head towards the Real Jardín Botánico, on the east side of the park, where you will find pristinely kept hedges and plants, peacocks, and adorable ducklings in the springtime.

Credit: Chloe Connolly

The Templo de Debod is also strongly represented in travel guides, and I will vouch for this must-visit destination. Take a few drinks here and join the local young people to watch the sunset behind the mysterious Egyptian temple. Make sure you check out the panoramic views behind the temple too.

Credit: Chloe Connolly

Not far from the temple, there is the Teleféricoa cable car that flies over Casa de Campo, the largest green area in Madrid. The cost is cheap (€5.50 return) and it is an opportunity to do something different while escaping the city for a breather.

Credit: Chloe Connolly

Not being a football fan, I was not overly excited at the prospect of watching a Real Madrid game at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, nor was I thrilled to pay an extortionate amount for a ticket. Nevertheless, I went because it was something to tick off the bucket list, and I am so glad I did. The atmosphere was extraordinary, the other spectators friendly, and even I will admit that it was exciting to see Cristiano Ronaldo in real life, and witness Gareth Bale score a hat trick!

Food and drink

Madrid is full of eating and drinking establishments. One of the most well-known is the Mercado de San Miguel, where you can try an array of sweet and savoury tapas and choose from the huge selection of wines and other drinks. However, if you aren’t a fan of crowds, this place will not appeal to you.

Ojalá on Calle San Andres stands out for its snazzy cocktails and sand-covered basement, which matches the overall beach theme. It offers great brunches but it is consequently very popular, booking up well in advance.

La Rollerie is a small chain which has several cafés throughout the city. The warm cinnamon rolls with melted chocolate may sound unusual but they are delectable.

Credit: Chloe Connolly

If you are on a budget, Cien Montaditos is the place to go. Beer is incredibly cheap, just as the montaditos (little sandwiches) are. The chain is famed for its selection of 100 different fillings on small bread rolls, which are just one euro on Wednesdays! You will find Cien Montaditos throughout Spain, and on many streets in Madrid.

Underrated areas

Malasaña is probably the trendiest area in the city, and one of the most popular areas for nightlife, thanks to its central location. The area boasts funky street art, traditional Spanish bars and modern gastrobars.

Another top location for nightlife, Chueca, is known for being the city’s gay neighbourhood and internationally renowned for its Gay Pride festivities. It has an incredibly welcoming and colourful vibe.

La Latina is synonymous with tapas bars, mojitos, and terraces. It is perfect if you want a chilled evening. That said, it is very difficult to squeeze in anywhere during the weekend, so get there early.

El Barrio de la Letras is where to head if you are a culture vulture. Once upon a time, it was home to some major Spanish authors and one of the area’s streets (Calle de las Huertas) so it is full of their famous quotes inscribed in the pavement.

A final word of advice

If you are planning to stay in Madrid for more than three days or if you want to explore the mountains or towns surrounding the city such as El Escorial, Valle de los Caídos or Toledo, it is worth buying a tarjeta transporte público– a public transport card. Many tobacconists sell them, and they allow you to travel on all public transport within the region of Madrid (not just the city) for €20 a month, if under the age of 26.

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