If you were to ask a sampling of granadinos for their opinions on Madrid, you would get a variety of responses. Some view it as the economic and cultural capital of Spain. Others consider it crowded and overwhelming. Then there are those who call it less exciting than its rival in size and prosperity, Barcelona.
One of my closest granadino friends describes Madrid as, “the big capital city where you should go when you’re young to have experiences and pursue professional opportunities, before you can come back and settle in Granada.”
And while I understand where my friend is coming from (the part of my soul that is Spanish definitely hails from Andalucia), I also happen to love Madrid. It’s the perfect change of pace for a weekend getaway from Granada. And it helps that the brother of one of my closest friends lives in Madrid, and his apartment is at our disposal whenever we wish.
So without further ado, here are some things I love about visiting Spain’s capital.
1. Modernity, with a Spanish twist
Unlike its northern counterpart, Barcelona, which feels totally independent from the rest of Spain, Madrid maintains a distinctly Spanish feel. Its neighborhoods are dotted with traditional bars, bodegas, and mom-and-pop shops. The pace of life is faster, but not overwhelming. It’s still customary to enjoy leisurely, midday meals and late-night tapas. Sunday mornings are quiet and peaceful. Its parks are filled with older and elegantly-dressed couples who hold hands while taking an afternoon stroll. While it’s true that Madrid is changing rapidly and becoming more international every year, it seems to be in no hurry to lose its Spanish traditions - something I really admire.
2. La Malasaña Neighborhood
However, if you are looking for a small break from Spanish culture, check out La Malasaña, Madrid’s hipster neighborhood. Here you can find record stores, vintage clothing, and food from any corner of the world. And if you look hard enough, you can still find free tapas that rival those of Granada. The coffee shop scene has taken hold here too. There are countless, trendy cafes where you can go to work independently while in the company of others (this concept doesn’t quite exist yet in Granada). This is just one of many neighborhoods in Madrid to which young and diverse people are flocking, but it’s definitely one of the hot spots of the moment.
3. Buen Retiro Park
This park belonged to the Spanish monarchy until the late 19th century when it opened up to the public. Adjacent to the Prado and Reina Sofia, two of the most breathtaking art museums in Spain, it is a beautiful place to come exercise and enjoy some fresh air. On Sunday mornings, it’s sprawling promenades and gardens are filled with people running, biking, or walking their dogs. While I’ve grown to love my solitary runs through the mountains and olive groves above Granada, it’s a nice change to come to Retiro and complete my long, Sunday run in the company of others.
4. Elegant street style
Madrilenos take great pride in their city and even greater pride in how they dress. While people dress nicely across the board in Spain, madrilenos take it up a notch. Especially in the wealthier neighborhoods in the North, such as Salamanca or Chamartín, everyone dresses in elegant and classic apparel as they wander in and out of designer stores or wine and dine in one of the many upscale bars. It’s a level of refined formality that reminds you this is Spain’s capital city.
5. Abundant & convenient shopping
What allows everyone to dress so nicely are the number of upscale shopping districts throughout the city. It is a luxury to have almost every brand you could want at your fingertips, and to stock up on certain products that aren’t sold in Granada. In Madrid, you can also find grocery stores that are open past 9:30 pm and *gasp* even ones that are open on Sundays. I will admit this difference makes it just a little bit easier to adjust to a Spanish lifestyle without sacrificing my American standards of convenience.
So maybe Madrid doesn’t evoke the same romantic allure as Barcelona. However, for those looking for an authentic, Spanish experience on a larger scale, I highly recommend Spain’s capital over its mediterranean rival.
In an urbanization class at my home university, we discussed how some cities are “spontaneous” due to their location or natural resources. Other cities are founded for historical purposes, and must become “spontaneous” in order to survive. Madrid is still in the process of developing spontaneity and finding its own identity, but it is approaching this transition with madrileno elegance and poise. And everytime I go back, I find new surprises to be uncovered.