This was my first visit to Spain, and talking to people before I left I discovered a divide between lovers of Madrid and lovers of Barcelona. It seemed everyone had picked one side or the other, so I decided to visit both. Here is what I discovered during my time in Madrid…

With music in its heart, passion in its soul and a melting pot of culinary talent feeding the masses, Madrid is a destination not to be missed. A reawakened city, where tradition and modernity work together side by side, and all with a cheerful and positive spirit at its core.

This dynamic capital houses the best of history, architecture, culture, food, parks and a lively nightlife. Here are some of my favourite places to see.

Royal Palace of Madrid
The Royal Palace is a lavish and luxurious stop on the tourist routes of Madrid. Spanning 135,000 metres squared with 2,800 rooms, the palace is the largest in Europe, even though it is only a quarter of the size of its original design. A popular tourist spot in the city, try to visit earlier in the morning to beat crowds. We loved soaking in the history of the royal family and the building itself (there is a lot of it!) with the audio guide, as it meant we could walk through at our own pace without missing out on anything. Exploring the 50 rooms open to the public I couldn’t help but feel in awe of historical importance of what has occurred within these walls over the last 280 years. A must see for me, but I do love a good bit of history and baroque architecture.

Plazas Around The City
Averaging 31 degree highs through July and August and remaining warm and sunny for a good portion of the rest of the year soak up the sunshine and enjoy the outdoors in some of Madrid’s beautiful communal squares. These hubs around the city act as a great spot to meet friends, people watch, grab a bit to eat and see the statues, architecture and street performers.

Plaza Mayor is probably the most recognisable and well-known square in Madrid. The perfect spot to stop for a coffee or a bite to eat, this square is definitely one to people watch. Historically, the square dates back to the 16th century and was once used for public executions and town meetings.

Just a stone’s throw away from Plaza Mayor is Puerta del Sol. Standing at the centre of Madrid. There is a plaque that marks the exact spot and many people take photos of it while standing there. Best known for its famous Tío Pepe sign, the bear statue and the clock tower – which is the official timepiece that rings in the New Year, the square is well worth visiting.

Different to the other plazas in Madrid, Plaza de Cibeles isn’t a pedestrian only square, where you can sit and absorb your surroundings, but a busy traffic thoroughfare. The square houses the beautiful Cibeles Palace which doubles as city hall and the Cibeles Fountain. Wear your walking shoes and from this square stroll up the tree-lined Paseo del Prado to Retiro Park and the Alcalá monument.

Retiro Park
Three words I would use to describe this park: tranquil, peaceful and quiet. Lose yourself in the haven of gardens, fountains and monuments. Once only a domain for the Royals, the park was opened to the public in 1868. Locals and tourists alike enjoy a stroll through the rose gardens, a seat in the shade with a cold drink or even a row on the lake. But really, there is nothing quite as peaceful as just wandering around this haven in the middle of this busy and bustling city. On your wanders make sure you stumble across the Crystal Palace. Built-in 1887 the glass structure is truly beautiful and well worth a look.  

Shopping the Gran Via
More than 100 years old, the Gran Via is Madrid’s most famous high street. Pulling over 10 million visitors a year and stretching 1.3km long it is a shopping hot spot for high-end designer stores the biggest fast fashion chains alike.

Make sure you visit Loewe, one of Spain’s most well-known high-end luxury brands with nine stores across Madrid. Founded in 1846, it is safe to say they know a thing or two about craftsmanship and leather. Their flagship store on the Gran Via opened in 1939 and if you visit the underground level you will discover a space dedicated to the history of the brand. All of its leather goods are still produced within the Spanish capital.

El Corte Inglés is a quintessential Spanish department store and houses top International designers. Spanish fast-fashion brands, like Zara and Mango, are at their best on their home soil (and in some cases cheaper too). You will also find other International favourites like H&M, Primark, Adidas and Nike along the way.  

Whilst shopping, don’t forget to stop and look up at the beautiful architecture dispersed down the street. The opulent Metropolis building has become an icon in its own right, providing a grand welcome to those entering the Gran Via. Added to Madrid’s skyline in 1911, and is embellished with 30,000 24 carat gold leaves its stunning façade leaves a legacy that will resonate with this street for a lifetime.  

Temple of Debod
A piece of Egyptian history in the middle of downtown Madrid. The Temple of Debod was donated to Spain in 1968 by the Egyptians as a thank you for their assistance in saving the Abu Simbel temples which were at risk from an overflowing reservoir that had been built. Sent across block by block, the temple was reconstructed and has become a special landmark in the city and is one of few ancient Egyptian architectural works that is located outside of the motherland. I found the reflection pools to be absolutely stunning and it is one of the best spots in the city for a magical sunset.

When To Visit
If you don’t mind the heat, book your trip for August, as the city heats up a mass exodus of locals and tourists escape to the coast leaving a nice peaceful Madrid behind. For a little more hustle and bustle June and September are the best times to visit.