Exactly a year ago, I was packing my bags for a solo trip to Madrid and Valencia. I travelled back in time to revel in the medieval era festivities of the Las Fallas in Valencia, which I wrote about in a story recently published in The Hindu. And I fell in love, almost instantly, with the vibrant colors of spring in Madrid. I strolled along quaint neighborhoods and tree-lined boulevards, and stumbled upon some of the city’s quirkiest secrets to discover why it inspired the likes of Ernest Hemingway.
If you’re going to Madrid, take my list, and let the city charm you, as it charmed me.
Stroll along the Manzanares river, under the cherry blossoms.
I expected to find medieval architecture co-existing with a cosmopolitan vibe in Madrid. But its tree-lined walkways, gorgeous parks, and natural colors of spring caught me by surprise. Thus began my quest to traverse through the most scenic parts of the city, and when I saw a map showing the River Manzanares flowing through Madrid, I decided to journey to the far end. As I alighted at the Principe Pio station, the laid-back vibe of this vintage neighborhood struck me at once. A flight of stairs below, the river flowed, surrounded by cherry blossoms, cobbled paths, and small fishing decks. I sat by the river and read, till an elderly Spanish man sat beside me; we broke into conversation and strolled along the length of the river, swapping life stories as the sun slowly set along our path.
Browse through time at an antique books market.
It is easy to ignore the side streets when you stroll along Paseo del Prado, one of Madrid’s richest boulevards in history and architecture. Luckily, I got lured, first by a street parade in solidarity for Slovenia and then by cherry blossoms in the distance. As I was taking a picture, a light drizzle descended, and I ran for the nearest shelter. This shelter ran parallel to rows of desks lined with books, and had the faint aroma of ancient, worn-out books. The road had led me to an antique books market in the middle of Madrid city, and I spent a lazy afternoon browsing through hardbound Spanish books, layered as much in the stories of their readers as their authors.
Grab a drink at a neighborhood taquería.
Everyone thinks Spain = Tapas bars, but while strolling along the quaint neighborhoods of Madrid on lazy afternoons, I found myself drawn in by quirky little Taquería aka Taco bars. I whiled away hours sitting at the bar, munching on finger-licking good veggie tacos, giving myself a brain freeze with frozen Margaritas, and chatting with friendly (and mostly good looking) Latino bartenders. Neighborhood taquerías are the only thing I’m willing to trade my afternoon siestas for!
Rekindle your love affair at Dalieda de San Francisco.
Not all those who wander are lost. But I remember feeling very lost when I took a side street to reach a park I wanted to see, and never ended up finding it. I wound along quaint neighborhoods, observing life in the city. And when I finally found someone to ask for directions in my broken Spanish, it turned out that I was closer to another park – Parque de la Dalieda de San Francisco, of which I have found nothing online except on Madripedia (yes, they have a wikipedia for Madrid)! I was in for a stunning treat, for its grassy landscapes overlooked an ancient basilica, old cemeteries, and the nondescript western suburbs of Madrid.
Lose yourself in an alternative neighborhood.
Every neighborhood in Madrid has a story to tell, but there isn’t anything quite like Malasaña. Even when I just stepped out of the Tribunal metro station, I knew this bohemian neighborhood was different. No longer were there men and women dressed in chic clothing, exuding the typically European vibe common in most big European cities. These were hipsters, quirkily dressed, with an outright don’t give a damn attitude. And so was the neighborhood, full of eccentric graffiti, funky stores, and colorful neighborhood cafes. In a way, this neighborhood’s spirit encapsulates Madrid, the city that inspires.
Have you travelled in Madrid? What do you think are the best ways to discover the city?
Note: My trip to Spain was made possible by the Tourism Office of Spain. Opinions here are always my own.
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I’m the founder of this award-winning travel blog about offbeat and sustainable travel, and author of the bestselling travel memoir, The Shooting Star.
In 2011, I quit my full-time job, and gradually gave up my home, sold most of my possessions, stored some in the boot of a friend’s car and embraced a nomadic life.
Connect with me on Instagram to hear more about my adventures and personal journey.