Spain was one of the countries that were hardest hit by COVID-19 and had the strictest lockdowns in Europe.
While other regions closed everything down in 2021—Madrid allowed them to stay open, making it a wonderful destination for travelers.
Here are some useful tips when traveling to Madrid (the rules and regulations change often so make your research in advance):
- Wear a face mask on public transport.
- Wear your mask indoors while moving around, can be taken off while seated (eg. in restaurants, bars)
- You do not need to present any proof of vaccination or negative PCR test to enter places like shopping malls, restaurants, etc
- However to enter the country you need to present proof of full vaccination or negative PCR test taken within 72 hours before departure.
- All travelers, even in transit need to complete a health control form. The QR code you’ll receive must be present to officials to be allowed in. Make sure you have all your documents because these are taken very seriously.
Madrid has such an energizing vibe that encourages you to seize the day. And the buzzing nightlife makes you question why didn’t you seize the night before more. They’ll teach you there is much more to nightlife than clubbing and drinking: late-night dinners with friends and board games in pubs, romantic walks on the river bank, jazz and blues concerts, just to name a few.
No matter how late I go to bed, I just can’t stay in for long in the mornings. Luckily Madrid is a walkable city and if you plan your walks with care, you can easily get from one sight to the other on foot. What made it even more interesting is that the city woke up later than me and I was able to stroll around alone, barely meeting anyone except the lukewarm rays of the sun shining through the buildings.
The quiet mornings allowed me to enjoy a traditional breakfast of churros dipped into hot chocolate and luckily, there are new vegan and gluten-free places opening one after the other, so it’s easy to find a place that suites your dietary choices.
If you love people watching, I recommend getting our after 10 a.m. as Madrid seemed asleep until then. (Madrid seems to operate on its own terms, many having lunch at 2 p.m. and dinner at 10 p.m.) The Plaza Mayor is a perfect place for this, framed by red-brick buildings and recently transformed by 1,100 plants and 100 trees into a lush oasis.
Wander down the Calle Mayor to Puerta del Sol, with the famous bear statue (the symbol of Madrid) and ‘kilometre zero’ plaque which marks the official center of Spain.
If you’d rather avoid a tourist-heavy place (though in the morning it was almost empty), Plaza Santa Ana is a great option where you can dine and make friends with locals, enjoy tapas and jazz bars.
Renting a bike is also a great option if you like to make your travels environment friends and/or would love to cover more during your stay. Riding to Retiro Park is memorable experience as it’s the most famous green space in Spain, located right in the city center. Make sure not to miss the Palacio de Cristal and try to row boat. Juan Carlos park is one of the hidden gems of the city and covers 400 acres, making it perfect to bike around.
A lesser known but just as stunning park is El Capricho, the garden and place that was used for entertainment by the Dukes of Osuna, a noble family of Madrid that lived in the palace there. There is a dovecote, a reservoir, and many statues. Some weekends it hosts concerts, theater or dance.
If you walk over to the Royal Palace on Wednesday or Saturday, you can see the changing of the palace guards then enjoy a guided tour of the grounds.
If you’re thirsty for art, the Art Triangle will be your favorite place. Three main museums are located very close to each other: the Prado, Thyssen-Bornemisza and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía which houses one of Picasso’s masterpieces called ‘Guernica’ and astounding collection of many of the world’s best paintings and sculptures from famous artists such as Velazquez, Goya and Dalí.
A must-see sight is the Basílica de San Fransisco el Grande, a gigantic church near Palacio Real. Built in Neoclassical style, the dome is 33m tall. The inside is just as imposing: several frescoes from famous artists from the 17th to 19th century and an early Goya from 1781 “The Sermon of San Bernardino of Siena.”
Speaking of Goya, his burial place is worth a visit too in Ermita de San Antonia de la Florida—a plain-looking chapel which also houses some his frescoes inside.
The observatory (Observatorio Astronomico) is Madrid’s finest Neoclassical building. It’s free and open to everyone on Fridays, so don’t miss to check out the still working telescope.
To finish your day of walking, head to the Temple of Debod (Templo de Debod) to relax in the grass and watch the sunset. This was my favorite sight the city has to offer, and the most unusual as well. The temple, honoring Isis and Amun, is over 2,200 years old and was gifted to Spain by Egypt in 1968 for their help preserving Abu Simbel temples in the 60s. Depending on the season, check the time of sunset and plan to arrive about 30 minutes before, so you have time to take pictures and find a comfy spot for yourself, too.
The temple is near Plaza Espana, Western Park and the area of Argüelles with great terraces with amazing restaurants, tapas bars and drinks.
You must try their famous paella, which is a rice dish. But there is so much more to Spanish cuisine than this. Madrid’s vegan scene has been booming making it easy for us to have a feast.
Here are some of my favorites:
Bunny’s Deli is the greatest choice for those looking for vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options.
Pum pum café has a hipster vibe and serve the best coffee and gluten-free cake ever and all-day brunch.
Distrito Vegano, a 100% vegan restaurant serves vegan Spanish omelette. You can’t just leave without it.
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Photo: Imola Toth