All the best ways to while away 48 sun-soaked hours in Spain's buzzing capital city, Madrid.
Stay – The Principal
Checking into your accommodation isn’t usually considered a highlight of any holiday, but greeting the friendly staff of The Principal actually made for the best conceivable start to my weekend.
The Principal team couldn’t have been more welcoming. Gathering up our luggage, laughing and joking with us, they shared their picks of the best local areas to enjoy during our stay, including some hidden gems we’d never have discovered without them.
Spectacularly located in central Madrid and looking out over the iconic Edificio Metrópolis building, the hotel boasts a stunning location, with views to match.
The hotel interior itself is slick, understated and classy. The quiet, cool interiors make for a welcome haven away from the city’s busy streets and meant that the end of each day in the city made for yet another thing to look forward to, rather than that twinge of disappointment that bedtime in a new and exciting city can often bring.
Without a doubt, the highlight of this hotel is its beautiful terrace area and rooftop bar. Eating breakfast on the terrace each morning, soaking up the sunshine with a glass of champagne and an extensive buffet of fresh food, was the best imaginable way to begin each day, while cocktails on the sun-trap roof bar were the best way to end them. Without doubt, the best place to stay in the city.
Drink – Ginkgo Sky Bar
Put your glad rags on and head to Ginkgo Sky Bar, Madrid’s coolest restaurant, to enjoy delectable food, sophisticated cocktails and good music—all with a panoramic view of the city.
Perched on the 12th floor of the five star VP Plaza de Espana Design hotel, the stylish modern interiors and slick terrace had us feeling like extras in a music video. Glancing out at the city and enjoying people-watching with a bird’s eye view, we spotted distant fireworks, a light show playing out on the walls of the Spanish Royal Palace and streets full of revellers enjoying the city's nightlife.
The set menu dinner is a must-try, with unusual flavours and unbelievably generous portions set to leave you completely satisfied. This menu is all about sharing, lending it even more bonus points as a romantic destination—if the sunset views over Madrid weren’t enough already.
Do it like the Spanish do and book a late reservation. That way your meal will end as the DJ or live band begin, and you can step out onto the rooftop to enjoy the music and socialise with the locals, cocktail in hand.
Eat – Diurno
This trendy downtown restaurant boasts trendy interiors and delicious food, with a buzzy, metropolitan clientele. Perfectly located to end a day of shopping in the coveted Calle Huertas district, the restaurant manages to seamlessly blend a crowd of locals and tourists.
Food is delicious, fresh and bountiful, with unexpected flavour combinations lending an element of flair to the dining experience. The strong Madridian character is unmarred by the addition of several other favourites from around the world, all best enjoyed in the classic Spanish sharing style.
We’d particularly recommend the chicken gyozas, goat cheese salad and North Atlantic white tuna burger—as well as the satisfyingly diverse cocktail menu.
Shop - Malasaña
If shopping's your bag, the Malasaña district is the destination for you. Ideally located just minutes from The Principal, this is vintage and independent shoppers heaven, with tree-lined streets filled with quirky stores.
Whether you're after a period piece of Spanish furniture or just a fun pair of sunglasses, there are enough stores to endure several weeks of shopping, let alone a single sunny afternoon.
If you visit the city in May, prepare to encounter celebrations for the district's patron saint. Nearly every square will be buzzing come mid-afternoon with live music, salsa dancing and street food and drinks. A real local party atmosphere!
Do – El Retiro Park
If you only make time to really explore one place in Madrid, make it El Retiro Park. Not to be dismissed as yet another of Europe’s many city parks, this space is a cut above the rest. An entire sunny day can easily be spent walking around its many acres, taking in the immaculate plantings, luscious green grass, stunningly kept rose gardens and many unusual statues and exhibition spaces.
Be sure to rent a rowboat on the Retiro Park Lake (above), a tranquil body of water that offers 45-minute rowing sessions for just eight euros per boat. Built back in 1634, the lake once held mock navy battles, and boat rides for the King and Queen and their court. Don't forget to glance over the side of your boat to spy the large fish swimming beneath.
El Retiro is also the only place in Europe where you can encounter a statue of Lucifer, with the Statue of the Fallen Angel looming large over a sparkling fountain. The nearby imposing glass greenhouse (above) with its lake full of bobbing terrapins is a delight too.