Spend an Hour or Two at La Puerta del Sol
On a weekend, you can see a lot of Madrid life pass you by at the Puerta del Sol, the “Gate of the Sun” in Spanish. Here is where the iconic Oso & Madroño (Bear and Madrone tree) statue stands, if you are so inclined to pictures (for free), alongside similarly frozen street artists depicting all forms of pop culture and history, current or forgotten (not for free). Life flows through these sun-kissed streets that is known as the heart of Madrid, which in its time has seen both recreational fun and democracy demonstrations. Thankfully most times it’s more fun than anything else, and there’s always joy and some trepidation in seeing adults donning life-sized Sesame Street costumes for a day in the sun.
This cross-section is a landmark, where alleyways and streets lead off into various different parts of Madrid. Hang out here with a bit of breakfast to watch the madness unfold.
Get a Good Dose of Architecture Nearby
Starting at the heart means you’re in a good spot to explore everything else on foot or bike. Madrid’s got its own old world beauty to enjoy at the Palacio Real, Madrid’s royal palace that is its oldest architecture. The palace is open for tours and entry is free if you have the Madrid Card. The walk from Puerta del Sol will take you along the beautiful Plaza de Oriente, a leafy garden great for pictures. Around the area is also the Palacio de las Comunicaciones, unremarkably translated as the Madrid Post Office. This is also unlike any other post office you or I know, as it’s one of the most beautiful sites in Madrid. Hunker down and soak all of this in to get you hungry for lunch.
The Closest to Foraging for Food in the Modern World
You can’t possibly eat bad food in Madrid. I say that sternly to you. Finding a decent to excellent meal around the Plaza Mayor, minutes’ walk from Puerta del Sol, is easy. Follow your instincts, guts, or stomach, a little bit of effort leads you straight to your belly’s content in the food myriad that is Madrid. Want a fancy restaurant? Sure, window shop to make your pick from any of the fabulous restaurants lining the Plaza Mayor square (or more accurately, rectangle). Pining for calamares at €2 (USD2.6)? DEFINITELY. Wind your way down any of the alleyways from Plaza Mayor to discover little eateries offering good bites and then some. Literally a stone’s throw away (or an olive pit) is the Mercado de San Miguel (read my post about this place here), a great joint for mingling shoulder to shoulder with the locals as you enjoy tapas and cervezas.
Here Where Pictures Are Unnecessary
I say that only because there’s not much to photograph about Sephora. Truly, I spent quite a ridiculous amount of time in the stores of H&M and the aforementioned cosmetics giant in Madrid, perhaps earning it its undeserved contempt amongst travelers who prefer the wilder sights of Spain. I say hey, you could do with both. And you never know when you just need that extra bit of knitwear or lip balm (OK you don’t, says my partner to me, but I digress). All of these things happen along the Gran Vía, Madrid’s most important commercial street. If that’s not what you’re up for in this short time, head down to the Prado Museum to enjoy their collection.
Dance Up A Storm
When night settles, there’s plenty to do in Madrid. A night out in the town starts in the Chueca neighbourhood and if shopping hasn’t weighed you down you could simply walk there from Puerta.
You could proverbially or literally dance the night away, but for a taste of Spain, watch the Spanish rock out in the way of their ancestors at one of the many “tablao” flamenco performances. Dinner optional, and many of these places open till as late as 3am. If you’re bar hopping and would like a taste of the local pub life, Calle Hortaleza is your place. Down here is also where El Tigre del Notre (read my post on it here) is a favourite hole-in-the-wall haunt for any midnight cravings.
Finish Up with A Cuddle
No, not that kind, I’m talking about the sweet chocolate kind (again, not an euphemism). Just when you think the night’s done, think again. Don’t head back just yet. If it’s in winter, even better. I wrote about the iconic and historically awesome San Ginés restaurant serving up world famous chocolate con churros, which is where I recommend you end your 24 hours in Madrid, to soothe the soul, and perhaps your very sore but hopefully happy feet.
A: Puerta del Sol
B: Royal Palace
C: Post Office
D: Mercado de San Miguel
E: Gran Vía