MADRID has beautiful architecture and amazing galleries but no commanding coliseum or sparkling Eiffel tower. Instead you can experience laid-back tapas culture, boundless nightlife, fine dining, high-art and fashion, all within the space of a weekend. What’s more, this vibrant capital is on our doorstep, with direct flights to Madrid from London City in less than two and a half hours. Here are our top six reasons why Madrid should be on your city-break wish list.
#1 CLAP TO FIERY FLAMENCO BEATS
Flamenco might bring to mind a colourful, vibrant dance but its passion derives from the stories of suffering endured by the Andlucian gypsies. To see its full blown fiery passion find a tablao (a venue that offers live flamenco shows, often with dinner and drinks) and get set to stay up long past midnight.
There is certainly enough Flamenco for everyone and few are disappointed with the performances at Casa Patas (10, Calle Cañizares, Centro). For a younger vibe, try Sunday nights at bohemian El Juglar and for a party atmosphere visit the city during the Caja Madrid Flamenco Festival, which takes place every year in February.
#2 DEVELOP A SHOE FETISH
Spain is one of the biggest footwear producers in Europe and the regions of Valencia and Alicante are dominated by shoe factories. For authentic Spanish footwear look for the “Zapatos de Espana” (shoes from Spain) label. Head to Augusto Figueroa in Chueca for factory goods or Salamanca for gorgeous leather goods from well-known brands such as the elegant Loewe company, Farrutx or Camper.
#3 CRAWL THE CAFÉ SCENE
Madrid is full of the fascinating drinking haunts of great social and literary figures of past and present. The cramped Café Real (Plaza de Isabel II) was a popular intellectual hang out in the 80s and is a great place for a coffee and cake. Café Restaurant el Espejo (31, Paseo de Recoletos) attracted a similar crowd with its bow-tied service and dominating mirrors and chandeliers, which it still maintains today.
Today’s cool intelligentsia frequent the former members-only club Café del Circulo de Bellas Artes (42 Calle Alcala). This elegant café also boasts a fair share of chandeliers, along with 1920s-style high ceilings, artistic statues and pillars. It’s a great spot to spend a couple of hours people-watching on the ever-moving Alcala street outside.
#4 BE A DESIGN GEEK
Whilst reminders of the past are everywhere in Madrid, modern design and innovation will demand your attention from the moment you arrive in the airport. The award-winning new terminal 4 building at Barajas Airport was designed by Richard Rogers to give passengers a stress- free start to their journey, with careful use of illumination through glass panes instead of walls and numerous domes in the roof which allow natural light to pass through.
The Reina Sofia museum (MNCARS) has become a symbol of modern Madrid. Formerly the Madrid General Hospital, the building became the Museum of Spanish Contemporary Art in 1992. It’s been continually adapted to house its growing collections and activities, with its Jean Nouvel-designed extension inaugurated in 2005.
#5 FIND A NEW FAVOURITE TIPPLE
Spanish red wines are some of the best in the world, and in Madrid you’ll find plenty of opportunities to try its famed Riojas and Penedeses, along with the traditional, underrated wines from the vineyards of Madrid province. Look out for the prize winning red and white Jesús Díaz wines of Colmenar de Oreja winery. Tour companies arrange wine tasting trips or create your own by visiting the city’s many informative bodegas (wine shops). Frequent tasting and wine sampling courses are held at Reserva y Cata (13, Conde de Xiquena), and the impressive 19th-century bodega, Mariano Madrueño (3, Postigo de San Martin), has an overwhelming selection of wines, spirits and liqueurs.
#7 PIG OUT ON GOURMET PORK
Pork is big business in Spain and its gourmet varieties, most recently cuts from its mountain living, acorn eating Ibérico pigs, can be found in top-class restaurants all over the world. In the capital you’ll find a massive array of pork delights, from traditional specialties such as Cochinillo (suckling pig) and duelos y quebrantes, a dish with scrambled eggs, ham, bacon and chorizo, to the dozens of hams dangling from the ceilings of the many Museos del Jamón (Ham Museums).
• For more insider tips, see what Madrid resident Erin Ridley has to say about the city’s hotspots in her <a href=http://www.londoncityairport.com/home/page/MadridGuide target=”_blank”>24 hours in Madrid guide</a>. <a href=http://www.londoncityairport.com target=”_blank”>London City Airport</a> has flights from London to Madrid.