Madrid long weekender by Giedre
Weekend escapes are a great way to really take advantage of a four day working week, as we at Four Day Week Ltd try to do as much as possible. Most of the places that we visit are within a 2-3 hour flight from the UK and prices when you are travelling on a Friday or Monday are generally much lower than the traditional bank holiday scramble. You can also afford to be a bit random with the selection, visiting places that you might not have thought of for a holiday, but would be perfect for a long weekend getaway.
Our favourite time to fly is a Thursday evening which means that you avoid (hangovers permitting) feeling frazzled on the Friday or Saturday. Otherwise a Friday morning flight is great and drops you immediately in to the buzz of the weekend wherever you chose to go.
One place where they really know how to spend a weekend is Madrid. Having been lucky enough to have lived there for a few months, it is a frequent destination on the Four Day Week calendar and the destination of choice for last year’s staff Christmas party. There are loads of flights to Madrid from all over the UK and many of the morning departures are cheaper than a round of beers.
Alongside being a beautiful capital, there is always a lot going on and everything is very easily accessible from the centre of the city. Great transport, beautiful green spaces and amazing tapas and wine make it perfect for a 36-hour break. The city really does not sleep; so much so, that I have split the ideas below in to two parts for Madrid in the day and evening.
Madrid has a massive advantage over the UK in that it is almost always sunny. From a furnace in the summer to cool, blue sky winters, a sunny spot on a terrace for breakfast is guaranteed to be the perfect way to start the day. Most bars open early in the morning and nearly all of them serve the two classic breakfasts in Madrid. For those with a sweet tooth, churros con chocolate is like a long, hot doughnut with a cup of thick hot chocolate to dunk it in. For a more savoury start, pan con tomate is simply toast, olive oil and blended fresh tomato. Generally accompanied by a café con leche this is an ideal way to kick off your long weekend in Madrid.
Friday morning culture vulture
Madrid has some of the world’s most renowned art museums that provide a great way to take in some culture before hitting the wine and tapas. Conveniently, the top three museums are just a 5 or 10-minute stroll apart and getting to them from anywhere central is a short walk or metro to the Estacion de Arte. Here you will find the Reina Sophia, for contemporary masterpieces, the famous Prado museum for the classical fan, and the impressive private collection at the Thyssen-Bornemisza. Saturdays and evenings are often the busiest periods, so get in on a Friday during the daytime to beat the crowds.
From art to the park
The Retiro park is located only a short stroll from the city’s main art galleries and is the perfect place to relax the Spanish way. The park has a large lake in the centre with rowing boats to hire for a few euros.
There are a good few cafes to soak up some sun whilst watching the parakeets and listening to the park buskers. Away from the hustle of the city centre, Retiro park is very popular with the local Madrileños and during sunny weekends is the place for families to walk and relax. Madrid can get very busy, so if it is peace and tranquillity you are looking for, a visit to Retiro will not disappoint.
Madrid is a city of barrios which each have their own unique feel and atmosphere. One thing that they all share in common is a huge number of bars, cafes and restaurants. You won’t find any difficulty eating or drinking at any time of the day. Remember that almost all cold drinks come with complimentary tapas to keep you fuelled-up as you hop from bar to bar, so you might want to join the tapas trail before deciding to order a meal.
The centre of the city around Sol is the epicentre of the action and close to the impressive Plaza Mayor, and Royal Palace which are surrounded by many tourist-friendly bars and restaurants. A short walk through the Plaza Mayor leads towards the La Latina area, which is a fantastic place to spend the afternoon tasting some of the best wine and tapas that Madrid has to offer. Pretty squares and attractive architecture give this area a real day and evening appeal with the nearby Calle Cava Baja providing a legendary concentration of bars and restaurants on one street.
Known as Europe's largest open-air flea market, El Rastro is the perfect excuse for an early Sunday stroll. Located in La Latina (metro Tirso de Molina) on Sunday mornings, the market sprawls over several streets and is often very busy with tourists and locals alike looking to pick up a bargain or simply to eat and drink through the morning.
When the sun sets in Madrid at the weekend the general volume of the city cranks up as the bars and restaurants fill up and the late dining begins. Typically, Madrileños eat around 10pm and move swiftly on to copas of gin and tonic and other mixers as they plough through the night. Depending on the kind of evening you want, there are a good range of choices from the centre of the Madrid.
Lavapies is a neighbourhood located 5 minutes from Sol and is known as Madrid’s multicultural epicentre, which is reflected in the diverse restaurants for evenings out. Indian restaurants dominate but there are also some excellent Senegalese and South American eateries. As the bohemian district, Lavapies offers a very laid-back and relaxed vibe, where sitting on one of the many jam-packed terraces on a warm afternoon can turn in to an all-evening affair. Most of the local bars and restaurants close around 1am, so it is not a late spot relative to the rest of the city.
Chueca is also located 5 minutes from Sol and, as one of Europe's largest gay districts, has a lot to offer in terms of shopping and gastronomy. Higher-end restaurants mingle with traditional vermut bars and boutique shops in Chueca. The atmosphere is palpably friendly. Wondering around will likely lead to Mercado San Anton which acts as a food market with a compact, open-air cocktail bar on the roof. For some of the more popular restaurants, making a reservation is recommended if you plan to eat at peak time on a Friday or Saturday and most hotels will be able to help with this.
In early July the gay pride festival turns the area in to a week-long party zone, and definitely worth a visit.
La Latina in a lot of ways defines the city’s reputation for expansive evenings and the area around Calle Cava Baja certainly lives up to this. Cava Baja is one street which runs from Plaza Mayor to the heart of La Latina and contains around 100 bars and restaurants. Needless to say, it almost impossible not to stop for a tapa or two on the way down. Winding around the lanes of La Latina there is no shortage of bars or terraces to set the evening off and the area is a stone's throw from the centre. If you decide to visit around mid-august the La Paloma festival is held in La Latina which converts in to a giant street party with an abundance of mojito stalls, and people, thronging the sticky streets.
For those who have the stamina to push through to the early hours, Madrid has a large number of late night bars and clubs. Don’t expect to get home before 6am, but letting yourself get taken through the night by the local energy and atmosphere is fully justified by a three-day weekend.
By Giedre Buteikyte of Four Day Week Ltd