I learnt a precious lesson while travelling extensively last year – importance of including locals in your plans. Whether they are expats and can jot down a few hidden gems for you, or reside in the city and can meet for a quick coffee and chat, inclusion of locals can take a trip from good to great.

When I was headed to Madrid to attend IIFA, I dropped in a line to a dear friend and fashion entrepreneur Araceli Gallego. She’s one of the best things that happened to me in Dubai. She a Spanish chica, who now resides in the desert, and founded Dubai Fashion News and Eushopia. When I told her that I will be visiting Madrid, she replied with a long email, guiding me through the city, highlighting what to see, eat and stay away from, and how to make the best of my time there. It’s precious, and I am happy to share it with you to make your next trip to Madrid amazing. Are you ready to see Madrid through a local’s eye?

Over to Leli:

Starting point – Alcala Axis:

Check out the Cibeles fountain, a perfect Spanish postcard spot, where the magnificent sculpture of Greek goddess Cybele sits on a chariot drawn by lions. Built in 1782, it’s where Real Madrid fans come together to celebrate victory.

Cibeles fountain
Cibeles fountain, Madrid.

Right across is the Ayuntamiento (the townhall), home to a variety of art exhibitions and events. Walk about 300 meters ahead, and you will arrive at Puerta de Alcala, a Neo-classical monument, which is regarded as the first modern post-roman triumphal arch built in Europe.

Puerta de Alcala, Madrid.

If you want to escape the man-built brick and mortar structures for a bit, there is a beautiful garden nearby called Parque del Buen Retiro, filled with flowers, squirrels, beautiful sculpture and monuments, galleries, a peaceful lake (with boats for rent) and host to a variety of events.

Parque del Buen Retiro
Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid.

Connecting Puerta de Alcala and Cibeles is calle de Alcala, the longest street in Madrid, flanked by an interesting variety of buildings – from theatres, coffee shops, historical churches, to the Metropolitan building and Palacio de Bellas Artes. On one end of the street is Plaza del Sol, loosely translated to the gate of sun. The most eminent of all landmarks on Sol is the famous clock, whose bells mark the traditional eating of the Twelve Grapes and the beginning of a new year – it’s the Spanish version of Times Square, NY).

calle de Alcala
Calle de Alcala, Madrid.

Sol is a popular district, and has some of the must-visit stores, including El Corte Ingles (similar to Harrods but less expensive) and FNAC, a music and bookstore. It’s a shopper’s paradise, and you can easily spend hours there.

El Corte Inglés, Madrid.

Enroute from Sol to Gran Via, you will come across la calle de la Montera – the infamous prostitution street. It’s harmless, and just something you should know.

Joy Eslava, Madrid – photo by www.erasmusmadrid.org.

From Sol, start walking towards the Opera via calle del Arenal, and you will come across a number of shops and cafes; noteworthy among them is Joy Eslava, a popular nightclub where football players and local celebrities are known to hangout (perfect for people watching and celeb stalking), and Chocolatería San Ginés, where you can one of the best chocolate con churros. You just have to have them to know how unbelievably delicious they are!

Chocolatería San Ginés, Madrid – photo by www.iwokeuplaughing.com.

Keep going ahead (and walk some of those churros off) to arrive at the Opera building. They have something or the other happening at all times, though I’d suggest you check out their events beforehand and go only if it has something of your interest.

Opera building, Madrid.
Opera building, Madrid.

Day 1 has successfully ended. Now back to hotel with room service. All that walking has my feet hurting, and stomach growling.

See you on day Dos!

(P.S. As I said, it was a precious and long email, so I am breaking it down into parts. Keep an eye out for part Dos, and possibly part Tres as well!)