Of the Old and of the New: A Walking Tour of Madrid, Spain
Note: This itinerary may not be complete but trust me!, Its the easiest and probably the most interesting route if you are planning to do a Walking Tour of Madrid:)
As I watched the plot of the award-winning The Grand Budapest Hotel thicken, a certain question boggled my mind: did Gustave, one of the major characters, really kill his lover? It was an enigma I wanted solved, and I sunk deeper into my chair as I watched each scene gradually unfold—until the captain interrupted to announce that the plane was about to land at the Istanbul Ataturk Airport. I was a bit reluctant and disappointed because I really wanted to watch the rest of the movie, but on the other hand, I was happy that my 12-and-a-half-hour flight was finally over.
I spent the remaining four-and-a-half hour travel from Istanbul to Madrid agonizing over the unsolved mystery of The Grand Budapest Hotel.
I finally arrived in Madrid after the long journey. From the airport, we proceeded to Catalonia Gran Via Hotel (hotel info), our official home for two nights in the city. The hotel staff quickly assisted us to our rooms and gave us a welcome kit with maps and guides for touring in Madrid.
After finally settling in my room, I decided to wander for a while. It’s been more than two years since the last time I visited Mardid. A strange combination of wonder and nostalgia hit me. My previous experiences in Spain are like layers of a sediment that make up a larger rock, and I was very glad that I was adding another layer to it.
After our two-hour resting period, we gathered in the hotel lobby to meet with Marta, our local English-speaking tour guide. We had a walking tour scheduled that day, so I geared up, and prepared for another beautiful adventure in the Spanish capital.
Walking Tour of Madrid
We started our walking tour at the street of Gran Via, oftentimes called the “Spanish Broadway”. It’s just located near our hotel in central Madrid, and is notable for its bustling nightlife, shops, and local life. If New York is the city that never sleeps, Gran Via is the street that never sleeps. The name of the street literally translates to “Great Way”, and is the center of urban Madrid life.
Along the street that never sleeps is the Grassy Building, or known locally as the Edificio Grassy. The Edificio Grassy is made of two conjoined buildings built on a triangular piece of land, and are actually made of beige concrete, not by green or grassy materials. Aside from housing a museum of ancient clocks and other rare European and British artifacts, the building itself serves as the beautiful, welcoming edifice of Gran Via, standing proudly on the corner of the street.
Our next destination was at the Metropolis Building, an office building with a catchy, Beaux-Arts architectural style. The building towers over the blue skies of Madrid, on the corner of Gran Via and Calle de Alcala.
Before leaving Gran Via to go to Calle de Alcala, our tour guide shared that the two tallest European buildings in the 1950s, Madrid Tower and Spain Building, were constructed in Gran Via. The street that never sleeps has been a very busy street indeed, even before.
We went to Circulo de Bellas Artes, or CBA, on the nearby Calle de Alcala next. CBA was founded in 1880. The building was constructed in 1926 and is ran and owned by a private, non-profit organization of the same name. Inside the building are exhibition, concert, and lecture halls, workshops, a cinema, and a theatre, that are dedicated for the humanities of Madrid. Its rooftop is known for offering a picturesque view of Madrid. It was declared a Spanish Property of Cultural Interest in 1981 due to its active role in the local culture.
After CBA, we went to Calle del Barquillo. “Barquillos” might sound familiar for some—and if you first thought of those crispy biscuit rolls, you are right. The ”barquillo” in the name of the street actually comes from the name of the food we all know. The sweets is said to have been produced in the streets during fiestas and other celebrations.
A landmark located along this street is the Instituto Cervantes hub, the headquarters of the largest, international non-profit organization dedicated for the study and promotion of the Spanish language and culture. The building and the organization were named after Miguel de Cervantes, a very significant figure in the Spanish literature.
After gasping at the sceneries in the beautiful streets that we were on, we moved on. We headed to Mercado de San Anton in Calle Augusto Figueroa. It was my second time visiting this well-organized roofed market. It still charmed like the first time I saw it—neat displays, colorful fruits, vegetables, and local produce, various food, and plenty of cafes with Instagrammable interiors. Iberico ham, and cheese are just two of the Spanish specialties that can be bought fresh from here.
We visited another market afterwards, which is the Mercado de San Ildefonso in Calle Fuencarral. By then we have already reached the neighboring district of Malasaña, which is often referred to as a neighborhood with hipster culture.
The Mercado de San Ildefonso is smaller than Mercado de San Anton from the previous calle. This market had three-storeys, and the first two floors were filled with shops that sell food like tapas, pizza, juices, and even sushi! It was a foodie paradise with a fancy atmosphere.
We continued with our walking tour, and passed by Calle de San Andres. Our tour guide showed us a pharmacy that was built in the 1920s and that recently closed down. It was closed down but its colorful hand-painted tiles containing advertisements of perfume and medicine continues to fascinate everyone who sees it. Oh, we were definitely in Malasaña all right. Everything was so fancy.
It didn’t take long before we reached Plaza del Dos de Mayo, the heart of the Malasaña district. The name of the plaza was taken from the historical event that occurred in the 1800s, when the town locals rebelled against foreign invaders. Two statues that serve as tribute to the heads of the movement are located in the plaza.
The Plaza del Dos de Mayo is a very, very, fancy place and a complete picture of a happy neighbourhood. It was surrounded with many attractive bars and cafes, which I noticed tended to have grandiose terraces. I could not help but wonder what it was like to have a cup of coffee while having that view. It would be excellent, I supposed.
An interesting shop around the corner was a coffee shop called Libros. I’m not a very huge fan of books, but seeing the colorful and old-fashioned façade of the shop already made me very excited. I imagine that solid bookworms would scream and cause commotion if they were in my place.
After walking a bit further ahead, we chanced upon another interesting shop and bar called Gorila Malasaña. It is a hipster bar with—you guessed it—a gorilla theme. If you’re not a fan of gorillas, the quaint feel of the bar, and the vintage interiors will surely make you a convert.
Our last stop for the day was at San Antonio de los Alemanes, a 17th century Roman Catholic church that has a Baroque architecture. What was perhaps most notable about the church, aside from its exterior, however, was the painting on its high, domed ceiling. It was especially haunting.
We officially ended our walking tour after whispering a prayer of thanks, and of course, marveling at the design of the centuries-old church.
We headed back to our hotel shortly after that. While on the way back, I happily recounted how much dynamism was there in the Madrid streets that we toured. There was a heavy influence of the culture of the old—the buildings that have stood there for centuries continue to look over the busyness of the street. However, I still felt the power of the modern culture, with the hippie bars, picturesque coffee shop terraces, and specialty shops we passed by on the way. There is a beautiful blend of the old and the new, and I can feel both from the landmarks that we visited.
As a traveler, I would like to recommend and confirm, for the umpteenth time, that the only best way to explore Madrid, or any place, for that matter, is via a walking tour. The Spanish capital is especially easy to explore on foot as most of the landmarks are located in close proximity in central Madrid. As a foodie, I would additionally advice that each landmark be accompanied by a food trip, too. Cafes and bars abound in the Spanish capital, after all.
So forget the Madrid Bus Tour, the best way to explore Madrid is by foot and by food. Free maps are available from the airport or at your hotel, and a full-blown walking tour can be accomplished within three to four hours. It can get exhausting, but the experience and the number of photos you will be able to take are all worth it. And hey, like me, maybe you can watch the rest of the Grand Budapest Hotel before retiring for the day!
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This Spain Street Photography and Food Tour was made possible by Spain Tourism Board, Turkish Airlines, Madrid Destino, Visit Barcelona, La Rioja Tourism, Donostia San Sebastian Tourism and Convention Bureau and Turismo Bilbao.
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