From the quirky to the curious, Madrid offers more than just the classic city break staples
The city of Madrid has been in the news a few times over the past couple of weeks, yet not for reasons you might expect. Yesterday, it was announced that the former Governor of California and all-action movie star, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has been unveiled as Madrid’s honorary ambassador of tourism, with the aim of using his A-list celebrity status to boost the flagging numbers of foreign tourists visiting the Spanish capital following the economic downturn.
In another surprising turn of events, Great Britain’s own former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, has been honoured in Madrid with the rechristening of a plaza in the Salamanca district of the city in her name. Unveiled last week by her son, Mark, Plaza Margaret Thatcher follows in the footsteps of prominent politicians including Nelson Mandela and Yitzhak Rabin to have been paid tribute to in such a way, with Madrid’s Mayor, Ana Botella, describing the Iron Lady as “one of the great personalities of the 20th century”.
Whilst Plaza Margaret Thatcher might not high on your wish list of sights to tick off on a city break to Madrid, there’s certainly no shortage of reasons to visit this fabulous city. Of course, everyone’s heard of the Prado Museum, Retiro Park, the Royal Palace and the Plaza Mayor, but what about Madrid’s lesser-known attractions? Here’s just a brief look at just a few of the Spanish capital’s more quirky touristic offerings…
Templo de Debod
Situated a short distance from the Royal Palace in the Parque de la Montaña is the Templo de Debod, an authentic Egyptian temple, one of only three to be situated outside Egypt, which was reconstructed in the early 1970s following its donation to Spain by the Egyptian government in 1968. Dedicated to the Gods of Amon and Isis, the temple dates back to the early 2nd century BC, when its construction first began in the village of Debod, close to the sacred temple island of Philae. Today open to all, a visit to the Templo details its reconstruction in Madrid as well as a historical insight into King Adikhalamani, who originally ordered its construction.
Transforming and regenerating a previously neglected area of the city close to the Arganzuela Park, the Madrid Río is a 10km-long urban park running along the banks of the Manzanares River. As well as its beach, you’ll also find here sporting and cultural facilities, cafes and restaurants, play areas (17 in total), water jets, zip wires, cycle paths and rowing lanes. Amidst the vast areas of tranquil, verdant spaces including an orchard complete with 800 fruit trees, there’s a number of lesser-known, historic sights to be seen, such as the Bridges of Segovia and Toledo and the Virgen del Puerto Chapel. What’s more, there’s also some great vantage points over the city itself, offering the opportunity to appreciate Madrid from a new angle.
A veritable Sunday morning institution, El Rastro flea market is definitely one of Madrid’s lesser-known highlights. Named after the arrastre, meaning the dragging of animals from the slaughterhouse which one stood on the site, the popular El Rastro takes place between 9am and 3pm every Sunday on and around the Calle de la Ribera de Curtidores. You’ll find all manner of bric-a-brac and curios for sale, from clothing and jewellery, household goods and electronics to more obscure personal mementoes such as letters and postcards.
North of the city centre on the Paseo de la Castellana lies AZCA, not only Madrid’s modern epicentre for business and commerce, but also the location of the Bernabeu Stadium (Estadio Santiago Bernabéu), home to one of Europe’s most successful and prominent football teams, Real Madrid. Dubbed ‘Madrid’s Manhattan’, AZCA is renowned for its cluster of soaring skyscrapers – the tallest being the 157-metre-high Torre Picasso – and offers an architectural compliment to the more classic buildings in the city’s historical centre.