“Get Out There” is a column for itchy footed humans written by Paste contributor Blake Snow. Although different now, travel is still worthwhile—especially to these open borders.
After years of traveling, not once have I heard the following: “I love Madrid!” A quick Google search confirms this consensus; the Spanish capital is notably absent from most “Europe’s best cities to visit” lists. In the two instances it was, the unassuming city barely cracked the top 40.
That’s not to say Madrid isn’t a great city. It’s rich, ornate, bright, pedestrian-friendly, and filled with some of the warmest locals and food on the continent. But not all great cities double as desirable tourist destinations.
Does Madrid? To find out, the generous folks at Land Rover recently invited me to drive their new electric Range Rovers through the city’s scenery, in between some of the top sights, and even on some outskirt off-road terrain. This is what I learned.
Best Things to Do
Madrid is smack dab in the middle of Spain. It’s over 1200 years old—nearly five times older than the US. It’s also the sunniest city, fourth richest, and one of the biggest “college towns” in Europe.
Despite Madrid’s impressive numbers, I was surprised by how compact the city center is. I walked this 30 minute self-guided tour twice (once in reverse), I liked it so much. While en route, I gawked at the Royal Palace of Madrid, the second largest palace in the world after the Vatican, and marveled at what seemed to be the largest collection of floor to ceiling paintings I’ve ever seen at The Prado (aka “the national art museum of Spain”). While people-watching in Plaza Mayor, I caught some heavy Florence vibes.
In terms of eateries, three stand out. Mercado de San Miguel is a great way to taste some of the city’s finest foods in an indoor farmers market setting. Founded in 1725, Sobrino de Botín is considered the world’s oldest restaurant (but expensive and hard to book). My favorite meal, however, was at the lively and jam-packed Amazonica on a Tuesday night, replete with a live DJ.
To see the best of Madrid, you’ll need to head to the periphery. El Retiro Park, just outside of downtown, feels nearly as big as Central Park and just as refreshing. As a casual soccer fan, watching victorious Real Madrid at their home stadium was a magical experience (the crowd erupted like I’ve never seen or heard after the first late goal). Ride-sharing back to my hotel on a Lime scooter was equally thrilling.
But the most memorable moment came at Catedral de Justo Gallego. Solely built by the namesake monk in six decades of solitude, the building is a beautiful monument of devotion, self-determination, and inspiration—just as beautiful as Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia when you consider the source.
Every Road is New
In between the sightseeing, I was chauffeured around in hybrid electric Range Rovers with a group of American “lifestyle” (aka non-automotive) journalists. We lunched at Soto Mozanaque, a private and sprawling estate owned by the Duke of Albuquerque that could have doubled as the English countryside. We then drove unchaperoned back into Madrid. As reputation would have it, the swanky SUV made every road seem newly paved, even if they weren’t.
The next day, I drove from my poshy hotel to nearby Aldeallana’s low-lying mountains for some royal off-roading. I stress royal because Range Rovers are what the British monarchy has driven for decades on both paved and extreme terrain. While taking on terrain that was just as gnarly as world-class Moab, I realistically could have enjoyed tea and crumpets while doing so—it was that cushy.
But you don’t have to be royalty, the 1%, or even in Madrid to test drive the latest Range Rovers either on or off-road. You can do just that at one of three Land Rovers Experience Centers in either California, North Carolina, or Vermont.
Do I love Madrid?
Yes, I do. Although it probably trails beloved Barcelona in terms of total tourist appeal, Madrid is surprisingly abundant in friendly Europeans, hyper cleanliness, and regal architecture. It might not be the soul of Spain, but Madrid is easily the beating heart. In that regard, its rising status as a trending tourist destination is well deserved.
About the only thing I don’t like about Madrid (and Spain in general) is that dinner isn’t served until 9 p.m. at the earliest, which means the check doesn’t come until close to midnight. On the plus side, early risers get the city to themselves until 10 a.m., which is when its residents usually “wake up.”
Blake Snow contributes to fancy publications and Fortune 500 companies as a bodacious writer-for-hire and frequent travel columnist. He lives in Provo, Utah with his adolescent family and two dogs.