After lockdown, I will finally visit the European city I have wrongfully evaded

Lizzie Frainier
Retiro Park

Lizzie Frainier has remained true to the Catalan capital but feels ready for a new Spanish flirtation after lockdown ends

I blame the fact that I’ve never made it to one of Europe’s best cities on Barcelona. The Catalan capital stole my heart when I moved there on my year abroad and made friends for life, so I felt I owed it to her to stay away. The two cities have an intense rivalry, with opposing political positions much more of a reason than football. Sipping vermouth by a pool on a Madrid rooftop would be like cheating on a first love. 

Since I have moved to London, though, this gaping city break omission is my dirty little secret. I’m ashamed to say I haven’t been. When lockdown is over, I will rectify that immediately. Surely I can flirt with Madrid while staying true to dear Barna.

The nightlife is the reason I feel I have been missing out most, having long been a fan of midnight adventures and knowing that Madrileños are known as gatos (cats) because of their reputation for late nights. Hemingway even said, “Nobody goes to bed in Madrid until they have killed the night.” 

I can think of nothing better than propping myself up at the zinc counter of some tiled institution like the Taberna de Ángel Sierra, vino in hand, after weeks cooped up. Eating out is another of my motivations, from classic tapas bars to more avant-garde musings on Spanish food. I’ll make it my mission to try every croqueta de jamón the city has to offer, from the traditional to the technical. Days will also be occupied by art. 

For now, though, I’ll have to contend with reruns of quirky Pedro Almodóvar films such as The Flower of My Secret and Pain and Glory, in which the city is as much a character as Antonio Banderas, until I can wander the streets and perhaps accidentally fall head over heels. Don’t tell Barcelona.

Five insider tips, according to our expert

Our Spain expert Annie Bennett shares her favourite corners of the city.

Enjoy the best breakfast in town

Dipping churros into a cup of thick, hot chocolate in a traditional café is one of the most entrenched customs in Madrid. Indulge at breakfast time at Chocolatería San Ginés, which has been around since 1894. You may have to queue, but service is quick. chocolateriasangines.com

Madrid institution Chocolatería San Ginés

See one of Picasso's most famous works

Seeing Pablo Picasso’s great 1937 masterpiece Guernica for yourself at Madrid’s vast modern art museum Reina Sofía is an unforgettable experience, but there is a lot more to see there. Be sure to check out intriguing works by Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró and Antoni Tàpies. museoreinasofia.es

Row, row, row your boat

Drifting around Retiro Park’s lake on a rowing boat is a soothing experience after traipsing around the sights. Originally the gardens of a royal palace, the Retiro is now Madrid’s main park. In the summer months, go rowing before noon or after 6pm – you can sunbathe under the trees when the heat is fierce. esmadrid.com

Retiro Park's lake is a popular spot for rowboats, especially in the summer

Get to grips with the art of tapas

In the early evening, take a tapas tour around the most traditional neighbourhoods, learning a bit of history as you go. Try Devour Tours, as they focus on family-run places and offer a variety of routes, taking in the oldest taverns (such as Casa Botín), modern gastrobars and speciality food shops. madridfoodtour.com

Devour Tours

Prop yourself up at the bar of a Madrid institution 

In what was once a classic neighbourhood grocer’s in the Conde Duque area, you’ll find De Vinos; it still has the original marble counter, tiled floor and wooden fittings. It has an impressive range of vermouths and wines available by the glass, with many from small producers in lesser-known Spanish regions. facebook.com/vinos.devinos

See our full guide to Madrid here.