Goya and tapas and Dali – oh my.
Belfast-based architect and creative consultant Aoife Mulvenna shares her local and picturesque guide to her prior residence, the Spanish capital of Madrid.
After a year in Madrid, how would you describe the city?
Loud and alive! My memory of Madrid is always the smell of heat and tobacco that hits you when you first step off the plane, followed by the chitter-chatter of the Madrilenians as you make your underground commute to the city centre on the metro.
I would recommend popping out of the underground directly onto Gran Via if you really want to experience the city’s buzz, it would pull anyone out of a travel-induced stupor! Gran Via is Madrid’s biggest and busiest street, lined with looming buildings of grandeur, filled with theatres, shops and restaurants, hence its nickname - the Spanish Broadway!
If you take a stroll from there, look up and take in the architecture, the energy and the people, you’ll very quickly start to understand the playful, electric nature that encompasses Madrid.
What is the vintage scene like?
With a bohemian vibe comes an adoration for all things vintage. Malasaña, again, is best for vintage hunting, with the likes of El Templo de Susu popular with both locals and tourists. My personal favourite for vintage shopping, however, is, of course, El Rastro, Madrid’s biggest open-air flea market. If you haven’t been out dancing to reggaeton until the early hours of the morning you can check it out on every Sunday between Calle Embajadores and the Ronda de Toledo, just south of La Latina Metro Station and Puerta de Toledo.
The market offers an entertaining walk with a great variety of new and old treasures to be found. After, make sure you head to La Latina, one of Madrid’s oldest barrios, for the best hair of the dog - tapas and cañas!
What are the must-sees?
The three museums of Paseo del Prado!
First stop Spain’s national art museum, Museo del Prado. It is widely considered to have one of the world's finest collections of European art dating from the 12th century to the early 20th century, including works by Goya. Across the leafy, tree-lined road you’ll find Caxia Forum, a sociocultural centre full of ancient, modern and contemporary art exhibitions.
The building used to be an old electric power station until it was restored by architects Herzog & De Meuron. Some say it looks like it’s permanently floating above the ground. Finally, at the end of Paseo del Prado, you’ll find my favourite, Museo Reina Sofía. Home to the work of Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, anyone who enjoys 20th-century art will find it hard to leave this place!
And if you want to go a little further afield?
Matadero Madrid is a former slaughterhouse in the Arganzuela district of Madrid, which was converted into an arts centre. With constantly changing spaces at the service of creative processes and artists residencies, there’s always something new to see here.
Where are the best tapas in the city?
You can find tapas anywhere in the city but if you want to eat like a local a useful rule of thumb to follow is the less Instagram worthy the decor, the better the tapas! Authentic, rough and ready touchstones can be found in La Latina.
Tapas bar, Taberna Sanlúcar, brings the southern town of Cádiz to Madrid. Seafood dominates the menu with every imaginable sea creature available to try in this unassuming little bar. It can be quiet at lunchtime, but come the evening bohemian spirited regulars pile in for cañas and hearty platas of presa ibérica (the juiciest cut of Spain’s Iberian pig), tortillas de camarones (prawn fritters) and bocadillo de calamares (squid sandwich).
Madrid’s tapas experience stretches out to vegetarians and vegans too, La Encomienda, in particular, is great for its vegan cheeseboard.
Where is the best place to stay?
A bohemian Airbnb in Malasana or if you want something different, Hotel Puerta America, where each floor has been designed by a different architect, including Norman Foster, Jean Nouvel and the late Zaha Hadid.
What do you miss most about living in the Spanish capital?
The day to day sociable lifestyle of the free-spirited people of Madrid!
Come 6pm, everyone leaves work and heads straight to a tapas bar with family or friends to eat, drink and talk (loudly). I love that the Spanish don’t contain socialising just to weekends, it's what makes the city feel so alive!
What does a perfect day in Madrid look like for you?
Brunch and an iced latte at Toma Cafe or Cafe Federal, followed by a meander around Malasana’s concept stores and markets. During siesta, I head to Parque Retiro to chill out in the shade and read. I’ll usually be starving by this point, but in Madrid dinner isn’t until 9/10 pm so its tapas and sangria with friends before heading to watch the sunset later at Bellas Artes rooftop, where we’ll sit and wait for the night to really begin!
Main image @aoifemulvenna
This article originally featured in the December issue of Irish Tatler magazine.