A great way to see many cities is by bike and in Madrid, they have an electric bike scheme. I cycle everywhere at home but had never tried an electric bike, I’ve been missing out, they are great.
Central Madrid is divided into small districts – barrios – it’s a very accessible city and the bus and metro system, efficient and cheap, but it’s small enough that you can walk around, or if you have limited time cycle. I managed to see pretty much all of central Madrid in a day, thanks to my electric wheels.
I was staying in the Chamberi district, with my friend Lorena, a Madrileño born and bred. It’s always a treat to be shown around a city with a local, and for me, I got to see Madrid with a local and on an electric bike, a double whammy.
From Chamberi we headed south to the bohemian area of Malasaña. This barrio is very significant to modern-day Madrid, it was the centre of the “Movida Mardrileña” – the cultural boom of Madrid. Driven by the then unknown film director Pedro Almodovar. It was a freedom of expression that had been suppressed under the Franco regime, and it was after his death in 1975 that Madrid emerged with a new identity and with it a surge in The Arts. Malasaña is a very cool place full of independent shops and bars and lots of beautiful, arty people being beautiful and arty.
From Malasaña we continued down the Grand Via to the Plaza de Cibeles a massive intersection which houses the most beautiful Post Office I’ve ever seen, The Palacio de Comunicaciones, which was proudly displaying a huge “Refugees Welcome’ banner.
We dismounted to cross Gran Via and walked our bikes across the huge roundabout and dared not cycle on the wide pavement, the police were keeping a somewhat intimidating eye on us.
Once out of sight of the Guardia we hopped back on our saddles and still heading south we entered the beautiful Parque Del Buen Retiro which literally translates to “The park of good retirement” it was tranquil and calm, has a large boating lake, a beautiful rose garden and the stunning Palacio de Cristal. Built in the 1880’s this beautiful glass and iron construction is used as an incredible exhibition space for large-scale installations. In residence when I was there was a bizarre show of bones. Bones of all shapes and sizes suspended from the ceiling by string, and a randomly placed crucifix amongst the the skeletal “object d’arts.’ It was sinister and it made my skin crawl but randomly it was also quite beautiful. Perhaps the crucifix was protection against the only known monument in the world to the Devil, which was just round the corner!
We continued our cycle through the park down the Cuesta Moyano a leafy road filled with second-hand book stalls. I had a quick shufty but sadly not long enough, a few hours of rummaging would have been good.
We carried on past the Jardin Botánico (botanical garden) and one of the most famous art museums in the world the Museo del Prado. The queue was long and I was desperate for a coffee, a wee and our bikes needed charging so we swerved the culture, changed direction and headed west to Las Letras, an area named after Spanish writers. Here I had the the best coffee of my visit at El Azul a little cafe hidden away on the Calle Fúcar.
Once we and the bikes had re-charged we continued west through the Plaza Mayor, busy, bustling pedestrianised area, mainly full of tourists and tourist restaurants but there is a hidden gem, Restaurante Botin, certified by the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s oldest restaurant – who’d of thought that would be in Madrid?! It’s an homage to Miguel de Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote and has been in existence as a restaurant since 1725. I’m not sure if the menu has changed much since the 1800’s as upon closer inspection into the kitchen, suckling pigs were being roasted in a stone oven over a wooden fire.
We continued on past the Mercado San Miguel and to the Palacio Real (Royal Palace), the Opera House and the Catedral de la Almudena. An elegant and luxurious part of the city. The Spanish Royal family no longer use this central Palace as their main residence – probably because there is a row of restaurants and an Opera house a stone’s throw from their front door and until quite recently the main road.
It’s a lovely place to chill out and relax, gather your thoughts and have an ice-cream before cycling home for a siesta.
A few hours later, as the sun was setting we ventured out on our bikes again. After dinner, we sat outside in a square in the Ópera district and had a coffee. As I was changing out of my Birkenstocks and putting on my heels ready for the evening ahead, two very handsome young men fortuitously sat in front of us under a tree and started to play their guitars… I like to think we were being serenaded, but my another of my romantic fantasies was shattered when they asked for money.
We dragged ourselves away from the handsome, talented, young men and headed to a live jazz club in Los Austrias, the oldest part of Madrid. Jazz really isn’t my thing, so after a couple of warbly numbers we left and cycled back up Gran Via to La Pecera del Círculo de Bellas Artes.
Madrid is awash with open air, rooftop bars, and this one at the top of an arts and culture centre is one of the most popular. It wasn’t too fancy with an electric mix of people, very friendly and stunning views. We were there a few nights after the Supermoon/Lunar eclipse of September 28th and at that height the view of the moon was breathtaking.
At 0130, we called it (an early) night, ditched the bikes and got a taxi home. Madrid on a bike, an unforgettable day. Gracias.
NB As a tourist, it’s not possible to use the electric bike scheme as you have to be a local resident to register. I used Lorena’s husbands card, but there are many bicycle hire places around the city.