This story was first published on 24 January 2019. It is now updated with the latest information on travelling to Spain under the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL).
Thanks to high vaccination rates across Spain, the country has been included in Singapore’s vaccinated travel lane (VTL) scheme, among countries like Germany and England. Travellers from Singapore will be able to enter Spain without taking a swab test and are also exempted from providing a vaccination certificate. No quarantine needed upon arrival!
What this means is that it’s prime time to visit the beautiful city of Madrid, known to be home to time-honoured customs like Flamenco and bullfighting. But in reality, the Spanish capital is so much more than that. With the passage of time, Madrid has grown to include all the hallmarks of a modern metropolis, mixed seamlessly with the old-world grandeur of her Spanish roots.
Its people — known locally as Madrileños — have changed, too. Just wander along the streets and you’ll notice many Madrileños spending time hanging out in the city’s open plazas soaking up the sun, dancing outdoors, or attending live concerts and theatre. Restrictions in the Spanish capital have been all but lifted, and life is slowly returning to normal in this city.
Indeed, Madrid is officially a safe travel destination teeming with fun tourist places to visit, culinary experiences to delight your senses, and unforgettable nights spent dancing on the streets till the wee hours. Here are four neighbourhoods (or barrios as they’re known locally) to show you why. What are you waiting for? Pack your bags and get going!
Get a taste of Spain
Puerta del Sol, a city square right in the heart of Madrid, is rich in historical significance both for Madrileños and all Spaniards. Wander around the open plaza and you’ll spot several monuments which will give you a peek into the capital’s history.
Look out for the Kilometre Zero mark, a metal plaque on the ground outside the clock tower of the old Post Office building, the Real Casa de Correos. This plaque marks the official starting point of Spain’s six national roads: the A-1 to A-6. The ’El Oso y el Madroño, the bear and the strawberry tree, is another iconic monument situated at the open plaza. It is the symbol of the capital of Spain and the coat of arms for Madrid.
Also situated within Sol is Plaza Mayor, Madrid’s grand central square where eye-catching architecture and vibrant street activity breathe life into a location built in the late 1500s. Don’t be surprised to see folks roaming around without masks — they aren’t needed if you’re walking down the street and can maintain adequate social distancing. However, feel free to don your masks if that makes you feel safer! Come December, the main square hosts the Plaza Mayor Market, which makes a return this year to celebrate the festive season with 104 stalls offering all things Christmas-related.
Sol is one of the reasons why Madrid is also referred to as the culinary capital of the country. So, be bold and step into any bar or restaurant around the Plaza to make your own tasty discovery. For a true taste of Madrid, you should sample the Bocadillo de Calamares, a local speciality made of fresh bread rolls filled with squid rings deep-fried in olive oil.
Another local favourite is Cocido Madrileño, a hearty stew filled with vegetables, chickpeas, chorizo, and different cuts of pork. Simmered for no less than four hours, the stew is normally served and eaten over two to three courses in a meal. For dessert, hop over to the Chocolateria de San Gines, which serves up Churros con Chocolate, a sinfully sweet Spanish snack that locals consume for breakfast, too. When you’re in Spain, do as the Spaniards do!
Come shop till you drop
Any shopping trip to Spain wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Salamanca. In fact, many often compare it to California’s Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. But, in Salamanca, the mix of quaint local shops and international luxury and high street brands means you don’t have to be a millionaire or Hollywood celebrity to shop here.
More than its tourist attractions and sightseeing, Spain is also the go-to spot for shopaholics. Head to Serrano Street to shop for stylish threads at the flagship store of Zara, the Spanish fashion retailer that has conquered the world. It’s a dream come true for fans of the high street brand, with a wide array of everything fashion spread over seven floors in a 2,400sqm building.
Located on the same street is Casa Loewe, the flagship store of the iconic Spanish luxury leather brand, Loewe. Set within a 19th-century building, the three-storey boutique boasts the entire range of products in the Loewe world for both men and women, along with accessories and exclusive bespoke collections.
But if you’d rather bring home something that’s uniquely Madrid, head to El Rastro, the most popular open-air flea market in Spain, located between Calle Embajadores and the Ronda de Toledo. Open every Sunday, the flea market is a bargain hunter’s paradise where you’ll be able to find new and pre-loved clothes, quaint jewellery, bags, and decorative ornaments at unbeatable prices. Fan of flea markets and finding unique pieces? Singapore is no stranger to quaint art markets too!
3. La Latina
Liv’in La Vida Loca
While it is one of the oldest barrios in Madrid, don’t let the medieval streetscapes in La Latina fool you. You’ll want to check out Calle Cava Baja, a curving street featuring the most traditional and popular tapas bars and restaurants in the city, and this fact is not lost on tourists. Travellers from far and wide are known to flock here as part of their Cava Baja – or Tapas Crawl.
Fun fact — the idea of tapas originates from the middle ages, back when cleanliness standards weren’t as high. A plate with food had to be placed on top of wine glasses to prevent flies from falling into the wine.
Tapas are an institution in Madrid, and you can find them served up at almost any Spanish bar in the city. One thing to note: you don’t actually have to pay for it. While tapas restaurants abroad charge some hefty prices for a small plate with a few slices of jamon (ham), in Madrid, tapas are free when you order a drink.
If the night is still young and living it up in a Spanish nightclub is your cup of tea, hop on the metro, alight at Madrid Atocha station and make your way to Teatro Kapital, a seven-storey mega club, just down the street. There’s something for everyone here, with music ranging from House to Funk, Latin to Dance. Do take note dancing isn’t permitted indoors, but don’t worry — go ahead and dance the night away outdoors if social distancing is possible and masks are worn.
Here’s a tip: A good night out in Madrid truly ends with, not supper, but breakfast. So be prepared to stay up all night long.
Putting the art in the heart of Spain
The Spanish capital is every art lover’s dream come true with over 60 museums spanning almost every field of human knowledge imaginable.
Particularly in Lavapies, which is home to some of the most notable ones. Take a stroll down Paseo del Arte, or Art Walk as it’s known in English, and you’ll arrive at the Reina Sofia Museum. The museum showcases one of the finest selections of contemporary art pieces in the world, including Picasso’s iconic Guernica painting, circa 1937. It’s also a short walk from the infamous El Prado Museum. If you want to get more out of your day trip down Paseo del Arte, download the Essential Art Walk app, Paseo Arte Imprescindible (App Store, Google Play), as your companion.
Also check out Matadero Madrid, a contemporary arts centre, which was formerly an old livestock market and slaughterhouse. Now it plays host to drama, musicals, dance performances, and exhibitions on architecture, fashion, literature, and even cinema. Snap a few photos while you’re sightseeing at the museum to remember your trip by.
Things to note while travelling in Madrid
Thanks to high vaccination rates and a reduced number of infections across Spain, Madrid has officially dropped all capacity restrictions in public places, including bars, restaurants, museums, shops and other venues.
While social distancing rules must be followed at all times, mask wearing is still encouraged to lower your risks of contracting the virus.
Masks do need to be worn before entering any indoor setting, and that includes public transport.
In bars and restaurants, groups are limited to a maximum of 10 people outdoors and a maximum of 6 people indoors. Drinks can be ordered but not consumed at the actual bar itself. Masks have to be kept on at all times except when eating and drinking.
Nightclubs still have to adhere to a capacity limit of 75 percent. Dancing is not allowed indoors but is permitted outdoors with masks on.
- Stay updated on the latest measures in Madrid here.
Whether you are keen on museum-hopping, feasting, bargain hunting or just dancing the night away, tourist attractions are plentiful in Madrid now that life has more or less returned to normal in the city. Be sure to check out these four barrios the next time you’re in the Spanish capital for an irresistibly invigorating travel adventure!
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Best time to visit
March to May or September to October. Be sure to avoid visiting during the summer months as other Spaniards enter Madrid, and the locals head out of the city, so it’ll be crowded and many businesses will be closed.
Search for airfares and book your tickets here.
Always carry a pair of sunglasses with you because Madrid is a city bathed in sunlight. Even in winter, when the mercury can dip below zero, you’ll find blue skies and sunshine.
Don’t be alarmed by locals dumping bones, shells of sunflower seeds, used napkins, and other waste on the floor nonchalantly. It’s totally normal and gets cleaned at the end of the day.