Madrid’s irresistible mix of culture and football

Madrid’s irresistible mix of culture and football
The Fountain Fuente de Cibeles at Plaza de la Cibeles in Madrid. Picture: EyesWideOpen

You might not be a Real Madrid or Atletico Madrid fan before visiting the Spanish capital, but chances are you will leave as one.

This weekend’s ‘el derbi’ is the perfect example of football’s importance to this beautiful city.

Madrid will come to a standstill for tomorrow’s clash between Real and Atletico at the Estadio Wanda Metropolitano, as both teams chase a win to maintain any hope of catching La Liga leaders Barcelona.

The city lives and breathes football like few other places on earth, with many streets and squares having a direct connection with a current or former player, coach or president of either of its two biggest clubs.

The game is out at Atletico’s new Wanda Metropolitano home, about 45 minutes on metro line 7 from the city centre. 

Many rojiblanco fans still pine for their more centrally located old Estadio Vicente Calderon, although once you get there the 68,000 capacity Wanda offers a more comfortable matchday experience. 

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A stadium tour gives insider access to the super modern stadium, which hosts this season’s Champions League final in June.

The Estadio Santiago Bernabeu is a much more established part of the city’s social and cultural fabric. 

Built in 1947 on what was then a greenfield site, Real Madrid’s home is now an integral part of the capital’s financial, business and political heart, and the city’s second most visited tourist destination, even ahead of a planned €400 million renovation in the next few years.

Exhibits at the Bernabeu museum range from century-old boots and balls to multimedia installations allowing you to trade passes with Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema.

Outside the stadiums, football and the ‘derbi’ rivalry are almost as deeply imprinted on the city. Returning from the Bernabeu to the centre along Paseo de la Castellana, you encounter the 18th century Fuente de Cibeles. 

Madrid skipper Sergio Ramos followed the tradition of wrapping a white scarf around the goddess’ shoulders following June’s Champions League final win over Liverpool. (Ramos also infamously dropped the Copa del Rey trophy under the wheels of the team bus during early morning celebrations here in 2011).

Less than a kilometre further down the tree-lined avenue is the Fuente de Neptuno, where trophy celebrating Atleticos gather around the Roman God of the sea wielding his mighty trident. 

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The rojiblanco side’s last visit was in May after Antoine Griezmann fired his team to a Europa League trophy.

Happily for visitors with other interests besides football, both Cibeles and Neptuno are located right within Madrid’s world-class museum district. 

The priceless art collections of the Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen-Bornemisza are all within walking distance.

A ten-minute stroll towards the historic old core of the city takes you to the lively Puerta del Sol square — the ‘kilometre zero’ from where all road distances in Spain are measured. 

‘Oso y el Madroño’ (Bear and Strawberry Tree), which features on Atletico Madrid’s badge. Picture: iStock
‘Oso y el Madroño’ (Bear and Strawberry Tree), which features on Atletico Madrid’s badge. Picture: iStock

In Sol’s north-east corner, near the Apple Shop, stands the granite ‘Oso y el Madroño’ [Bear and Strawberry Tree] statue which features on Atletico’s club badge. Also close by are the many bars of Calle de la Cruz, the street where both Real and Atletico were formally established as clubs at the start of the 20th century.

A short walk down Calle Mayor takes you to the Royal Palace, the official residence of King Felipe VI, honorary club president since 2003. 

Felipe’s father Juan Carlos, king from 1975 until 2014, is a big Real fan who was in the dressing room with the players after last year’s European final win in Kiev. 

Walk downhill from the palace to the river Manzanares, and take a beautiful stroll through a modern urban park to the old Calderon.

But go soon as the crumbling concrete bowl is due for demolition later this year.

Football and shopping can also be mixed in Madrid. Hunters of old match programmes or vintage replica shirts should head for El Rastro flea market every Sunday morning on Plaza de Cascorro. 

The luxury brands have their outlets on Calle Serrano, near El Gran Retiro park in which Madrid played some of their early games. 

Serrano 49’s Gucci store is where ex-Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo reportedly met his current partner Georgina Rodriguez, when she was working there as a sales assistant.

Now at Juventus, Ronaldo will miss tomorrow’s game. But he, like most others to have lived in or visited the Spanish capital, will be watching. 

Few who experience football in Madrid, whether attending a game or not, can ever fully move on.

Explore top accommodation and eateries

Where to stay

Eurostars Madrid Tower, Paseo de la Castellana 259-B (eurostarsmadridtower.com)

Located high within a tower built on Madrid’s former training ground, Barcelona’s players have used this five-star hotel as a base before recent Clasicos.

Hotel NH Collection Madrid Eurobuilding, Calle de Padre Damian 23 (nh-hotels.com)

Just five minutes walk from the Bernabeu, this four star hotel is a good spot for attempting to spot former players and agents meeting for a drink pre-game.

Pestana CR7, Gran Via 29, (pestanacr7.com)

Ex-Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo’s relationship with Portuguese hotel chain Pestana is behind the soon to open Pestana CR7, currently under construction in a former bookshop in the city’s historic Gran Via thoroughfare.

Where to eat

Meson Txistu, Plaza Angel Carbajo 6 (mesontxistu.com)

A Basque grill near the Bernabeu where the Madrid team traditionally shared steaks to celebrate wins, as confirmed by walls filled with photos of past and present Blancos players, coaches and presidents.

Filandon, Carretera de el Pardo a Fuencarral (filandon.es)

A traditional fish and meat restaurant popular with players and coaches and located on the edge of the El Pardo park, which has hosted the traditional pre-derbi lunch between club presidents in recent years. Barack Obama and family also ate there last July.

BiBo, Paseo de la Castellana 52 (grupodanigarcia.com)

More modern design and menu at this new restaurant from avante-garde Andalusian chef Dani Garcia, Madrid captain Sergio Ramos brought the squad here for a team-bonding meal just last week.

La Mamona Chamberi, Calle de Ponzano 7, (lamamonachamberi.com)

Ideal spot for a late post-game supper in the city’s trendy Ponzano district, it has former Atletico Madrid forward Fernando Torres as an investor.

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