By Rick Lugtenberg & Noëlle Batelaan
Spain is a popular holiday destination among students. Unfortunately, most students will rather visit a city near the coast or one of Spanish islands instead of the capital Madrid. This is a pity, because Madrid has much to offer. First of all, it is an affordable destination. This allows people with a small budget to see and do a lot. Secondly, Madrid is much less crowded with tourists compared to Barcelona. Therefore, you can experience the real Spanish lifestyle and still have an enormous range of cultural activities. In this selection you will find the best places for students to visit. From laid back parks to exciting history, art and cultural venues. Most of those places offer student discount or are free to visit.
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After a long day of walking, you will definitely find your rest here. At this square, surrounded by 18th century architecture, you will find many bars and restaurants.
“At this square you will also find a lot of tourist entertainment. Most people hate that, but I kind of like it when an old man is playing on his guitar and singing old Spanish songs. It is nice to see how they are really creative in getting tourist money,” says Stephany Sosa (28). She is from Argentina and has been working for over 8 months now in the Ok Hostel in Madrid.
Plaza Mayor (Main Square) is an important square in Madrid. It was built in 1619. After multiple fires, the whole square had to be rebuilt in 1790. Architect Juan de Villanueva designed the square as you see it today.
Also, you will find the main tourist information point here. They will provide you with all the information you want to know about Madrid.
Museo Nacional del Prado
Calle Ruiz de Alarcón 23
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One of the most famous art museums in the world is the Museo Nacional del Prado. The Prado museum has been described as a museum of painters and not of paintings, given that the collectors aimed to assemble as many works as possible by their favorite artists, for example, Bosch, Titian, El Greco, Rubens, Velázquez and Goya. The collection of European art dates from the 12th century to the early 20th century. With over 7,600 paintings, 1,000 sculptures, 4,800 prints and 8,200 drawings, in addition to a large number of other works of art and historic documents, there is much to see for the cultural-art lover.
“What I like about this museum is that you really can see the big artists that Europe has to offer,” says Stephanie Sosa.
You might think that a visit to such a museum will cost a fortune, but students between the age of 18 and 25 years old, can visit the Prado museum for free.
Palacio de Cristal
Paseo República de Cuba, 4
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In the middle of ‘Parque de El Retiro’, one of the largest parks in Madrid, you will find an imposing crystal palace. Palacio de Cristal is made mainly out of glass. It was built in 1887 and designed by architect Ricardo Velázquez Bosco. At that time it was constructed for an art project and since then it has continued to attract different art projects. Right now, there is a sound exhibition of Lothar Baumgarten. In his exhibition you hear sounds of ice thawing on the banks of the Hudson River, and that in a fragile building as the Palacio de Cristal. Like all of Bauman’s work, he tries to question and reflect on western systems.
After watching the exhibition, you can, like the locals, have a drink in the stunning Parque de El Retiro. Right in front of the Palacio de Cristal you will find a beautiful lake with a fountain and waterfall. And throughout the park you will see different trees from different countries, which gives a funny sight: a palm tree next to a pine tree.
Maria Grijalva (26), who works at the tourist information point at Plaza Mayor, recommends the palace. “I always go to Parque Retiro to have a picnic with my friends. And if I go there, my favorite spot is to sit on the grass next to the Palacio de Cristal. I enjoy the sound of the small waterfall that is in the lake there. During summertime it is one of the best cooling down places in Madrid. Besides, most of the time there are also a lot of people there and I like it to watch people,” says Maria.
The Royal Palace is an absolute must see once you are in Madrid, even if you are not into history. Its beauty and its elegance will surprise you. The Royal Palace was built in the 18th century. It is still an official residence for the Spanish royal family, but currently, they are not living in the building. Only for important ceremonies the royal family still uses it.
Normally the palace is open for visitors, but if there are special ceremonies, it will be closed.
The Royal Palace has a great art selection. The tour guides will bring you back in time and explain everything about the Spanish monarchy.
The lady behind the desk in the Palacio, Clara Gil (28), has no problem in summing up reasons why you should go in. “This palace is huge! Inside you get a good idea of how the Spanish kings used to live here. You can see the rooms, which are still being used by the king. Furthermore, it is a palace with a lot of ancient pieces. Definitely something you must see.”
If you are in Madrid on the first Wednesday of the month, you can see the changing of the guards. It is a spectacle parade of soldiers shifting, supported by a fanfare.
The Royal Palace has a special student offer. Students pay 6 euros for entree and entrance to the exposition.
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía
Santa Isabel, 52
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Going to the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (MNCARS), means being surrounded by contemporary and modern art. With over 4,000 paintings, 3,000 drawings, 1,400 statues and their show piece Guernica from Pablo Picasso, there is much to see for a true art-lover. The museum was founded in 1992 and it was named after the Spanish queen Sofia. MNCARS is located in what used to be a hospital building in the 18th century.
Juan Guzman (31) works at the OkHostel. “Many tourists who are coming to Madrid come for its art. The Reina Sofia museum is then a true must see. I like how the rooms are connected: it feels a bit chaotic. You really can feel lost there. The best thing is that it is free for all students under the age of 26.”
After paying a visit, the museum recommends their visitors to go to La Central shop-bookshop. Its selection of over 65,000 publications is, by and large, devoted to art and contains the entire bibliography related to the exhibitions and activities inside the museum.
Student, who are under the age of 26, have free admission with accreditation. This is beneficial for students who have a low budget.
“Everybody who is in Madrid on a Sunday, should pay a visit to this market. Here you will find the Spanish way of living. For example, typical food for Madrid, like the many different hams we have here,” says Juan Guzman.
Take a look at Madrid’s oldest and iconic street market. This market is only open on Sundays and is located in the district Embajadores, which is part of the center. You will find the best second-hand clothes, jewelry, decorative items, vinyl records, T-shirts of bands, souvenirs of Madrid, prints and drawings.
The market starts at 9 a.m. and it is better to be there early. At noon, the streets will be packed up with a lot of people, both locals and tourists.
Strolling down the street, you will hear vendors screaming about their best deals, street musicians playing Spanish songs and the sound of a nice and cozy street market. When you have found the item you needed, make sure you haggle. Haggling is the norm on this street market. After making a good bargain and trying some classical Madrid wafers, the best thing to do is to stop off for a drink and a bite in the bars of La Latina.