Santiago Bernabeu, Real Madrid's stadium in the heart of the Spanish capital(Getty Imagess)
Santiago Bernabeu, Real Madrid's stadium in the heart of the Spanish capital(Getty Imagess)

Madrid: A city in love with football

  • Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu and Atletico de Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano host games on alternate weekends all through the LaLiga season.
PUBLISHED ON MAR 02, 2021 02:53 PM IST

Rightly called the capital of world football in recent years, Madrid loves the sport like no other city on earth, with reminders of LaLiga ever-present as you move through the streets.

Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu and Atletico de Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano host games on alternate weekends all through the LaLiga season. If you fancy something different to the ‘big 2’ in the capital, Getafe CF are also in LaLiga Santander this year, while CD Leganés, Alcorcon, Rayo Vallecano and CF Fuenlabrada are both plying their trade in LaLiga SmartBank this season.

That’s just the start, however. All through the city are reminders that football has been intertwined with the city's history for more than a century, waiting for supporters of all teams to seek them out.

1. Museums at the Santiago Bernabeu and Wanda Metropolitano

Attending a LaLiga match at the Bernabeu or Wanda Metropolitano will be high on the itinerary of any football fan coming to Madrid, but visitors might also be keen to know that both stadiums are open during the week to allow supporters visit when games are not being played.

The Bernabeu stadium tour is the third-most visited tourist destination in Madrid, no mean feat considering the other world-class sights the city has to offer. The club museum has exhibits ranging from the boots worn by Santiago Bernabeu himself to multimedia installations placing you on the pitch next to stars such as Eden Hazard and Karim Benzema. You can also walk in the players' footsteps down the tunnel and out onto the sacred turf and ask questions in the media mixed zone.

The Wanda Metropolitano stadium tour offers similar access to Atletico’s super-modern new home, with fans welcomed to the dressing room and other behind the scenes areas where players including Luis Suárez and Joao Félix prepare for each game. You can also sit in coach Diego Simeone’s seat on the bench and pose for selfies with rojiblanco club mascot Indi himself.

2. Cibeles and Neptuno

Four kilometres from the Bernabeu, straight down the leafy Paseo de la Castellana, is the Fuente de Cibeles. Blancos fans will know that this 18th century neo-classical fountain, featuring the Greek Earth Mother goddess in a chariot being pulled by two roaring lions, plays a key part of each trophy celebration.

The tradition of the Real team captain wrapping a club scarf around the goddess’ shoulders dates from the mid-1980’s and is particularly associated with the ‘Quinta del Buitre’ side which won five consecutive LaLiga titles with current club director Emilio Butragueño in attack. Current skipper Sergio Ramos did the duty back in May 2017, when his club sealed a record 33rd LaLiga title. Cause there were no celebrations due to sanitary reasons after the 34th title in 2020.

Madrid's derby rivalry is so close that just 500 metres further along the street is the Fuente de Neptuno, with the marble Greek god of the sea shaking his mighty trident in front of the nearby world-renowned Prado art museum. Atletico de Madrid supporters come here to celebrate successes, such as their most recent LaLiga title in 2013/14.

3. Sol and Palace

At the very centre of Madrid is the Puerta del Sol square, the ‘kilometre zero’ from where all road distances in Spain are measured, and a bustling spot filled with life and energy 24 hours a day.

Both Madrid and Atletico have club shops nearby, handy for match tickets, memorabilia and souvenirs, while eagle-eyed visitors will also spot the granite ‘Oso y Madroño’ [Bear and Strawberry Tree] statue from Atletico’s club badge in Sol’s north-east corner. Across the square is the Real Casa de Correos, once the royal post office but now the seat of the regional government from whose balcony Real Madrid and Atletico players address their fans the day after winning a trophy.

A short walk down Calle Mayor takes you to the Royal Palace, official home of the Kings of Spain for centuries, although the Palacio de Zarzuela is the real home of the King Felipe VI, a big Atletico supporter since his youth and honorary president of the club since 2003. Felipe’s father Juan Carlos, King from 1975 until 2014, is a confirmed Real Madrid fan and was a regular Bernabeu visitor. Must have made for interesting derby-day family conversations through the years…

4. Rastro and Madrid Río

Football memorabilia hunters will not want to miss Madrid’s Rastro flea market, which sprawls out from Plaza de Cascorro down the La Ribera de Curtidores and surrounding streets. Each Sunday morning, open-air stalls sell everything imaginable, including all kinds of football memorabilia, from authentic match programmes to commemorative figures to vintage replica shirts.

A short stroll further south of the city centre is the Manzanares river, where the old Estadio Vicente Calderon was placed and now fully demolished, where Atletico played from 1966 until 2017. Stretching in each direction is the ‘Madrid Río’ park, a recreation and culture area packed with things to do for children. There are also public five-a-side football pitches, where visitors bringing their own boots can join in pick-up games.

5. Ribeyes and Sirloins

Fans visiting Madrid also have a chance to eat in restaurants frequented by LaLiga stars, and if they’re very lucky maybe even spot a Real or Atletico player tucking into a post-match steak.

Meson Txistu on Plaza Angel Carbajo is where Real’s players traditionally ate together to celebrate LaLiga wins, as confirmed by walls showing photos of past and present Blancos players, coaches and presidents. The nearby Asador Donostiarra on Calle de la Infanta Mercedes offers a similar meat-heavy menu, and pictures inside confirm it hosted the party when Atletico won the title in May 2014. Current Atletico coach Diego Simeone is also known to visit the Di Maria grill on Calle Felix Boix.

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