5 reasons to make Madrid your next sustainable escape

With its leafy parks, local food and pedestrian-friendly zones, Madrid is one of Europe’s greenest capital cities – here’s how to experience it the eco-friendly way

Team Wanderlust
17 August 2023
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Discover Madrid

Designated the world’s second-leafiest city thanks to its myriad of tree-lined streets and parks, Madrid is something of a haven for green space, and it’s easy to explore sustainably. You’ll find a number of pedestrianised areas here, alongside an excellent network of cycle lanes – and with an emphasis on seasonal food and made-in-Madrid crafts, there’s a focus on keeping things local, too.

1. It’s easy to explore on foot

Lively Puerta del Sol square has recently been pedestrianised (Shutterstock)

Madrid is something of a mecca for walkers – wide pavements line the main thoroughfares, including the iconic Gran Vía and the Calle de Alcalá, and many of its attractions are close enough together to explore on foot.

In the centre, the lively square of Puerta del Sol was recently pedestrianised, creating an escape from the bustle, while Plaza de España has also been remodelled to prioritise walkers; visitors can now reach iconic spots including the Royal Palace, the Teatro Real and the Temple of Debod on foot, with elaborate Baroque and Neoclassical architecture for a backdrop.

As a bonus, you’ll find plenty of shade along the way, with nearly 300,000 trees scattered across the city (a fact that saw Madrid awarded ‘Tree City of the World’ status in 2019 by the FAO and Arbor Day Foundation). Wander along the Paseo del Prado for one of the most pleasant tree-lined strolls in the city, with leaves dappling the pavement between elegant fountains and sculptures, or stroll the narrow streets of Las Letras, which are either fully pedestrianised or restricted to minimise traffic.

2. You can see it on two wheels (or by electric bus)

Madrid has thousands of electric bikes to help you explore the city responsibly (Shutterstock)

If you fancy getting around a little faster, hop on the saddle. As part of its recently upgraded BiciMAD system, Madrid now offers more than 3,000 fully electric bikes, which you can pick up and dock at around 250 stations across the city.

You’ll also find various cycle shops offering day-long hire, especially close to the main parks, and there’s a network of bike paths to follow around the centre if you want to see Madrid’s architectural highlights from two wheels.

But for an alternative, still eco-friendly, way to get around, jump on a bus; the city recently became the first major city in Europe to operate an entire fleet of clean buses, all powered by either electric, natural gas or hydrogen engines. Called the ‘Líneas Cero’, the electric buses are free to use and mark part of the city’s wide-sweeping Madrid 360 Environmental Sustainability Strategy, launched in 2019.

3. It has plenty of green spaces

El Retiro Park is Madrid’s emerald jewel (Shutterstock)

With nearly 16 million square metres of greenery spread across the city, Madrid isn’t lacking when it comes to fresh air, with tiny tranquil gardens meeting huge, verdant parks.

Among its most famous spots is El Retiro, located in the centre and designated a Unesco World Heritage Site in conjunction with the nearby Paseo del Prado. Rowing on the lake is an idyllic way to take in its sculpture-dotted grounds, once owned by the Spanish monarchy, while its lush, leafy stretches invite leisurely summer strolls.

To the west of the city lies Casa de Campo, a former hunting ground for the kings that spans 1,500 hectares of forest and is a hotspot for hiking and cycling, spanning five times the size of New York’s Central Park. Elsewhere, the Madrid Río Park is a popular spot for nature-lovers with its six-mile stretch of greenery, built around the Manzanares River, as is Parque del Oeste, home to the ancient Egyptian Temple of Debod (given as a gift to the city in 1968).

Beyond the more famous names, you’ll find plenty of smaller gardens sprinkled across the capital, from the Jardines de San Francisco, located next to its namesake Basilica in La Latina, to Quinta de Los Molinos, a little-known park in the El Salvador neighbourhood where fragrant almond trees bloom besides olive, pine and eucalyptus trees.

It doesn’t end there, though. The city is further developing its green space with the creation of the Metropolitan Forest, a 75-kilometre-long green belt set to encircle the city. Designed to provide a habitat for biodiversity and further enhance the city’s air quality, the forest will be home to 450,000 new trees and other flora when it’s completed in the coming years, alongside a number of hiking and biking paths, dog trails, children’s zones and plenty more.

4. It keeps its gastronomy local

Head to Mercado de San Miguel for local tapas (Madrid Destino)

It’s not only in the parks Madrid is going green, with an emphasis on organic, seasonal and sustainable food found across the city’s culinary scene. Almost every neighbourhood has its own market here, making it easy to pick up local goods – from fresh fruit and vegetables to cured meats, cheeses, wines, olive oils and more.

For some of the best zero-kilometre produce, don’t miss the Mercado de San Miguel, a 100 year-old, renovated food hall with more than 30 delicatessen stands and 15 restaurants. While you’re here, tuck into paella by Michelin-starred chef Rodrigo de la Calle, washed down with a rioja. Follow it up with a homemade ice-cream at the Rocambolesc parlour, run by three Michelin-starred chef Jordi Roca (whose restaurant, El Celler de Can Roca, was twice voted the best in the world).

For a lesser-visited alternative, head to the stylish Mercado de San Antón in the neighbourhood of Chueca, home to three floors of gourmet stands and tapas bars alongside a stylish rooftop restaurant, or swing by Vallehermoso; this lively market has made the neighbourhood of Chamberí something of a foodie paradise, with classic meat, vegetable and seafood stalls rubbing shoulders with innovative chefs rustling up dishes from across the world.

Beyond the markets, Madrid’s restaurants are going local too. Vegetable-forward spot El Invernadero has been awarded a Green Michelin Star for its focus on sustainability, as has the stylish, two Michelin-starred venue Coque, whose chef Mario Sandoval grows his own ingredients.

Double Michelin-starred chef Paco Roncero has meanwhile opened a cookery school with its own restaurant, Seeds, focused on all things local, while more laid-back spots like Mama Campo, Buenas y Santas and La Vaquería Montañesa are also putting the focus on organic eco-dining.

5. You can see Madrid’s artisans at work

Sombrerería Medrano is just one of Madrid’s locally run artisanal shops (Madrid Destino)

That focus on sustainability extends to Madrid’s craft heritage, with one-off artisanal stores offering visitors the chance to buy local, and clustered around the neighbourhoods of Salesas, Lavapiés, Las Letras, Chueca, Malasaña and La Latina.

To see one of the oldest artisanal businesses in the city, pay a visit to Sombrerería Medrano, a family-run hat-maker founded in in the historic Sol neighbourhood in 1832 that’s been passed down through three generations. Close by sits Capas Seseña, a legendary cape shop opened in 1901 that was famously graced by Picasso (who was buried with a Seseña cape, given as a gift from his wife). Meanwhile in La Latina, you’ll find Guitarras Ramírez, run by the descendants of famous guitar-maker José Ramírez.

Beyond these long-standing names, a new wave of artisans are continuing the trend. In the trendy district of Malasaña, Javier Medina sells animal sculptures made with natural, sustainable materials like rattan, and offers workshops for visitors wanting to get creative themselves. In Las Letras, Andrés Gallardo crafts jewellery in his studio-shop, while nearby workshop La Peseta sells sustainable clothing, accessories and other handicrafts sourced locally.

Other sustainable businesses well worth a visit include The Circular Project, which sells fashion from responsible, circular brands, and Ecoalf, whose USP is creating clothes from materials salvaged from the sea – a testament to Madrid’s flare for mixing creativity with sustainability, if ever there was one.

Feeling inspired?

Madrid is a city that is much greener than you think and Spain’s capital will surprise you with its array of sustainable experiences. This article is just the start; there’s many more green corners of Madrid waiting to be discovered. For more information, head to the official Madrid Tourist Board website or visit its social channels.

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