Madrid, the capital of world football

Image Credit (LaLiga Content Hub Images)
Image Credit (LaLiga Content Hub Images)

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 Bernabéu and Atlético de Madrid’s Cívitas Metropolitano host games on alternate weekends all through the LaLiga season. If you fancy something different to the ‘big two’ in the capital, Getafe CF and Rayo Vallecano are also in LaLiga Santander this year.

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 Bernabéu and Cívitas Metropolitano

Attending a LaLiga match at the Bernabéu or Cívitas 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 to visit when games are not being played.

The Bernabéu 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 Bernabéu himself to multimedia installations placing you on the pitch next to stars such as Luka Modric 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 Cívitas Metropolitano stadium tour offers similar access to Atleti’s super-modern new home, with fans welcomed to the dressing room and other behind-the-scenes areas where players including Antoine Griezmann and Jan Oblak 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 Bernabéu, 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 in each trophy celebration.
The tradition of the Real Madrid team captain wrapping a club scarf around the goddess’ shoulders dates from the mid-1980s and is particularly associated with the ‘Quinta del Buitre’ side which won five consecutive LaLiga titles with current club director Emilio Butragueño in the attack.

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. Atlético de Madrid supporters come here to celebrate successes, such as their most recent LaLiga Santander title in 2020/21.

3. Sol and Palace

At the very centre of Madrid are 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 Real Madrid and Atlético 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 Atleti’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 Atlético players address their fans the day after winning a trophy.

A short walk down Calle Mayor takes you to the Royal Palace, the official home of the Kings of Spain for centuries, although the Palacio de Zarzuela is the real home of King Felipe VI, a big Atleti 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 Bernabéu 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 is now fully demolished, where Atleti 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 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 Madrid or Atlético de Madrid player tucking into a post-match steak.

Meson Txistu on Plaza Angel Carbajo is where Real Madrid’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 Atlético won the title in May 2014. Current Atleti coach Diego Simeone is also known to visit the Di Maria grill on Calle Felix Boix.

Image Credit (LaLiga Content Hub Images) Atleti s Wanda Metropolitano stadium