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Live the breathtaking magic of Madrid

Spain is known for sun, sand and sangria, but the capital Madrid in the centre of the country has as much magic to offer as any seaside resort.

The city’s long streets, beautiful parks and museums are enough to make a person fall in love, but the incredible quality of the bars and restaurants will make you want to stay. Walking around the compact city is easy to do, and each street offers an array of food and drink just waiting to be sampled.

Madrid is a meat eater’s delight, as the Spanish love ham (or jamon), with jamonerias on every corner. For an authentic experience, try the Museo del Jamon on Carrera San Jeronimo. There are great legs of Iberico ham in the windows and behind the counter, with sausage and cured meats piled high on display. The restaurant offers sandwiches, tapas and raciones of cheese, or an a la carte menu, as well as a range of beer and wine. Our favourites were the platinum ham Iberico Bellota and the homemade ham and cheese croquettes. The Museo also has a deli counter, for when that on the go ham craving hits. Meat lovers definitely do not want to miss this one.

And although vegetarianism isn’t predominant in Madrid’s restaurant scene, there are a few diamonds in the rough. Vega is the city’s best vegan spot. It is tucked away on Calle de la Luna, and you would be forgiven for not noticing it at all. But once inside, the quirky interior and incredibly friendly staff make you feel at home. But either get there early or reserve a table, because this cosy restaurant is full all night. The menu is detailed and delicious, with tapas, salads, soups and mains. Try the mushroom croquettes or ‘burrata’ on black garlic alioli with truffle oil, tomatoes and almonds. The mains are well planned and the attention to detail is astounding. Every flavour has been picked carefully to compliment the dish. Our favourites were the black rice with ‘squid’ artichokes, asparagus and sweet garlic mayonnaise, and the brochettes of heura and veggies with satay sauce and Japanese rice thin noodles. The salads are fresh and tasty too, with the Thai bowl of spinach, quinoa, red lentils, cashews, tomatoes, sweet potato and lime and chilli mayonnaise a delicious lighter option.

Desserts aren’t overlooked either. The chocolate, coconut and hazelnut mousse was amazingly light and creamy and the panna cotta with hibiscus, chia caviar and roasted pineapple is fresh and delicious.

Another veggie haven is Viva Burger in Costanilla de San Andrés. This colourful restaurant is set in a picturesque square, which along with the amazing food, makes it very hard to leave. The gourmet burger joint says it has worked for years to maintain the health of the customers and the planet. Viva Burger specialises in vegan burgers, as well as salads, wraps, skewers and home-made cakes. And unlike many veggie or vegan burgers, the patties of each burger are made from different ingredients. Our favourites were the Japanese burger, with corn and spelt bread, seaweed, wild asparagus, sweet and sour ginger and red onion, and the Arab, with falafel, orange, prunes, plums, walnuts and mint dressing. Or try the Magreb salad, which consists of falafel, cabbage, raisins, almonds, lettuce and mint dressing.

We all love to eat on holiday, but finding a perfect spot in the sun for a drink is also one of life’s great missions. So where better to enjoy a cocktail than on a rooftop overlooking the whole city? On top of the  Circulo de Bellas Artes  on the Calle Alcala is one of the best spots for a panoramic view of Madrid. The chilled out bar offers classic cocktails, wine, beer and spirits. With sofas in the middle of the floor and tables to the side of the spacious roof, you can lounge and take in the breath-taking sights while sipping an Aperol spritz. There is also a more formal enclosed dining area with floor to ceiling windows. It offers brunch, sandwiches and classic Spanish tapas, such as patatas bravas, Iberico sausages and marinated anchovies.

Madrid has so much beautiful culture to offer, from the Prado Museum to the Jardin Botanico. The wide, elegant streets of the city centre wind into the cobbled back roads of the old town and palace. One particular hub of activity is the San Miguel market, just off Plaza Mayor. From the outside, the enclosed market looks like another shopfront, but inside the wrought iron and glass exterior is one of the liveliest spots in the city. The market offers a huge variety of food, drink and produce. Stalls sell fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and seafood, while bars and eateries offer wine and beer with tapas and sweet treats. The Sherry Corner offers a tasting menu, and the Pinkleton wine bar houses a huge selection of wine to take away or to have by the glass as you enjoy the rest of the market. And a trip to Spain would not be complete without a generous helping of sangria, so get down to the back corner of the market to enjoy a deliciously refreshing glass (or two). Or if sangria isn’t your thing, try a barraquito, which is a shot of espresso, condensed milk, liquor 43, milk, lemon rind and cinnamon for a sweet treat.

The Buen Retiro Park, one of the city’s largest, is a perfect place to spend the afternoon after a morning at the market. Close to the Prado Museum, it stretches for 1.4 square kilometres and transports you far away from a city centre. The park is dotted with cafes offering soft drinks, beers and ice creams and is an unmissable experience.

Madrid is fast becoming our new favourite destination. While many city breaks can be less relaxed than a beach getaway, Madrid’s laid back attitude to life is exactly what a holiday needs. We suggest you take advantage of the cheap flights and book a trip asap, because this is one place you don’t want to miss.