Twice in recent years, Madrid was the centre of the football universe when the Spanish capital provided both teams for the Champions League Final. In 2014, fans of Real and recently crowned Spanish champions Atlético Madrid descended on Lisbon. When the same city rivals met at the San Siro in 2016, it was the same late heartbreak for working-class Atlético.
Only the width of a goalpost separated the teams in Milan, Real’s Cristiano Ronaldo inevitably putting away the crucial spot kick in the shoot-out.
In 2018, Real’s lifted Europe’s premier club trophy for a record 13th time, winning three Champions League crowns in a row, a first in the history of the money-spinning tournament.
After such victories, Real fans party in Madrid’s Plaza de Cibeles. Atlético’s memorable league triumph of 2014 was celebrated at the nearby Plaza de Neptuno. Geographically, apart from bitter meetings between two at least twice a season on the football pitch, this is pretty much the closest both sets of supporters come to each other.
Real are football’s royalty, basking in their stately home of the Bernabéu Stadium near the city centre. Its turf has been graced by the likes of Di Stéfano, Puskás, Ronaldo, Zidane, Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo, striding out in Real’s famous all-white strip.
While the Bernabéu is surrounded by grand façades and banks, Atlético have moved from the south of the city to what is now called the Wanda Metropolitano in the far eastern outskirts. For Real the big game is El Clásico with Barcelona; for the ‘Colchoneros’ (‘Mattress Makers’) of Atlético, it’s El Derbi madrileño.
Both clubs have their roots in the early 1900s, Real as Madrid FC, whose dissident members helped form Atlético. It wasn’t until 1929 that the rivals met, in the inaugural Spanish league.
Key board member Santiago Bernabéu brought in goalkeeper Ricardo Zamora to claim their first league titles in the early 1930s. Zamora later became a rare hero for both clubs when he coached Atlético to their first league title a decade later.
As chairman, Bernabéu transformed Real into world-beaters, on a completely different plane from every Spanish club but one. Atlético have treated their significant fan base to moments of glory with the European Cup run of 1974, the double year of 1996 and the heroic title win of 2014.
Getafe, from the Madrid suburbs, surprised many by maintaining a league presence from 2004, mainly thanks to foreign coaches such as Bernd Schuster and Michael Laudrup. A cup final appearance and memorable extra-time defeat to Bayern Munich in the UEFA Cup were other highlights. Fellow Madrid also-rans Rayo Vallecano are based at the staunchly left-wing district of Vallecas, where Atlético had their first home. Rayo have been yo-yoing between divisions for years.
Both these lesser-known Madrid clubs were relegated at the end of 2015-16. In their place, from the suburban community of Leganés on the Madrid commuter-train network, come CD Leganés, local rivals of Getafe and first-time top-flight competitors in 2016-17.
Still stuck in the Segunda, AD Alcorcón missed out on a play-off place by the narrowest of margins. Based in the southern suburb of the same name, Alcorcón were responsible for perhaps the biggest Spanish Cup upset of all time, the 4-0 thrashing of Real Madrid, Benzema, van Nistelrooy and all, in 2009. Knocking on the door of La Liga two years running, Alcorcón lost out to Girona at the one-but final hurdle in 2013. The Yellows play at the Estadio Municipal de Santo Domingo, near Las Retamas station on the C5 line (every 15min from Atocha, 15min journey time).
Almost joining them in 2016 were Real Madrid’s reserve side, Real Madrid Castilla, who play at the Estadio Alfredo di Stéfano at the club’s training complex at Valdebebas. Like all B sides, Castilla are ineligible to play in the top flight but enjoyed a moment of glory by reaching the Spanish Cup Final in 1980. Although losing to, of all teams, Real Madrid 6-1, Castilla qualified for the Cup-Winners’ Cup, and played West Ham at the Bernabéu. In 2016, Real Madrid Castilla lost in the Segunda B play-off to UCAM Murcia.
Madrid-Barajas Airport is 13km (8 miles) north-east of the city centre, linked by metro line 8 to Nuevos Ministerios (15mins). A metro or bus ticket is €1.50, a ten-trip metrobús pass is €12.20, plus €3 for the airport supplement. A taxi to or from the airport incurs a supplement of €5.50 and should cost around €25 to town. Call +34 91 371 2131.
The Madrid Tourist Office on Plaza Mayor has a hotel-booking service.
Around the centrally located Bernabéu, you’ll find a business-friendly Holiday Inn; the pleasant four-star Hotel Gran Atlanta; and the stylish Rafael Orense at C/Pedro Texeira 5. Near Atlético, there’s another Holiday Inn, the Pirámides and the three-star Hotel Puerta de Toledo (Glorieta Puerta de Toledo 4, +34 914 74 71 00).
All roads lead to Sol, Madrid’s bar hub by the metro station of the same name. Celtic haunts dot the city: the Triskel Tavern has been a popular football watching spot for 15 years, particularly its busy basement, La Caverna. Also central are Molly Malone’s (C/Mañuela Malasana 11), O’Neill’s and James Joyce, with three large screens near the Plaza de Cibeles where Real Madrid fans celebrate. Finally, the O’Connell, St bar (C/Espoz y Mina 7) is probably the closest one to the action around Sol. More Anglophone is the Mad Dogs Tavern at C/Rodriguez San Pedro 9, between Argüelles and San Bernardo metro stops.
Locals frequent spots such as the sports bar at Preciados 38 and the more traditional La Fontana de Oro in the Sol bar hub. Also on the local radar are the Penaltí Lounge Bars, set up by three young Madrileños in 2011, with big-screen action, affordable burgers and a special pre-match drinks menu. There’s one branch near the Bernabéu, at C/Dr Fleming 3, and one at Avenida Reina Victoria 15 near Cuatro Caminos.
Finally, football-focused La Cervecería Deportiva, set on the corner of C/de las Conchas 10 and Costanilla de los Ángeles, is a handy spot for match-watching over tapas, cañas and platos, surrounded by mounted memorabilia.