With so much on from May 12 to 16 while Madrid rolls out the red carpet for its patron saint, San Isidro, how will you decide what to do? Obviously you're welcome to roam around the city taking it all in, and joining in on whatever you fancy, but to help you narrow it down a bit, we've selected 11 highlights so you're sure to get a bit of everything: traditional activities, special San Isidro food, concerts and kids' activities.
This is without a doubt the epicentre of the San Isidro festivities, and where you'll find a wide and rich selection of activities all hours of the day and night that offer something for everyone. During the day you'll find activities that are usually on at the Pradera every year, including parades, traditional dances, sampling of traitional Madrid 'cocido' stew and paella, etc. When evening comes, the live music gets underway: dance bands start off and lead into performances by pop, rock and hip hop artists, among others. A fireworks show sees the festival at the Pradera out with a bang at midnight on Monday 16.
Two Irishmen, an Englishman and an American who have adopted Madrid as their home, Track Dogs take their name from that given to maintenance teams who work on the New York City subway system. They're putting on an acoustic concert with guitar, bass, cajón, banjo, ukelele and trumpet to play tracks from their new album 'Serenity Sessions'. Don't miss this energetic band out to show you a good time.
Head to the Estanque (great pond) in the Retiro park for one of the most special events during the San Isidro festival: the 'piromusical' shows with fireworks, music and other visual elements. For a couple of hours before these shows you'll also be treated to music by DJs who will help keep you busy dancing so you don't have to just tap your foot anxiously awaiting the main event.
The next bit of good news we heard after finding out that the duo of Najwa Nimri and Carlos Jean are back at work was the announcement of their first concert in Spain to present their first new album in seven years. 'Bonzo', released on the label MUWOM, is a purely electronic, sensual and modern album that lives up to all the duo's previous works. Don't miss their performing new tracks as well as those fans already know and love, including 'Crime', 'Dead for You' and 'Drive Me'. Theirs is a highly anticipated concert on in Plaza Mayor during the San Isidro festivities.
The City of Madrid has a young association created to bring back the somewhat forgotten traditional parade characters of the Madrid City Hall, including the 'gigantes' (giants) and 'cabezudos' (bigheads). This parade of characters – which were first introduced to the city in the 1970s – will head out again through town to liven up the San Isidro festivities. They start their merry-making route in Plaza de la Villa, then head to Plaza de Santo Domingo, Plaza de Callao, Puerta del Sol, and the Mercado de San Miguel, before heading back to Plaza de la Villa, where they're welcomed by 'chulapos' – boys and girls in traditional Madrid dress.
In the Lavapiés neighbourhood's Plaza Duque de Alba, the Lavapiés All Star Jazz Band collective of musicians are putting on a one-of-a-kind jazz concert. Expect a repertoire of traditional jazz – with origins between 1917 and 1940, including styles such as Dixieland and New Orleans, as well as some early swing; and to re-create the golden years, the band are using original instrumentation. It's also a programme especially designed for dancing, so the lindy hop community will be out in force, and you're welcome to join in or just enjoy the show.
Eat a Bocadillo de calamares or two
Don't wrinkle up your nose until you've tried it. Ladies and gentlemen, Madrid's famous fried-calamari sandwich. And if it already sounds good to you, be sure to get yours from one of places in the city that does them the best. Grab a classic version at El Brillante or Bar Postas, and if you're feeling a bit more daring, you could try the one at Punk Brach (see photo), where they fry their calamari in tempura and blacken the bread with ñora peppers and squid ink.
The Sound Isidro festival is back to fill Madrid with some great live music in some of the city's top music venues including El Sol, Costello, Moby Dick, La Riviera and the Teatro Barceló, among others. You can catch great acts on the national and international indie and rock scene, some of which are Animal Collective, Buzzcocks, Toy, Jonathan Wilson, La Maravillosa Orquesta Del Alcohol, Pony Bravo, Joan Colomo and The Zephyr Bones. For more info, check out the full programme.
The Nzuri Daima Foundation is pitching in for San Isidro as well, with the fantastic and joyful 33-member Coro Safari. Through music and songs for kids in various languages, this choir from Uganda aims to build a bridge that unites kids from around the world so they can discover their similarities no matter their background or where they're from.
Savour some rosquillas
These cookie-like treats are also popular during the festival, and you can find them plain or covered with icing for a sweeter kick. Get them at Casa Mira, a shop that's been around since 1855 with the original façade to prove it; El Riojano, where you can also admire the 1800s architecture and have breakfast in the café; and the highly recommended La Mallorquina, where you'll also have to try their 'napolitana' pastries and go upstairs for a great view of Plaza del Sol below.
Local associations that best represent the entrenched folklore of Madrid have provided a complete, varied and authentic programme of activities for everyone to have fun year during the San Isidro festival. Workshops and performances of children's groups help the little ones in your family get to know and appreciate local cultural tradition through painting, music, puppets and crafts.