I’m lucky enough to have traveled to Madrid, Spain four times now, and there’s a reason it keeps me comin’ back. If Barcelona is the LA of Spain, consider Madrid the New York City. Maybe that explains why no two trips have been the same. The city is always alive, and with limitless things to do, places to see, and interesting people to watch, dull moments in Madrid just don’t exist.
The first time I went was a few years ago when the whole fam damily visited Kelsie for a week while she was studying abroad. Not only was this my first time in Europe, but I think it was my first time in such a big city. Talk about sensory overload.
The trip was planned by study abroad professors since it was Texas Tech’s spring break. We took a bus from Seville to Madrid and stopped in Toledo, Segovia and El Escorial along the way. El Escorial is one of the largest religious establishments in the world and was commissioned by King Philip II. The vast palace houses a breathtaking basilica, library, and the Pantheon of Kings, a crypt which is the final resting place for most Spanish monarchs since Charles V. El Escorial lies about 28 miles from Madrid and is an easy and fascinating day trip.
Since Madrid is the capital of Spain, it’s an extremely international city. You can find any cuisine and language under the hot Spanish sun. Most likely, you wont have to worry about a communication barrier, but I always suggest brushing up a bit on the local language- they’ll appreciate the effort.
|Sipping vino on the roof of Hotel Moderno|
|Mercado de San Miguel|
For first-timers, a great place to start exploring is Puerta del Sol. We’ll call it The Times Square of Madrid. It’s always hustling and bustling with people, street performers, and promoters (beware). A handful of side streets shoot out from the middle of the plaza and wind into different areas. There is no shortage of restaurants near Puerta del Sol, but try to pop into ones a little further from the main area. Places closer to the center tend to be pricey tourist traps.
|Marks where all the main roads in Spain originate // Puerta del Sol|
Once you get your bearings, venture out to discover the endless other things Madrid has to offer. You can easily walk most of the city, but hopping on and off the Metro is also a quick way to get around. Head to Plaza Mayor, Plaza de España, and Plaza de Oriente to check out different historical and cultural districts. By my third time in the city I was aimlessly walking all over the place with no hesitation. You know that phrase “Not all who wander are lost?” For me, it was more like “Not all who wander are lost….but yeah I’m a little lost.” Isn’t that where the fun begins though?
After a day of exploring, head back to your hotel for a siesta or throw back a few café con leches because it’s time to party. Madrileños. Know. How. To. Party. The night usually begins with tapas for dinner, tapas leads to after-dinner drinks, those drinks lead to…a whole lotta fun. You can go two ways with this: a laid-back night of drinking with friends and strangers in a dimly lit bar OR all-out confetti in your hair, dancing to a live DJ in a seven story club lit by strobe lights and sparklers. We’ve done both and had just as much fun in either situation. If you’re going the discoteca route- do your research! Look up if the club will have a DJ, what the cover is, dress code (they take this seriously), or if there’s a flier or promotion to get a discounted cover charge. The good thing about these entrance fees is they usually come with a couple “free” drinks once you get in. Even if clubs aren’t your scene, it sure is a fun one-time experience!
Now, considering the size and history of this city, this post just skims the surface of the adventures to be had in Madrid. Use this as a Beginners Guide, then discover your own favorites! Every trip to Madrid has been a memorable one, and I hope to have many more in the future.
|Sangria at Lateral|
|Plaza de Santa Ana|
- Resaurante Lateral– Fabulous tapas bar in Plaza de Santa Ana. Get there early (around 9:00 p.m. for Spaniards) because it fills up fast! Theres a little box on each table kind of like a remote. You just click a button and a waiter arrives to take your order, its basically magic. We loved this idea because we would order a couple of tapas, then later order a few more, then some more…you get the idea. The pitcher of sangria is delicious and could easily serve 2-3 people for the whole meal. The restaurant is trendy yet authentic and filled with a mix of locals and tourists.
- La Negra Tomasa– An absolute favorite of ours. On each trip to Madrid I’m sure to go here at least once (usually more). Wonderful traditional Cuban food for when you need a break from tapas and jamón. Most nights they have live music, which makes it a perfect place to go before heading out on the town. Be sure to try the mojitos!
- Casa Mingo– This is the oldest cider house in Madrid, and most likely the oldest in Spain. It’s been open since 1888 (!). These people know what they’re doing. If you’re with a big group, Casa Mingo is the place to go! The restaurant is filled with long dark wood tables and the chatter of family and friends. The prices differ depending if you sit at the bar or a table, so if there’s only a couple of you, opt for the bar. The food is served family style so just order a few of everything and pass it on around. Their speciality is the roast chicken, and it’s absolutely delicious.
- Mercado de San Miguel– A fresh indoor market near Plaza Mayor. We could spend hours just wandering around looking at the wide variety of foods displayed in each booth. You can usually find a place to sit and enjoy a full meal from a vendor, but we just stopped at whatever looked appetizing and tried a bit of everything (tapas style).
- Papizza– Okay so yes, getting pizza from a place the size of a closet that opens to the street at 4 a.m. might sound questionable, but just do it. These “street pizza” places are pretty common in the city because they’re so darn convenient. We stumbled into our favorite one after a night at Kapital and were surprisingly blown away. Where else can you get truffle and mushroom pizza for a couple euros and in 5 minutes? You cant. Except for at Papizza.
- Pizzaiolo– Great little Italian place off the beaten path. The bright and cozy interior feels like you’ve been transported to the coast of Italy. We tried the Provoletta alla Pizzaiolo…which basically means a bowl of cheese. Yes, we ate it all. No, you cannot judge us. Be sure to follow up the appetizer with a pizza, and drizzle a little spicy olive oil on top. Beunísimo!
- Hotel Moderno– Literally right around the corner from Puerto del Sol, and for a few extra euros you can get a great breakfast buffet.
- Jardines de Sabatini– Funky hotel with an amazing rooftop bar and view. Contrary to most European hotels, our room was huge and included a little living room and kitchenette.
- Hotel Rex– Located on Gran Vía and walking distance from basically everything.
- Gran Vía– known as the “Spanish Broadway”. The city’s main boulevard lined with shopping and restaurants.
- Plaza Mayor
- Puerta del Sol
- Paseo del Arte– Tons of museums, take your pick! My personal favorite was The Prado.
- Teatro Lope de Vega– a theatre on Gran Vía that shows adapted Broadway plays and musicals. They’re usually in Spanish, but don’t let that intimidate you. Lets be honest, you know The Lion King backwards and forwards so you would still understand El Rey León.
- The Royal Palace
- Sabatini Gardens
- esMADRID.com– Check out this website to see what concerts, shows and festivals are happening during your stay!
- Dubliners- low-key Irish pub if you’re looking to meet and mingle with other young tourists
- Joy Eslava
- Teatro Kapital
- Bogui Jazz
- Rooftop bar at Jardines de Sabatini
|Provoletta alla Pizzaiolo|
|Poppin’ bottles (of cider) at Casa Mingo. Cheers!|