MADRID | Madrid is a city that we’ve been to many times, with our most recent visiting forming part of a road trip through Spain. We started our road trip in Madrid, landing at Adolfo Suárez Madrid–Barajas early in the afternoon. Whether you use a taxi, the Airport Express bus or the underground metro system, getting from the airport to Madrid’s city centre is no trouble.
We started our two night stay in Madrid at the Gourmet Experience in the top of El Cortes Ingles (Spain’s major department store chain) in Plaza de Callao (9, Centro Comercial El Corte Inglés, Plaza de Callao, 2, 28013 Madrid, Spain). The Gourmet Experience overlooks the Madrid’s main shopping street, the Gran Via. We were easily able to grab a table to enjoy a selection of tapas and enjoy wine from Marques de Riscal, excellent value at €2.50 per glass. We had tried Marques de Riscal in London which lead us to seek out this standout wine from La Rioja region in Northern Spain.
We enjoyed our stay at the well-appointed Westin Palace Madrid (Plaza de las Cortes, 7, 28014 Madrid, Spain). The location was perfect for exploring Retiro Park (Madrid’s Central Park), the city’s prestigious museums, and Madrid’s lively nightlife. The room was extremely spacious and the lobby bar exudes old world charm. For a more budget, but still excellent accommodation option, check out the clean and well located Hostel Cruz Sol, which we’ve stayed at several times.
We started our first full day with a stroll through Retiro Park (Plaza de la Independencia, 7, 28001 Madrid, Spain). It was quiet at 10:00am but by noon the park started to fill with tourists and locals alike. We walked through the park’s Palacio de Cristal (“Crystal Palace”) and stopped for a breakfast of coffee and churros with chocolate in one of the park’s many cafes.
Madrid, though large, is an extremely walkable city. We enjoyed two days of long strolls traversing from Puerta del Sol, Plaza Mayor, through the upscale Salamanca area. We didn’t visit the Royal Palace on this visit. However, if you haven’t been it’s worth a wait in the long queue as the Palace lives up to its reputation as one of the most impressive palaces in all of Europe. Also check out the historic pharmacy that forms part of the palace, which contains a brilliant selection of old pharmaceutical equipment and artefacts. Of course there’s also the Museo Nacional Del Prado, which features one of the world’s finest collections of European art. If you only have 48 hours in town, it’s hard to decide where to start.
The nightlife in Madrid is undisputedly some of the best in the world. We loved seeing a mix of older people and young families strolling through the city streets well into the evening. 11:00pm in Madrid looks like the equivalent of 6:00pm in other major cities. We made like the Spanish and enjoyed a bit of an afternoon siesta so we could increase our longevity late into the evening. On this point do note that siesta is a real thing. Plan your park visits and long walks for between 2:00pm and 4:00pm, when most of the shops and cafes in the city are closed.
In the evening, we headed out to the Latin Quarter, known as La Latina. Calle Baja in La Latina is filled with bars and dining options. The streets are flooded with people every night, but it was particularly busy when we visited, with locals celebrating Easter as only the Madrilenos do.
We loved Madrid’s tradition of serving tapas when you order a drink. The tradition relates back to a time when the king’s drink was topped with a piece of food to protect it (the word tapas originated from something that “tops”). We became so accustomed to receiving a piece of chorizo or cheese with our wine we failed to understand why this tradition hasn’t taken off in other cities. The city is absolutely filled with delicious options but a few stand out tapas suggestions for us are:
The bar screams authentic Madrid. Located opposite to the oldest restaurant in the world, Botin, Bodegas Ricla is run by a mother and son duo and serves complimentary tapa when you order a drink. We noted quite of few people taking refuge from the long Easter procession with a glass of wine and tapas. Make sure you try the addictively delicious boquerones.
Calle Cuchilleros 6
We enjoyed the fantastic Spanish only wine selection here and complimentary tapas that came with each drink. If you’re ordering tapas beyond what comes with your drink, the variety is very impressive and quality high.
Calle Cava Baja 38
A gem amongst the tourist trap bars near the Puerta De Sol, Casa Toni is a must try with its vast offering of delicious food. The prices are super reasonable with most things coming in around €10.00. In fact we enjoyed a huge portion of chorizo and padron peppers for just €5.00 each.
Calle de la Cruz 14
This dimly lit sherry bar with makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time, the 1930s to be in fact, but there’s nothing stale about the fantastic food and sherry. Sherry offerings are Manzanilla, Fino, Oloroso, Amontillado and Palo cortado and that’s it, there aren’t any other wines here. If it’s good enough for Ernest Hemmingway, it’s good enough for us. Just remember no photographs are allowed, it’s a hangover from when regulars feared being caught by facist spies in the days of Franco.
Calle de Echegaray 7
We also dined at Madrid’s two major food markets, the Mercado de San Miguel (Plaza de San Miguel, s/n, 28005 Madrid, Spain) and the Mercado de San Anton (Calle de Augusto Figueroa, 24, 28004 Madrid, Spain). San Miguel was buzzing with locals just prior to the long Easter weekend break. We hopped around the market enjoying wine and tapas from different vendors.
The Mercado de San Anton is located in the trendy La Chueca neighbourhood. La Chueca is a great neighborhood for shopping, especially known for its shoes. San Anton offers a huge variety of options from Japanese to traditional Spanish cuisine. There are shared tables overlooking a large atrium so the space feels open even when filled with visitors. For more food tips, check out our Culinary Delights of Madrid post.
We visited the Temple of Debod (Calle Ferraz, 1, 28008 Madrid, Spain) (free admission), an ancient Egyptian temple that was dissembled and then rebuilt in Madrid. It’s located in a beautiful park close to the Plaza de Espana that provides nice views of the city. It’s also where TCL’s founder and editor in chief proposed to his now wife Lauren.
After a long day of sightseeing, we enjoyed drinks on the rooftop of the ME Hotel, aptly named The Roof (Plaza de Santa Ana, 14). The bar is stylish and the drinks are reasonably priced considering the location and view. We prepaid for 4 drinks for a total price of €24.00. We did a bit more bar hopping before a little siesta enjoying small cups of beer (known as “canas”) for less than €2.00 per glass.