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Madrid is a wonderful metropolis and a great place to start when traveling to Spain. If you check out a map of the country, Madrid is pretty much in the center of the country, which means it’s a great place to get to and from everywhere else you might want to visit in Spain via train or airplane. It’s also easy to fly into from the States; therefore, I always suggest starting off your trip here. The museums are wonderful, the food is fabulous, the shopping is exceptional — it’s all good! However, keep in mind that this is a BIG CITY — but this Madrid Travel Guide will help. You aren’t going to get that quaint Andaclusian vibes you find in smaller southern cities like Granada and Sevilla. Nonetheless, Madrid is Madrid. And Madrid is fabulous.
With all that being said, because Madrid is such a huge city–it’s difficult to know where to go and what to do…I mean you can do so much here but my question was this: what can I do in Madrid to have a unique experience? I don’t want to feel like I am just dining and going out in NYC. I want a special experience. I searched online and one of my most favorite blogs of all time, Design Sponge, had a fabulous guide to Madrid by Kristen Bernardi, who lives in Madrid and has a ton of credentials. I took a ton of her recommendations and found her guide to be extremely helpful. My guide I am about to share with you will suck in comparison to hers; however, my guide is a “2 day trip to Madrid Guide,” so just look at it that way. Got it?
First off, let’s discuss Food and Drink. This is a food blog anyway!
Mercado de San Miguel — I would say that this is the biggest must as far as a foodie experience goes in Madrid. The Mercado is an old farmers market turned into this super funky, hipster hang out with so many delicious eats and drinks that your mind will be blown! Clayton and I took 2 visits to this spot because, well, it’s fabulous. Here is my recommendation to you about visiting here: I mean, really you can go any time of day but I say start off your evening here! Get dressed and head over here to kick off the night. Walk in, grab yourself a big glass of wine or beer and make a big walk around the place and explore all of the many beautiful things you can eat. By the time you finish that first glass, you’ll have a better idea of what you want to order. (Definitely get a plate of oysters from the oyster guy. So fresh and good!) I would enjoy a few little plates and some drinks with whomever you are with then move on to dinner or more tapas!
Calle Cava Baja– Located in the heart of the La Latina barrio, is known as one of the best culinary stretches in the city. We had such a blast doing a tapas “crawl” on this street after we kicked off the night at Mercado de San Miguel. On a bustling Saturday night, the street and restaurants are crowded with mostly standing room only but, needless to say, it’s fabulous and so fun! We were drunk so I can only name a few of the places we went but we went to tons of places and there wasn’t a bad restaurant on the street! A few that I can recall,
- Txakoli – Big, Basque-style tapas. Standing room only. Grab a beer/wine and share a huge tapa.
- Taberna Tempranillo — the gorgeous floor to ceiling wine rack makes you HAVE to order a delicious rioja here (we both ordered a big glass of Crianza). Delicious tapas!
Café Ajenjo – This little gem of a bar is tucked away and we had such a wonderful time topping off with one last drink here at the end of the night. The owner is the only usually the one on staff, and if you’re ordering cocktails, he’ll ask if you want something dry (seco) or sweet (dulce) before surprising you with a perfectly personalized cocktail. This bar is located in Malasaña, a laid-back barrio (or neighborhood) that is filled with young 20-30-year-olds. There are tons of bars/clubs around here, so if you are looking for that sort of scene, this is your neighborhood. Cafe Ajenjo is NOT that vibe at all, it’s a slow-paced local dive and it is oh-so-lovely!
Ten con Ten — located in Salamanca (the posh, upscale barrio) this place has great food and drinks. I probably won’t go back here again for 1 main reason: they take only two reservation times per night because it’s such a popular restaurant (one at 8:30, the other at 10:00 I believe). We could only get into the 8:30 pm reservation and we felt like we were being pushed to order quickly and get out of there, so it messed up our vibe. If you do decide to go here, go for the later reservation time…I think you will have a much more enjoyable experience! Try their Pulpo, it’s delicious!
Casa Marius — Located in the Chueca Barrio, we stumbled in here because it was pouring rain and we needed a place to park it and eat. It was much more upscale than we anticipated and, as we were soaking wet, we felt like the nasty Americans they assumed we were. Ha! The food and wine were absolutely delicious. If you are looking for an upscale dinner option, I would suggest this!
Palo Santo Cafe — Located in Chueca (right near our hotel, The Only YOU Boutique Hotel) we stumbled in here one morning for breakfast because it looked like a lot of locals were enjoying coffee and breakfast here. As simple as it was, this was one of my favorite meals during my stay in Spain. We both asked to have what all the locals were having: “Tostada con Tomate Macerado” (toast with tomato), a side of “Jamon Serrano”, and (of course) a delicious cup of “Cafe con Leche.” It was simply fantastic!
Now let’s talk about sightseeing. There are SO MANY Sights to See in Madrid, so it depends on your taste, your love for history, and how many days you are staying here. Here are my highlights:
- Museo Nacional del Prado— ranks as one of the best and largest collections of European art in the world. Must-see galleries: Goya and Velasquez.
- Museo Nacional de Arte Reina Sofía — beautiful modern art collection. Must see: Picasso’s masterpiece, Guernica
- Retiro Park – Nearly 300 acres of green space in the center of Madrid, this place is absolutely gorgeous! Grab a drink and people watch by where the rowboats are and really soak in Madrid. I recommend strolling through here to rest your mind after a visit to the Prado Museum, which is close walking distance.
- Plaza Mayor –Madrid’s historic main square that has a beautiful fresco on one of its façades and is lined with (tourist-filled) cafes. If you can find the right cafe, a cup of coffee isn’t a bad idea, but you will probably get annoyed by the hecklers trying to make money for their bizarre “acts” and/or the trinkets they are attempting to sell. (Which is why I suggest avoid eating a meal here.) Take a walkthrough here on your way to Mercado de San Miguel, it’s on the way.
- Palacio Real — Although the king and queen no longer live here, it continues to be their “official residence”. Home to the Kings of Spain from Charles III to Alfonso XIII, this palace will take you through a journey of rich history in Spain!
This is the best I can do with my short stay in Madrid, and it’s a great place to start. I know that the city has SO MUCH MORE to offer, so if you have any additional recommendations please leave them in the comments below for others to add to this Madrid Travel Guide! GRACIAS!