Madrid is a city that knows how to live. The streets are alive at midnight, three AM, five AM and seven AM with friends hanging out at restaurants and cafes, chatting in front of bars and strolling the streets. There are markets for the thrifty, museums for the artsy, cafes and restaurants for the foodies and clubs for the party-goers. Whatever you are looking for, you can find it in Madrid. You may wonder what type of person I am and what I found in Madrid: I found churros.
Things to See:
El Retiro Park –
Come here to enjoy a little escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. There is plenty to do including walking around the lake, enjoying flower gardens, the Palacio de Cristal and exploring some chapel ruins.
Plaza Mayor –
This is one of the main squares in Madrid dating back to the 1400’s when it was the meeting point of Calle Toledo (street Toledo) and Calle Atocha (street Atocha) which lead all the way to the respective cities. Today the square is full of shops and is the best place to try Madrid’s most famous sandwich, the Bocadillo de Calamares.
El Rastro Flea Market –
If vintage shopping is your thing, visit El Rastro for the largest flea market in Spain. Open from 9am to 3pm on Sundays only, it’s best to get here o the earlier side as it can get very crowded.
Palacio Real, The “Royal Palace of Madrid” –
Just minutes walk from the Plaza Mayor, the Palacio Real is one of the must see places in Madrid. The interior foyer is stunning and each room of the Palace is uniquely decorated and breathtakingly detailed and ornate. Don’t forget to look up at the ceilings! Travel trip: entry is free on Wednesdays!
El Prado Museum –
El Prado museum houses the world’s best collection of Spanish artists’ works making it one of the most important museums, especially to Spaniards. Built in 1818 to rival the newly constructed Louvre Museum in Paris, El Prado is not as expansive as the Louvre but may have more famous works per square foot. The best tip, the museum is actually free Monday to Saturday from 6PM to 8PM and Sundays and holidays from 5PM to 7PM.
Museo Taurino (Bullfighting Museum) –
If you want to get the history and background of the traditional bull fight, without the sobering experience of the actual fight, Madrid’s Museo Taurino will do just that. The museum is free so you have nothing to lose!
Puerta del Sol –
Another famous square in the middle of Madrid, Puerta del Sol is actually busier than Plaza Mayor. As the sun starts to set, young locals tend to gather here to hang out prior to heading to out for the night. Whatever time of day you are passing through the square, stop by La Mallorquina for a quick and tasty Spanish pastry. Also worth a look is Casa de Diego for some vintage finds.
Mercado de San Miguel –
Dating back to 1916, the Mercado de San Miguel is a must visit for all gastronomy lovers. Located in the heart of the old town, just outside of Plaza Mayor, and open until midnight (02:00AM on the weekends), this stop can fit anywhere into your schedule. Once inside the market your first stop here should be at The Sherry Corner, who have a very original idea for ow you can experience the rest of the food hall and taste sherry wines at the same time. Along with six huge servings of different Jerez, served in a “Moroccan” style tray, they also provide you with an audio guide, which describes each of the drinks you are tasting. You can then take these around the entire market and they also give you six coupons which can be redeemed at different stalls in exchange for free tapas to perfectly match the respective sherry you are tasting!
Places to Eat:
Right outside of the Plaza Mayor, you will find this unassuming Mexican restaurant that just has a blue banner “Takos” – look no further you have found heaven on earth. Being from Texas, we take tacos pretty seriously, and this place is serious business. There is always a line out front, but don’t let that detour you from standing in line. You will be glad you did. The line move really quickly and there is lots of seating in the downstairs cave like basement. Really if you have to I would eat their tacos standing up outside on the street, but that’s just me.
Bar La Campana,
For a quick lunch on-the-go try Madrid’s most famous sandwich, the Bocadillo de Calamares, which is fried calamari on a sandwich with the optional homemade garlic mayo (can I get double sauce?). The best places to try out this delight are in the ever popular Plaza Mayor.
Pum Pum Café,
We stopped by here for coffee one more and quickly regretted not enjoying a late breakfast or lunch here. The eggs benedict looked amazing and the whole café was cozy with brick interior but all street facing doors and windows opened to the street. Great little find!
Lateral, various locations throughout Madrid
A very reasonably-priced restaurant focusing on Spanish cuisine at a very high quality! Try the croquets and tortilla de patata for a hands-down delicious meal.
La Monteria, Lope de Rueda 35, 28009 Madrid
Located in the Ibiza neighborhood, this Spanish restaurant focuses on quality Spanish meat dishes. You don’t necessarily need a reservation as you can show up and order from the bar, which is what the locals do. Try to go as late as possible to avoid the heaviest crowds.
La Castela, Dr. Castelo 22, 28009 Madrid
Also located in the Ibiza neighborhood, however this Spanish restaurant focuses on quality Spanish seafood dishes.
Taberna Laredo, Dr. Castelo 30, 28009 Madrid
A fabulous culinary treat – start off with the tuna belly, avocado and aioli pie for the table. Then for the mains, the cod and oyster mushroom rice and the mussels in red sauce are to die for. This restaurant is on the more expensive end, but you are paying for an amazing meal!
La Tasqueria, Duque de Sesto 48, 28009 Madrid
This restaurant is known as a casqueria and has menu items including tripe, brains, and tongue. The reviews are absolutely fabulous and if you are up for the challenge each dish is served in a unique and unexpected way combining complimentary flavors to send your taste buds where they have never been before. Come here for a very thrilling and new experience!
El Mercado de la Reina, Gran Via 12, 28013 Madrid
A great restaurant for tapas, wine and other drinks. The atmosphere is classy and the menu is unique. There is a great atmosphere and while the prices are cheap, they aren’t expensive either.
Madrid has a fabulous night-life! However, there are many places to avoid that will charge a cover in exchange for “two free drinks”. I prefer to walk in for free and pay for my drinks off the menu – if you do too here are some recommendations!
Where to grab a drink in Madrid:
- 1862 Dry Bar near PLaza de España for a swanky speak-easy night out
- Maria Bonita in the laid-back Lavapies neighborhood. From the Lavapies metro stop, walk down Calle Argumosa for endless options of tapas bars, restaurants and cocktail bars with a great atmosphere and lively crowd, most often spilling out into the street
- La Terraza at the Principal Madrid Hotel for a classy and upscale vibe
- Macera TallerBar for a nice selection of cocktails and music
- Salmon Guru in the Cortes neighborhood, this place gets great reviews for service and drinks
- Caminito bar and right around the corner, La Noche Boca Arriba, a popular piano bar, both in the Lavapies neighborhood
- Txirimiri is right around the corner from Taberna Laredo, so if you are looking for a short walk from dinner to a great cocktail bar and outside seating on a summer night, look for further!
After a night out, there is nothing better than to grab a chocolate churro. You may have had three or four by this point in the day, but you are in luck because the most famous place, Chocolatería San Ginés, is also open 24 hours and located centrally right near the Plaza Mayor!
If you have some more time in your schedule, extend your home base in Madrid for one more night and take a day trip to one of the close-by cities. The best day-trips from Madrid are Segovia (1 hour), Avila (1 hour), Toledo (1 hour), and Salamanca (2 hours).