In October, Alex and I traveled to Spain and Morocco. I was very excited to share my love for Spain with Alex. I lived in Madrid for a semester abroad during undergrad, so the city is very near and dear to my heart! We decided to visit Madrid and Barcelona because they are obviously two of the biggest and most popular cities to visit in Spain, both with plenty to do, but we balanced it out with a short stay in Malaga on the Costa del Sol for some rest and relaxation, a bus ride to Gibraltar to see the famous Rock, and a ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar for our first visit to Africa! We had an incredible time and the trip was unforgettable.
If you are going to Spain and don’t find what you’re looking for in these next few posts, please contact me because I have plenty more Spain recommendations, especially ideas for day trips. We traveled around the country pretty extensively while I lived there!
Now, for recommendations in MADRID…
You MUST eat churros y chocolate at Chocalateria San Gines. It is incredible, and a super Spanish thing to do. It’s open almost 24 hours a day. Alex and I went twice while we were there and I went numerous times while studying abroad. It was founded in 1894 and many celebrities and important people have visited over the last almost 120 years. The concept is simple, but I promise you have never tasted anything better in your life, especially if you go late night after dancing at one of the discotecas nearby (like Joy Madrid, which is just around the corner).
Mercado San Miguel was one of our favorite places to eat. It is an amazing open air market where you can order tapas and drinks. It’s a super fun atmosphere and everything is fresh and delicious. They have Iberico ham shaved right off the leg and if you like olives, there are more types than you can possibly imagine. I am quite sure that if I lived in Madrid, I would have tapas every afternoon at Mercado San Miguel.
Botin is the oldest restaurant in the world. It is a little pricey, but it is such a neat place and very traditional Spanish food, like suckling pig. I am very glad we went; you can practically feel the history around you. Hemingway ate there, and the famous Spanish painter Goya was a dishwasher there. If you plan to eat at Botin, be sure to make a reservation. Dinner reservations fill up very quickly, but you should be able to grab a lunch reservation. Don’t forget Spaniards eat dinner late, so if you prefer eating closer to American time, it may be easier to find reservations at in demand places like Botin. Also, the portions were huge, so you could probably just share one dish or get appetizers.
Alex and I ate dinner one night at Posada del León de Oro. It was really hip and trendy and the whole restaurant and enotaberna sits on top of ruins that you can see through glass. It was such an awesome place that we just stumbled upon. Our waiter was very helpful and gave great recommendations for wine and for our orders. Alex and I shared blood sausage and roasted vegetables to start. He ordered beef tartare for his main course, while I had bacalao (cod) with mushrooms and potatoes. If you aren’t hungry for dinner, you can also just sit at the bar and order wine, tortilla espanola, and some cheese. You can also stay at Posada del León de Oro for a fairly reasonable rate for the area.
We had lunch one day at Nueva Galicia. For 9 euros each, you get a starter, main course, dessert, bread, and bottle of wine or sangria (in huge glasses). We ate outside in the perfect weather and actually never even went in the restaurant, so I would recommend sitting outside if it is a pretty day. It was near Puerta del Sol so I highly recommend it if you are looking for an inexpensive and quick lunch near the heart of things. The menu was traditional Spanish and though it wasn’t fancy, we thoroughly enjoyed it!
We also ate at La Cocina de San Antón in Chueca. Chueca is the gay section of Madrid, but the restaurant is located in the gorgeous San Antón market. It is similar to Mercado de San Martin, but was much less crowded. The market is several floors so you can walk around in a circle as it gradually winds upstairs before reaching La Cocina and a bar on the top floor. There are several little stands offering various dishes if you want to just nibble, but La Cocina was really good. There is also a pretty outdoor deck where you can enjoy cocktails before or after dinner.
We ate breakfast at Cafe La Traviata, which had bocadillo (sandwich) and coffee deals. There was also a selection of croissants and delicious fresh squeezed orange juice (a luxury in Europe!) You really can’t go wrong with breakfast in Spain. It is delicious and affordable pretty much anywhere you go.
The Barrio de las Letras is a great place to walk around near Paseo del Prado and has several amazing restaurants. We went to Taberna Los Dolores, which has the largest selection of beers in the city, and some really great tapas. I’d recommend sharing a sampler platter and picking a few different things. We shared several small sandwiches with a variety of cheeses, ahi tuna, salmon, and iberico ham. Everything was in Spanish and all of the waiters spoke Spanish, but I was able to get by with my Spanish abilities (score!). This place was a really fun stop for our last night in Madrid. I think we were the only tourists there so we really felt like locals.
Jardin Secreto is my favorite place ever because my girlfriends and I used to go there frequently during our study abroad. It is now a restaurant, but it is best known for the extensive menu of specialty cocktails, hot chocolates, and coffees. It’s a really cozy and eclectic place to pop in for a drink. I was starving when we went there so I ordered a gorgonzola pasta dish, which was really delicious. The real winner of course was the hot chocolate, complete with teddy grahams, just like I remembered.
Besides that, you really can’t go wrong in Madrid when it comes to bars. Madrilenos love to drink, and you could stop at literally any place and get a great bottle of wine for 10 euros. My best advice is to just wander around and find something that suits your fancy. Tapas bars are everywhere. Also, if you’re really feeling crazy, there is nothing better than Madrid nightlife. It starts about 12-1am and people rage until 6am (and then there are after hours bars). Alex and I didn’t go to any of the discotecas on our trip because it’s so hard when you are traveling on a time crunch to kill a day because you need to sleep and recover, but I’d be remiss not to mention the Spanish nightlife. I thoroughly enjoyed it during my study abroad and there is really nothing like it, so if you are so inclined, there are several great discotecas.
In my opinion, the best thing to do in Madrid is just walk around and see everything (there is a lot!!). The famous plazas are Sol, Mayor, and Callao. You will also probably want to see the Palacio Real and the Catedral de Santa María la Real de la Almudena, two beautiful landmarks in Madrid. The tour of the palace is pretty thorough and interesting, but unfortunately, you can no longer take pictures. The armory and pharmacy are fascinating highlights of the visit. The Palacio is still used for state functions, so make sure there is nothing going on when you plan to visit.
Another must during a stay in Madrid is to walk down the Paseo del Prado and see the Plaza de Cibeles, Plaza de Independencia, and pass the “Golden Triangle” or all of the major art museums (Prado, CaixaForum, Reina Sofia, Thyssen). I enjoy art, but I am no connoisseur, so I find that it is sufficient to limit a visit to just one of the museums. If you want to go to a museum, I’d pick just one of those. They are all really big and could take all day, especially with crowds. The Prado is particularly crowded. I have visited all of them during my study abroad, but with Alex, we went to the Reina Sofia because I prefer more modern art (Reina Sofia specializes in 20th century art). The Reina Sofia has several Picassos, including the famous Guernica, and several Dalis. We also visited the Caixa Forum, which was free and the exhibits change often. When we went, there was a very interesting and enjoyable exhibit on the history of the skyscraper.
After leaving the museums, walk by Banco de Espana (one of my favorite buildings in Madrid) and you can wander through the famous Atocha station if it pleases you. Also, if you are doing any day trips, it is likely they will be out of this station.
I would also definitely make a point to go to Parque del Buen Retiro. It’s a huge city park, a great place to relax, and full of people watching. My roommate and I ran there every day in undergrad since we lived about a block away. You could take some wine and cheese and have a little picnic in the park. Alex and I went rowboating and had a blast. It was super cheap and a fun way to spend an hour. Or, if you really want to feel like a native, you can just sit on the steps by the rowboats with a beer and watch all the tourists and couples boating.
Finally, if you are into shopping, Madrid is like one enormous candy store. Gran Via is one of the main roads with shops all along the way and it has kind of a NYC feel. Spain has amazing fashion, so in my opinion, a few hours of shopping are a must! My favorite chains are Zara, Mango, Blanco, and Strativarius. There are also plenty of boutiques, too!
If you are in Madrid on a Sunday morning, a fun thing to do is to go to El Rastro. It’s a huge antique flea market and fun to shop around and see all of the crazy things being sold.
Finally, we spent part of our stay at the Radisson Blu, Madrid Prado. It was a gorgeous hotel in a fantastic location. It is situated right across the street from the Prado Museum, and very close to the Golden Triangle. It is in the Barrio de las Letras, which has fantastic bars and restaurants. It is also walking distance to the Atocha train station which makes for easy transport to/from Barajas airport. The hotel itself is beautiful and the rooms are quite spacious. We stayed in the Radisson Blu towards the end of our trip and it was wonderful to have a large stand up shower, tub, and very comfortable bed. We also loved our double balcony, which looked out on the Paseo del Prado. The hotel also has a pool, steam room, sauna, and spa if you need some relaxation time. Definitely consider the Radisson Blu if you go to Madrid!
Potential Day Trips: Avila, Segovia, Toledo, El Escorial, Alcala, Valle de los Caidos
And before the recap, just for funsies, here is a picture of me at my old apartment building from when I studied abroad. Memories!!
Chocolateria San Gines, Pasadizo de San Ginés, 5, 28013 (about halfway between Opera and Sol stops)
Mercado de San Miguel, Plaza de San Miguel, s/n 28005 (just outside of Plaza Mayor, take Mayor or Opera stop)
Restaurante Botin, Calle Cuchilleros, 17, 28005 (just outside of Plaza Mayor, take Mayor or Opera stop)
Posada del León de Oro, Calle Cava Baja, 12 (near Tirso de Molina stop)
La Cocina de San Antón, Calle Augusto Figueroa, 24 (near Chueca stop)
Cafe la Traviata, Plaza de Isabel II 2, 28013 (Opera stop)
Nueva Galicia, Calle de la Cruz 6, 28012 (Sol stop)
Taberna Los Dolores, Plaza De Jesús, 4 28014 (near Anton Martin stop)
Jardin Secreto, Calle Conde Duque, 2 28015 (near Ventura Rodriguez or Plaza de Espana stop)
Palacio Real, Calle Bailén s/n, 28071 (Opera stop)
Catedral de Santa María la Real de la Almudena, Calle de Bailén, 10, 28013 (Opera stop)
Museo del Prado, Edificio Villanueva, Paseo del Prado, s/n (Atocha stop)
Museo Reina Sofia, Calle Santa Isabel, 52 (Atocha stop)
Museo Thyssen Bornemisza, Paseo del Prado, 8 (Banco de España stop)
Caixa Forum: Paseo del Prado, 36, 28014 (Atocha stop)
Parque del Buen Retiro: Plaza de la Independencia, 7, 28001
El Rastro: Between La Latina and Puerta de Toledo and Tirso de Molina stops
Radisson Blu Madrid: Calle Moratin 52, 28014 (Anton Martin stop)