12 Hours in Madrid – A Whirlwind Food Tour

Madrid is a city that is very near and dear to my heart. Not only did I study abroad in the city for a semester during college, it was also one of the cities that I visited during my very first trip to Europe in high school. I also returned to Spain with Alex a few years ago during our travels around Spain and Morocco. From the delicious food to the vibrant culture to the beautiful language (that I can sort of speak and understand), Madrid is a city that I could visit countless times.

Happy to be back in such a special city!

We only had one night in Madrid on this trip because we were primarily visiting Norway and Sweden, but of course we made the most of it! After arriving at the airport, we took a taxi to our hotel, Room Mate Laura. Taxis from the airport to the city center are a flat rate of 30 euros (not bad for a large city). The train is only 4.5 euros per person, but because we were arriving late in the evening, we decided to spring for the taxi to maximize our time there. A taxi takes about 25-30 minutes, while the train would take closer to an hour, depending on which terminal you are flying into/out of.

We arrived at Room Mate Laura and were warmly greeted by Laura (not sure if it was the Laura or just a coincidence). The Room Mate Hotels are a fantastic line of hotels in Spain and now a few other countries. All of the locations are in central locations and include wi-fi, late breakfast, and kitchenettes in the apartment-like rooms. In fact, many of the locations were actually former apartments. Room Mate Laura in Madrid is right next to Puerta del Sol, Gran Via, the Royal Palace, and Opera. On top of all of the aforementioned perks, the Room Mate hotels are also reasonably priced.

Photo via room-matehotels.com

Once we dropped our things off and changed, we made a beeline for the Mercado San Miguel, a gourmet tapas market that we first visited on our 2012 trip. The market opened in 2009 and has over 30 different vendors that offer hams, cheeses, paella, olives, and wine and beer. Most importantly, you cannot miss the jamon iberico, a cured ham made from black Iberian pigs. While expensive, it is worth the splurge for the salty and rich flavor! The market is open Sunday through Wednesday from 10 am to 12 am and Thursday through Saturday until 2 am. It’s a great place to sample Spanish delicacies over wine. I did notice that since our visit 5 years ago, it seemed to be a lot more crowded and there were a number beggars around, but that may also have had to do with it being a busier time of year for tourists (June this time vs. October last time).

In front of Mercado San Miguel
Jamon y mas jamon

After enjoying our tapas of jamon iberico and mozzarella toasts, we walked to the Cafe Jaguar for dinner. Cafe Jaguar is a Latin American/Peruvian style restaurant with eclectic decor and a lively crowd. Our server indulged me as I insisted on speaking Spanish the whole time, which was so kind of him. Alex and I shared two small plates of Venezuelan arepas and the grilled octopus with black andean potatoes. Everything was delicious, especially the octopus!

Inside Cafe Jaguar

Since it was late and we were full, our plans to have dessert at Chocolateria San Gines were scrapped in favor of having the famous churros y chocolate for breakfast (which is never a bad thing). Fortunately, the historic restaurant is open 24 hours a day 365 days a year, so you can’t possibly have an excuse not to go. I recommend ordering a cafe con leche along with your churros. ProTip: Order an extra order of churros for each cup of chocolate. Trust me on this one!

After breakfast, it was time to leave for the airport, so we picked up our bags at Room Mate Laura and headed to the train station. We had planned to take the train on our return trip to save money. Unfortunately, pretty much everything went awry. First, we didn’t realize that the station we were at required us to buy two tickets: one on the Renfe train and one on the Metro (this could have been avoided simply by entering the metro at a different stop). We accidentally bought incorrect tickets and had to buy new ones. Then, when we finally got on the train, it never left. I was having trouble understanding the announcement due to announcement’s static and speed so I asked another passenger in slower Spanish what it said. She informed me the train wasn’t going to be leaving for at least 30 minutes, which would not have gotten us to the airport in time after the original snafu.

At this point, our only option was to take a taxi. We were unable (understandably) to get a refund on our train tickets, so we ended up spending more money than we would have had we just taken the taxi in the first place. The taxi also ended up being an extremely stressful experience because we hit heavy traffic and our driver refused to switch lanes or pass other cars. We felt completely helpless stuck on the highway and despite literally begging for him to switch to a faster moving lane, he refused. We made it to the airport in time for our flight, but just barely. I tell this story because I think it’s important that y’all know that despite my instagram, our travel experiences are not always perfect!

One last comment about the airport: I highly recommend that you arrive extra early for international flights out of Madrid Barajas. With five terminals, the airport is the biggest in Europe and it can take quite awhile to traverse to your gate. The ticketing agents are helpful with this and will advise you to go straight to your gate rather than stopping for food or drinks first. There are also signs everywhere estimating the amount of time to certain gates. Trust them! They are accurate. Just do yourself a favor and err on the side of caution by giving yourself extra time.

Despite our frazzled morning, we had a wonderful 12 hours in Madrid and I cannot wait to visit one of my favorite cities again soon!

Hasta pronto, Madrid! (Photo taken at Cafe Jaguar)
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