It’s been a while since my honeymoon city guides, and I can only say that it’s because I’m a Master Procrastinator. I meant to get all of these done so I could ping these links on the comments sections of bloggers that were asking for Spain tips a few months ago. Bah! Too much time has passed. Without further ado, here is my guide to Madrid!
HOW DID YOU GET HERE? From Barcelona (Sants), we took the AVE train to Madrid. Our fare was about €66.15 per person. The ride was roughly 3 hours. For this travel option, we did not get food. (Tip: Pee on the train before you get to the station. I don’t know if it was just me but the restroom I found had this weird pay station, where you paid money to wash your hands, then more to use a stall.) From the Madrid station, we took the subway (local) to our nearest neighborhood stop.
WHERE DID YOU STAY? I really felt like we lucked out with choosing a neighborhood that was a good fit for us. We stayed at an Airbnb for three days in the neighborhood of Lavapies (“lah vah pee ES”). Lavapies is a bit hilly (think SF), and colorful and noisy. This is a bohemian and multicultural neighborhood known for a good mix of Spain’s immigrant African and Indian communities as well as locals. I got accidentally hit in the side of my head by a couple of African kids playing soccer on the street and they ran up to me with apologies right away, so there isn’t any animosity or element of danger here. Everyone faithfully gets along and has a good time. The nightlife here is vibrant and there are a lot of gafapastas (hipsters) smoking outside and chillaxing with a beer in hand. (If you’re planning your Madrid trip, this was really helpful in figuring out the neighborhoods.)
¿PUES, TE PREFIERES BARCELONA O MADRID? I know everyone is goo goo ga ga about Barcelona, and with good reason. Barcelona is a feast for the eyes and all the senses. I would definitely go back there again in a heartbeat. BUT, Madrid wins this one for me by a few hairs. I don’t know if it was because we stayed here longer than Tarifa, Valencia, Granada, and Barcelona, but I fell in love with how balanced and “big city” Madrid is. I felt that it was the Mrs. Robinson to Barcelona’s hyper-sexualized (and very touristy) Marilyn Monroe: a chain smoking, sexy, yet wise as hell snarky aunt whom wants to share her world with you. To me, Barcelona was a vacation-y treat, but I could live in Madrid. So there, that’s my two cents on this big debate. [Bonus link]
WHAT DID YOU EAT? In Lavapies, we had access to a lot of Indian, regional, French, Mediterranean, and Lebanese food. It was hard to decide! Definitely check out the food markets here! We didn’t get to all of them but here’s a good guide. I highly recommend the ones we did visit (Mercado de Antón Martín, Mercado San Anton, and Mercado de San Miguel, which was my favorite); there’s a plethora of eating choices and if I lived there, I would be there daily at the markets. Also, happily, there is foie gras everywhere. Yay!
- El Sur Yummy and yummy. Lots of choices and fusion-inspired dishes. Get there early if you’re hoping to score a table before people with reservations show up. Their croquetas are plentiful and delicious.
- Le Comptoir de la Crepe We stopped by for breakfast crepes before we hit El Rastro.
- El Tigre El Tigre is an institution. One of the few and famous places in Madrid that still serves free tapas when you order alcohol, this is a casual spot where loud and cheerful bartenders shovel paella on a plate and give it you followed by ham on crusty bread with secret sauce. In Madrid, the custom is to throw olive pits, napkins, and toothpicks on the floor, so don’t feel rude if you follow suit. If you’re a broke but starving traveler, this is the place for you.
WHAT DID YOU DO? There is A LOT to do and see in Madrid! In Barcelona, you can check off visiting Gaudi’s architectural feats as a starter guide. In Madrid, you can people watch and check out various museums, watch flamenco, bar hop, see the Royal Palace, go to free museum days, go to the Museo de Jamon, and feel like a Manhattanite strolling through the neighborhood of Salamanca.
We went to and saw:
- Prado Museum
- Museum de Reina Sofia
- Temple of Debod (a real Egyptian temple given to Spain as a gift from Egypt!)
- Plaza Mayor
- Royal Palace of Madrid
- Puerta del Sol
- Plaza de España
- Botanic Garden (near Prado)
- Palacio de Cristal
- Cine Dore (In the summer, you can watch a movie on the rooftop! Too cold around the time of our visit though.)
- Flamenco dancing at Cardamomo
Here is a guide to museum free days. (When I was doing research earlier this year, I found a really comprehensive list of Madrid’s museums on an British expat’s blog, but I can’t seem to find it. I’ll update if I see it again.)
Don’t miss El Rastro, Madrid’s huge and amazing flea market. I’m still thinking about this bag and I regret not buying it! And speaking of bags, keep yours close to you as this is ripe picking for snatchers and pickpockets. This place gets insanely packed which can either be really fun or annoying depending on your shopping preferences. Don’t be afraid to haggle; it’s part of the fun.
WOULD YOU DO ANYTHING DIFFERENTLY? I wish we had time to eat at all the suggestions per the internet: El Salero, Buns and Bones, to name a few. And my biggest regret was that we didn’t get a chance to check out Melo’s. It was right across the street from us (!!!) but the timing was always off and it was jam-packed with people. On the day we finally had a chance to pop in, it was the one day they were closed (Monday)! Gah…
LAST NOTES: Madrid is more crowded than Barcelona at all the touristy spots. This is what it looks like from the perspective of just taking a picture of a huge statue!
If you have seasonal allergies and are traveling in the spring, make sure you take your allergy meds! In L.A., I don’t really have the pollen issues because of the mono season we have, but I was suffering quite a bit without some meds. I was sneezing, sniffly and congested a lot, especially near the museums where beautiful gardens are maintained.
Oh! We passed a store called Taste of America. Pretty hilarious and oddly comforting to see curated goods of “back home.” I guess we’re pretty peanut butter crazy in America, but I don’t know anyone who likes Coke Vanilla.
Lastly, we thought about smuggling some jamon and other food goods back to share with our peeps, but we decided to err on the side of caution for this one. Wah. This really could have been us. Here’s some more info: 1 // 2
If you do want to bring some stuff back, here’s a guide from Naked Madrid. We definitely bought quite a bit of saffron and olive oil.
And please feel free to check out:
We’ve got one bonus guide left. Stay tuned. =)
OK! Enough talking. Picture Time!