Barcelona was full of architectural wonder and, although we had some delicious meals, the food was even more impressive in Madrid. If you are a foodie, Madrid is the place to go.
Madrid has a much slower and relaxed pace in comparison to the super crowded and busy streets of Barcelona. There were moments when we felt like we were the only tourists around, which was pretty much impossible to experience in Barcelona. In terms of architecture, however, Madrid is a little less impressive, in fact we had to leave our walking tour halfway because we were so bored (sorry, Madrid, I blame the tour guide).
From Barcelona to Madrid it was a short 1 hour 20 minutes flight. If you are on a budget, compare flights on Momondo to find the best value. We ended up going with Vueling Airlines.
Once we arrived in Madrid, we caught the train to the station our accommodation was located. We had to change a couple lines, but it was much easier to follow than Barcelona. There is a really helpful info desk at the airport that can point you in the right direction if you are unsure.
WHO WE STAYED WITH
Airbnb – Apartment
Near Tirso de Molina metro station
Entire Studio apartment from AUD$72/night
We had 3 people this trip, so we found a one bedroom apartment located within 10mins walk of Plaza Mayor. As we had never been to Madrid before, we questioned whether this would be a good location. It turned out perfect! The apartment was nice and quiet and so convenient.
In a short 10mins walk we were in Plaza Mayor which had great restaurants and even a Jamon Museum…
There was a supermarket just across the road with great pastries for breakfast, as well as a bakery just around the corner. In a short 10mins walk we were in Plaza Mayor which had great restaurants and even a Jamon Museum nearby (find out more about the food in Madrid below). Just opposite the apartment is the entry to the Tirso de Molina metro station. Unfortunately, it was under maintenance when we were there, so make sure to check the maintenance schedule if this might be an issue for you. There is another station about 10mins walk from the apartment.
The apartment had great lighting thanks to the abundance of windows. It even had 3 balconies, to enjoy the view of the city from. We enjoyed sipping our hot chocolates in the morning while sitting on the balcony.
One thing to take note of: the apartment only has one double bed. If you have more people, you can utilize the double sofa bed. The apartment fits a maximum of 4 people. Check out my first video above for a room tour.
We definitely recommend booking early, especially if you are visiting during the peak season of summer as apartments get booked out really quickly. We were really pleased with the apartment we booked, but we suspect if we had started looking earlier, we may have been able to find something even better value.
WHAT WE DID
You can find plenty of information on what to do in Madrid on TripAdvisor. But, these were our favourites:
People-watching in Plaza Mayor
Calle Gerona 4, 28012
Plaza Mayor is the main square in Madrid and is a great place to meet-up with friends and to just sit and people-watch. The square is more of a rectangle and has nine entrances (or exits) to choose from. So, if you are feeling adventurous, just pick one of the exits and start exploring. We sat here at night with a can of 1 euro slightly-frozen beer (just grab one from the Jamon Museum) and chatted and people-watched the night away.
In between the Almudena Cathedral and Royal Palace is a beautiful square frequented by local musicians. If you are lucky, you will be able to enjoy some live music while sitting in the square admiring the beauty of these two architectural wonders. These two buildings are probably my favourites in Madrid.
Getting lost in one of the mazes at Sabatini Gardens
Calle Bailen s/n | Plaza Mayor, Opera & Sol, 28013
We stumbled into Sabatini Gardens unexpectedly and were pleasantly surprised by the beautifully landscaped mazes/labyrinths. They were so much fun to run through and reminded us of Alice in Wonderland. It is right next to the Royal Palace, so make sure to check it out if you are nearby.
Exploring Retiro Park
Between C. Alfonso XII and Avenida de Menendez Pelayo, 28010
Retiro park is one of the largest parks in Madrid and is a great place to relax and escape the city. The park is beautifully landscaped and contains many beautiful sculptures and monuments, as well as a man-made lake. Rowboats and horse-drawn carriages are popular activities in this park. You can also watch the locals bike ride, skateboard and even rollerblade down one of the many paths.
WHERE WE ATE
Madrid has food EVERWHERE! From the multitude of restaurants to tapas bars to food markets and jamon museums, Madrid is a Foodie Paradise! You can have a look at TripAdvisor for some recommendations. Here are the places we ate at:
A bakery chain in Madrid that’s been around since 1902. Unlike, back at home in Sydney, there isn’t much of a breakfast/brunch culture that we could observe in Europe. Most people were seen to be rushing off to work and grabbing bread from bakeries in the mornings. Plus, summer made it hard to enjoy hot meals or sit down for a coffee, so we preferred going to bakeries for breakfast.
We had a Panishop just around the corner from our apartment, so it was super convenient. We grabbed a variety of pastries to enjoy and that was enough to keep us going for the day.
Another great place to grab breakfast, surprisingly, is the supermarket, especially if you are on a budget. Think pastries from as cheap as 0.29€! It is also a great place to stock up on snacks and drinks for the day – the supermarkets in Madrid stock some delicious fruit juice for affordable prices. If you have been on the road for a while, boost up your vitamin-intake with some fresh fruit. Rule of thumb when traveling, if you don’t have access to clean water to clean your fruit, pick fruits that you can remove the skin from, there is less chance you will get sick. (For other tips on how to avoid getting sick while travelling, check out my blog post. COMING SOON)
Bar La Campana
Calle Botoneras 6, 28012
No visit to Madrid is complete without trying the local favourite of Bocadillo de Calamares (Fried Calamari in a bread roll). You will see restaurants selling this everywhere for inflated prices. A great place, right near Plaza Mayor is this little bar that is always packed with hungry revelers. Open since 1870, Bar La Campana has been around since the days of bullfighting in Plaza Mayor. For just 2.70€, you can have a taste of yesteryear. We highly recommend you give this a try, it makes for a great snack.
Mercado de San Miguel
Plaza San Miguel, 28005
Although many people will call this place a tourist trap, we don’t see the problem with it. Afterall, we ARE tourists and if you think it is a trap to pay 1€ for tapas, I’m pretty happy to fall into this trap.
Mercado de San Miguel is not your traditional fruit and goods market. It is known as a gourmet tapas market and is a great place to eat. BE WARNED: it does get quite busy and crowded, watch your belongings as there are pickpockets around.
Museo Del Jamon (Museum of Ham)
If you are new to Spanish hams, this is the place to go to sample a good variety. Make sure to look for Iberico and Serrano hams which are the most famous. They also have a great deal: for 3.90€, you can get a plate of jamon with 2 beers.
A little secret, the museum of ham is a great place to get canned beers in summer. Their fridge is extra cold, so the beer comes out slightly frozen. Nothing better than a beer slushie in the heat of summer!
If you are on a budget, 100 Montaditos is Spain’s answer to a fast food chain. Just like their name suggests, their menu consists of a large variety of different montaditos (tapa-sized bread with a variety of filling). As I am aware, there are a few stores in the US, but here in Australia, we aren’t familiar with this chain, so it was nice to come across. An added bonus: most things on the menu only costs 1€ each!
Mercado de Anton Martin
Calle de Santa Isabel, 5
If Mercado de San Miguel is too touristy for you, Mercado de Anton Martin is a better taste of local life. You won’t see many tourists in here and it’s definitely not as busy. It is a great place to get some jamon, cheese and other ingredients to make your own antipasto plate. We suggest you to get a little bit of everything and have a picnic in the park.
Madrid had some of the friendliest people…
We got some Jamon Iberico and Jamon Serrano from a store called “Ismael”, where we made friends with some locals that recommended a variety of cheeses for us from the same store. They then recommended a little store where we got a variety of olives, pickled garlic and stuffed capsicum/peppers. We also ended up chatting to another local at that store who dragged us just outside the market to a little takeaway store called “La Caracola” where we ordered a few local dishes. Madrid had some of the friendliest people with the most heartfelt passion for food. Meeting these people in the market was one of our most favourite memories of our entire trip.
Casa Amadeo (Los Caracoles)
Plaza Cascorro 18, 28005
We got lost a few times looking for this place, as we went around asking for “Casa Amadeo” only to realise, later on, the locals knew it by “Los Caracoles“. This place is most famous for their snails in spicy sauce and Zarajo (lamb intestines). Opened 95 years ago and passed down as a family-run business, Casa Amadeo is one of the most famous stores in Madrid for snails and has maintained the same recipe which locals and tourists love. Don’t forget to dip your bread in the sauce!
Calle Latoneros 3, 28005
As we didn’t have much time in Madrid, we tried to squeeze in as many local specialties as we could. Madrilenians love their Bacalao (Salt Cod) and Casa Revuelta makes a famous Bacalao tapas that you must try. This was the first stop on our night of tapas-hopping.
Meson del Champinon
Calle Cava de San Miguel 17, 28012
If you decide to do some tapas-hopping like we did, you must drop by Meson del Champinon. As the name suggests, this place is famous for their mushrooms (champinon in spanish means mushroom). Juicy and flavoursome, this is definitely worth trying.
Chocolateria San Gines
Pasadizo San Gines 5, 28013
We can’t imagine a better way to end the night in Madrid than with some churros. Chocolateria San Gines has been serving churros since 1894 and this popular chocolateria is open 24 hours a day with a constant line of customers. Maintaining it’s original decor, this place gives off a charming vibe, that makes it an experience you must try when in Madrid.
WHEN WE VISITED
We visited in July 2016. As it was summer, it was very hot, you will quickly notice why the Spaniards have siestas as the middle of the day can get very uncomfortable. The sun sets really late in summer and it is not unusual for it to be quite bright out even at 10pm! This is great because the day feels really long and you can squeeze in a lot of activities before it gets dark. Summer in Madrid, fortunately, doesn’t get as busy as other more popular tourist destinations like Barcelona, so you won’t always feel like you are swamped by crowds. However, it could get quite dehydrating walking through some of the parks and gardens without much shade and seating, remember to always carry water with you.
WHY 48 HOURS WASN’T ENOUGH
One word: Food!
There simply wasn’t enough time to try all the amazing food Madrid had to offer. We could easily see ourselves spending months here just eating. If you aren’t much of a food person, we didn’t feel like Madrid was a stand out city in terms of architecture, entertainment or shopping, in that case, 48 hours should be enough.