There are two types of travellers: the ones that plan everything beforehand and the ones that rather go with the flow. I stand somewhere in the middle.
I read about the top places to visit in Madrid and wrote a route of trendy spots to see in the city for work, which is honestly just another way of saying the most hipster places in town. I made a huge list of things to see before our trip and I struggled to cross them all off.
It’s nice not to have to worry about where is the best place to eat, but rushing to get to the other side of town because the restaurant is rated 4.7 on TripAdvisor, becomes tiresome sometimes.
Before you read on, take in mind that Madrid is a huge city and you’re bound to find something that will suit your taste. What follows is a combination of places that I had in my must-see list and others that I stumbled upon when I stopped worrying so much about that list.
Everyone will tell you to stop by the Prado Museum*, and if you like spending ages looking at Classical Art, then by all means visit it. However, if you don’t fancy paying 16 euros at a museum, you have free admission Monday-Saturday from 6pm to 8pm or Sundays and Holidays between 5pm and 7pm. During these days you also have 50% discount in temporary exhibitions.
It’s much easier to get inside Reina Sofia**. The home of Picasso’s “Guernica” is a haven for modern artworks, from Dali to Miró. It’s one of the most visited museums in the world, often ranked ahead of the MoMa in New York. The museum is rather chilly so if you’re a cold-natured like me, you better bring a jacket!
*The best time to get there is either an hour before the free period or Fridays and Sundays around 6.30pm, since the museum is open until later. If you choose the first option, look for a girl with pink hair and a white umbrella (it might change when you go, but the umbrella will probably be a part of the look regardless of the weather or the person carrying it). Just sit next to her and you’ll see people gathering up later on. If you ask the staff they won’t tell you where it starts (very sneaky)!
**Visit during 7pm and 9pm on Mondays and Wednesdays to Saturdays or from 1.30pm to 7pm on Sundays. It’s also free on the following days: 18 April, 18 May, 12 October and 6 December. The museum is closed on Tuesdays!
For alternative and conceptual art, try the Tabacalera (an old tobacco factory that has turned into a creepy, but interesting, free exhibition space) and La Neomudejar (similar to Tabacalera, but it’s only free on Wednesdays from 11am to 2pm).
Finally, we paid a visit to the Anthropology Museum to see a small exhibition of Inuit Art Embroideries. The temporary exhibition is always free, so if you have time on your busy schedule take a look at what’s on! As a sporadic embroideress, I was really amazed by the colors and the stitches used by Inuit artists. I look forward to trying something similar soon!
There is no denying how beautiful the architecture is in Madrid. From the museums, to the churches and even the old-style apartments with their tile bottom balconies full of plants. There is always something worth capturing!
Stunning buildings like Palacio de Fomento (aka the Ministry of Agriculture), the amazing plant structure of CaixaForum and the massive Atocha Railway Station were engraved on my memory card, but so were other hidden sites, which I spotted from a distance and I know nothing about!
If you like modern-looking structures, the airport was one of the first things that caught my eye(and my camera). I loved the texture and the waviness of the ceiling. For more contemporary buildings in the city check this list from ArchDaily.
Unless your friends are vegetarian, they will probably recommend you to try Museo del Jamon (Ham Museum). I mean what’s not to like about cheap and delicious ham sandwiches? We first came across it on Calle de Atocha, little did we know it was actually a food chain. The one that we went to was quite small compared to the rest, but they gave us a delicious stew with beans and chorizo for free (I’m not sure they do this in all of them).
The food markets are a big thing in Madrid. We only tried Mercado de San Ildefonso, thanks to my old friend Katie, but we heard great things about the Mercado de San Fernando in Lavapiés. Mercado San Antón and Mercado de San Miguel are also great spots to eat. It’s worth going around the market and checking all the food stalls before making a rush decision!
We probably could have eaten a lot cheaper, but here are a couple of nice places we tried around our area: La Infinito (delicious toasts), Gau & Café (a hidden rooftop on the 4th floor of a University building, nice place to chat and relax), Pum Pum Café (vegan café with refreshing frappuccinos and scrumptious-looking cakes).
My personal favorite was Jardín de Salvador Bachiller, a nice secret retreat inside a shop on Calle de la Montera.Their milkshakes are to die for!
For churros and chocolate we went to the famous Chocolatería San Ginés where I had my first quasi-spontaneous Instagram meetup with Magda, a nice Polish girl from Krakow who also happened to be in Madrid. I must admit I wasn’t a big fan of the churros, but the chocolate was delicious.
Of course, like any other city in the world, there are tourist traps like the café at El Retiro, but when you walked for hours in the heat, it doesn’t matter how expensive the water is!
If you like to cross a Guinness Record off your list, then go by the oldest restaurant in the world at Calle Cuchilleros. Sobrino de Botín might be a nice treat for your stomach, but it certainly wasn’t for our wallets, so we skipped that and went to a nearby café instead.
With the high temperatures, it felt nice to eat outside in an evening, though we found out most places charge 10% more for serving outdoors!
THE FLEA MARKETS
You would think living next to a flea market for over a year might have made me numb to all of them. I will definitely make an exception for Mercado de Motores at the Museo del Ferrocarril (Railway Museum) Call me bias but I like my old trains.
Every weekend from 11am to 10pm, you can find vintage items, local food and cool crafts alongside 19th century English and Spanish train carriages.
While we were there, we also had a chance to listen to the band Durango 14 and a group of Beach Boys-wannabes singing a capella.
Outside they have a couple of food and drink stands, make sure to try the patatas bravas at the Koipe Sol stand, they were amazing!
I know the El Rastro is the most popular flea market in Madrid, but don’t feel too bad if you don’t make it there! I had a quick look at it, but nothing really jumped out as much as in Mercado de Motores. Then again, it was an extremely hot day and I was still fighting my cold, so that might have turned me off a bit. Feel free to make your own judgement!
I had over a dozen parks on my original list, which Nick eventually cut off because there’s only so many of them we could visit really.
El Retiro is one of largest parks in Madrid. It’s the perfect place to relax and get away from the sun. Among this green set, you will find two palaces, Palacio de Cristal (a stunning glass pavilion) and Palácio Velasquez, both of them are now functioning as art galleries.
Parque del Oeste is a great spot to see the sunset! This is where you’ll find most locals hanging out and it’s also where Templo de Debod is established. The temple was a present from Egypt to Spain as a thank-you to the Spanish archaeologists for helping out during a water rise of Lake Nasser.
The first time we tried to go to Parque del Oeste we were way too tired to make it there. We ended up sitting by the Sabatini Gardens and admiring the Royal Palace instead.
There was also a failed attempt on my behalf to see the Cherry Blossoms at Parque Quinta de Los Molinos (yes I know, wrong season). It’s a beautiful sight during the spring though, just take a look at this.
I was sick during most of this trip so there wasn’t much partying at clubs, which I rarely do when I’m in Lisbon anyway. We did venture around a lot of bars including Madrid Me Mata (drawn by cheap “chupitos” and beer), Ojalá (a sandy chill out spot), Café Manuela (for delicious mojitos) and The Passenger (a classy English style bar).
We missed out on the whole craft beer scene. We did pop by The Stuyck Co, but it was already closing, my friend Katie recommends it though!
The best part about the bars in Madrid is the little snacks you get with your drink. Green olives, chips and popcorn, free food is always welcome.
If you’re Portuguese you’re probably familiar with “Portunhol” (Portuñol in Spanish). A bridge language that mixes Spanish and Portuguese words.
Although there are several similarities between both languages, some words can actually mean completely different things. Two major examples are “Embarazada” (pregnant in Spanish) which sounds like “Embaraçada” (embarrassed in Portuguese) and ‘Molesta’ (upset in Spanish), very similar to “Molestada” which means molested in Portuguese.
I did most of the talking during the trip, since Nick had issues speaking with some people in English, but that might have been his Yorkshire accent…
Sometimes I also didn’t understand what they were saying and I simply nodded, which resulted on a surprise plate of octopus and a wrong Wi-Fi password, but it could have been worse…