I didn’t realize how cold I’d been until I stepped off the plane in Madrid. The sun and dry heat felt like being reunited with an old friend. “Now, THIS is summer!” I exclaimed while deboarding. My fellow passengers understood. The Edinburgh summer is a damp cold that sinks through your skin and into your bones, becoming part of you. To give you some perspective, I’ve worn shorts twice from May to August in Edinburgh. Twice.
I broke out my shorts and tank tops that carried me through Buenos Aires and Lima, I reclaimed some of the tan I’d lost since May, and I reengaged my Spanish. The Madrid sun dried me out, warmed me up, and reinvigorated me.
My friend Helen, who’s from Austin but living in Morocco for a year, and I traipsed around the city for a week, exploring as much as we could. What follows is my Madrid City Guide.
El barrio: Malasaña
We stayed in a lovely AirBnB in the Malasaña neighborhood. It’s located just to the north of the city center and is a creative hub of the city. The buildings are covered in street art, there are clothing boutiques everywhere you turn, and tons of craft coffeeshops and local breweries. Madrid is incredibly walkable, and we could get everywhere within twenty-five minutes or less.
Things open late. Coffeeshops don’t open until 8 or 9am. Dinner isn’t eaten until 9pm or later, although, you can find places open all day. It’s always confusing whether you wait for someone to seat you or seat yourselves or order at the bar. When in doubt, which is all the time, ask. Always, always, always check on Facebook first to see if the place is really open if they’re on vacation. You always have to ask for the check (la cuenta) or you’ll be sitting there till the place closes.
La Tape – 3/5
They have a good selection of beers. The food was good but pricey for the portion size. The atmosphere downstairs was bustling and lovely, but they put me in an upstairs room that was empty and devoid of all personality.
Chocolatería San Ginés – 3/5
I don’t think I like churros very much, but this place is very, very popular.
Buns & Bones – 5/5
With two locations around the city, you don’t have an excuse to miss this place. Every bun was amazing.
Mercado de San Miguel – 5/5
Each little stand specializes in their own kind of tapas! You’ll spend a pretty penny collecting them all, but it’s so fun!
Always, always, always check on Facebook first to see if the place is really open if they’re on vacation.
1862 Dry Bar – 5/5
Recommended by a bartender friend of mine in Austin, and it did not disappoint.
Fabrica Maravillas – 4/5
I docked them a star because their selection wasn’t very diverse. No dark beers on the menu at all. The place was hopping, though, and the bartender was wonderful.
Toma Café – 5/5
The only place you need to go for coffee. The best cold brew I’ve had all year. I went back three times.
free walking tour – 4/5
The guide was wonderful, but this company makes money from upselling the paid tours they offer. If I went back, I’d do the original free walking tour from the company I’ve used in Buenos Aires, Lima, and Amsterdam. To be fair, Helen did do two of the paid tours, though, and said they were both wonderful.
The Prado – 5/5
Multiple people told me to go to The Prado, and now I understand why. This amazing art museum is so large, you won’t get through it in one day. The triptychs alone are reason enough to visit. And get the audio guide. Always get the audio guide.
Reina Sofia – 4/5
Unlike The Prado, this modern art museum was empty when I went in the afternoon. The rush comes in the evenings when it’s free admission. The Picasso exhibit is worth the price. Again, get the audio guide.
Retiro Park – 5/5
For a lazy day when you want to get away from the city’s bustle, head to the park. You can wander through gardens and row a boat on the small lake. It’s very relaxing.
Flamenco at Casa Patas – 4/5
Recommended to me by a local, this flamenco show took my breath away. I’ve never seen anything like this show. The music and the dance were performed with so much intensity and passion. They’re only losing a star because the chairs were so uncomfortable. And we couldn’t take pictures of the dancers, so you get to see me and Helen.
Thank you to everyone who shared ideas with me! This trip wouldn’t have been the same without your input. Going to Madrid reminded me, once again, how important it is to learn a second language. When I returned to Edinburgh, I signed up for a weekly Spanish language meetup.
Have you been to Madrid? What did you enjoy about the city? What didn’t you enjoy? Reply in the comments, and let me know!