Madrid City Guide: Tapas, Rioja and Palacio de Cristal

10 April 2017

Madrid City Guide


A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to spend a weekend wandering the streets of Madrid and soaking in the Spanish atmosphere (and all the food and drinks, natch) whilst staying with Graeme's auntie who lives in the city. With endless tapas to try, Rioja to sip on and miles of park to meander, it was the perfect way to escape for a few days with my favourite person. On the plane back, whilst listening to Emma Gannon's 'Ctrl Alt Delete' podcast, I was still buzzing with inspiration so I rattled out the below blog post with my picks of what I encountered around the city, as well as a couple of places we didn't manage to try, but come highly recommended!

Grab yourself a cup of tea (or a glass of sangria, if you're feeling the Spanish vibes) and sit back, notepad and pen in hand, and get ready to start refreshing Skyscanner every day for cheap flights...




Madrid City Guide


Madrid City Guide

Madrid City Guide

Madrid City Guide

Madrid City Guide

Madrid City Guide

Madrid City Guide

Madrid City Guide - Palacio de Cristal

Madrid City Guide

Madrid City Guide

Madrid City Guide

Madrid City Guide

Madrid City Guide

Madrid City Guide

Madrid City Guide

Madrid City Guide

Madrid City Guide

Getting around

Madrid is a really easy city to get around, with an expansive Metro system in place and taxis milling around everywhere. But, more-so, it's a fairly walkable city too, so I suggest dusting off your trainers and exploring the city this way. You really do get more of a true sense of a city when you're stumbling off the beaten track and enjoying the journey as well as the destination.

From the airport, there's a 24 hour airport shuttle bus which takes you to the city centre in around 40 minutes. For only €5, it's a good option for those on a budget. However, we noticed that by the time the shuttle bus had made it to Terminal 1, it was heaving with people. So instead, we buddied up with another couple in the queue and took a taxi from the on-site rank for a flat rate of €30. All taxis to and from Madrid airport are charged at this rate, which is a good way of estimating your budget if you intend to grab a quick easy taxi into town. Additionally, there's a Metro line connecting to the city which you can find out more about here.

Once you're in the city, the Metro system is excellent. We stayed within Zone A during our trip, so the tickets were €1.50 for a single journey - cheap and easy! You can also purchase 10 journeys in bulk at €12.20, which is a wise option if you intend to visit lots of different places in a short space of time.

Culture and exploring

Madrid is a city of galleries and grand buildings, so most of our trip - if we weren't hunting out the best Patatas Bravas like typical British tourists - was spent looking for those things. One of our favourite visits on the trip was to the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte - Reina Sofia (or Reina Sofia for short!) General admission is set at €10, but you can manage to nab free entry if you're willing to visit at quieter times (Mondays, Wednesdays-Saturdays between 7-9pm and Sundays between 1:30-7pm)... sneaky sneaky! The Reina Sofia is best known for its works by Picasso and Salvador Dali, but we also discovered an exhibition by Californian artist Bruce Conner on our visit which was fantastic. I recommend it if you're visiting up until 22 May 2017.

Another highlight from our trip was a Saturday morning stroll through the central Retiro Park after hitching a ride on the Metro to Retiro station. It's muuuuch bigger than you anticipate, so put aside an hour or two to admire all the dogs (naturally) and blend in with Madrid's locals for a while. They have lots of little places to grab a coffee to take along with you, plus the Palacio de Cristal is inside the park; best viewed with the sunshine streaming through. You can even end the journey by arriving at my first recommendation, Reina Sofia. Oh, and if you're feeling adventurous, they have a boating lake which I really wish I'd tried out now! Psst: look out for the statue of Satan.

And finally, spend a while wandering around the central Plaza Mayor with all its street artists, grand architecture and buzzing atmosphere. However, avoid all the expensive tourist trap restaurants there!

Eating

The Spanish enjoy late dinners after a late afternoon siesta, so prepare to be looked down on if you're popping into a local restaurant pre-9pm - unheard of! We even had naps around 5pm every day (luxurious!) to perk us up before a night on the town. I mean, I'm essentially a granny now so having dinner later than 6pm is a novelty for me...

The best tapas bar we tried was Taberna Tempranillo. It's an authentic local tapas bar with an extensive wine selection, and the confit duck was the best I've ever had. Don't go overboard and order too much, though, like we did. The portions are large but perfect for sharing!

Somewhere we wished we'd eaten but was unfortunately fully booked is an Argentinian steak restaurant called Camoati. As you can imagine by our experience, it's a popular local restaurant so be prepared to book in advance to get a table there, but according to Graeme it's well worth it! We managed to nab a space in the bar and the lure of food was incredible... Will have to try and visit again next time!

We also had the best crispy patatas bravas at a restaurant just off Gran Via but I unfortunately can't find the name of the place any more - boo! Silly Google Maps...

Drinking

Admittedly, a lot of our time was spent sampling the local wines and triple-measure gin and tonics (the standard!) so we clocked up a fair few bars we liked during the weekend. A couple of suggestions are: La Vía Láctea (also known as The Milky Way) and Figaro Cafe. 

The Milky Way in Malasaña is everything you need for a classic sweaty Saturday night in Madrid; slightly rough around the edges, with ample cheap drinks and cool young Spanish locals. Great for people watching and soaking in the atmosphere, it really is the place to be for a good night out. Whereas, Figaro Cafe in Centro is perfect for a laidback evening, drinking gin late into the evening and chatting. The walls are decorated with classic rock album covers and the music is a perfect mixture of all the good stuff. 

We definitely visited far more places but these two were the highlights by far!

Shopping

For shopping, Madrid boasts the usual city centre favourites on Gran Via and in Sol such as Zara, Topshop, Mango and even, er, a gigantic Primark?! They also have Pull & Bear, KIKO, & Other Stories and the homeland: Sephora. I usually pop into Sephora to pick up new Lip Creams - guilty.

If you fancy a mixture of shopping and eating (The Dream Scenario), the popular Mercado de San Miguel at Plaza de San Miguel is worth a look in. It's an indoor food market with plenty of places to pitch up for a glass of wine and a few tapas dishes. However, it's very tourist-heavy so not one for those seeking out an authentic Madrid experience.

For something a bit more local with character, try the streets around Calle Toledo behind Plaza Mayor.

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