destination: madrid.

25 Jun

I’m officially at the close of my 9+ months in Madrid, Spain and I have a pretty good feel now for the city, and with that, comes my travel recommendations! While I fell in love with Barcelona instantly, it took me longer to appreciate everything Madrid had to offer. At the close of my experience, though, I can definitely recommend Madrid as a solid spot on a European trip – the Spanish capital has it all.

Transportation: If you’re coming into Madrid from the MAD airport, follow the signs in the airport for the Metro, buy a 2 euro metro ticket (it’s 2 euros to and from the airport, and 1 euro anywhere else). Take the Pink Line 8 to Nuevos Ministerios, and from there hop onto either Line 6 (Grey) or Line 10 (Navy Blue) based on whichever is closer to your hotel or other destination. The metro is really easy to use, and in my experience safe and clean. It runs until 1:30 am and re-opens at 6 am.

standard metro "rage" pic with my roommates.

Tourist Attractions

  • Puerta del Sol. This is literally the heart of Madrid and is what people refer to when they say “the center.” Sol is basically a huge, sprawling plaza and it was the sight of the 15-M movement. At Christmas, there is an epic tree in the center of the plaza, designed by Spanish designer Agatha Ruiz de la Prada. Metro: Sol
  • Plaza Mayor. Essentially every Spanish city has a “Plaza Mayor” which is basically a large, quadratic Plaza where official proceedings and bull fights used to take place. Madrid’s is a stunning reddish brown with intricate artwork on one side. Metro Sol, located off Calle Mayor. I’d recommend walking around here and soaking in the experience, and then heading to the Mercado de San Miguel next door for some sangria.

  • Plaza Santa Ana. Hands down my favorite Plaza in Madrid (and there’s no shortage to choose from). Maybe it’s the ever classy 100 Montaditos with tons of seats outside, but I think the real reason is the purple lights that light up the ME by Meliá hotel (and the cool rooftop bar called Penthouse there as well).

  • Templo de Debod. One of my favorite spots in Madrid, these are Egyptian ruins donated to Spain in 1968 overlooking Madrid’s Royal Palace. Head to the Templo for a picnic or a night botellón (pre-game), scope out the views of the palace, and then trek over to the palace itself!

  • Other tourst spots: take a stroll along Gran Via, check out the views of the city from the Teleférico (pick it up in the Parque del Oeste), and spend some time at Madrid’s Retiro Park (essentially the Central Park of Madrid complete with row boats and well-manicured gardens), and my two favorite museums in Madrid: the Prado and the Reina Sofia.
Good Eats.
  • 100 Montaditos (are you surprised?) I’m OBSESSED with this place. 100 mini sandwiches, delicious salads, and jarras of beer, clara (beer + lemon fanta) and tinto de verano. Everything is delicious and cheap (on Wednesdays the entire menu is 1 euro, except for the salads which are 2 euros) and there are locations all over the city. My favorite locations are the ones at Plaza Santa Ana (Metro: Sevilla) and near the Palace (Metro: Ópera). You must go here if you come to Madrid.
  • Shapla Lavapiés (C/ Lavapies, 42) Metro: Lavapiés. This place was recommended to me as the best Indian food in Madrid and I wouldn’t argue that at all. The best thing about this place is the 9 euro “Menu del dia y noche.” For that (very fair) price, you can select basmati rice or naan, a starter (I always go with the vegetable samosas), and a curry (the chicken vindaloo is quite good), a drink (beer for me!) and a desset (the mango lassi is my favorite). The seating is outdoors, right on the main drag of the Lavapiés district. I love this place – it’s definitely a welcome respite from Spanish food on occasion.
  • Chocolatería San Ginés – this Madrid staple (open since 1894) is open 24 hours a day and features the Spanish classic: churros con chocolate. Go here on a cool day and sit outside, or truly embrace Spanish culture and go here for breakfast after leaving a club! It’s located on a side street between C/Arenal and C/Mayor. Metro: Sol.

  • Llao Llao – C/ Preciados Metro: Callao. This place is Madrid’s take on Pinkberry, and for awhile it was equally as addictive. A “mediana” gets you a good portion of tart yogurt and 3 toppings (chocolate sauce, chocolate meusli, and strawberries) were my go-to.
Nightlife. 
It would be truly impossible to give a comprehensive guide to Madrid nightlife, but know before you come there is truly something for every taste, musical preference, and age group. Yes, it’s possible to see a flamenco show and see women dance the sevillanas, but it’s equally possible to get trapped in a study abroad bar where no Spanish is ever uttered. Here are my favorite places…
Bars:
  • Malasaña district (bars like Cherokee, Tupperware, Freeway and La Catrina): The Malasaña area is particularly fun because of the movida madrileña that occurred in the 1980s, post-Franco, when Spaniards felt a true sense of freedom and wanted to project their independence and their spunk. The bars in this area have fun themes – Tupperware projected the film “Beetlejuice” on the wall once when I was there, Freeway is an Australian bar, and La Catrina is Mexican – complete with miniature depictions of “La Golondrina” everywhere.

La Catrina.

  • Magister – Calle del Príncipe, 18 Madrid. This place was my favorite bar in Madrid for a good portion of my time here – it’s a micro-brewery which I loved (since my favorite restaurant at home is one too!). I recommend either the “rubia” (a blonde) or the darker “tostada.” Every drink comes with a free tapa, and the staff is friendly.

my friends Kelley and Alia at Magister.

  • La Blanca Paloma – C/ Meléndez Valdes, 62. Metro: Arguelles. Fun place with endless trays of free tapas. The first one is usually a fried egg…mmm.
  • La Fontana del Oro – Metro: Sol. Touristy Irish bar in the center, but still fun! A good place to go if you’re just getting to the city and don’t know where to go just yet.
  • Penthouse in Plaza Santa Ana, on the rooftop of the ME by Meliá hotel. Chic, pijo bar with views overlooking the plaza. Prices aren’t cheap though, a bottle of Cruzcampo is 5 euro.

view from Penthouse

  • El Tigre – C/ Infantas, 30. Metro: Gran Via. This place is awesome – huge cups of beer and heaping plates of traditional tapas. The bartenders somehow miraculously remember the tapas they give you, so each round you’ll get a different assortment. It can get pretty crowded with tourists, but it’s a must on a trip to Madrid.
  • Las Cuevas de Sésamo – C/ Principe, 7 Metro: Sol or Sevilla. This place is pretty fun – it’s an underground sangria bar, and it’s pretty strong. A lot of my favorite bars are in this area (Magister, 100 Montaditos, and Penthouse) so this could be a fun place to start the night!

mini-AXO reunion at Las Cuevas de Sésamo.

Clubs:
  • Kapital – C/ de Atocha, 125 Metro: Atocha. Insane 7-story night club. The best floor is the first one with house music and cold air blown over the crowd every 15 minutes or so. If you go to one club in Madrid, go here. Normally 15 euro cover with 2 drinks included.
  • Pacha Madrid  Calle de Barceló, 11 Metro: Tribunal. Toned down version of the Pacha Ibiza, and normally free on Thursday nights if you get on a list via a promoter on Facebook. Pricey drinks.
  • RRR Club – Rock and Roll Radio Club, c/Barquillo 44 Metro: Alonso Martinez. Fun rock-and-roll club blaring classics like “Barbara Ann” and “Beat It.” 10 euro cover, but it includes a mixed drink.
  • Joy Eslava – Touristy and international crowd, located on C/ Arenal. Metro: Sol. Normally free on Thursdays.
That’s my summary of all things Madrid – if you’re checking out Barcelona, read my recommendations here!
What am I forgetting from this Madrid must-list? Leave me a comment and let me know! 
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14 Responses to “destination: madrid.”

  1. Kaley [Y Mucho Más] June 26, 2011 at 10:14 am #

    Such a great guide! I loved Plaza Santa Ana, too.

    • gillian June 26, 2011 at 10:15 am #

      Thanks, Kaley! It’s so hard to narrow down everything, but Santa Ana is a definite must I think 🙂

  2. Suzy July 3, 2011 at 8:40 am #

    Your guide makes me wish I tacked on Madrid when I was in Spain last summer. I found a good churros and chocolate place in Barcelona so I will have to check out Chocolatería San Ginés if I make it to Madrid. It sounds like a city with a lot of diversity.

    • gillian July 3, 2011 at 2:13 pm #

      Thank you! Barcelona still takes the cake for me in terms of which city I like better, but you’re right – Madrid is really diverse (and the chocolate is pretty delicious as well)!

  3. Kate November 20, 2011 at 8:46 am #

    Hi! I’m currently in the process of collecting my documents for the 2012-2013 school year, but I have some hesitancy about applying. My background is really in German; I’m a German minor and have traveled to Germany and Austria a number of times. I also studied abroad in Cairo, Egypt, where I took Arabic. So, I really don’t have a lot of recent experience in Spanish/with Spain. My only experience with the language was in high school. While I did well and can still speak at a beginner’s level, I’m hesitant to apply when the application states you must be at an intermediate to advanced level. I think I’d be able to pick it up quickly, but do you have any advice? Will I not be a competitive candidate without having studied it in college? I was thinking of writing my letter of intent in English and attaching my high school transcripts. Do you think that would be sufficient? Thanks so much for any advice you can give!

    • gillian November 20, 2011 at 10:05 am #

      Hi Kate!

      You will be absolutely fine. I know people who went who had never even taken a day of Spanish before and then loved it – and ended up coming back for a second year. I also wrote my letter in English and attached high school transcripts – they really don’t require much! I hope you decide to do the program – Spain is truly an awesome place!

      🙂
      Gillian

      • Kate November 20, 2011 at 11:04 am #

        Thanks so much, Gillian! I’m working on my statement now, so hopefully everything works out! 🙂

      • gillian November 20, 2011 at 11:06 am #

        That’s great! Let me know is you have any other questions and good luck!

  4. Mark October 7, 2013 at 4:37 am #

    Thank you Gillian for share your experience with us. Very interesting guidance and i like Plaza Santa Ana. Looks amazing……….

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