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Madrid was above & beyond our expectations. The city deserves its own spotlight. I mean, it’s so often overshadowed by the big guy northeast: Barcelona, but yet still has tons to offer! From trendy (super affordable) restaurants and bars, to its rich history and European art repository, to the new hip and “in” neighbourhoods, and SO much more… you just can’t skip this destination.
Where to Stay
(location, location, location)
We opted for the good’ol Airbnb for our 4-night stay here. It was relatively “cheap” ($180 CAD/ all fees included/ per night) when compared to nice/decent hotels nearby, plus it looked SO CUTE. I’m a sucker for interior decor, so I was sold when we saw this little hidden gem (I didn’t even research its location… oops).
Turns out that the Barrio de las Letras, where the apartment is located and which was once home to the great writers of the Golden Age of Spanish literature (Miguel de Cervantes, Quevedo, Gongora, etc.), is where you should stay when visiting Madrid! Most touristic attractions are a 15 minute walk away or, if you are not the walking type, you can take a look at the section below for a few alternatives on how to get around town and reach the city’s hotspots in a few minutes.
Our little niche for the voyage was about three streets away from Gran Via, one of Madrid’s popular and busy streets. Despite being so close to all the action, we felt like we were staying in a chic and quiet little village filled with history, art and a unique energy. My favourite part about our place was its proximity to the yummiest (most gorgeous) breakfast spot: La Rollerie (more information later in the article).
How to Get Around
(from A to B)
- Hop on hop off bus: they often offer various routes and drive by most touristic spots. You can hop off at any time to walk around. The buses pass every 5-10 minutes so all you need to do is catch the next one when you want to continue your city tour!
- Metro: the Madrid metro system covers some 293 km and has about 300 stations. It is a good and efficient way to get around town.
- Taxi: the city is flooded with them so don’t be worried about having to call one in spanish. Also, when you take a cab from the airport there is a set price of 30€ to any location downtown.
- Uber/MyTaxi: although Uber is present in Spain, the people there use a similar app called MyTaxi. You should check it out if you have a hard time finding a ride.
- Bike Tour
- Segway Tour
Where to Shop
- El Corte Inglés: the biggest department store in Europe and a Spanish/Portuguese version of Saks 5th where you can find both popular brands from across the globe and european brands you’ve never heard of. Make sure to take a look at the store’s website (by clicking on the link above) to find a location near you. Important: different locations sell different brands and have different departments. I recommend you visit the one near La Puerta del Sol: it has hundreds of brands and is spread over 6 floors so you are guaranteed to find something for everyone.*** Make sure you get the Corte Inglés tourist card (you will need to show your passport for this). It will be valid for 5 days in the department store (any location) and each purchase you make gives you 10% of that purchase off the next one. So if you spend 100€, you will get 10€ off the next time you buy something, which is pretty cool. Simply ask an employee to direct you to the person in charge of issuing the cards.
- Las Rozas Village: this village is 30 minutes away from the city centre and offers over 100 high-end brands at up to 60% off. If you are only in town for a short trip, I recommend you skip Las Rozas as you will waste a good half day there (minimum). They give all the information necessary on how to get there on their website (link above).
- Calle Fuencarral: one of Spain’s most modern streets, Fuencarral gathers tons of leading fashion chains (with the most colourful window displays) like Mango, Adidas, Zara, Diesel, Brandy Melville, MAC, etc. You can also find small boutiques, tattoo shops, art galleries, restaurants and more. The street is easy to access from Gran Via!
- El Rastro Market: the city’s oldest and most iconic outdoor market comes to life every Sunday from 9am to the early afternoon. It is a must. If you head over early in the morning, it won’t be as busy and packed. It is an experience to walk around the hundreds of stands installed. You can find clothing, souvenirs, accessories, vinyls, books, etc., etc.! *** Be sure to bring the minimum with you as there may be pocket pickers in the area.
- Malasaña and Chueca: Madrid’s very own hip/trendy neighbourhoods (also V insta-worthy). Its countless vintage shops, nostalgic feel and colourful scene attract a younger and lively scene. You can find super restaurants, bars and cafés ideal to unwind after exploring the area.
- Barrio de Salamanca: Salamanca is home to the crème de la crème of designers like Chanel, Gucci, Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co and many more. The area around Calle de Serrano is also know as the ‘Golden Mile’ and is simply candy to the eye. Once you are done shopping, the area offers a wide selection of very delicious restaurants for you to end the day en beauté!
What to Do
- Eat & drink with a view
- Azotea del Circulo of Bellas Artes: enjoy a refreshing cocktail/snack (or not) while taking in the city’s breathtaking 360 view from this rooftop bar. There is an entry fee of 4€ per person (3€ for kids) to get to the 7th floor, but once there, you are not required to buy drinks or food (just relax and take a few pics).
- Paseo del Arte Museums
- Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia: before the museum opened its doors in 1990, the building served as Madrid’s General Hospital starting in the sixteenth century. Today it is home to works by Picasso, Dali, Miro and many more. If you find yourself visiting this museum, don’t miss Picasso’s famous “Guernica” and be sure to head to the terrace at the top of the newest building that was designed by french architect Jean Nouvel.
- Museo Nacional Del Prado: designed in 1785 by architect Juan de Villanueva, the Del Prado Museum was originally built to house the Natural History Cabinet, by orders of King Charles III. It is now Madrid’s top cultural sights and one of the world’s best art galleries!
- Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza: this museum’s artwork was originally a private collection that now belongs to the Spanish public (since the government bought it in 1993). It illustrates the history of Western art from the primitive Flemish and Italian painters, to 20th century Pop Art (with works of Dürer, Rafael, Titian, Rubens, Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Manet, Renoir, Cézanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Kandinsky, Picasso, Hopper, and many more).***All three museums offer free admission on certain days and times so be sure to visit their website to find out when (normally indicated on the same page as ticket pricing).
- Parks and Plazas
- Parque del Buen Retiro: located near the city centre, this magnificent green retreat belonged to the Spanish Monarchy until it became a public park in the late 19th century. On top of being filled with countless sculptures and monuments (like the Palacio de Cristal), it features a lake, gardens (like the Jardines de Cecilio Rodriguez which features peacocks), and much more.
- Plaza Mayor & Puerta del Sol: while Plaza Mayor is Madrid’s most famous square, Puerta del Sol (a few minutes away) is the busiest one. They are both a must to visit. Mayor is a more closed up area with little cafés, restaurants and boutiques… while del Sol is a beautiful vast space surrounded by popular brand stores and more restaurants (they are all over the city).
- Plaza Santa Ana: this plaza was a few minutes away from my Airbnb (thank god) and I won’t lie, I ate there e-v-e-r-y night…. it is just a gorgeous area filled with amazing restaurants. You. Must. Go.
- Mercado San Miguel: the most beautiful food market I have ever seen. There is something for every taste there so be sure to head over (whether it is for a full meal, a tiny snack or a delicious smoothie).
- La Rollerie: amazing coffee, exquisite breakfast and cute decor… sign me the hell up! They have a few locations across Madrid, so take a look at their website and don’t miss out.
- Toma Café: fuel up in this hip-style spanish café (it could seriously be one of those San-Fran or NYC trendy cafés). All you need to know is that the breakfast list is quite limited, although… they do have the tastiest cakes (you can eat that for breaky, right?).
- Viña P: located at the Santa Ana Plaza, this Italian restaurant is a must. It has several lounges, a very nice outdoor patio and a pleasant atmosphere. The wine list is very long and the food is oh so good. Be sure to try the gazpacho soup and the crème brûlée.
- Le Mario: you can find this restaurant on the side of a calm street near La Puerta del Sol. Once the waiter shows you to your table (go for the patio), he will bring you some small plates on the house. It doesn’t stop there! After a succulent meal, you get a tiny dessert and some liquor on the house. Hm yes please?
- Palo Santo: this little hidden gem is located in the Chueca neighbourhood, just a short 10min walk away from Las Letras. The place is decorated in a chic-hip-country style and has amazing pizza!
We hope you will find some helpful tips through this article. Don’t hesitate to share your personal experiences and favourite Madrid spots!!