Of the Spanish cities we toured, Madrid is the place I could see us settling down into a lifestyle for an extended stretch of time. It was highly walkable with an efficient metro, the pace of the city was just right, the atmosphere was lively, and the food was plentiful and diverse.
When you arrive in Madrid, seek out one of the “Free” Walking Tours to learn about the turbulent history of the city. We took the “Old City” tour which started in Plaza Puerta del Sol. On free tours, you should tip about 10-15€ per person to your guide. The tours starting in Plaza Puerta del Sol will likely walk and talk you through these sites:
- Symbolic statue of the Bear Eating from the Medrono Tree. We learned that the Medrono Tree is unique to the Madrid area. The fruit contains natural alcohol which is turned into a Liqueur. There are a few stores where you can sample it
- Plaza Mayor
- Royal Palace and the Plaza de Oriente
The tour of the Royal Palace is 11€ per adult. Our tour guide had misinformed us that it is free in the evening hours, however that is only for citizens of the EU. Regardless, I thought it was worth the price.
- San Miguel Market
- San Miguel Church
- Oldest Restaurant in the World: Botin (If you decide to go back to eat, their specialties are Fresh fish and roast lamb “cordero asado.”)
You’ll also want to be sure to meander Gran via Avenue. It’s mostly shopping and restaurants, but there is some impressive architecture, including the Metropolis.
For a more relaxing stroll, wander through El Retiro Park where you’ll find the Palacio de Cristal. It’s quite close to the beautiful City Hall, Plaza de Cibeles as well.
If you like Flea Markets, there’s a massive one that takes place on the streets of La Latina neighborhood on Sundays: El Rastro Flea Market.
Our favorite places for “tapa hopping” were all in the La Latina neighborhood. A few memorable spots were:
- Juana la Loca for their Patata Espanola
- Diaz y Larrouy for Cerdo Negro con Miel (Black Pork with Honey)
Local Flavors – Foods to Try
- Spanish Stew was interesting to say the least. We thought it was seafood we were eating, but actually it was trife, aka stomach lining.
- Late night churros and chocolate – you’ll find it everywhere.
- Piononos from Madrid’s Oldest Bakery – La Mallorquina. Here we tried Piononos – This is more traditionally found in Granada, but since I missed out on it there, I was glad to try this custard-like dessert.
- If visiting around Easter, try some traditional Easter Bread, Torrijas
- See what you think of the Blue Wine at Mercardo de San Miguel (Gik is the brand) – They wine tastes good, not great, but definitely worth trying. The creators used a pigment in grape skin to turn the wine electric blue.
- Order “Cana y Tapa” (Small beer & generous amount of chorizo and bread) at Museo de Jamon for €0.90. It was a form of entertainment to watch the staff work so efficiently through the crowds.
The city seems to come to life at night. Start your evening out with a picturesque sunset spot, like the Temple of Debod.
We were shocked by the number of children still out with their parents after midnight. (even during the week)
Semana Santa – Easter Week Celebrations
Holy week was a fascinating time to be in Spain. They do things quite differently than in the United States.