I don’t remember the exact moment I fell in love with Madrid. It might have been the first time I walked the cobblestone streets. It could have been when I saw the imposing architecture with my own eyes from my hotel room window. Or it could have been when the food stole it’s way into my heart through my stomach—it’s all too jumbled to tell. What I do remember are the things that made my visit an unforgettable one. Between checking out paintings by old Spanish masters and perusing the wares at the city’s most popular market, I discovered a Madrid that was both tourist attraction and local haunt—and it was the perfect mix. Whether you’re planning on stopping by El Foro for a day or two weeks, check out these tips for getting the most out of the city—you won’t regret it!
1. Forget your ideas about markets and check out the Mercado de San Miguel.
A shrine to the pleasures of food, local handmade goods and cast-iron architecture, the Mercado de San Miguel is one of those markets that will make you rethink everything you thought you knew about shopping for groceries.
Specializing in wine, yogurt, fresh fruits and vegetable, seafood, gastronomic delicacies, confections, beer and more, the Mercado definitely deserves a visit for it’s colorful and chic stalls. The one thing you shouldn’t forget? A basket to bring all your goodies back with you.
2. Plan a day to hit up the museums.
With a cultural history as old as Madrid’s you know it’s not only going to be full of museums that boast a diverse artistic past but the modern masters as well. Take a day (maybe a day with less than favorable weather) to wander around El Prado for views of El Greco and Goya pieces and then straight to Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza for their modern collections like Vogue like a painting. And for an added bonus? The Museo has an excellent bar that can break up your day with a great view and a cocktail.
3. Ditch your plans to take taxis everywhere.
Even though there are plenty of taxis to go around, Madrid has the benefit of a really great bus and metro system—so why not plan on using it? Several of the buses are 24/7 and perfect for a night out, and the metro stations stay open until 1:30 am if you’re planning on having a Spanish-style dinner.
4. Throw away your Teflon and get ready to stock up on cast iron.
So if you’re planning on getting handy in the kitchen back home with everything your tastebuds learned on vacation, bring just a couple of these authentic tools back with you. They also make great (and functional) souvenirs if you’ve got the extra room in your bag.
5. Brush up on your flamenco terminology and catch a show.
Okay bailaoras, it’s time to take out those dancing shoes. Whether you’re planning on dancing the night away or taking in a show at Cafe de Chinitas, you can’t do anything better on your flight over than learning a little bit about Spain’s most famous dance. Plan on grabbing dinner and a show, and if the feeling hits you, take your heels out for spin around the capital at the best night clubs.
6. Get a manicure and get ready to eat tapas.
Even though tapas is so much more than just finger food, get a manicure and dig into the greatest culinary tradition of Madrid. My plan is always to wander and find something that looks delicious–taking a stroll is a good way to get to know the neighborhoods and work up your appetite.
But the key to discovering a place that calls to your taste buds is patience and a lot of luck so if you’d rather make a plan, check out The Guardian’s top ten best tapas restaurants–they’re in-house foodie has really good taste.
7. Ditch your global roaming charges.
There’s nothing more annoying than trying to make a reservation for two at La Castela and realizing either your phone isn’t picking up the local carrier or fearing that your 2 minute call is going to be as pricey as your entire meal, drinks and dessert included.
Skip the hassle with your phone company and plan to grab a local SIM card on your way out of the airport—they can be found at kiosks all over the terminals and in local convenient stores as well.
Think it’s difficult to get started? Not at all, using a SIM is so easy you’ll wonder how cell phone providers even get people to buy their astronomical international packages. You just need to unlock your phone, pop open the card reader and store your original SIM card for the trip back.
8. Empty your closet and try new up and coming clothing designers.
Before even leaving home, start by adding an extra, empty carry-on. Is it for souvenirs? You bet, but maybe not just for other people, but you as well. Madrid is a hustling and bustling metropolis and like all European cities it’s size, it’s home to some real luxury shopping: Carolina Herrera, Loewe, you name it, and it’s all in the super-chic Salamanca neighborhood. Take a look along the main street for the major labels and the side streets for unique labels only found in Madrid.
Want a shopping experience a little more funky? Check out the designer duds in the hipster Chueca (an up and coming area that felt like Brooklyn before Brooklyn was Brooklyn) for labels like Miriam Ocariz. Your closet will thank you.
9. Plan on a day trip.
If you think Madrid is awesome, you should try going outside of the city limits into the Spanish countryside. Think about making a trip to Toledo for gorgeous views from the walled medieval city or to Segovia for views of its cathedral and the Roman aqueduct. Spain has a lot of history and a lot of local cultural individuality—it’s definitely worth the train ride to check them out!
Last tip: in Madrid they dine late, wake up early, and dance all night, so this is going to be one of those vacations that speeds past your eyes and you’ll need the pictures, your travel diary and all your ticket stubs to piece together what exactly happened. But don’t worry about the fast-pace, if you’re planning on getting the most out of the city just play like a local and enjoy! It’s what makes Madrid such a unique place to be.
About the author:
Claire is the budding travel blogger behind Traveltio, an online destination documenting her many adventures and travel experiences she’s enjoyed around the world! Having visited 3 continents, 16 countries and 36 cities so far, Claire writes often about food, travel tips and more. Follow along with Claire and her many adventures on her site! To contribute to The Pin the Map Project, read about submitting a guest blog post here.
Have any must-see spots in Madrid or tips to share on visiting Spain? Share them in the comments section below!