One of my friends is coming to Madrid soon, but unfortunately it will be after I leave. So, he asked if I could come up with a list of things for him to do while he's here. Well, I've become SO in love with this city since I moved here, I went a little overboard with my recommendations. I thought that more friends in the future might want this info so it would be a good idea to put it up on my blog. So here is my guide to everything Madrid!! Keep in mind, the majority of these things are for budget travelers like me :)
THINGS TO DO
-Retiro Park (Parque del buen retiro): Awesome park in the city center. It's HUGE! You could literally spend a whole day there if you wanted, but I would recommend just going there for a couple of hours and explore, maybe pack a picnic lunch if it's nice weather. Highlights include the crystal palace and it's turtle pond, casa de vacas (which usually has some sort of art exhibition for FREE), and of course the lake. The lake is man-made but it's gorgeous. Also, for a relatively cheap price you can rent a row-boat for 45-minutes. But overall, it's just a beautiful park.
-Templo de Debod: This is a legit temple that was gifted to Madrid from Egypt. If you visit it during that day (any day but Monday) you can go inside it for FREE and check out the cool hieroglyphics on the wall. It's a bit small but still worth seeing! The temple is amazing, but the reason I recommend it is because of it's location. Just outside of the temple is the most amazing view of Madrid. I'd recommend seeing it at sunset, but it's equally beautiful during the day.
-Palacio Real (Royal Palace): The pride and joy of Madrid. I actually have to admit that I haven't been inside yet (it's on my to-do list before I leave) but it's supposed to be pretty awesome. If you're kinda cheap like me and don't want to pay to go inside(I think it's 11 euros, 5 euros for students, free for EU citizens 4-6 on Monday), it's still worth walking by and seeing the outside. There are also Royal Gardens behind the palace that are free to see and walk around it (watch out, they let peacocks run wild in there). The gardens are a little hard to find since the only entrance to it is a back entrance a bit far from the front of the palace. However, just ask someone and I'm sure they can point you in the right
direction. The gardens are definitely worth seeing! The view from behind the palace is stunning.
-La Almudena Cathedral- Located right next to the palace. It's also free to get in. Yeah I know cathedrals can be pretty monotone, once you've seen one you've seen them all sort of thing, but this one is pretty I promise! It's decorated with super vibrant colors! And since it's free, I mean... why not?
-Puerta del Sol: Quite literally the heart and "soul" (it's a pun, get it?) of Madrid. There isn't anything to actually visit here, but it's the center of the city centre. There's always tons of street performers, demonstrations, creepy people in character costumes, etc walking around here. Plus, 50% of the time when someone gives you directions to somewhere they will use Sol as a reference.
-Plaza Mayor: The historic old square that used to be where the town market was etc. Tons of cafes and stuff in this square but most of them are pretty price. Still nice to see! Plus, there is a tourist info center here if you need a map or anything. Also, a free walking tour leaves daily from this plaza. I went on it and would say it's worth it! Just have to tip the tour guide at the end.
-Gran Vía: The most modern part of Madrid. It's a big road lined with clothing stores, restaurants and theaters. It's the one place in Madrid you'll feel like you're in a big modern city rather than an older one. It's beautiful too. At the end of Gran Vía there is a plaza called Plaza de España which is pretty and has a cool Don Quixote statue in it.
-The Prado: In my opinion the best of the three major museums in Madrid. It's the biggest and has more traditional art. Even if you're not a big art person, it's worth going. There are some seriously famous paintings in there! If you aren't planning on spending a ton of time there (3+ hours) I would recommend going during the free hours which are every night from 6-8pm except Sundays when its 5-7pm.
-Reina Sofia: Modern art museum. I'm not really into modern art, but it's worth going to this museum just to see Picasso's famous "Guernica" painting. I would also recommend stopping by the Salvador Dalí room on the second floor. Other than that, most of the art there is too weird for me. Go during the free hours 7-9pm.
-Museo Thyssen: Largest collection of private artwork in Europe. I liked this museum because it's not gigantic and therefore not overwhelming. They also have an awesome collection of impressionism (my personal favorite artistic movement) so I really liked it. Free hours 12-4 on Mondays.
-Santiago Bernabeu Stadium: Real Madrid's stadium. For 18 euros you can do a self-guided tour. You get to go into the locker room, down to the field and through all the trophy rooms and stuff. Apparently it's a pretty cool tour if you're a football fan. I've never done it, but I've been to the stadium and that in itself is pretty incredible.
View from Palacio de Comunicaciones
-Plaza de Cibeles: Big beautiful traffic circle in Madrid. Home to Palacio de comunicaciones which you can go into for free. you have to pay 2 euros to get to the viewing deck on the 7th floor which gives you an amazing view of Madrid or you can see a similar view from the 5th floor through a window. Also on the 6th floor there's a restaurant/bar with an outdoor patio that you can see the same amazing view. A drink is on the expensive side, but you're not paying for the drink, you're paying for the view
-9th Floor El Corté Ingles: El Corte Ingles is a MASSIVE department store in Madrid. It literally has 10 buildings between Puerta del Sol and Gran Via. However, in the building that's directly across from the famous Callao theatre, you can go up to the 9th floor for an AMAZING view of Gran Vía. There's a ton of restaurants up there food-court style so you can grab something to eat or drink and enjoy the view.
-Casa de Campo/Manzanares River: If it's nice out when you're here (it will probably be super hot) and you're looking for some fresh air, you can rent bikes and go up and down the river and around Casa de Campo (a MASSIVE park and the former royal hunting grounds for the King). Rentals are pretty cheap. I'd recommend Mi Bike Rio (google it) which is close to the Principe Pío metro stop. If you don't want to rent the bikes, the river is still nice for a walk. Go to either the Principe Pío or Piramides metro stops and walk from there. If you walk far enough you will walk by the Atlético Madrid stadium.
-El Rastro: If you're here on a Sunday, the Rastro is a must! It's a giant flea market in the La Latina neighborhood. When I say huge, I mean you'll need over an hour here, maybe 2. The hurdreds of little booths sell everything from clothes (new and vintage), hand-made accessories, artwork and more. It gets VERY crowded here, so beware of pickpockets. Also, don't be afraid to argue for a better price with the vendors!
Casa de Campo
-Malasaña/Chueca: Two of the trendier neighborhoods of Madrid and very popular with the 20-somethings. These neighborhoods are full of cute and cool bars, cafés, shops, boutiques, etc. Great for exploring day or night!
-Kapital: THE club of Madrid. 7 stories, different music on different levels. 15 euros cover which includes 2 drinks. Doesn't get busy until after 3am and is open until 7am. I only went once (and I'm not much of the clubbing type) and it was a BLAST! I wish I would've gone sooner! If you hang out near Kapital earlier in the night there will be a bunch of promo guys trying to get you deals to go to the club. Don't be afraid to take advantage of them!
FOOD AND DRINK Okay, that should be enough activities... now let's talk about food/drink. Also note that meal times are different here. Lunch 1:30-4, Dinner 9-11pm. In Madrid, most restaurants will always be open due to tourism, but these are the typical/busy hours:
-Mercardo San Miguel: A food market near Plaza Mayor. It's full of little bite-sized food that's totally delicious. It can get a bit expensive so don't go there if you're starving but if you want to sample a bit of this and a bit of that then this is your place! So yummy. Mercardo San Miguel is the nicest and most popular among tourists but if you're looking for a slightly cheaper and more authnetically Spanish food market then I would recommend checking out Mercardo San Antón in the Chueca neighborhood or Mercardo San Fernando in Lavapiés neighborhood.
-100 Montaditos: This is a chain restaurant and they are EVERYWHERE so it won't be hard to find one. Montaditos are little sandwhiches and they have 100 to choose from at this place. You fill out a order sheet and bring it to the cashier and then pick it up from the window when they call your name. If you go on Sundays, Mondays or Wednesdays they have extra discounts on the sandwiches but on a normal day they range from 1-2 euros and beer is 1.50 euro as well. Super cheap and super delicious!
-Museo de Jamón: Also a chain restaurant. Most tourists don't go because they think it's a tourist trap but it's not! It's cheap beer and ham... what more can you ask for? If you order a beer they'll give you a free "tapa" which is usually a little bread with cured ham on it. If you want more, then you can order a ham sandwich for 1 euro or a plate of cured ham or cheese to share. Careful what kind of ham your order, some ham (and cheese) can be really expensive.
-El Tigre: This is a MUST. It has three locations (all in the Chueca neighborhood). When you order a drink (5-6 euro) you will get a few giant plates of tapas brought to you (free). The drinks are HUGE as well. I recommend a mojito but you can just get beer or "tinto de verano" (see below) as well. The tapas aren't super high quality but they're greasy and delicious. The epitome of Spanish bar food. WARNING: It gets super busy on Thursday-Saturday night after 8/9pm. So I'd recommend going on a weeknight or around 7/8pm on Saturday.
-Traga Tapas/ La Sureña: Two more chain restaurants that you'll find all over. You can get a bucket of beers and raciones (big tapas) to share for cheap!
-Ginger: An amazing restaurant in between my house and Sol. It's best to go for the menu del día (fixed lunch menu) because it's only 10 euros and includes three courses, bread and a drink. This is high quality food. Go here and you will not be disappointed.
-La Mallorquina: A bakery in one of the corners of Puerta del Sol. Best pastries I've had in Spain, bar none. You'll know when you see it because they have a window display of their amazing pastries that will make your mouth water. Take one to go or go upstairs to sit down and enjoy a cafe con leche or tea with your pastry!
-La Latina: This is not a restaurant, but rather a neighborhood. It's known for it's plethora of tapas bars and restaurants! If you are looking for somewhere to go for lunch/dinner but don't know where to begin, head to this neighborhood. These prices of these places range from cheap to very expensive so make sure you take a look at the prices before you choose your place so you know what you're getting into!
-Lavapiés: Also a neighborhood known for it's ethnic food, especially Indian, North African and Spanish with a twist. The food here tends to be pretty reasonably priced.
-Huertas: My neighborhood! Named after "calle huertas" which is the heart of the neighborhood. Also home to Plaza Santa Ana. In this neighborhood you'll find TONS of tapas bars and restaurants. Usually more on the pricey side, but very VERY high quality places and tons of variety to choose from.
-El Chapandaz: My favorite bar/pub in all of Madrid! It's a little outside the city centre, but not too far. It's in a neighborhood called Moncloa which is kind of a student neighborhood. This bar is awesome because it's modeled after the inside of the cave! They're famous for a drink called "Leche Pantera" (panther's milk) which is a delicious creamy drink that I would compare to a White Russian. They have tons of other specialty drinks that you can choose from as well! Their drinks come in 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6 liter portions (as well as regular sizes) so go with a bunch of friends and split a giant delicious drink! The music isn't bad either :)
San Gines: A cafe known for one thing CHURROS AND CHOCOLATE! Try the churros and porras (big churros) with chocolate on the side to dip! It's the oldest churros place in Madrid!
Tapas you should try while you're here: -Croquetas de jamon (fried ham and potato goodness) -Tortilla espanola (spanish omelette with potato) -Jamón serrano (cured ham) -Queso manchego (my favorite cheese) -Patatas bravas (potatoes with a spicy tomato sauce) -Calamares fritos (fried calamari) -Pulpo al la gallega (boiled octopus topped with paprika) -Albóndigas (meatballs) -Boquerones (anchovies fried or served in vinegar) -Chorizo a la sidra (chorizo cooked in cider) -Pimientos de padrón (little green peppers roasted and topped with sea salt) -Aceitunas (olives, the olives are INCREDIBLE here!!).
Drinks I recommend: -Café con leche: Spain's staple drink, coffee with milk
-Vino Tinto (red wine) with Rijoa and Ribera being my favorite
-Tinto de Verano or tinto con limón: red wine with lemon soda
-Cerveza (beer) here is nothing too special but my favorite of the major brands are San Miguel and Estrella de Galicia. Also there is a craft brew from Madrid called "Cibeles" that's pretty good so try that if you come across it!
-Vermut (vermuth)- Typical in Madrid. Mercardo San Miguel has a ton of varieties or vermuth to try.
-Clarita: Beer with lemon soda for a fresh summer drink!
-Zumo de naranja (orange juice): Note, they say zumo not jugo here!! Always fresh squeezed and delicious
DAY TRIPS FROM MADRID
-Toledo: Can be reached in 30 minutes by AVE (fast train) for 20 euros round trip or 60 minutes by bus for 12 euros round trip. Medieval city with tons of history and plenty to see!
-Segovia: Can be reached in 30 minutes by AVE for 20 euros or by bus in 1hr 15 minutes for 15 euros round trip. Segovia is a charming city in Castilla y Leon surrounded by mountains and with a beautiful castle! I'd recommend trying the local dish "cochinillo" (suckling pig) while you're here. It's the best pork I've ever had!
-El Escorial: Also embarrassed to say I haven't been here yet. Giant royal palace and monastery where all or most of Spain's royalty are buried. Can be reached by bus or the cercanias suburban train.
LAST BIT OF ADVICE
Madrid is a great city! One of the things I love about it is that,for the most part, it's walkable. So I always recommend walking if you can, especially because then you can see house Madrid changes from neighborhood to neighborhood. However if you're feeling lazy or going to something a bit further away, Madrid has a great network or mass transportation as well. The metro is super nice and clean and can take you almost anywhere. Also, unless is late at night or the weekend, the trains come every 2-5 minutes. The metro runs from 6:00am - 1:30am daily. There are night buses that run all night (from Plaza Cibeles) if you need to get somewhere far away after hours. If you're planning on taking it a bunch you can buy a 10 pass ticket for a discounted price. Also, while on the subject of transportation BE CAREFUL! There are multiple bus stations and train stations (only one airport but it has 4 terminals) so always make sure you know which one you need to be going to!
Also, although it's never happened to me, pickpocketing is fairly common here. My advice is just to always be aware of your belongings and pack light. Be especially on guard in popular crowded areas like Puerta del Sol, El Rastro, etc. If you're going out for a big night on the town, only bring the essentials: cash, ID, etc. Other than that, you should be okay! Just be smart :)
Enjoy Madrid! It's a beautiful city with lots to offer. There is SO MUCH TO SEE, EAT AND DRINK! It can be as cheap or expensive as you make it. Follow my advice and explore it youself, and you'll have a great time.