9 Things you should do in Madrid
If you're looking for somewhere with an incredible food culture, amazing architecture, beautiful parks, (almost) guaranteed sunshine and a place to shop until you drop look no further than the bustling city of Madrid. It's a place that will steal your heart within a matter of hours and want you coming back for more - take that as a warning!
1. Head for tapas
Tapas is right at the heart of Madrid's food scene so it would be rude not to grab some sangrias or a couple of Mahou's and feast on dish after dish at your own leisure. There's plenty of places to choose from so you're guaranteed to find the right atmosphere for you, whether that's sitting out in the plaza listening to the buskers and the free tour guides or heading to a busy bustling spot that caters for the locals. If you're looking for somewhere with plenty of bustle try El Tigre for a busy chatty pub and a huge plate of free tapas with every drink you buy. You don't get to choose your free tapas but when you can get a couple of pints and your dinner for €10 a couple you won't be complaining!
2. Check off the tourist hot spots
There's so many tourist stops to visit in Madrid and you could literally spend a full week just visiting these alone, from museums, theatres & art galleries to parks, cathedrals and royal palaces there's guaranteed to be something you'll enjoy. Our personal recommendations are Plaza Mayor, Almudena Cathedral and the Royal Palace of Madrid. We planned on visiting Plaza Mayor at some point during our trip but we actually stumbled upon it within our first few hours of being in Madrid by a complete accident. The sheer size of the plaza is pretty phenomenal and the buildings steeped in the architecture that you'd expect from a cultured Spanish city. Almudena cathedral is as grand as they come and with free entry it has to be one of the best places to visit in Madrid plus if you time it well you can head into the Royal Palace of Madrid too which right next door to the cathedral. Standard admission will set you back €11 for adults and €6 for children but if you visit between 4-6pm during October to March or 6-8pm during April to September you can head in for free.
3. Enjoy drinks from a rooftop bar
Madrid is full of hidden rooftop bars and quite frankly they’re one of its best kept secrets, the perfect way to escape the bustling streets below for a bit of relaxation with stunning views of the city. We fell in love with La Cocina De San Anton where the drinks are reasonably priced (€6.50 to €10.50) for an incredible cocktail (definitely try the espresso martinis) accompanied with a chilled vibe, cool mist spray, good music and free bar snacks. You can choose to chill out on the low comfy sofas and chairs or opt for the bar stools with a view of the busy streets of Chueca, Madrid’s hippest neighbourhood which homes the city’s thriving gay scene.
4. Discover Madrid's food scene at the markets
The food market scene in Madrid has been on the rise over the past few years so you can virtually find one in every neighbourhood you visit. Our top 3 that you should visit are Mercado De San Miguel, Mercado De San Ildefonso and Mercado San Anton. Built in glass and wrought iron San Miguel is easily the most popular of the markets for both locals & tourists due to its extremely central location right next to Plaza Mayor and extensive selection of food stalls & bars. Food is more expensive here than most of Madrid's food markets but the atmosphere certainly makes up for it, and you can buy everything from crab burgers & oysters to olives, smoothies and iberico ham. Due to the popularity it can be hard to find somewhere to sit at San Miguel so be prepared to stand whilst you nibble or head to one of the ends where there's a bit of quiet and the opportunity to stand at a bar table. San Ildefonso would be best described as the hipster market out of the three, set over three stories this market houses around 20 street food traders and a handful of bars too. Unlike San Miguel, Ildefonso has plenty of places to sit whether that's out on the beautiful terrace or on the long shared bar tables. You'll find DJs playing the best beats an extremely friendly atmosphere. Ildefonso is very much a market for the locals but tourists are made to feel more than welcome and most of the traders have a good grasp of English and even if they don't they're still happy to ply you with free tasters of their dishes. San Anton is the most traditional of the three with a fresh produce market on the bottom floor where you can pick up food to cook at home, a food court with prepped dishes to feast on on the middle floor and the cocktail bar we mentioned earlier on the rooftop terrace. This place feels very much like a Whole Foods market that comes alive in the evenings heat.
5. Take a stroll through the parks
Theres plenty of parks and green spaces to choose from in Madrid but Del Retiro is a firm favourite of the city. For starters it's absolutely huge, so much so that it's only 0.06 square miles smaller than New York's Central Park, which makes it so easy to lose a full day here. There's a couple of lakes, one small and one big both full of gigantic koi carp, terrapins & ducks, with the bigger out of the two being a boating lake which you can enjoy by renting a rowing boat. There's plenty of quiet stretches where you can enjoy a picnic, read a book or even have a small siesta along with plenty of ice cream cans and cafes where you can grab a bite to eat and some wine in the sunshine - that said, these cafes are ludicrously priced so we recommend grabbing some waters before you head into the park from one of the many supermarkets. You can also visit the Crystal Palace for free and the botanical gardens for a small admission fee whilst in the park.
6. Grab a good cup of coffee
Like any major city there's plenty of places to grab a truly great cup of coffee, the best don't tend to be very central so you'll need to get your walking shoes on or grab the metro to the nearest stop if your seeking out the cream of the crop. Hola Coffee was at the top of our list on coffee shops to hunt down after spotting them hosting the regional Aeropress championships of Madrid but due to the worst luck ever they'd shut up shop for the whole month we'd visiting in to go on their own holidays so we were forced to hunt down replacements. Toma Cafe is an instagrammers paradise full of quirky little prints, mismatching benches and tables, white tiled walls and more handwritten signs than you could shake a stick at. There menu is plentiful but if you're looking for the standout drink try the Espresso Tonic, an icy glass of tonic water with a double espresso poured over the top perfect to beat the midday heat.
Another must try is Bianchi Kiosko Caffee, the sweetest little coffee shop which happens to be the passion project of DJ Sandro Bianchi and partner Neus Solé. Although the venue is small there's a whole lot of craft coffee & tea loving going on here so it's a must try. If you're a tea lover try the Ice Chai Latte made completely from scratch without a syrup in sight using only the best organic ingredients like panela to sweeten, if you're a coffee lover opt for their 12 hour single origin cold brew. If we've whet your appetite for coffee there's a full post on Bianchi Kiosko here so head on over and have a read.
7. Have churros for breakfast (or lunch, or dinner, or a drunken snack)
One of the places you just have to visit at least once while you're in Madrid is Chocolatería San Ginés, they’re open 24 hours a day so there’s no real excuse not to hunt this place down and when they’ve been making churros since 1894 you can guarantee that these guys know what they’re doing.
8. Go on a shopping spree
If shopping is your thing then Madrid is your Mecca, there's all the popular shops from Primark, H&M, Footlocker and Bodyshop to premium makeup shops like Urban Decay and Sephora and an unreal amount of indie shops too. You'll find the main branded shops around Gran Via and Plaza Puerta Del Sol and the more independents in the hip neighbourhoods like Chueca and Malasaña, just make sure you've got enough room in your luggage to bring all your goodies home.
9. Check out the craft beer scene
Although Spain's famous for sangria and sherry there's a decent number of craft beer places cropping up around Madrid. Once again trendy Chueca seems to be the home for the majority of these so if beer is your thing that's the destination you need to head to. We'd recommend trying out Kalla Beer Factory who brew their own Swedish style beer on site and Bee Beer who offer excellent cheese pairings with their beers. There's a full review for both if you're interested in reading and seeing more, head here for Kalla Beer Factory and here for Bee Beer.
If you're looking for somewhere to stay on your trip to Madrid you can head here to read our review of Praktik Metropol, a design heavy budget friendly hotel with a really central location.