I don’t claim to be an expert on travel in Spain, but I will say that it is one of my favorite countries—I love its diverse history from being conquered by the Greeks, Romans, and African Moors to the creative revolution after the Franco years; it’s fabulous food culture; and the people. I studied in Madrid my junior year of college during which I traveled all over the country. I recently returned with my husband and fell in love all over again. Here’s my top list of what to eat, where to play, and where to play if you are visiting Madrid this summer.
Paella. You MUST MUST go to La Paella de la Reina for the best paella I have ever had in Spain. Make a reservation because it gets busy. Solo travelers beware, they make paella for two, so if you don’t have a traveling mate find a buddy on the street and drag them in! I prefer my paella with chorizo (Spanish sausage) and vegetables. If you get it with chicken they often use drumsticks. You really can’t go wrong with any type.
I also highly recommend Arabia on Calle del Piamonte in Chueca, which is known as the gay neighborhood in Madrid (same-sex welcome too of course!). My friends and I went here a lot when I studied abroad and I was thrilled to return. This area has really flourished over the years with shops, restaurants, and bars. Arabia is a Moroccan restaurant that has delicious food and a warm, intimate ambiance—very cute for date night or groups. Try the hummus, eggplant with tomato cream, and lamb tagine with honey.
For amazing seafood in a tavern atmosphere, go to Taberna Maceiras, which serves authentic Gallego cuisine from Galicia (northwest tip of Spain). The service is typical Spanish style (meaning don’t expect white glove treatment) but the food is AH-MAY-ZING! Also, go at night and you may catch a cool glow-in-the-dark show that ends with a special libation.
From Retiro Park with drumming circles, mega clubs and outdoor cafes to the Reina Sofia museum of 20th century art and the 18th century Royal Palace, Madrid has it all! For shopping go to Calle Gran Via for big name shops like Zara as well as cute boutiques. Calle Fuencarral is in the historic area of Madrid and known for its eclectic collection of non-commercial shops and alternative/grundge stores. BUT, go here for Mango clothes too! There is a huge outlet on the second floor with great deals!
Madrid’s nightlife scene is pretty serious. Madridians won’t start to really party until close to midnight, so don’t expect big clubs to be full until then. There are too many great bars and clubs to write about here, but I’ve listed three favorites:
Trocha: el lugar de la caipirinha – If you are a jazz fan, there are two options in the El Barrio de Las Letras that I like. One is literally called Jazz Bar, which has comfy lounge seating, full bar, and even outdoor seating in the summer. A favorite of mine since college is Trocha on Calle Huertas. The staff is friendly, ambiance is chill, good jazz music, and the caiprinhas are great! Don’t even bother with the other cocktail offerings. These guys are obsessed with their caiprinhas and offer different versions.
Kapital – Near Museo de Prado, this mega club that plays house music has multiple floors and is perfect for night owls. Crowds don’t start showing up until 3 AM! There’s a nice intimate lounge on the top floor for when you want to get away from the loud crowds. Anyone can access it although it has a very VIP feel to it.
El Son – Salsa dancers can show off their skills at this discoteca in Sol which features a large dance floor, DJs and live music. They offer salsa classes Monday through Thursday for 30 euros per person. I spent many amazing nights dancing at this club!
I hate staying in hotels that are in the middle of touristy sections, but if you want to do so, I suggest a hotel on a side street away from crowds. On my last visit, I stayed in the Radisson Blu Madrid Prado, which is a moderately priced hotel in El Barrio de las Letras neighborhood. Although it’s across the street from the Museo de Prado and within walking distance from the Reina Sofia Art Center, the hotel’s street is very quiet and next to a small fountain area. My favorite street, Calle Huertas, is around the corner, which features very local restaurants, bars and lounges. Also, La Paella de la Reina and Taberna Maceiras are within walking distance!
For those on a budget, Spain has a number of hostels to choose from. Unfortunately the quaint hostel not far from Puerta del Sol (city center) called Hostal Residencia Paz is now closed, so go here to investigate hostel options: www.hostelz.com
I hope this mini-guide gives you a fun glimpse into Madrid and makes you want to visit (or return) in the near future! Have any questions? Leave me a comment and I’ll get back to you.