It has been recently voted the best country for vacations in the world and after years of family vacations and three trips to Spain this year alone, it is also one of mine. Madrid has always been on my list of places to visit, and with my boyfriend currently learning the language, we felt this year would be as good a time as any to finally take the trip.
We were blown away by the city and enjoyed 72 hours of blue skies, fantastic food, stunning architecture and excellent nightlife.
Here is the itinerary from our recent visit.
Touchdown in Madrid! We jumped straight into a taxi from the airport and arrived at our hotel, the ME Madrid Reina Victoria in beautiful Plaza de Santa Ana. Taxis from the airport into the centre of the city cost around 30 euros and transfers take around 30-35 minutes.
We took a walk towards Cava Baja, one of the most famous streets for experiencing pinxos and tapas in Madrid. We had worked up quite an appetite and were disappointed to learn that most restaurants in the area do not open until at least 13:30 for lunch! Whilst exploring our food options, we stumbled outside El Viajero, a bar just around the corner from Cava Baja. Here, we enjoyed a glass of Rioja on the pavement and discovered that this bar had a full menu and rooftop terrace. Result! We headed upstairs to enjoy the warm weather and trendy atmosphere.
Post lunch, we took a short walk to the ultra-touristy Plaza Mayor. I would recommend visiting the famous square earlier in the day rather than late- it becomes very congested. Whilst the architecture is very beautiful, the irritating street vendors meant that the area started to lose its charms for us.
We continued our exploration of the city and visited Palacio Real- the official residence of the Spanish royal family. Although we didn’t enter the palace, we enjoyed its splendour from the enormous square in front of it. There are also many gardens surrounding the palace that are perfect for an afternoon retreat, away from the crowds.
After a much-needed siesta, we took a walk through Plaza Puerta del Sol and up towards the classy Salamanca district (think London’s Mayfair), passing the Fuente de la Diosa Cibeles and Puerta de Alcalá (beautifully lit in the evening).
I reserved a table at the álbora Restaurante and we enjoyed some delicious cuisine and quality service. Anywhere that serves an amuse bouche and petit four is fine by me!
We fell in love with The Jungle Jazz Bar in Amazonico and picked up a Pisco sour (or two!) whilst enjoying live music and soaking up Saturday nights with Madrid’s ‘Salamanca set’!
After struggling to get to the bar at the ME Radio Bar, we hit the streets and enjoyed a nightcap at one of the many bars in Plaza de Santa Ana. Warm nights are just the best and we toasted to a great first day in the Spanish capital!
After a Spanish style lie in, we rallied ourselves and visited the vibrant El Rastro Market which is only open on Sundays.
Sundays are brunch days and we made sure to visit the visually stunning Habanera. Surrounded by Cuban themes, palm trees and pink tones, we enjoyed a 40 euro sharing brunch board, consisting of boiled eggs, salmon, bacon, tomatoes, bread, croissants, soft cheese and honey….. and other items that I have completely forgotten about because there was so much on there! Simply delish- and that’s just the decor.
Post-brunch, we waddled towards the bus stop at Plaza Colon and climbed aboard the Madrid Open Air Hop/ Hop Off Tourist Bus. Whilst we try to adventure past the well-trodden tourist trails, we love these buses! They are the perfect way to conveniently see the city’s landmarks and hear a little of their history, whilst kicking back, relaxing and soaking up some rays.
We hopped off of the bus at Teleférico de Madrid and took a romantic cable car ride across the rooftops of Madrid, admiring views of the city centre and surrounding suburban areas.
Dinner was booked at the ultra-creative Canalla Bistro Madrid, Platea. Located opposite Plaza Colon, Platea was once an art deco movie house that has been turned into a gourmet food and entertainment venue. You can enjoy more formal dining at the Canalla Bistro but you can also try pintxos, tapas and a selection of bars and other dining options. Each night there is live music by either the house DJ or guest artists. I loved the idea of turning an old building into a social hub and think London should follow in Madrid’s footsteps here!
We finally got a space at the ME Radio Bar and finished the evening with a cocktail or two on the roof of our hotel.
After making use of the breakfast buffet at the ME, we set off for a relaxing day in El Retiro Park. The park is huge and we found ourselves getting lost for hours among the autumnal trees and secret gardens. The central point of the park is it’s boating lake. For just six euros, you can enjoy forty five minutes of rowing fun! Whilst we didn’t recite poetry to one another, we did listen to the full Fleetwood Mac, Rumors album and bump in to other novice boaters!
Another must-find in El Retiro Park is the Palacio de Cristal. In front of this mini palace sits a small lake complete with terrapins and other wildlife creatures. It is a tropical haven where you can take a break from the sweltering heat and hectic city pace.
Time for lunch. We decided to make for the Salamanca area once again and after some brief exploring around the high end shops, we settled on the terrace at Babelia for a glass of cool sangria and traditional Spanish gazpacho.
We used our final daylight hours in Madrid exploring the famous Gran Via. It reminded us of a Spanish Times Square. The long road is filled with theatres, high street shopping and late night bars. I also found the prettiest cinema!
From Gran Via we took a walk to the Mercado de San Miguel, and enjoyed a glass of Cava whilst absorbing the spirited atmosphere and many flavours surrounding us.
Hotel guests at the ME have access to the Metropolitan Spa, located just next door. After a weekend spent walking around the city (we didn’t use any public transport during our stay) we took a soak in the large hydro spa and indulged in some r&r. Bliss.
Our final night in Madrid was spent on a pinxtos bar crawl! We headed back to Cava Baja and visited four of the many bars offering wide selections of local wines and little bites of pintxos.
In summary, Madrid is great for the taste buds and great for the soul. A modern city that hasn’t lost its sense of culture and identity. If you are on the look out for a city break that offers a touch of history, a splash of relaxation and dazzling nightlife with mouthwatering cuisine thrown in for good measure, Madrid should be at the top of your bucket list.
Have you visited Madrid before?
I would love to know your recommendations!