I’m really excited to be heading back to Madrid for a visit this weekend and to dive back into life in a HUGE metropolis. Obviously, the main attraction is reconnecting with all our friends, but I’m planning on visiting a few favourite old haunts and interesting new places.
In the process of noting down all the places I want to squeeze in, I got to thinking about how much fun the weekends were, trotting across the city in the sunshine (with around 350 sunny days every year, Madrid is one of the sunniest cities in Europe).
Here’s my ideal day:
Living in Malasaña meant we were absolutely spoilt for choice here. Depending on the appetite, it was either a coffee at Toma (Calle de la Palma, 49) or a takeaway from Bianchi Kiosko Caffe (Calle de San Joaquin, 9). Toma is regularly voted the best coffee in Madrid and I spent many hours tucked away in the back room tapping away on my poetry when I lived there – but Bianchi runs it close.
For me, Breakfast in Madrid means ‘pan con tomate’ – fresh, toasted bread with a tomato sauce. It’s hard to describe without detailing how it’s made –tomato grated into pulp with garlic and a little oil. I’m not a fan of fresh tomatoes, but this really is the breakfast of champions. And the best place? Possibly Ojalá (Calle de San Andrés, 1), but if that’s too busy, El Balcón de Malasaña (Plaza del Rastrillo, 1) also do a mean offering (plus, they have a great terrace).
After breakfast, it’s time for a bit of shopping. If your taste is high street, then you can’t go wrong with Gran Via, heading down the streets towards Sol via Plaza Callao (Preciados and Carmen). If your taste is more elevated, head towards Salamanca for wide boulevard filled with designer stores.
For me, I loved to wander the streets of Malasaña and Letras, filled with quirky little shops. Some of my favourites are (obviously) books shops: Desperate Literature (Calle de Campomanes, 13) and Libros para un Mundo Mejor (Calle del Espiritu Santo, 13), but I also love Wanderer (Velarde, 6), who stock Daniel Chong bags – mixing leather with check in streamlined, modern designs.
Madrid also loves a pop-up market, so it’s worth checking out Time Out’s listings to see what’s on. I’m aiming for the monthly Mercado de Motores (Paseo de las Delicias, 61), a mishmash of quirky stalls ranging from botanists to milliners held in the Locomotive Museum. It’s a truly unique experience, milling around the old locomotives browsing through artwork – plus, as is customary in Madrid, there’s a bar for a beer!
With that being said, it’s likely that I’ll find myself perusing the shops on Calle Fuencarral in the centre – lined with shoe shops. One of my favourite things about Madrid are the galleries and exhibition spaces and the Espacio Fundación Telefónica building at the Gran Vía end is one of the best – four floors of exhibition spaces and free to enter. At the moment they have an exhibition of National Geographic photography which looks really interesting, so that will be definitely be a pitstop.
After all this, it’s time for lunch. Lunch (or almuerzo in Spanish) is a long affair. Usually the main meal of the day, it’s not uncommon to see the restaurants filling from 1.30pm as Madrilenos sit down to enjoy a menu del dia – a discounted 3 course meal. My place of choice is Dionisos (Calle Augusto Figueroa 8) – I’ve never been disappointed by the quality of the food and it’s an absolute bargain at under 20 euro for three courses of Greek goodness.
Fed and watered, it’s time for a bit more sightseeing. Madrid is a delight for the flaneûse, with beautiful architecture, delightful green spaces and a compact city centre. The Parque del Buen Retiro is one of the most popular for a reason. Filled with interesting sculptures and fountains, it’s big enough to wander round and forget that you’re in the middle of the city. The beautiful boating lake in the centre has a few cafes to stop and relax at and there’s even an area filled with peacocks.
Is it time for tapas yet?
After such a big lunch, there’s probably not much of an appetite for another big meal. Which is where the idea of tapas comes in – little nibbles to tide you over till dinner. However, these aren’t usually available in the best places until 7pm, which leaves a little time to relax – and watch the sunset. Madrid is host to some beautiful Terrazas, with the bar on the roof at Circulo Bellas Artes one of the most popular for its panoramic views of the city. Another option is the beautiful Templo de Debod, an Egyptian temple gifted to Spain, situated near Plaza de España. Depending on where I find myself as the sun starts to dip under the horizon, either of these are spectacular experiences.
Once the sun’s gone down, Madrid really comes to life. With apparently more bars than the combined total of Norway and Sweden, the nightlife really has to be experienced. If you’re in the Letras area, a must-visit is the quirky El Imperfecto (Plaza de Matute, 2). Full to the rafters with a whole range of oddities, it’s a fun place for a drink, especially its cheap mojito deal. For something more traditional in the centre, Casa Alberto (Calle de las Huertas, 18) is possibly the most ‘Castizo’ option – plus it does some great tapas! However, for me, the piece de la resistance of any night out in the centre is La Venencia (Calle de Echegaray, 7), a tiny little bar that only sells sherry – from the four casks on the wall behind the bar. The décor hasn’t changed for nearly a decade and with no technology in use and old, fairly battered furniture, it truly feels like stepping back in time.
One of the best things about Madrid is how easy it is to bar-hop, and after hopping around Letras, it’s time to head back over Gran Vía, probably to the Mercado San Ildefonso (Fuencarral, 57) for something to nibble on. It’s much less touristy than its more famous counterpart Mercado San Miguel, but no less busy. The food here is diverse, ranging from Ecuadorian to the ever-popular Japanese and the grilled meats on sale at some of the stalls are real melt-in-the-mouth delights. From here, it’s a quick jump into Malasaña or Chueca to dance the night away in one of any number of clubs (remember that clubs in Madrid don’t usually open till 1am as they close around 6am, so if you’re out, it’s for the long haul!)
Some of my personal favourites:
Malabar. (Plaza del Dos de Mayo, 9) It’s difficult to define what makes this place, but I’ve never not had a good time in here. In the heart of the barrio, the staff here are really friendly, the drinks are reasonable, and if you’re there past 10/11 on the weekends, they usually play reggaeton to get you in the mood for a night out!
La Vía Láctea. (Calle Velarde, 18) For those with an aversion to the vintage style, this is probably hellish, but it’s another of Madrid’s famous, yet indefinable bars. With a pool table in back and an eclectic soundtrack of retro music, this place is usually heaving at weekends. Get stuck in!
For ‘after-hours’ (ie clubbing), there are a few lowkey places in Malasaña we regularly frequented. El Perro (Calle de la Puebla, 15) is an underground cave playing the best indie hits from the 90s and 00s. The cover charge is reasonable and the dance floor is usually bustling.