When you clock out of the office for the last time before a week’s holiday, you feel like you have an eternity before you have to deal with emails and deadlines again. But in reality (sorry to be a buzzkill) that week in paradise goes by in a blink. Worry not, we’ve taken the city by foot and have your tips sorted for tackling a week in Madrid.
NEED TO KNOW
1. Obey the rhythm of the city: Late to rise / no breakfast / always a drink with lunch (vermut por favor) / late to dinner
I thought people were kidding when they said the dinner rush was at 10:30. They weren’t. Show up at a restaurant at 9 pm and chances are it won’t even be open yet. Or you’ll look like a major turista.
2. It’s all about rooftop views. Madrid does not have a ton a sky scrapers. The city is built to an almost human scale. Try to pick a hotel or bar that takes advantage of their view and soak up the sun (see below for our rec).
3. Spanish was optional. Usually once I got a few words of my poor Español out, folks would start to converse in English. However, I did master “hola por favor dos” at all museums.
4. Spain’s barajas (airport) is stunning. Think undulating waves of wood mixed with metals painted bright yellow. Hopping on the subway from the airport was easy. After a few transfers, we got to our hotel and felt like Masters of the Metro. It made me SMH at poor JFK airport back home.
5. You WILL get lost. Take the time to see the city on foot. There really is no way to make sense of all the winding small streets that lead from one barrio to the next. But every step is incredible because as the city slowly reveals itself, you’ll feel like a local.
What follows are some tips and tricks to get the most out of your stay.
For us a hotel room is a place that holds your luggage, provides a comfy bed, and a warm shower. Besides sleeping, we don’t spend hours lounging in the room. We want to get out and see the city. Praktik offered all these things plus a kind friendly staff, umbrellas, and warm milk with your morning coffee.
Pro tip: When checking in, they offer a free portable personal hot spot. Take them up on it. Especially if you purchased AT&T’s Passport service which was useless.
What to order: croquetas, grilled cheese w/ tomato and meche, Jamón ibérico
Favorite meal alert. I think it was a combo of the jet lag, hunger pangs, and wanting to find the perfect spot. The experience of biting into my first Croquetas de Jamón was revelatory. The exterior was fried to perfection. The inside was so creamy and studded with bits of chewy ham. A slab of cheese that has been charred on the grill and topped with chopped tomatoes and a sprinkling of herbs. Ham that is nothing like prosciutto: imagine a slim slice of perfectly cured ham with just the right amount of chew.
Pro tip: This place stays open in the late afternoon. If you get there around 4:00, you’ll have the place to yourself since you are not quite up to speed with the locals.
Why: It’s heaven for New Balance sneaker heads AND those devoted to ice cream.
I have never been to an ice cream shop that sells or even promotes running. The frozen treats are excellent and the selections of new balances impressive.
Pro tip: You can’t go wrong with the delce de leche. Then run it off.
Snack Attack along Plaza de Lavapies
We stumbled across this ‘average’ looking bar en route to Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia. We needed to fuel up before a viewing of Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica”. With glasses of vermut in hand, our palettes were blown away by a simple dishes of eggplant tempura drizzled with maple syrup. Trust me, this is something that would never be order in the states, but when in Spain, you play by their rules. The only way to describe the dish is to think about fried pancakes. Add a dish of baked potatoes topped with a blue cheese sauce and you will be well satiated for your museum visit.
Pro tip: Be sure to grab a table outside. Website: this place was a hole in the wall, so no dice.
What to get: Tradicional chocolate con churros
Heads up: You are going to feel and look like a tourist. But your reward is a thick mug of hot chocolate and churros to dunk. In America, hot chocolate has been turned into “drinking chocolate” which is usually made with heavy cream and sits in your stomach like a pound of lead. Not so with the Madrid version. This hot chocolate was thick, creamy, and not overly sweet. The dairy factor seemed minimal yet tasted super creamy. The churros were crisp and neutral making them the perfect vessel for dunking.
Pro tip: Secure a table outside, then send one of your traveling buddies inside to pay. They issue a receipt, you go sit back down, and a waiter takes the proof and rewards you with a delicious snack.
Why: This is your super sexy romantic meal find.
Was it the combination of the location, having a small park in front, great lighting, and an attractive wait staff? I don’t know, but if you have someone you love by your side, go here. By the time we rolled in at 9:30 for a meal, I wasn’t all that hungry but managed to devour our meal.
Pro tip: You’ll want to go back again and again. Fight the urge because you’ll miss out on so many other restaurants.
Lunch: La Latina @ Juan de Loepes
Why: Looking for an elegant lunch place that also feels like a movie set? Found. Here is your dream tapas order: tortes de patata w/ carmalized onion, zucchini wrapped cod.
Eggplant + zucchini carpaccio, and fried soft shell crab sandwich w/ bacon. All three dishes are mind-blowing.
Pro tip: There is a table in the front framed by a window with a dreamy view of your typical Madrid street. Call shotgun: this is where you want to sit.
Do not miss out on this food market. It can get a bit overwhelming. Stay calm, this is what your strategy looks like. Examine all three floors first, then take in the action. First floor: Do some shopping for pantry ingredients like unusual salts and sweet paprika. Second Floor: Nibble on tiny tapas. Make your way up to the third floor and enjoy a glass of wine and larger plates. Go up one more floor to the rooftop bar for a cocktail. At this point you might be stuffed, but try to save room for dinner.
Pro tip: It’s all about pacing yourself.
As mentioned above, Madrid is all about the rooftop view. Having a cocktail in one hand and a bowl of bar snacks on the table will help zap any lingering jet lag. The cocktails we sampled were a bit on the sweet side, so stick to red wine, beer, or bubbles. But the view is five-star.
Pro tip: This is a perfect place to catch sunset.
The term “Hand crafted cocktail” might cause an eye roll or two but really, you need to go here. Owner Alberto Martinez has created a handsome mellow space that caters to a diverse clientele. With an emphasis on classic drinks, these skilled bartenders know their way around a Hawthorne Strainer.
Pro tip: Hit the bar mid-week at around 8 PM to secure a table by the window.