My Visit to Madrid, Spain
Normally, I’m the type who likes to prepare and map out all the places I’m interested in before visiting a destination, but our time in Madrid was a more relaxing two days of wandering and taking in the sites.
About the City
Madrid is the capital of Spain and the largest city in the country with a population in the city of over three million and a population of nearly 6.5 million in the greater metropolitan area. The city is massive - spanning over 230 miles and it lies on the Manzanares River, which winds through the heart of Spain.
Madrid was founded in the 9th century as a fortress along the river and was a valued spot that Muslims and Christians fought over during the Middle Ages.
Today, it’s the third largest city in Europe, behind only London and Paris, and it’s one of the world leaders in finance, arts, entertainment, fashion and politics.
We took the Metro to get from the airport to our downtown hotel, but the Metro system is extensive and can get you nearly anywhere in the city. The grid of train lines can be a little overwhelming for someone who isn’t used to mass transit in a major city, but once you get the hang of it and know where you’re going, it’s very easy.
We didn’t purchase them because we knew we’d primarily be walking, but I’d highly recommend the Tourist Travel Pass if you’ll be doing much exploring in the city. It provides unlimited access to all the metro and bus lines and the prices are very reasonable.
Where We Stayed
Casa de Huespedes Marisol - “Guests Marisol”
Calle Concepcion Jeronima, 6 - 28014 - Madrid
This small hostel is located in the heart of the city and is only a short walk from the historic Plaza Mayor and the Puerta del Sol. The staff was very friendly and accommodating and spoke English.
Our room was small, but comfortable and a great value for the price - around $25 per night. Each room features its own AC & heating unit, which was nice for the chilly December nights. The hostel also offers free wifi.
Some people might be discouraged by the shared bathrooms, but the facilities were clean, spacious and during our three day stay, we never had to wait to use one of the two bathrooms at the end of our hall.
The price and central location made this an excellent option for us and it’s a place I would gladly use again for lodging.
What We Saw
The short is answer to this question is that we walked through most of the downtown part of the city and saw almost everything.
The more detailed answer is that while we saw many things, Nicole and I aren’t people who have much interest in museums and art - so unless something offered free admission, we simply walked around the outside or went in the lobby and took some pictures, which is usually enough for us.
In that regard, we saw many of the major sites of the city, including the Puerta de Toledo, San Francisco el Grande, Catedral de la Almudena, Templo de Debod, Plaza Mayor (which transformed into a giant Christmas market at night), Royal Palace, Gran Via, and the Alfonso XII monument in El Retiro Park.
Walking to these major sites, essentially making a giant loop around our hotel, provided a great perspective on the history and culture of the city.
Of the things we saw, the monument and small lake in El Retiro Park was probably my favorite non-food-related stop. It was a beautiful part of the city that reminded me of Millenium Park in Chicago or Central Park in New York City.
We jumped headfirst into the Spanish style of eating at weird hours, having smaller meals (tapas), and sampling a variety of different foods. Between finding little specialty shops and wandering through the amazing markets, we had the true experience of Spanish cuisine.
El Mercado de San Miguel
This bustling market is located near Plaza Mayor and is considered to be the most popular (and expensive) in Madrid. It has an incredible collection of vendors preparing a variety of foods, including different tapas, paella, seafood, pizza, charcuterie, and more.
My favorite eats were the roasted broccoli and sausage pizza and the burrata served on small pieces of bread - one topped with pesto and one with blueberries. Those were heavenly.
Viandas de Salamanca
We had to try some cured ham during our time in Madrid and this little shop near Puerta del Sol lured us in with a long line of people waiting to order cones of meat. The ham was smoky, tender, fatty and delicious, and we munched on it as we made our way through the craziness of the crowds out to see the Christmas decorations.
Mercado de la Cebada
We stopped here for breakfast and I had my first opportunity to try a Tortilla Espanola. It’s not like the tortillas you eat with Mexican food. Instead, this is a spanish omelette of eggs and potatoes that’s fried in vegetable oil. I had it as a sandwich and it was a delicious way to start the day.
Cerveceria 100 Montaditos
This appeared to be a well-known chain restaurant in the city and a place to get cheap sandwiches and alcohol, but I was unimpressed. Though the menu offered a great assortment of sandwiches, and we tried our fair share, I don’t recall any of them being particularly good.
Mercado de San Anton
This market appeared to be less touristy and a spot where you’ll find more of the locals. It was three floors of incredible looking food and a restaurant on the top floor with a cool outdoor bar area. We had a fun time sampling olive oils while trying to use our limited Spanish to talk with the vendors.
A spot by Plaza Mayor that's famous for its fried calamari sandwich, and it often has a line out the door as people wait to order one at the bar. I tried one during our last night, which reminded me that I still can’t stand calamari. The sandwich was only $3 so it was worth a try, but I have no idea how that could become such a popular food.
I finished my eating adventure in Madrid with some churros and a cup of dipping chocolate at this little shop near Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor. Unlike what you’d find in the U.S., the churros here aren’t actually sweet, and you instead use the chocolate as a way to make this more of a sugary snack or dessert. And the chocolate had a rich, pudding-like consistency that was fantastic.
Check out more of my adventures by visiting my Travel section.