Three Weeks in Europe - Madrid through Food

If you’re looking for a good place to stretch your budget a bit further, Madrid is a great option, even when it comes to food. If you’re not super picky you can just get a traditional Spanish breakfast of bread and tomato with some coffee for just a couple Euro (or churros and chocolate…), a jamón sandwich or some cheap paella for lunch/dinner in small spots on almost any street. You can also get extremely inexpensive beer (I’m talking about you, Mahou), and drink it by itself or have it mixed with a lemon drink - they call this “clara” and it’s incredibly refreshing, easy to drink, and feels nice when you’re hungover… Just saying.

If you’re looking for something more specific, or you’d rather not just wander until you find something you like, though, here are a handful of places we’d definitely recommend!

Tostas and tapas at Alimentación Quiroga

After our flight and taking the Metro to find our Airbnb, we were STARVING! Luckily, my sister-in-law knew of a great place nearby called Alimentación Quiroga, where they have great tostas, which is basically bread with stuff on top. If I’m remembering right, we got two tostas (smoked salmon and brie, and foie gras with truffle honey), a plate of meat and cheese which included jamón, and some delicious melted provolone with bread to dip. And also wine, because of course!

Later that evening, we wanted to watch the soccer championship between Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid at a bar or restaurant somewhere - we happened upon a gathering of food trucks outside the Nuevos Ministerios Metro stop, and they had a ton of options including burgers, fries, lobster rolls, coffee and more! They had a TV set up outdoors for us to watch the game, so this worked out perfectly for us. Eventually it started raining and we found a bar nearby with TVs.

One of our absolute favorite places to stop by while in Madrid is Mercado de San Miguel. It’s an indoor food market with great food options for any meal. We typically find some paella, croquettas (fried balls that often have meat and/or cheese in them), and jamón that melts in your mouth (Iberian cured ham that has a nutty flavor because they feed the pigs acorns). They’ve also got wine, beer, sangria, coffee, and more, plus a good amount of dessert offerings.

If you’re into markets, another one to hit is Matadero, which is an open air market in the square of what used to be a slaughterhouse. There we also got croquettas (I found one with squid ink!), jamón and sangria, none of which disappointed. 😛

We’re lucky enough to also know a super hospitable family (they hosted my sister-in-law when she studied there a few years ago), and they always welcome us into their home for a delicious dinner. We were served jamón (no such thing as too much, I promise), gazpacho (other times our hostess has made salmorejo, another delicious chilled soup), and hamburgers! We brought a bottle of wine which we got at a grocery store nearby - one great thing about wine in Europe is that you can buy a bottle that would be crazy expensive in the US (because of import taxes) for a fraction of the price. We are partial to Tempranillos.

I wasn’t sure if I should include this one, because my Google search for a link showed that they’re currently closed… but their website seems to think they might be able to re-open, since they were closed for just being noisy, so I’m going to include it in hopes that you may get to go there someday! We went to Gau Café, which has a great rooftop. I ordered a seaweed and crab salad, risotto with peas, and Nathaniel got an empanada and meat with potatoes. We also got delicious brownies for dessert. I ordered a Tinto de verano to drink - it’s a cold beverage usually made from red wine and a carbonated soda. In addition to the great view and food, the building the restaurant is in is worth a look as well - it was a school founded in the 1700s, and has been restored and now also houses a library. The building itself is worth checking out in the Lavapies neighborhood, and hopefully the restaurant will reopen!

The best reason I can give to you to go to Bellas Artes is the view from their rooftop bar. We went at sunset and the sight was unbelievable. The service wasn’t particularly good the evening we went there - perhaps it’s because they were extra crowded because half the tables were reserved for a private party, but the couple Euro cover charge and having to grab a drink at the bar are worth the view for sure 😍

One evening we went to Nathaniel’s sister’s favorite bar to hang out with friends. I got a 6€ mojito that was enormous! Many European bars seem to bring you something to munch on even if you only order drinks (a really good thing, too, in my opinion), but El Tigre goes above and beyond. They bring plates full of bread, jamon, sausage, chicken, croquettas… I’m sure I’m forgetting something they brought, but my point is that you get A LOT of food brought to you when you order drinks. The food might not be quite as gourmet as other establishments in the city, but it tastes good, and there’s no shortage 😜

I’m a little ashamed to say I stopped at a Starbucks one morning… but also, it was exactly what I was craving, and it’s consistent, even overseas. BUT if you’re looking for a good brunch spot, I would totally recommend Carmencita Bar. I think the owner is half-American and half-Spanish, so it’s a cool mashup of cuisines. I ordered La Grace, an eggs benedict with salmon and avocado, while Nathaniel had a burger with arugula, tomato, manchego and bacon. Also, they have 1€ mimosas (or 8€ for a pitcher), which you definitely can’t go wrong with!

Trying to be artsy with a tilt-shift lens 😜

If you’re looking for a sweet snack near Buen Retiro Park, look no further than Moulin Chocolat - we typicially grab a half dozen (or a dozen…) macarons to share while we sit under a shady tree and people-watch. Nathaniel’s favorite is the salted caramel macaron!

Another one of our friends from high school also happened to be in the city doing the same program as my sister-in-law, so we met up with her at Macera for drinks. She recommended this place because they have homemade liquor, and they have some pretty delicious takes on a gin and tonic (which are very popular in Madrid with hipsters these days). We went in the evening, before it got busy, and really liked the atmosphere there. 

If you’re looking to combine dinner and a show, Cardamomo has some really fun flamenco, and they serve dinner. We only got drinks (I love sangria!), because we had dinner plans with another friend after, but this would be a great option to eat and enjoy the music and dancing.

For dinner on our last evening in Madrid, we went to La Chalana. It is a very busy restaurant, and if you’re looking to sit down, you might have to wait a while. However, if you’re willing to be a bit pushy and don’t mind standing while you eat, you can squeeze in and belly up to their bar. You might have to wait a little bit for a spot (and be a bit of a jerk), but the menu is full service and I’d hazard a guess that it’s a bit more exciting (it was great having a Spanish-speaker to talk to the bartenders. I can understand a bit, but I can hardly speak it). You can order wine, but we stuck with La Sidra, their Asturian cider, which they pour in shots that you’re supposed to drink quickly because the bubbles and flavors are the best when freshly poured. The taps for the sidra pour it out in a fast thin stream from a spout that looks like a hand holding a bottle, from at least a foot above the glass. It’s pretty spectacular. Each shot is less than 1€, but be careful - they add up, and our waiter kept pouring them even when we didn’t specifically ask… They keep track by stacking chips on a peg, and we ended up needing two pegs because there were four of us and we had quite a bit… 😉 The restaurant serves mainly seafood, and we had prawns, shrimp, pulpo (octopus), squid, bread and olives. Even though we had quite a bit to eat, and it was one of the “fancier” places we went, we only averaged about 20€ per person for a LOT of food and drink!

Luckily for us, we didn’t have to do much research at all and we just took recommendations from Nathaniel’s sister and our friend from high school, along with going to a couple places we already knew we loved. Hopefully you’ll enjoy them, too!

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Three Weeks in Europe - Madrid Sights and Attractions

We’ve both been to Madrid a couple times before, but it never gets boring for us. It was also nice to be in a place that is familiar to us after so many other stops. My sister-in-law happened to be living there at the time, too, so we wanted to make sure to visit with her (plus she’s great at Spanish). There are a few places we always manage to hit while we're there, like Puerta del Sol, Plaza Mayor, Buen Retiro Park (Madrid's Central Park), and Mercado de San Miguel, all of which I would recommend visiting! Also, Atocha, the train station, is beautiful, and be sure to check out the wall of plants nearby!

Outside Real Madrid's Stadium

After landing at the airport, we got onto the Metro (best way to get around) and met up with my sister-in-law and our friend who we visited in the UK - he came to Madrid to spend the weekend with us! We originally had wanted to arrive a day or two later, and spend a couple extra days in London and Paris, but there happened to be a HUGE soccer championship between Real Madrid (winner) and Atlético Madrid, so we arrived the day of the game. Even though the game took place in Milan, Italy, the entire city was alive and partying. We went to Real Madrid’s stadium, drank some cheap Spanish beer, and walked around the area. Some streets were so crowded we could hardly move! Who would have thunk the most crowded part of our trip would be something Nathaniel wanted to do and NOT a Disney park?!? 😂

The game was being broadcast inside the stadium, but we decided to find a bar/restaurant where we could sit and watch the game on TV. This was such a crazy fun experience. It was like the Super Bowl, but the fans are even more excited. Even though I didn’t have any investment in the game, this was a very cool cultural experience (better than the terrible cultural experience from my trip four years ago - a bullfight - I do NOT recommend that).

Matadero Market

A Hoopoe!

The next day we visited a couple markets - San Miguel and a new one we’d never been to before called Matadero (also an art center), that my sister-in-law introduced us to. Both had lots of food, but the experiences are completely different. San Miguel is indoors, while Matadero has booths set up outside an old converted slaughterhouse. After eating a bit, we rented bikes from a shop at Matadero, and biked along Río Manzanares, where we saw some cool bridges, beautiful flowers, and a really odd bird.

Awesome bridge along Rio Manzanares

Later than evening we visited with the family who hosted my sister-in-law while she did a semester abroad four years ago, and enjoyed a lovely dinner with them.

Plaza de España

Taste of America

On our third day, Nathaniel's sister took us to Plaza de España and Temple of Debod, which has a beautiful view of the city. We grabbed lunch, and Sandra Oh (Christina Yang in Grey’s Anatomy) ended up sitting at the table next to us! We let her finish her meal in peace, but as she was leaving we asked for a photo with her, which she politely declined. We also went by a shop called Taste of America where they sell things like Lucky Charms and Crisco - basically all the American brands we take for granted are sold here at crazy prices. 😜

Temple of Debod

Our next stop was the Royal Palace of Madrid. I couldn’t believe how room after room was so ornately detailed, or that it actually housed royalty at one point! It’s almost overwhelming going from room to room, because of all the intricate details, but I would definitely recommend going! There were also horses and guards outside when we arrived, and the guards were chatting, using their cell phones and goofing off a bit - I thought about the guards at Buckingham Palace who can’t even move, and it’s funny how relaxed the Spanish are in comparison! Right next to the Palace is Almudena Cathedral, which is decorated in a modern Neo-Gothic style. Plus it's free 😉

We took a two day trip to Lisbon (which I will write about soon), and returned to Madrid for another couple days. Once we got back from Portugal, we were staying in Malasaña, a more newly gentrified area in Madrid. Before my sister-in-law finished work, we walked around that neighborhood a bit, and then we were able to get into our Airbnb. While in Portugal, I got the idea that I wanted to find a new purse, so I Googled some leather shops, found a few to explore, but first we decided to go to Mercado de San Miguel for a bite to eat again. Taller Puntera, the first leather shop we decided to visit, was right around the corner from the market, and it ended up being the only stop we had to make! This shop is gorgeous and has lots of purses, messenger bags, wallets, belts, etc. lined up along the walls. All of them are handmade (I had to interrupt someone who was currently making a purse in order to pay!), and very reasonably priced. I paid just €95 for my beautiful bag, which is a good size, and made of beautiful supple leather. If you are into this sort of thing or in the market for a new wallet/purse/belt, I highly recommend this shop!

Plaza de Cibeles, where Real Madrid comes to celebrate - near Bellas Artes

Afterwards we met up with Nathaniel's sister and walked to Bellas Artes, which has a rooftop bar with an amazing view of the city. They do charge a couple Euro to go up, but the view was well worth it. After this stop, Nathaniel decided to go back to the Airbnb because he was feeling really sick and wanted to try sleeping off the cold he had. I went with my sister-in-law to El Tigre and met a lot of her friends and had a great time! This bar is a super fun one to go to with a group of people, and the drinks are HUGE! That’s where I ended my evening, but I think the rest of them stayed out. I guess I’m getting old and I’m not used to the late night lifestyle that the Spanish lead - they do everything late!

Sunset at Bellas Artes

Going for a stroll in Retiro 😍 (Thanks for the picture, Nathaniel, you make a great Instagram Husband!)

The next morning, Nathaniel was feeling a LOT better! Sometimes you just need to sleep and recover, even if you are on vacation. Once we got going after breakfast, we walked around Plaza del 2 de Mayo, then decided to take the Metro to Retiro and ate some macarons while we relaxed. We looked for an older man who makes big bubbles at the park, mostly for kids, but I really like it too. When we were there in 2012 we unfortunately missed out on an opportunity to take pictures with him, and we were hoping to get lucky this time around, but he was nowhere to be found! We knew that someone with a similar setup hung out at Plaza Mayor sometimes, too, so we decided to go there next. We saw his supplies, but he was missing, so, after waiting for him to return while drinking a beer, we decided to just play with them ourselves!

Celebrating my inner 5-year-old in Plaza Mayor

I had never seen a flamenco show, so, because plans to see The Lion King didn’t work out, we went to Cardamomo Tablao Flamenco. There were two guitarists, two singers, and four dancers (if I’m not mistaken). I had so much fun listening to the intricate rhythms. Flamenco music has different time signatures, interesting vocal style, and gorgeous dancing. I don’t even understand how they can stay on track with each other! If you go to Spain, definitely try to make time for a flamenco show - I can’t imagine you’d be disappointed.

Wall art at Maderfaker

Afterwards we went to dinner with one of Nathaniel's sister's friends at a really good seafood restaurant (don't worry, I'll detail the food soon! Sorry I keep mentioning it in this entry!), and then to a Funk and Soul club called Maderfaker to dance. It had a 70s theme and some really strange paintings on the wall, and we had a great time!

The next morning, we had to pack up and go! We had one last breakfast with my sister-in-law in Plaza del 2 de Mayo, and then caught the Metro to the airport for the last little part of our trip in Amsterdam.