Madrid: Exploring the City Center
Oh, how I love Spain...from the food, the culture and the spirit, it truly is one of my favorite countries in Europe to visit. Whether you are there for a few days or a week, here is your guide for making the most out of your stay, AP style.
HOW TO GET THERE
Transavia is your best bet if you are leaving from Paris. They have many flights at reasonable prices leaving from Orly Airport. You can get a round-trip ticket for under 100€. If you are country hopping and this is just one of your stops, you can get a one-way ticket for as little as 36€ as well. Once you get to Madrid a cab from the airport to the city center has a flat rate of 30€; there is UBER in Madrid as well if you are up for playing a game of Marco Polo at the airport.
WHERE TO STAY
Though Madrid can be a small city, there are many distinct neighborhoods. Since I had a week there I booked hotels in three different neighborhoods to get a feel of the city and also know where I would stay when I come back. My favorite neighborhood by far is Salamanca.
Why Salamanca? Well, for me, I tend to gravitate towards neighborhoods that feel like somewhere I would live in a city (in other words, not a tourist trap). For Parisians, the Salamanca neighborhood would be the equivalent of St Germain; for NYers, this would be the equivalent of a soho meets upper east side...it is basically soho type living without the grit--i.e. the cleaner streets and air that exist on UES. As for hotels, if you stay in this neighborhood, I highly recommend the NH Collection Madrid Colon. This was by far the best hotel experience I had in Madrid—1-because it was centrally located to everywhere I wanted to go; 2-the other guests were more my crowd and my age demographic; 3-the staff was super nice and accommodating to my needs and totally got me and the type of places I was looking for.
The other two areas that I stayed in are Gran Via, which is basically the "Fifth Avenue" of Spain and Plaza de España, which reminds me a little of Fidi/Tribeca. They are both centrally located as well depending on what you are looking for. I would never normally stay on Gran Via, but since it was my first time in the city figured it was my safest bet as a good starting point. The street was honestly too crowded for me and gave me flashbacks of Time Square, but other people make like the liveliness. If you are one of those people, I recommend staying at the Vincci Vía 66 Hotel or the Hotel Atlantico Madrid. Both are centrally located and have great balcony views. Choose the Vincci if you are looking for a modern, hip feel. The Atlantico has a nice old world vibe and the architecture is amazing—especially the rooftop. I will warn you that the Atlantico does not have room service, which is a pain, but guess you shouldn't be spending time in your room anyway!
As for Plaza España, The Barceló Torre de Madrid is a great 5 star hotel option and they truly deliver with service, room size, restaurants and amenities. Concierge service is excellent and can get you anything! This area was too quiet for me, but if you are doing some business travel, it is a great option. They have a pool, sauna and spa, which is great if you are looking to unwind. If you are originally from NY and looking to get a massage, I would skip it here though as I found the massage strange and not the best for relieving tension.
PRO-TIP: If you do stay at the NH Collection, make sure to book a Saturday night to take advantage of their 3 p.m. late checkout on Sunday. Great way to enjoy the Saturday nightlife without the stress of an early dismissal!
AND if you do stay at a hotel without room service, there is always a workaround. You will be happy to know that deliveroo works in Spain (for you American's out there, it is Europe's Seamless) and will deliver to your hotel room. You may just need to have the front desk bring you up cutlery.
WHERE TO EAT
If you have been to Spain before you know that you are in for a treat and hopefully starved yourself for the last few weeks. If this is your first time in Spain, good luck in not gaining the tourist 10. Honestly, it is hard to go wrong in Spain.... from tapas, to wine, to bowls of paella, you have truly entered a culinary wonderland. Here are my top picks for eating your way through Spain.
Tapas are the Spanish staple that has become the part of the modern way we consume food. Sometimes we do not want a full meal, whether it be a three-course dinner or a tasting menu. Since they are a staple, you will have no shortage of tapas in Madrid, as you will find a restaurant on almost every street.
Taberna Maceiras is a great choice for day tripping to the Prado or Parc Retiro. It is located on the picturesque street of Calle de las Huertas. The setting and vibe is artsy and casual and the food is not only good, but generous. If you are traveling solo, just be careful of the amount of food you are ordering because each order even if they are tapas size can easily serve 2 or 3 people. Saying that, it won't set you back that much (I think my total bill was ~20€ for 2 tapas, a paella and 2 glasses of Ribiera) so if you want to sample a lot, go for it.
Close to the Plaza Mayor area, there is a cute upmarket wine bar in the Plaza Santa Ana where you can get great tapas and great wine. If this sounds more your speed, La Vinoteca is for you. There is bar seating, an outdoors area and an indoors dining area so good options based on your mood.
So, my absolute favorite tapas place is Taberna El Rincon de Goya. Their more formal restaurant is upstairs, but I honestly prefer this one for great authentic Spanish cuisine. I mean, who comes to Spain for modern tasting menus, right? Save that for Copenhagen or France. Honestly everything is good and had I not discovered this on my last night there I would have eaten there everyday so I could try every dish on the menu. (I'd realistically need at least a month since the menu is extensive!) The food, wine and service is impeccable and definitely a MUST for any Madrid trip! Do yourself a favor and order a bunch of the hot canapés (basically small toasts) to get an assortment of different flavors--I'm still dreaming of the Solomillo con queso brie.... It. Is. To. Die. For.
Pro-Tip: Let's face it—you are going to overeat. Plan your day with starting with the meal and a walk of whatever your excursion is going to be. For example, if you go to Taberna Maceiras, plan to explore Museo del Prado or Parc Retiro; La Vinoteca, make a night of Plaza Mayor; Taberna El Rincon de Goya, do some window shopping in Salamanca, dance the night away or do a digestif at the Ritz Bar.
For you newbies, dinner does not happen in Spain till at least 10 pm...9pm at some places. Even as a veteran traveler, this is always an adjustment for me so I will need a snack around 5/530pm. The good news is that anywhere you are in Madrid, you will have the options of food markets, or as the Spanish call them, Mercados. They are great for a light snack, whether it be fruit, sweets, sandwiches or seafood. My three favorite Mercados are the Mercado de San Ildefenso, Mercado de San Miguel, and the Mercado de San Antón.
My favorite little patisserie/food market is Pasteleria Mallorca. They have EVERYTHING--think of them as a mini Eataly or Grand Epicerie. There are many locations, but I like the one on Calle de Seranno as it is centrally located and close to the Parc Retiro. You can either eat there or take away, which can be a lifesaver if you are in a rush. If you are looking to sit and eat, I would do this around 5pm since it will be less crowded--you will be able to get a nice table by the window and enjoy a nice glass of wine with your snack.
Craving a full blown meal? Well, we've got you covered. Although, you can get a full meal at all the restaurants above in the tapas section, think these two restaurants are where you should enjoy a full Spanish meal. So, this is the one tourist place I will recommend and rightfully so, as it is "The Oldest Restaurant in the world" according to The Guinness Book of World Records. Restaurant Botin is nestled down the long steps leaving the Plaza Mayor area. Restaurant Botin, founded in 1725, is nothing short of amazing. It has an old world charm, great service and most importantly amazing food (and wine). The restaurant is open for lunch and for dinner--I prefer lunch just because I like walking off my food, but dinner is excellent as well. If you are a carnivore like me, welcome home. Definitely recommend doing an appetizer, main dish and dessert so you get the full experience. A three course meal including wine and a coffee is roughly 55€ per person. And even if you are dining alone, opt for a half a bottle of wine vs a glass...it helps with digestion :)
Another great find closer to Plaza España is Txirimiri. This great neighborhood spot is more of a modern Spanish fusion place serving dishes with inspiration from Asia, Italy and France. The restaurant has a nice relaxed vibe which is perfect for a going out with a group of friends. Txrimiri offers both sharing plates and main dishes so fits the eating mood you are in. My favorites are definitely a tie between the squid and black prawn risotto and the foie risotto with wild mushrooms. Since I've been living in France to say I am addicted to foie is the understatement of the year!
If you are spending more than a few days in Spain, you will probably be craving something other than tapas or Spanish cuisine. If you are craving American food or nursing a hangover, definitely head over to Steakburger. Love this place because you can create your own burger from the type of meat, to the portion size, to all the fixings. A burger here will be enough unless you have a humongous appetite--no need for an appetizer. I learned this the hard way.
Moving south of the border, Gracias Padre is a great option if you are craving Mexican. They have many taco choices. Each order comes with 3 tacos so come with a group if you want to taste more than one type. Highly recommend the crispy fish taco, especially if you are into spicy food as it had a nice surprise kick! Definitely make sure to pair with a mezcal margarita.
Spain's neighboring country Italy has many influences in Madrid, but my fave has to be Propaganda. The vibe is modern and hip and so is the clientele. Choose from assorted tapas and dishes to share or to have as a main. They also have a nice raw selection including steak tartare and ceviche, my two vices. And if you are not sold yet, it also doubles as a wine shop so the bartender and sommelier are well versed in all the wine you will be drinking and you have the option to bring any new found loves home to your wine cellar.
My favorite Brunch spot is hands down Magasand. They are a combo of your green juice shop, bakery and top sunday brunch spot all rolled into one. Anywhere you can get a coconut water, an organic green smoothie, wiener schnitzel hot dog and a bloody maria is way at the top of my list.
WHERE TO BEAUTIFY, RELAX AND DETOX
This one is mostly for the ladies and some gentleman who appreciate the benefits of a pampered lifestyle. Any holiday is not complete without a massage and a few beauty treatments. If you only have 2 days in Madrid, I would skip this portion, BUT if you are truly looking to destress, I HIGHLY, HIGHLY recommend the Hammam Al Andalus, which is a few steps from the hustle and bustle of Plaza Mayor. After going, I know what Belinda Carlisle meant about heaven being a place on earth. Your body, mind and senses are completely transported and transformed. I did the Midra treatment which consisted of a total purification, massage and water journey--all I have to say is that it was completely life changing. You can also do just the water journey or the water journey and massage. Regardless of what you choose, you will not be disappointed.
I used to get my nails done before a trip, but learned from traveling that this is a huge mistake. I no longer do gel manicures so my nails get instantly chipped or ruined by lugging my suitcase to the airport and getting it off the baggage conveyor belt. Maybe one day I will have a 24/7 butler and won't have these first world problems. Till then, I always look for a place to get my nails done for when I arrive. My go to place in Madrid is Lisa's Nails. Lisa is amazing and speaks english, which is a lifesaver. The salon itself is very cute, girly and most importantly, clean like the nicer nail salons in NY. A normal mani/pedi will cost you about 25€ which is pretty much a steal, especially if you live in Paris and their work is excellent. The salon has many services, including lashes and the lashes Lisa did for me were on point. Every trip to Madrid will for sure include a trip to Lisa's nails!
No beauty must is complete without eyebrows. I discovered a place that does amazing threading and manicuring that left me with a great shape to accentuate my new lashes. If you are in Madrid and need a brow touch up, highly recommend Sundara in Plaza de Chueca. They have several locations, but this was by one of my hotels and a great and nice find. Lejas was my aesthetician and did an amazing job sculpting my brows for maximum impact. They also sell organic brow oil here that helps with hair growth...definitely worth picking up a bottle.
Last, but not least, beauty starts from within. So you need to make sure to rejuvenate both your mind and your body.
Going to gym when I'm in a city long enough has become a ritual for me. It is a great way to reset and rebalance to either start or end your vacation. Yoga is a great way to recharge mentally as well as physically. Be sure to check out a class from The Natural Yogi while you are in Madrid. I highly recommend going to one of Eliza's classes as it is both spiritual and energizing—added bonus is the class is taught in English. If your schedule allows, I highly recommend taking her Surprise Flow class on Friday evening. It is a great way to let go off the stresses of the week and kick off your weekend right.
If you have been indulging as much as I have in all that is Madrid you will definitely need a detox day, or at least a detox lunch. FitFood is an amazing option for those of you who are health obsessed and missing your daily dose of green from Wild & The Moon or Pressed Juicery. They have great detox salads, green juices, smoothies and 1-day detox plans to get you back on track to eat and drink your way through the rest of Madrid.
PRO-TIP: Make your appointments online for all beauty services. For the Hammam, make sure to do this well in advance as time slots get eaten up fairly quickly.
WHERE TO GET YOUR CULTURE ON
Madrid is also a great place to explore culture and history. There is literally something for everyone. If you are into more traditional art the Museo del Prado is definitely a must see. I could have spent hours there. After exploring the Museum, you can explore the Botanical Gardens which are right outside then museum before taking walk in the Parque del Retiro.
The Reina Sofia is worth a visit if you are into modern art. You will behold your eyes on the work of ManRay, Dali and Picasso to name a few. They have a lot of new installations and showcase some emerging artists so be prepared to be pleasantly surprised.
To take in all the views of Madrid, make a trip to the Circulo de Bellas Artes at the end of the Gran Via. Perfect time to go is at the end of the day to see panoramic rooftop views of the whole Madrid skyline. Enjoy a cocktail or apero spritz at their bar and just take it all in.
If you are in Madrid for a bit, strongly recommend a day trip. Since Madrid is the center and the capitol of Spain, many cities are accessible by train from the Atocha train station. Depending on what you are into you have many options—if you want culture + more great food and wine, go to Seville, though I would recommend an overnight or 2 day trip since it is so far. If you are looking to see a religious melting pot with Catholic, Arab and Jewish influence, do a day trip to Toledo (post to come on this one!); if you are looking to be transported to a fairytale, check out Segovia. The possibilities are endless.
PRO-TIP: Make sure to get your museum tickets online and the day prior to ensure entry and avoid lines.