I fell in love with Madrid within the first few of hours of being there. The reason being that the lifestyle and culture matches my inherent style. I love the late nights, the vivacious energy of the people and the city itself. It made my heart sing to be part of such a vibrant city.
Madrid is a magnificent city. It is surprisingly not too crowded and, in my opinion has retained a lot of authenticity which sometimes gets lost by major tourist influx. Madrid sometimes gets overlooked and is overshadowed by the more famous European cities (such as Paris or Barcelona). But in my opinion, Madrid has a lot to offer, especially for food and history lovers.
Today, I have collated my top tips for Madrid First timers.
Menu Del Dia (Lunch)
If you have never heard of the Menu Del Dia, then you are in for a treat. In essence, it is the working man’s lunch from Monday to Friday. It consists of 2 to 3 courses (daily specials), with a glass of wine for under 15 euros. Being Madrid, lunch does not start until well after 1pm.
I had heard of the Menu Del Dia before going to Madrid and was definitely keen to try it. However, I was not expecting it to blow my mind away. I had some of the best food experiences in my life for just 13 euros. A 3 course meal delivered in the traditional Spanish style. I loved it so much that I simply cannot recommend it enough.
I would highly recommend Restaurante Gabriel.
Fun Anecdote: This is a typical Spanish restaurant away from the tourist attractions. As such the restaurant was filled with locals and the waiters could not speak much English. I ended up ordering our meal from the chef himself in French. Here I was, smack bang in a Spanish restaurant ordering some food in French. I never felt as connected to the world as I did at that moment.
Take an Uber from the Airport
We landed in Madrid at 8 am, exhausted from a 25 hour trek from Australia, only to discover that our prepaid sim card was not working. At that point I was hell bent on taking an Uber to the hotel (I was tired and quite cranky) but Scott persuaded me to take public transport to our hotel.
Turns out that there is no train from the Madrid’s airport, you need to take a bus and then a train to the centre of town. Lugging our suitcases on buses was not fun but trying to navigate buses without internet was even less fun. We managed, but only because I picked up the language quickly enough to ask for directions and it took us over an hour to get to our hotel which would have taken 15 mins. It also cost us 11 euros whereas an Uber would have been 18 euros.
I am a big advocate of using public transport when you can, but this is one occasion where taking an Uber is definitely worth the money.
How can you go to Madrid without seeing a flamenco show? If you have never heard of flamenco, it is a Spanish style dance and a must see when you go to Madrid. I would recommend Corral dela Moreria.
Mercado de San Miguel
If you are going to Madrid then you absolutely need to go the Mercado de San Miguel. In a three day trip, we went there at least five times (jokes apart). That’s how much we loved it. The mercado is open quite late to accommodate the workers and there is something quite fun and authentic about joining the locals for a drink around 10 pm (while sampling some tapas).
Expect to have to change your schedule
Madrilenos (people from Madrid) love a good time. Their lifestyle is something that I have yet to see anywhere else. 2 am is considered quite early in Madrid. It is not unheard to have a traffic jam at 7 am on Saturday morning and it is not because if people waking up but rather people finally making it home from their night of partying. So if you want to discover the soul of Madrid and keep up with Madrilenos, then you have to change your schedule. Dinner is not until 10 pm and please don’t expect any shops to be open before 10 am.
On the other hand, early mornings are a great time to get pictures without having a thousand people in your shot.
Tapas Tapas Tapas
If you have never heard of the concept of tapas before, it is essentially bite size morsels to accompany drinks. The rumour goes that tapas were essentially pieces of bread topped with something delicious that was used to cover wine glasses to protect the wine.
The tapas culture evolved from there. Tapas is big in Madrid and as such you need to try it.
Siesta is real
I am not sure whether Madrilenos sleep or not during siesta time (around 3 to 5pm), but it sure feels very morose on the streets around that time. Most shops and restaurants are closed except for tourists attractions. And the only people you see around are tourists or people working the tourist trade.
During siesta time, you can either join Madrilenos for a nap to conserve your energy for the late night coming up or you can visit the various attractions
The first and only time I had a typical Madrid style breakfast, I felt very nauseous afterwards. Now, I love sugar and have a big sweet tooth but even I could not digest the sweetness of the pastries in Madrid. In fact, the sugar packets for tea and coffee are twice the size of a sugar packet in Australia.
So be prepared for sweetness overload or, if you are like me and enjoy a savoury breakfast, then pop into the mercado and have some early tapas instead.
So there you go, the 8 things I thought you should know before going to Madrid. I hope that you love Madrid as much as I did.