If I could have chosen where to be born, I would have definitely picked Madrid.
I have lived there on 2 separate occasions, the last one being from 2007 until 2010 and I have to say I still deeply miss it. If you have already been there, it’s not difficult to see why: amazing architecture, beautiful wide and tree-lined boulevards, stunning parks, great shopping, delicious (and cheap!) food and a great night life. The latino charme apparently adds something more to this wonderful city 😉
My rule since I moved out is that, at least once a year, I have to go back and I think I have accomplished that so far.
Here are some tips for a great long weekend in Madrid!
- Hotel: I am not going to suggest any in particular but the location will depend a lot on what you are planning to do and what your budget is. I lived in Almagro, near the embassies area in a “spacious” 27 sqm flat. It is undoubtedly one of the wealthiest parts of Madrid and it’s perfectly located for going out, shopping, visiting and anything else you could possibly be looking to do in Madrid. Almagro, Recoletos and Goya barrios generally offer a more upmarket accomodation. La Latina and Malasaña are closer to the action (plenty of bars, restaurants, shops etc). For party-goers, Chueca is the best bet (gay oriented but open to absolutely everyone up to great fun!). Wherever you decide to stay and whatever your budget is, I would avoid anywhere near Puerta del Sol and Gran Vía (areas well renowned for pickpockets and petty crimes). You want to be near the action, not necessarily in it!
- Food: Since I left Madrid in 2010, many new posh and stylish markets have opened (or being restored) giving a more international feel to a city that up to a few years ago was profoundly Spanish. Nothing wrong with them but be prepared to pay a bit more for anything you would order in there and be surrounded by a lot of fellow tourists (Mercado San Antón, Mercado San Miguel, Mercado San Ildefonso etc).
If you are looking for something more local and the sun is shining, go for any restaurant with terrace on Plaza de Olavide or Plaza Dos de Mayo: patatas bravas, berenjenas con miel, pulpo a la gallega, ración de tortilla, plato de jamón y queso should be on your list. You may have to wait a while to get a table but the buzzing atmosphere is well worth the wait. No matter where you choose to have your meal, please do not eat in Plaza Mayor: over priced and over touristy. Food may be decent but that’s not where locals would eat. Don’t leave Madrid without trying a chocolate con churros (long fried donuts to dip in thick hot chocolate) at Casa Ginés near to Plaza Mayor (it’s open 365 days a year, 24h/24h so you have no excuse not to go!) nor a croquetas de bacalao (cod croquettes, but they have got plenty of other options) at Casa Labra next to Puerta del Sol. La Mallorquina in Puerta del Sol is the place where to get your morning pastry (or an afternoon one). Don’t be put off by the queues: they move fast.
- Shopping: One for the ladies. Madrid is shopping land. I would suggest to try to keep your boyfriend/husband at home (if you have one!) and go there for a girls-only getaway (try to arrange it on a sport event if your partner is hooked on one). If your other half still decides to follow you to the Spanish capital, make sure you have at least one full day of shopping on your own. Assuming you may like what I like (individual and unique shops, local designers etc) Calle Fuencarral, Calle Malasaña, Calle Hortaleza, Calle Corredera Baja de San Pablo are a good starting point.
You can’t leave Spain without a pair (or more) of shoes. No matter what your taste is, Calle Figueroa in Chueca should be the first place to go. It’s the so-called shoe-outlet street and you’ll know what I mean once you get there. Go for the local brands: Pura Lopez, Paco Gil, UNISA and Malababa (amazing leather boots). Again, a boyfriend or husband, would be completely unnecessary, don’t you think? Are you a fan of fans 🙂 (abanicos)? Get one at Casa Diego in Puerta del Sol on the corner with Calle Montera. For trendy outfits that require a bit more investment, Calle Barquillo is a safe option: nice and unique shops are lined along both sides of the street and the surrounding side streets. For more upmarket shopping, Calle Serrano and in general Salamanca barrio is the place to go if you are prepared to spend some serious money (Amaya Arzuaga, Angela Schlesser, Pedro del Hierro, Purificación García would be my choices if I had that sort of money to spend). For something more casual and boho, that requires a lot less €€€, head to El Rastro; it’s the Spanish version of Portobello Market in London and it takes place every Sunday in La Latina district. I think, as many things, it used to be a good market for good finds and bargains…now it has probably lost a bit of its soul.
- Keep safe: I lived on my own and used to walk back home many times at night (or early morning) and Madrid is a overall a safe city (it was probably safer before the big 2008 crisis, though). As with any big city, you have to pay more attention in certain areas at certain times as petty crimes are not uncommon. Pickpockets are magicians, avoid railway stations areas in the evening and pay particular attention when on undergrounds and trains (keeping your belongings next to you). Public transport is generally packed all day long so special care should be exercised. As (white) taxis are way lot cheaper than anywhere else I have been in Europe, I suggest you use them if you plan to get back very late. All the times I have been there (both living and lately for business and pleasure), they have always used the meter and never had any issue but make sure they use it.
- Going out: Malasaña, La Latina, Chueca, Salamanca…you can’t go wrong. Don’t forget that generally madrileños do not eat before 10 PM and some clubs will be absolutely empty before 1 AM (some locals might still be eating at that time!) so you may need to factor in a siesta to keep you going all night long. I used to get a nap before going out dancing at 2 AM!!
Madrileños are lovely people. They genuinely love their city and they are generally helpful with tourists. The city is exceptionally quiet on Sunday morning (they party hard!) so don’t expect to see many people walking around in residential-only areas. Try to visit the city with the frame of mind of a local: don’t wake up unnecessarily early, have lunch not earlier than 2 PM and dinner not earlier than 9.30 PM. Shops/galleries/museums stay open until late and you don’t want to sit at a restaurant on your own. Be prepared to walk long distances and don’t forget to pay a visit to the most stunning museums (Reina Sofia, El Prado, Thyssen Bornemisza) and check any other temporary collections or exhibition. If you are planning to stay more than a weekend, get yourself a Guia del Ocio from a local kiosk (kind of “What’s On Guide”), to see what’s on during your stay.
And don’t forget: flamenco is not Madrid so please save it for when you will visit Andalucía (which you should do!).