When traveling I love the feeling that I am getting to explore a new city like someone who lives here and knows all of it’s secrets. It gives you a chance to experience the daily life of a local and enjoy what makes them happy to call this place home. So when I got the chance to explore Spain’s capital city with a native Madrileno I jumped at the opportunity. You’ll definitely want to take note of these great locations to visit and enjoy an authentic, delicious meal.
Retiro Park should be at the top of your list. In the middle of the city this is a great place for a stroll, a run of trying another Spanish custom. Grab a bottle of wine and have a botellón, the completely socially acceptable custom of drinking in public. Be sure to get a good bottle opener so that you don’t end up like we did with a novelty gift that didn’t in the end work. (The head of the bull broke off as we were trying to open the bottle!)
It is possible to visit one of the most interesting museums in Spain, El Prado, absolutely free so check out the official website before planning your visit. This is something that you the locals know about and you might not. Getting to the museum at 6pm in the evening will ensure you have a solid two hours to enjoy the works of El Greco, Rubens, Velázquez, and Goya, to name a few! My favorite part is getting to experience Velázquez’s Las Meninas.
Templo de Debod
This was an Egyptian temple given to Spain in gratitude (and for preservation) when constructure went underway in at the Aswan High Dam. A nice thanks to the Spanish for helping save the Abu Simbel Temples, and a beautiful, often overlooked sight you can take in on your visit. And, the best part of visiting this site is the amazing overlook. From up here you can get a great panoramic view of this expansive city. (My photo doesn’t do it justice!)
For a meal rich in history, stop by Lhardy restaurant that was opened in 1839. For the full history of this antique bar, that almost looks like a pharmacy, check out their website. We stopped in the tienda (store area) for just a quick snack and a glass of very old sherry. The barqueta you see below (also know as a montandito) is filled with a delicious kidney dish (riñones). If you’re adventurous I highly recommend you try it.
Casa del Abuelo
Restaurant hoping is the way to go in Madrid, so next you should try some gamba al ajillo at Casa del Abuelo. This very local place open its doors in 1906. Inside you will find a trough on the floor by the bar to throw the shrimp heads while you are eating. I found it a little bit gross, but the food was so amazing that I couldn’t think about it for too long.
The focus on gambas (shrimp) started during the Spanish Civil War when they was a shortage of availability of bread. And it has since become the traditional dish to get from Casa del Abuelo.
Mercado de San Miguel
You will feel a bit more touristy going to Mercado de San Miguel, but it is an absolute essential visit when you are in Madrid. During the day, stop in for tapas, fresh fruits & veggies, and even some dessert. At night stop by for tapas and some drinks to compliment or even replace your dinner.
This market has everything you could possibly want meats and cheese, to churros con chocolate (which we tried immediately! Note: unlike in the US, the churros are served with drinking chocolate not a thick dipping sauce – so be prepared for a lot of chocolate), to full meals like the Merluza shown below. What’s even more impressive is the beautiful wood and steel structure.
Grab you meals and head to the outer perimeter for space to eat comfortably. You might even be able to find a seat if you don’t come at a busy time of day.
To further your “authentic experience” try to catch a flamenco show at Casa Patas. At this live performance you are obliged to order drinks with your tickets. You can even go for a full meal, but I recommend just settling in for a great, high quality show. You won’t be disappointed. It is a little bit expensive, but worth it for the quality of performance you will see.
This little shop and cafe, Alimentacion Quiroga, will absolutely blow your mind. They have an excellent select of wines, cheeses, meats, and product both for purchase and to dine in. We had an amazing cheese plate, some pate on toast and ended up going home with a bottle of truffle honey.
So the next time you’re in Madrid stop by one of these excellent selections and let me know what you thought.
What other great places did you go to on your trip to Madrid?