Have I mentioned yet that I absolutely adore Madrid? Well, I do. It’s an incredible city with limitless things to do and see. It’s busy, and reminds me of New York City, but much cleaner and with a lot of great architecture. The first full day I had in Madrid was crazy busy as I traipsed across the whole city seeing the Egyptian Temple of Debod, the Royal Palace, the Mercado San Miguel, Puerto de Sol, Museo Prado, and enjoyed modern tapas for dinner with a local!
With a little planning ahead and looking at maps, I was able to see and do so much in just one day in Madrid. After fueling up with some cafe con leche, the morning was spent in the gorgeous Parque de Buen Ritero (read about my daily park visits here). The next stop was the Temple of Debod, which is an Egyptian temple that was gifted to Spain as a thank-you for helping to save the temples of Abu Simbel. Looks like we should all invite Egypt to our next birthday party. The temple was rebuilt in the Parque de Osete in Madrid and was an unexpected and really unique site to see. Visiting is free but if you plan on going, note that the temple is closed during siesta hours. In addition to walking around the temple, you can go inside through the crypt rooms.
On our way back towards the other side of the city, we passed the gorgeous Royal Palace pictured at the top of the post. We chose not to wait and pay to tour inside, but did walk around the exterior and gardens. We stumbled upon my favorite place for lunch in Madrid – the Mercado de San Miguel. It was just about siesta time (2-5pm) but the market was still in full swing. Inside the unassuming building were rows of stalls filled with cured hams, olives, sangria, vermouth (not the stuff you put in your martini), tapas, seafood, desserts, and treats. I found a spot at the sangria and vermouth bar (my kind of place, both were available on tap) and ate my weight in tapas from stalls (sold for a euro or two each), a cone of cured and peppered ham, crepes with dulce de leche, and more olives than I could count. We met an Australian named Luke who was visiting Madrid on business for an alcohol distribution company. He convinced me to try the red vermouth and after one sip I was hooked.
In case you can’t hop over to Spain any time soon, Trader Joe’s sells a dry red vermouth for relatively cheap and served over ice with a slice of orange brings me back every time.
A little tipsy and very full, we walked around the “Barrio de los Letras” which translates to the literary district. This little neighborhood was filled with vintage shops and flea-market-type street stalls and was an artsy segue to the free visiting hours of the Museo del Prado.
I wanted to include this little map screen shot to show how some advanced planning and familiarizing yourself with the neighborhoods and areas you’ll be in and traveling to can help you see smaller sights along the way. The literary district isn’t something I would have gone out of my way for, but it did make my walk from the market (the origin dot) to the Museo Nacional del Prado (circled in green) way more enjoyable. Luckily for me, my new Australian friend Luke was familiar with this strip of shops and art on the way… another reason it’s always great to meet new people!
As if I hadn’t walked miles that day already, the Prado was a labyrinth of artwork. It was impossible to see it all, but I picked out a select few I was interested in (The Origin of the Milky Way by Tintoretto, Saturn Devouring His Sons by Goya, and The Garden of Earthly Delights by Bosch) and made sure to find them.
The Prado holds free visiting hours from 6-8pm every weekday, so I purposely planned ahead to visit during this time. While I didn’t get to see everything, I wouldn’t have wanted to spend an entire gorgeous Spanish day inside a museum, anyways, so I saved the money I would have spent on a ticket to spend on another meal or activity. I highly recommend the free hours, and suggest you get in line around 5:30pm.
After looking at what seemed like millions of portraits of Jesus, angels, and Spanish royalty in frilly collars, I had worked up an intense appetite. A local friend of a friend of a friend was meeting us for dinner and we had requested to go someplace with amazing tapas. Her choice did not disappoint. Again, maximizing the knowledge of others and finding cool things nearby, we chose to walk to dinner so that we could stop at the Puerta del Sol and see the Zero-Kilometer marker and the Oso y el Madroño (“bear with a strawberry tree,” representing the symbols of the city).
The Puerta del Sol (Gate of the Sun) is a plaza that marks one of the original gates to the city of Madrid. Within the plaza, there’s a km 0 marker on the street which indicates the origination of all of the Spanish roads.
We also passed through the Gran Via in Madrid, which is a large street modeled after Broadway in New York. (This was also the point when I realized prostitution was legal in Spain.) Dinner was in the Madrid neighborhood of Malasaña, at a modern restaurant called La Gastro-Croqueteria. They took a modern twist on traditional Spanish tapas. (Read about more great food I had in Madrid here.) Everything we ordered was absolutely incredible:
- Ensalada Rusa – a mixture of potatoes, mayonnaise, and hard boiled eggs with smoked salmon and fish roe on top. (I tried a few versions of these in Spain and this was by far the best.)
- Croquetas – what the restaurant is named for; we tried mushroom-filled, spinach-filled, and shrimp-filled
- Duck and pork teriyaki “tacos” – this was an Asian-fusion non-traditional tapas, but still delicious
- Cold tomato cream with croutons – similar to a gazpacho, but ten times better, considering I hate gazpacho but gobbled this up
Writing this all out now, I can’t believe I fit all of these activities into a single day in Madrid. And it didn’t stop there. After dinner, we ended the night with a drink at a rooftop club. Its safe to say I slept like a little Spanish baby that night.