After seeing so many key sites in Madrid in just the first day, my second and third days in the city were a little more low-key and local. That definitely didn’t mean any less of an adventure, though! I took the time to wander a new part of the city, explore local shopping, try more new restaurants, and go out to bars and clubs. I also witnessed my first bullfight on TV at a cafe (yeesh, glad I did not attend in person), and enjoyed my morning cafe con leche on a rooftop with an incredible view of the entire city. Read on for restaurant recommendations around Madrid and some tips for Spanish dining.
I’ll start by sharing one of my favorite places to have coffee in the entire city of Madrid. This stunning view over the city was taken from the rooftop of the cultural center, Circulo de Bellas Artes.
Tickets for the rooftop terrace are €3, and I ordered a cafe con leche (coffee with hot milk) with an incredible view of Madrid. The terrace has a bar, tables, and lounges so we were able to relax with our coffee for a while and take in the city from a birds-eye perspective.
I ate at more restaurants in Madrid than I did in any other country on this trip, and this was partly because the food didn’t disappoint, so I kept going back for more. One day was spent wandering shops in the Salamanca neighborhood of Madrid. Don’t confuse Salamanca the neighborhood for Salamanca the town (you can read about my 24 hours in the town here). It was quieter than the rest of Madrid, and since the U.S. Embassy is located on the outskirts of the neighborhood, I made a little pilgrimage there to take a photo outside the gates.
This map shows the places I reference in this post in relation to the hostal (the blue circle). You can see the Parque de Retiro, as well. I’ve circled the Circulo de Bellas Artes with the amazing rooftop in green, and also pointed out the Malasana neighborhood where I ate a few dinners and the Salamanca neighborhood and the U.S. Embassy above it. Looking at maps like this (and drawing on them!) really helped me get my bearings in Madrid and capitalize on my time in an area.
Some great dinner and drink suggestions in Malasana:
- Castro Croqueria – a great modern gastro-pub take on traditional tapas (I wrote more about this delicious dinner here.)
- Ochenta Grados – This was recommended by a local since the food was an upscale, modern take on small plates. The service was sub-par, and there was an incredibly long wait (and no real space to wait) but their signature drink kept me company. Tinto Verano (a popular Spanish summer drink that mixes red wine and Fanta Limon) is served with a twist. The bartender turns the Fanta soda into a fluffy “cream” and pipes it on top of the wine in the glass. It’s foamy and refreshing. I’d also recommend the truffled egg, which is a lightly poached egg on top of ham and fried potato chips.
- La Bicicleta Cafe – We had a few drinks (caña is slang for a “little beer”) after dinner and before clubbing at this quirky cafe. It was great for lounging with a friends (we were with a group of young people also in Spain for various reasons, none of us from the same country though… English happened to be our only common language.) and it seemed like a trendy spot for locals to meet up.
Some great dinner suggestions in and near Salamanca (the neighborhood):
- Morao – Yet another modern twist on traditional tapas, this was a great stop for lunch and sangria. The food was simple and fresh, the service was friendly and prompt, and they had a patio to sit and enjoy the gorgeous day.
- La Cocina de San Anton – Despite the poor Yelp.com reviews for this restaurant, I enjoyed what I ordered. It is on the top floor of a market, and serves more American-style, with appetizers and meals on the menu. I ordered gnocci with steak, sausage, cream sauce, and a fried egg. It was inventive and I was pleasantly surprised.
Dinner in Spain is served much later than dinner in the US. It’s not uncommon to not even sit down until nearly 9pm. Wine or sangria is commonplace at all meals (lunch included) and portions are much more modest than in the US. You must ask for your check when you’re done with your meal, and wait staff are less intrusive with checking on you. It’s part of the Spanish culture to enjoy the company you’re with for as long as you’d like. It’s also not customary to tip unless service is outstanding, and then just a couple of euros will suffice.
And, of course, Mercado San Miguel is a must for anyone who likes farmers markets and food trucks here in the states. I spent two extra-lunch lunches there during my stay in Madrid and still wish I could stop by on a lazy Saturday to snack on fresh tapas.