If you like food & wine, you’ll love Madrid…
Madrid is far from a secret gem, but a gem it absolutely is. Even though Spain has become the second most visited country in the world, behind only France, the city of Madrid has managed to thrive in the boom of tourism, without corrupting the things which make it so wonderful. If you love sun, food, wine and and a sense of place, you’re going to love Madrid. Here are ten easy, helpful Madrid tips for before you land…
Rule #1: don’t take taxi’s. Madrid has both Uber and Cabify, which will save you at least €10 compared to cab fare and most drivers for either service speak at least some English. Expect to pay €16-28 for a ride from the airport to almost anywhere central. At T4, you’ll find Uber drivers down a level, to the left, and then to the left again, if facing toward the street. If that’s not your style, the metro is easy and costs €5, and there’s also an airport bus for the same price.
Where To Stay
For a major city, Madrid is extremely manageable. With great ride sharing services, and mass transit options from many parts of town, it’s ok not to stay extremely central and doing so may even save you a few bucks. While Retiro, Salamanca and other central locations can be enviable for easy access, places like Chamartín put you in between the airport and the bustling center of town and only cost about €8 for an Uber anywhere. If you want a real treat, Chamberí is a great option with more of a local feel. And if you go Airbnb over hotel, be sure to confirm there’s air con, since that’s less of a guarantee here.
With very few exceptions, if you’re eating in your hotel (and it’s not free) you’re doing it wrong. Of course, if it’s free, we’ll let you off a little bit, but Spain is famous for fantastic coffee, pastry and eggs, at extremely good prices. Many hotels will quote €18+ per person for breakfast, when you could have a feast for the whole family for the same price at a good cafe.
If you’re wondering when to fit in your workouts, there’s one perfect window: morning. Unlike many cities where the bustling cafe’s open at 5:30AM to catch the early birds, Spain moves at a different pace. Many of the best breakfast or brunch spots only open at 9AM, so hitting the streets early won’t reveal very much, perhaps except a few people stumbling in from a late night. Same goes for evening, where everyone will know you’re from out of town if you show up for a 6:30PM dinner, if you can even find a place open for dinner that early! Think 8:30PM onwards.
Sorry for the Spanglish! Chances are you’ll be providing plenty of that on your trip anyway. Madrid is famous for its many “mercados” or markets, where you can find wonderful tapas, wine and other foods in informal dining halls. Without a doubt, Mercado San Miguel is the big tourist favorite, and although it’s popular, it’s still easily worth a visit. Once you’ve experienced that scene, San Ildefonso and Mercado San Anton offer much more low key alternatives, with food that’s “muy bien”.
It’s easy to become a wine snob after you leave Madrid, or realistically anywhere in Spain. The price to taste ratio is better here than almost anywhere on earth, and the house wine at your local restaurant back home, wherever home is (unless perhaps you live in Italy) will pale in comparison. If you do love wine, be sure to experiment with wines you won’t often find in most shops back home, and not just focus on the ever popular Rioja. Regions such as Ribero Del Duero can offer an even more affordable alternative to popular Rioja’s, while grapes like Garnacha, Verdejo, Albarino, Monastrell and others will delight the palate in the beautiful sun. A good glass runs around €5, with the fine quaffing stuff just a mere €8 in many tapas bars.
Few paintings in the world rival the emotions and fame of Guernica, the iconic Pablo Picasso painting depicting the Nazi bombing of Basque country. Like most tourists, you may be thinking that to take it in for yourself, a trip to the world famous Prado is in order. Wrong. Unless you’re a huge fan of early artwork from the likes of Goya, Velasquez, El Greco or Rubens, a trip to Reina Sofia may be more up your street. Not only is the price of admission at Reina Sofia about €5 less than the Prado, you’ll get to see Guernica and many more contemporary works.
After a lovely stroll through the Prado or Reina Sofia, a breath of fresh air is just what you need. Right next door you’ll find Parque El Retiro, which is the “Central Park” of Madrid and an absolute must for any trip. It’s beautiful, it’s peaceful, and unlike the botanical garden it borders, it’s free. Yes, we’re saying it may be worth saving those €6 earmarked for the botanical garden, putting them toward a great glass of wine instead.
Madrid is hilly, but it’s a great city to bike. If you want to save on Uber or Cabify fare while getting in some extra sightseeing, joining the BiciMad bike program can be a great move. Like many bike share programs around the world, you can unlock the bikes remotely and drop them off at one of the more than 300 locations around the city. Full info can be found here.
Brush Up The Spanish
Effort goes a long way in life and in Spain too. Even if you’re extremely limited in your ability, brushing up on a few key phrases (especially thank you) will endear you to the local set. Thanks to Google Translate, it’s easier than ever. Most Madrid tapas spots, cafes and customer service interactions will offer to speak English instead, but if you come in swinging with your Spanish, they’ll appreciate that you appreciate their native tongue, and perhaps not pour you the tourist glass of wine ; )