Tapas, sunshine, cheap wine and late nights; five delicious days of fun-filled exploration around the Spanish capital.
What was initially a work trip turned into a romantic weekend for two in Madrid. I had been invited to come along to a roundtable in my professional life (that makes me sound A LOT more important than I am), and decided to stay an extra few days to explore, and Rai agreed to fly out and meet me. Luckily for my bank balance, my flights and first night’s accommodation were all paid for thanks to the work trip, which meant my savings weren’t too depleted – always a bonus!
In many ways, Madrid feels similar to London. It has a metro system, a financial district, and an area that feels akin to the West End, with oversized video billboards showing the latest ad campaigns. Madrid also plays home to beautiful architecture, temples, and winding Spanish streets.
What surprised me the most is how authentic the city feels. We quickly realised we couldn’t assume everybody spoke English, and as a result ended up performing plenty of ridiculous hand gestures to try to communicate. It’s also a really loud place; we were never far from the sound of beeping horns. The food and wine was absolutely phenomenal; we essentially ate and drank our way around the city, and had just one shoddy experience.
Where we stayed
Rai and I booked into the centrally located Hotel Santo Domingo. Santo Domingo is what I would describe as the more ‘West End’-type area. It’s noisy, but the location made getting around the city so incredibly easy, and we were spoilt with a variety of restaurants and bars on our doorstep.
The hotel itself is nice. We usually cheap out on the hotel as we know we’re only going to sleep there, but this time we decided to pay a little more for the pool on the roof and the central location. The other guests were pleasant, as were the staff. Being so centrally located certainly made our lives a lot easier, and ultimately I think it was worth paying a little extra to have a base so reachable from various destinations.
Where to eat
The trip kicked off with a visit to one of the best restaurants in Madrid – at this point I was still on my work trip, so thankfully, someone else footed the bill! Restaurant Ten Con Ten offers sharing dishes as an option, and individual dishes to tuck into if preferred. The food was phenomenal. There is just no other way to put it. To start, the group tried various foods, ranging from cured Spanish meats, to prawns to gazpacho. For those that don’t know, gazpacho is a traditional Spanish cold tomato soup; before the trip, the idea of cold soup made me feel slightly nauseous, but as soon as I had a tiny sip, I realised how horribly wrong I was. For my main dish, I had the duck, and honestly, there are no words I can say to do that dish justice. It was the best thing i’ve ever eaten. If you find yourself in Madrid, please visit this restaurant. Solid 10/10 – though expect to pay above average prices for the food.
Taberna Malaspina was the first restaurant Rai visited upon his arrival in the city 24 hours later. Rai and I had been searching for a traditional Spanish tapas place for a while, and finally we found it. Malaspina is hidden down a winding side street, and feels incredibly traditional; the restaurant is open late and has intimate tables located outside. The food was fantastic, and SO cheap! The bill came and we couldn’t believe our luck. I strongly recommend for a cheap, tasty eat.
Inclan Brutal Bar was the final stand-out meal we had. We’d actually been trying to get a table since we first landed, but kept messing up the booking (d’oh, I know). Again, it was tapas, but a little more gourmet than Malaspina. The dishes included gazpacho, pate, burrata, smoked fish and pork. The place is very cool and the garden is gorgeous; think lots of multi-coloured lights and plants. The waiters are also very attentive. However, of the three, this was my least favourite place. Perhaps because we’d built it up too much, or perhaps we were particularly tired that night, something didn’t hit me in quite the same way as the previous two evenings.
I feel I have to give a special mention to Toma Cafe (food pictured above), for the wonderful, photo-friendly breakfast we ate. I hate pictures of food taken in dark restaurants, and as such, I never had the chance to capture pictures of any of the amazing food we ate. However, finding Toma Cafe was such a blessing, for the peaceful sunny setting, the delicious and healthy breakfast, and the decent quality coffee. A super cute place to grab some brunch.
Where to drink
For the first time in our history of holidays, Rai and I didn’t do a lot of drinking – I know, hold onto your hats folks, there’s something strange happening here. Quite honestly we only had a few days to explore and wanted to be fresh for the day, plus we were so tired – napping during the day and then sleeping through the night – like well behaved babies, if you like.
Anyway, we did visit one stand-out cocktail bar during our time in the Spanish capital; El Imperfecto is situation in the centre of the city and is quirky as hell. Think Pulp Fiction posters on the walls, a decent playlist, and room to sit at a table. The menu is exhaustive and the bar is open late – we wandered in at around 1am and didn’t leave until 3:30 ish, and the place was still buzzing and showed no sign of slowing down.
What to see
Rai and I are useless planners; we’re very much, wake up, google things and hope for the best kinda people. But here’s a rough list of what we managed to see on our travels (stars represent things i’d highly recommend).
Parque del Buen Retiro* – A gorgeous, sprawling park with spots to grab some coffee or wine hadily located next to a lake.
Royal Palace of Madrid – A big palace, pretty, but nothing special.
Plaza Mayor* – A large-ish plaza full of restaurants and music. Food and drinks are overpriced because of the location, but it’s a great spot for people watching.
Puerta del Sol – Another plaza, but a real tourist trap. Reminded me of Piccadilly Circus without the billboards.
Gran Via – Shopping, lots of shopping.
Temple of Debod* – An egyption temple in the middle of Madrid. As you do.
Market of San Miguel* – A market full of all foods imaginable to try and buy.
El Rastro* – A sprawling street market with all sorts of gems. Keep your bags close, because pickpocketing is rife.
Madrid is very reasonable. The accommodation isn’t overpriced, and neither is the food. To be honest, if you’re looking for a reasonably cheap getaway, Madrid should be one to consider. As a comparison, a shit hostel in Amsterdam is around the same price as a nice hotel in Madrid.
Top travel tips
Want an insta-worthy view? Head to the top of Callao El Corte Ingles – yes, it’s a department store, just keep going up the stairs until you reach the top. Or, stay in our hotel, and head to the roof.
Take your passport out if you think you might need an Uber. For some reason you have to put your passport number in before use the app in Madrid, which I didn’t find out until 4:30am, dragging a very drunk Rai two miles home. Yup.
Book a table if there’s a restaurant you want to visit. I think sometimes we forget capital cities in other countries work exactly like London. I wouldn’t go out in London at the weekend without a reservation, why would Madrid be any different?
Dig out your GCSE Spanish book. There is not a lot of English around, get ready to recall odd phrases from school (la cuenta por favor is “the bill please”, you’re welcome) and be ready to use them. Otherwise, expect to do a lot of silly hand gestures.
Use the Metro. We didn’t, and I regret it. It’s a cheap, simple system, and the machines have an English translation. That way, you’ll see a lot more of the city.
Drink wine and beer if you want a cheap night out. Spirits appear to be near English prices, but wine and beer are significantly cheaper.