In March (2019) I spent a weekend exploring Madrid. It was my second time there, but my first proper visit as I didn’t have much time to explore the city the first time round. One of my friends was turning 31, and as 31 is the new 30, she invited lots of friends and family to join her in Madrid.
My French friend Virginie and I booked to fly in on Friday night, and out again on Sunday night. It was the first time I flew with Ryanair (I try to avoid it) since they changed their luggage policy (again). This time round you were only allowed to bring a small handbag that fits underneath the seat in front of you, unless you pay extra of course. The difficulty here is that the indicated size of that handbag is smaller than your average rucksack (or at least smaller than my rucksack). I spent a lot of time fretting about it as I really didn’t want to pay anything extra (the flight already wasn’t the cheapest, as we bought it only 1 or 2 months beforehand). Anyway, long story short: I risked it, but made sure I didn’t pack my rucksack too full so I could squeeze it underneath the seat in front of me. And it worked. Thanks for all the unnecessary stress, Ryanair!
I met Virginie at the airport and together we took the metro (you can buy a metro card with multiple rides on it and can travel on it together) to Moncloa. We chose for this area as it was right around the corner from the party venue for the next day. The Airbnb we booked was alright, a studio at the end of a maze of staircases and corridors. The most interesting/funniest part was us getting hold of the keys. I messaged the Airbnb host when we were on our way to the studio and he said he wouldn’t get there in time, but that he left the keys at the bar/restaurant in front of the apartment building. Okay, a little weird, but fine. He added a few photos of the bar, which key to use for which door etc so it seemed fine. At the bar however we ended up a bit lost in translation when trying to explain the key situation. We didn’t speak Spanish and the people working at the bar didn’t speak any English. In the end I remembered I had a photo of the keys, showed it to them and luckily worked it out from there.
So we checked in and then went out to get some food. We were staying in a quite studenty area, but found a nice place around the corner: Taberna El Papelón. We chatted a bit with the bar staff and asked them for some drinks and food recommendations. We had a few glasses of wine and some lovely cheeses, hams and croquetas. After that we called it a day – much more to explore (and eat/drink) the next day!
We started off the Saturday by taking out breakfast from Crustó (hard to choose, everything looked delish!) and made our way over to the Temple of Debod. We found ourselves a nice spot to sit and had breakfast with views on the temple. From there we wandered towards the Royal Palace, and into this quaint and peaceful garden right next to it, the Jardines de Sabatini. Back on the main road we witnessed the changing of the guards, and a bit further the ringing of the bells at the Almudena cathedral. Yes, I’ve seen church bells ringing before 😀 but they were massive and really loud, so quite impressive!
We then strolled on into the city centre and really just loved the little streets, and the colour of the buildings against the bright blue sky! The boulevards are quite impressive, but a little less attractive in my opinion with all the traffic and also some roadworks. Time for a break, we then thought, and tried our luck at the Circulo de Bellas Artes. There is a rooftop bar there with some really nice views over the city. Of course we weren’t the only people to have this idea on a gorgeous spring day, so there was a bit of a queue. Fortunately we didn’t have to wait very long. You have to pay to go up with the escalators, but once you’re sat at your table sipping a sangria in the sun you realise it was all worth it! And yes, I got a sunburn. In March.
After that lunch was well overdue! We were keen to try the Bocadillos (a sandwich with in our case calamares), and read online that the best place to get them is in the side streets of Plaza Mayor. There was a queue outside La Campana but with it being fast food, we got served rather quickly. We wanted to find a nice quiet square to sit and eat, but ended up walking around with our food quite a bit, and then settling for some benches on a small square by an intersection. The bocadillos from this place were a bit overrated in my opinion. I would have preferred it if they had been fried a bit longer, with some sauce on top. But hey, that’s how you learn.
We then went to the Mercado San Miguel, which our friend Natalia had recommended. The food there looked lovely, but it was quite busy and we were still very full from the bocadillos so we didn’t buy much. At this point we needed a bit of a break, so we took the metro back to our Airbnb and had a nap. We then got ready for the party, but had planned a visit first to the Reina Sofia museum. It is free the last two hours of the day I think (but do check when you’re going) and my friend Virginie really wanted to see Guernica, so off we went.
The Reina Sofia museum is housed in a stunning building. The older building (Sabatini) has been merged with a newer one (Nouvel), made of glass and steel (well, that’s what it looked like to me :)). We had to queue for a bit to get in, but that also gave us the opportunity to admire the architecture. There is a viewing platform as well from where we watched the sun set over the city – loved the colours and the reflections! The museum has a vast collection and we tried to see some of it, but also wanted to have enough time in front of the masterpiece. You’re not allowed to take pictures of Guernica, but it is absolutely huge and quite impressive! I really liked all the information you get about Picasso’s process of drawing and painting it, and seeing some of the earlier sketches.
And then it was time to head to the party. Oud friend Natalia was hosting it at El Sitio. She booked a few tables and there was lots of tapa-style foods coming out, pizza’s, the lot. We didn’t starve in Madrid, that’s for sure. It didn’t seem like a touristy place, and we hung out there all evening with her family and friends.
The next day we had a bit of a later start, as you can imagine. But still early enough to pop into Sweets and Coffee for some breakfast, and then head out to the El Rastro Sunday fleamarket. It’s huge! Lots of people, so we were a bit conscious of walking around with our bags, but the atmosphere was very chill. We met up with Natalia and some of her other friends on Plaza Paja, where it really was survival of the fittest to get a table outside in front of the restaurants. With the amount of people waiting around and eyeing the tables like vultures, it’s not clear to me why they didn’t add more tables.
Anyway, after a while we got a spot and had more tapas, accompanied with some vino tinto – at this point I was really getting the hang of tapa-meals. After lunch our small group split up and a few of us took a bus to the Retiro park that I really wanted to see. It was very nice but also quite busy. Then again, who wouldn’t go out to the park if it’s around the corner and the weather is gorgeous?! We walked to the Palacio de Cristal and said goodbye to our friends there. Virginie and I then walked to the nearest metro station to make our way back to the airport, and home.
My favourite thing about Madrid were the blue skies and all the lovely whites and colours from the buildings. There are some very busy squares and streets, but usually (minus that time with the bocadillos) you don’t have to go far to find some quieter streets. I’ll definitely go back to explore some more (and eat more delicious tapas, obviously).
Have you been to Madrid? What did you like best?
You can sign up below to get these blog posts delivered to your inbox, or follow me on Instragram or Twitter.