Last month I planned a spontaneous trip to Europe with my best friend and our first stop was Madrid, Spain! Plane tickets during this time (mid-January) were very decent, so we decided to go with little to no planning. In a short span of 48 hours, we made our way around Madrid, learning so much about the city and experiencing some…interesting things about the culture and lifestyle there. Here is a post on what we did and things you should know if you plan on visiting!
Landing in Madrid-Barajas Adolfo Suárez Airport
Our first step when touching down in Madrid was getting a SIM card for data usage. After leaving the baggage area you can find a convenience store within the airport that sells SIM cards at different rates. It is important that you have an unlocked phone to be able to use a SIM for data! For about $15 USD I was able to get 6GB of data that lasted me one week all around Europe.
In Madrid, Uber is the rideshare app that is commonly used. It’s convenient to use Uber especially with the language barrier and the cost was comparable to prices back home.
Our first stop was Hanso Cafe for a quick bite. The cafe was quite packed and offered a wide range of sandwiches and interesting drinks. Despite its cute interior and prime location at the city center, the food and drinks at this cafe could be described as average. Better luck on our next stop?
Mercado San Miguel
From the cafe, we took a 10-minute stroll to Mercado San Miguel. This indoor market had food stands with all of Spain’s most popular tapas. The market was overall very clean and modern with many options whether you wanted a full meal or just a glass of champagne. Even with all the options, the food was overall just OK. There was nothing in particular that I would highly recommend. I believe the market is a good stop for the experience.
Royal Palace of Madrid
One of my favorite stops in the city was seeing the Royal Palace of Madrid. I didn’t have many expectations going in but I was completely blown away by the extravagance and history surrounding the palace. The interiors were stunning and almost surreal. Make sure to bring your student ID for a ticket discount. Also, if you have luggage like we did, there are plenty of lockers so you can store your things!
If you are staying in Madrid, I highly recommend using Airbnb. Our studio apartment was perfectly located and was extremely affordable. After settling in, our jet lag kicked in and completely fell asleep through dinner. So began our real struggle in Madrid….
At 11pm we struggled to find a place open for dinner that wasn’t fast food. Because yelp isn’t used much in Madrid, it was more difficult to find restaurants. We used the power of Instagram, TripAdvisor, and Google to get around. Unfortunately, the restaurants we chose had different dinner hours than was shown online so we spent about 1 hr shuttling around the city trying to find food. Eventually, we settled at Perrachica where they were only serving drinks. It was still an enjoyable time in a lively atmosphere!
Mercado de San Anton
Since we missed dinner our first night, we wanted to make sure to get up early and get the day started. We read that Mercado de San Anton was something many people recommended so we arrived at the market at 10am when it opened. To our surprise, no food vendors were open. Still, we picked up some croissants and macaroons and ventured outside the market to find real food. I’m sure the food at the market would have been excellent so I would recommend going at noon or after which seems like the time most restaurants and cafe open.
On our mission to find food, it became frustrating when we couldn’t find anywhere that served anything more filling than ham sandwiches and coffee. It was a surprise to us that many restaurants were not opening or only serving a “breakfast” menu by 11:30am. In the places I’ve traveled to before (mostly Asia) it was easier to stumble upon food places and we would be more used to waking up and early and going out to eat full meals in the morning. I regret not doing a lot of prior research and would highly recommend setting a more detailed itinerary if you’re going to Madrid to avoid the struggles that we had.
Eventually, we stopped by Gran Clavel for tea and sandwiches.
Museo Reina Sofia
Next, we stopped by Museo Reina Sofia which was one of my favorite museums of all time. The museum was massive and filled with floors of iconic art pieces and exhibits. This is definitely a must-see if you are in Madrid.
Within the museum, there was also a restaurant where we had our first real meal. Arzabal is a great lunch place and had a more relaxed/cafe vibe. It was around 1pm when we arrived and they had a small lunch menu available. We were just thankful that the only option wasn’t ham sandwiches.
El Retiro Park & Palacio de Cristal
From our Airbnb we took a 20-minute walk to El Retiro park where the iconic Palacio de Cristal was. The park itself was huge, with many different aspects like rose gardens, statue gardens, and beautiful fountains. It was stunning to see such a beautifully reserved park in the city. Palacio de Cristal was picturesque without being overcrowded. The park the perfect stop for a little rest in our busy day.
Our last stop in Madrid was Platea, an old theatre that has been transformed into a two-story food court. In all the places we went to, Madrid always impressed with the most thoughtful and unique restaurant design and decor. Platea was not an exception! Their top floor featured iconic Spanish tapas and cocktail bars and the second floor housed restaurants of different cuisines including Mediterranean, Italian, and Asian food. Just being in the space was a unique experience. Also, on some nights there is live music, flamenco dancing, and an acrobatics show.
In a short span of 48 hours, we grew to love Madrid through all of our travel ups and downs. By taking such a spontaneous trip we quickly learned so much about the culture and lifestyle. Being in a city with so much historical significance and new life sparks inspiration for many trips to come. Where should I head to next?