Madrid is a beautiful city that is a great place to visit, especially if you are interested in Spanish and potentially studying abroad there. It is almost smack dab in the middle of Spain, and access to surrounding areas (Barcelona, Malaga, Seville etc) are fairly accessible and close by a train or flight.
1. Where to Stay
Hostal Salamanca: (José Ortega y Gasset 89) This hostal is perfect for groups traveling with people who would not be considered “youth” in Europe (over the age of 26). Our room when we stayed there with my mom, aunt and my friend Jenna had 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and a living area with a fridge, all for about 50 euro a night. Definitely not a bad deal.
Students Hostel Luis Velez: (Calle Luis Velez de Guevara) My friend Laura and I stayed at this hostel for the two nights we ended up staying in Madrid on a separate trip, and it is a really nice hostel for location as Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor are only a short walk away, but be warned, it is a bit of a hike (uphill) from the train station, so if you arrive from there be prepared to walk or maybe even take a taxi, depending on how much luggage you have. This hostel is very accommodating and has a nice staff with clean rooms and bedrooms, great place to check out if you’re under 26!
2. Things to DO!
– Reina Sofia: Modern art is definitely not my favorite thing in the world, in fact I think it is quite strange and difficult to appreciate, but the Reina Sofia is a fun place to spend a few hours, especially because it is free for college students, so be sure to bring your ID. Not having to pay admission gets rid of the guilt of leaving after not seeing all the eclectic exhibits, as this is definitely not the museum for everyone to enjoy and appreciate. There are many famous modern art works here, in particular the famous Picasso piece “Guernica,” a large mural depicting Picasso’s interpretation of the Spanish Civil war. Interesting sculptures and rooms playing various artsy videos and sometimes documentaries, as well as a variety of photography and paintings.
– Museo de Prado: The Prado is an internationally renowned art museum, and a must-see if you are staying in Madrid. It hosts one of the most impressive art collections in all of Europe and is definitely a place to spend several hours or even a whole day exploring the various exhibits. There is obviously a strong influence of works by Spanish artists, but works from all over Europe debut in this lovely museum.
– Palacio Cibeles: A major Madrid landmark and a great place to get a view of the entire city is the Palacio Cibeles. It is in the city center, and for a small fee of about 2 euros, one can go to the very top observation deck for 30 minutes to take pictures and see the sights from above. Definitely a must see as it provides a great panoramic of the city and is an inexpensive activity. Sunset provides beautiful views and a great visual of the city of Madrid 🙂
– Retiro Park and Botanical Gardens: If you go to Spain in the spring or summer months, Retiro park and the Botanical gardens are a must see. An absolutely beautiful spread of intricate landscaping and beautiful sculptures, in particular the monument to Alfonso XII which sits at the head of the lake in the middle of the park, on which you can rent paddle boats to enjoy a sunny afternoon.
– Puerta del Sol: Located in the heart of Madrid, Puerta del Sol is a great place to explore during the day or night, to check out the restaurants and shopping in the area and take pictures of the various monuments and buildings surrounding it. It’s always a bustling part of the city, be aware of pickpockets in this area. As long as you stay alert and keep your belongings close, no need to worry. Definitely a highlight of Madrid and is within a close walking distance of many other attractions of the city.
– Plaza Mayor: Being the central Plaza of the city of Madrid, Plaza Mayor serves not only as a space for municipal and other government affairs, but also hosts a variety of tourist shops and restaurants. A large statue of King Philip III stands in the middle, and various street performers mill the streets looking to make a quick buck in this area. Definitely a central highlight worthy of walking around, and a great location to get tacky souvenirs for friends and family back home.
– Palacio Real: The Royal Palace of Madrid, no longer in use for “royalty” except for state ceremonies, is the 2nd largest palace in Europe, and definitely one worth checking out while in Madrid. I would recommend getting the headset, as it is very informative and helps you e.g.
– Mercado San Miguel: Located in Plaza de San Miguel, Mercado de San Miguel is a popular tourist destination to check out the local food fare and walk through the wide variety of vendors. It is in close proximity to Plaza mayor and a nice place to walk through and purchase fresh produce if you so desire
3. Places to Eat
Montaditos literally means “little sandwiches” and to try a variety of Spanish style sandwiches, Montaditos is definitely the place to go. It is a chain restaurant, so it’s easy to stumble upon several locations throughout Madrid. With prices from as low as 1 euro, you can try a variety of little tapa sandwiches. My personal favorites are lacón (American-style ham) with cream cheese, Iberian ham with brie, and the iberian ham with tomatoes. All are very delicious and inexpensive. Another great thing about Montaditos is that they also serve their sangria by the mug, which is more convenient if you don’t want to order a whole pitcher. They also have great salads here, my friend and I loved the caesar as it was a nice touch of being back in the states after two weeks of eating European food.
Museo del Jamón
Another chain bar with scattered locations throughout Madrid is Museo del Jamón, or “Museum of Ham.” A comical name that is extremely accurate, as cured pig legs line the walls and ceiling, covering every square inch of free space. Museo del Jamón is a fun place to go, one of those “gotta try it” places since it is pretty signature to Madrid. Yummy little ham sandwiches and good beer make it a great place to stop for a quick bite to eat.
Carmencita Bar: Located at Calle San Vicente Ferrer, Carmencitas is a charming restaurant to stop in for gourmet tapas and wine. Definitely a bit more upscale, but well worth the stop. It is owned by a lovely woman from Arizona (a nice change to talk with someone who speaks perfect English, if your Spanish is less than fluent). She made us an awesome variety of tapas, my persona favorite was a toast with brie and a raspberry spread. Absolutely delicious, more than worth a stop.
Chocolateria San Gines
A typical Spanish dessert is “churros and chocolate,” cinnamon pastry sticks and a thick, gooey chocolate for dipping, and when coupled with sangria, it makes a great late night snack or a pre-drinking pleasure. Chocolateria San Gines, located at Pasadizo de San Ginés is a great place to stop for them, as it has a nice atmosphere and is perfect for sitting outside (weather permitting)
Mesón del Champinon
Mesón del Champinon, or the mushroom bar, is a famous tapas bar in Madrid. Located at Calle Cava de San Miguel, this is a great place to stop, have a pitcher of sangria and try their awesome mushroom based or other tapas. Pictured below is their sausage stuff mushrooms, definitely a plate to share. I would recommend ordering a variety of the mushroom and other dishes to share with a group, but for sure try the sausage (chorizo) stuffed mushrooms, which are sauteed in garlic to order. YUM!
That’s all for now folks! Hope you enjoyed it and found some useful information for a future trip you may be planning to visit Madrid! Special Thanks to my friends Jenna Pysick and Laura Medcalf for letting me use their pictures for this blog post 🙂