Ah, Madrid. If Barcelona has never quite clicked for me, Madrid always has. Bustling and modern and beautiful: yep, I am a fan.
We arrived in Madrid off a train from San Sebastián. The thing that struck me most about Madrid on that first afternoon – and, in fact, throughout our entire stay – was how hot and sunny it was, particularly for October. Even just looking back at my photos now, I can see it: brightness everywhere you look.
We arrived in the afternoon and set off on a walk. Our hotel was located quite centrally, so we were really in the thick of it all. We made our way first to Plaza Mayor, and then continued on to Puerta del Sol. There, we found heaven, also known as a pastry shop. Everything looked good at La Mallorquina, but we selected a chocolate napolitana to share. We found a seat next to the fountain and enjoyed the ooey chocolate delicious in the bright Madrid sun: a perfect little travel moment.
In the evening, we made our way to Botin, billed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest restaurant in the world. We were seated downstairs, inside what looked like a huge, ancient cave. The food was solid but unremarkable, the sort of traditional fare you would expect from such a place. But we didn’t go there for the latest gastronomic techniques; we went for the history and the atmosphere, and Botin certainly delivers on that.
The next morning, we had planned to make a daytrip to Segovia. But when we arrived at the train station, we found that tickets were sold out until 2pm, which would really cut into the “day” part of our daytrip. We were staying in Madrid, and it was time to improvise. The first order of business was breakfast. After some googling, we made our way to Toast Cafe, a brunch place tucked away in a residential neighborhood. Their brunch deal – a starter, a main, juice, and coffee for 15 euros – was an awesome steal.
After brunch, we headed to Retiro Park for some sunshine and relaxation. The park itself is gorgeous, and we found a bench and just read and hung out for a while. I know if I ever lived in Madrid, I would always gravitate here.
Not far from Retiro, we found Circulo de Bellas Artes. Here, the trick is to make your way to the rooftop, which features some truly stunning views of Madrid. It was annoyingly packed the afternoon we swung by, but I cannot really blame anyone else for seeking out those views!
In the evening, we made our way to BiBo, a restaurant that looks tailor-made for Instagram, with a huge white ceiling and a fancy schmancy circular bar in the middle. While the food was good (some dishes moreso than others), our highlight here was the cocktails. BiBo has a huge cocktail menu, and each drink is whimsically and creatively presented. For example, my whiskey sour arrived covered in a cloche; once the lid was removed, smoke billowed out.
We skipped dessert at BiBo, and instead headed to Chocolatería San Ginés for a decadent, delicious classic: churros and chocolate. We were there pretty late (for us, not for Spaniards), around 11pm, but the place was still hopping. We also saw Vince Vaughn. Celebrities: they eat churros just like us.
The next morning, we started our day at La Rollerie, which was a pretty fantastic find. I opted for scrambled eggs and a cinnamon roll. The cinnamon roll was o-m-g amazing. Honestly, if we had discovered this earlier in our trip, I would have made us have breakfast here every day.
After La Rollerie, we made our way to the Prado, walking along Calle de las Huertas, a fairly adorable street, to get there. As for the Prado, it remains one of my favorite museums (in fact, I spent literally almost an entire day there on my first visit to Madrid).
One of my good friends had visited Madrid a few months before I did, and in looking at her photos, one spot immediately stood out: the gigantic plant wall at Caixa Forum. And when I say gigantic, I mean gigantic; you can’t really tell from my photo, but this thing is enormous.
In the afternoon, we visited Palacio Real, Madrid’s royal palace. One thing I like about Palacio Real is that it’s not as jam-packed as some other European royal palaces are (ahem, I’m looking at you, Versailles). It’s nice to be able to, you know, breathe while admiring your historical European finery.
(^ not our finest selfie work.)
In the evening, we joined a tapas and wine tour with Devour. We made four stops on this tour, but in my book, we saved the very best for last: La Case del Abuelo. There, we tried three types of red wine, plus a ton of tapas: gambas al ajilo (shrimp); green peppers (1 in 30 is super hot, but luckily I never got that one); sausage (the tastiest!); and patatas bravas.
On our last day in Madrid, we stocked up on treats for our journey to Sevilla. Namely, we made our way to Iglesias del Corpus Christi Carboneras, home of what I fondly call “the convent cookies.” Sold by cloistered nuns, the cookies are doled out to customers via a turnstile; you never see the nuns. It’s a novelty, yes, but the cookies are pretty tasty too.
Cookies in hand, we headed to Taberna Ángel Sierra for la hora del vermut, the Madrid tradition of day-drinking vermouth. Sign us up, obviously.
Our time in Madrid ended with a meal at Triciclo that was memorable on three levels. Level one: we almost did not make it there; due to a Google map error on my part, I had us walking FAR, far in the wrong direction, and it took us forever to find an Uber to get us where we needed to go. Level two: we could not resist ordering the tasting menu, but because we were late, we were way short on time; we wound up speeding through the menu crazy fast. Level three: the food was AMAZING. It was our favorite meal in Madrid, by far, with each course more flavorful and well-composed than the last. It was a shame we had to rush through it because, man, did we both love this meal.
After power-walking back to our hotel on super full stomachs, we grabbed a cab and made our way to the airport to hop on a flight to Sevilla. There were many things to love about Madrid this time around, but I think my biggest takeaway had to be the amazing foodie moments: eating that mouthwatering chocolate napolitano in the Madrid sunshine; sipping vermouth on a quiet little square, sharing a plate of churros with Vince Vaughn (well, not literally); buying cookies from the cloistered nuns; and enjoying that sensational meal at Triciclo. Madrid, you left us satisfied.