Travel tips for a long weekend in Madrid, Spain: how to travel, where to stay, things to do and see, and the best places to eat and drink…
We landed in Madrid at 10am and made our way into the city for a three-day adventure. Madrid was the first place I ever went on holiday with friends, aged just 17 and talking our way into clubs.
I had thought going with the other half (P) might be very different, but after a daytime siesta the natives work late, eat late and drink even later into the night and as they say, when in Rome…
It isn’t difficult or expensive to travel from the airport, the Metro takes less than half an hour and you can buy a 10 stop ticket – this includes an extra €3 charge for travelling from the airport, on your return you will find machines by the barriers to pay this again and get back to the airport.
Me and P made our way out of Plaza de España ready to begin the hunt for our hotel, but turned a corner and it was unmissable. A tall, grand building with Barceló Torres de Madrid emblazoned across it.
The ostentatious art deco interior of the five star hotel hits you the moment you enter and throughout my two-night stay the continuous attention to detail throughout every inch of the place didn’t cease to impress.
If you look to the left upon entering you see a magnificent life-sized bear statue in trendy black and white stripes just before you reach the cocktail bar. A gold top hat sits on his head tipping slightly forward with his paw to it, quite literally giving a nod to the notorious Madrid sculpture by artist Antonio Navarro Santafé (1906 – 1983).
The bear and the strawberry tree, which can be found in La Puerta del Sol, the city’s most famous square, was built between 1766 and 1768. It is the symbol of Madrid and so enormously significant.
The reception, on the second floor, is littered with insta-worthy 1920s furniture for a cheeky snap.
The theme continued beautifully through to our room where the mirrors and bathroom were decorated with art deco patterns.
Our balcony looked along the main road of the plaza which had a tremendous New York feel with its wide, bustling roads and dotted theatres.
We’d been out the night before and stayed up through the night to get to the airport at half past four, so I have to admit we wasted a few hours of the day sleeping in the HEAVENLY and huge bed.
When we did leave we did what is always first on my agenda on any city break – we headed out on foot to explore (there is no better way to explore a city, in my humble opinion).
We made our way to the Royal Palace of Madrid and, unsurprisingly, the architecture was incredible and the interiors matched, of course.
Sitting just next door is the Almudena Cathedral. Equally stunning we made our way inside but were shocked to find a mass happening – P is catholic, so he found it very peculiar and wanted to leave pronto.
We continued our leisurely walk, snapping photos at fountains and making our way to a popular food market, Mercado de San Miguel. It is a typical market with fresh produce as well as restaurants and bars to buy from.
On our way in we heard a Spanish lady, speaking in English, say to a friend: “If you want to eat it is very overpriced so I will take you to another one.”
We had a good idea of the one she meant, located between Tribunal and Chueca Metro stations, so we made our way over and found an incredible selection of food, all tapas inspired, and tried a few things.
Here we began a tapas pilgrimage of sorts. Throughout the evening we had small dishes at three places, which together made up a meal.
After a typical selection of little Spanish sandwiches at Mercado de San lldefonso, known as bocadillo or bocata, we headed to Goya – an area adorned with top notch traditional restaurants.
Here we made the most spectacular discovery of La Casa Del Abuelo. If you like prawns then you’ll be in heaven just like us.
It’s an adorably dinky little restaurant with pillars and counter tops surrounded by people who are presented with prawns still sizzling in garlic oil, with bread. It was so delicious P kept talking about it all weekend and we ended up almost missing our plane back because we couldn’t resists squeezing in another visit!
We then went for paella but after a few beers, for the life of me I cannot remember where. However, there were so many restaurants in that area so wherever you were to end up will do the job.
Having visited three different restaurants for dinner the night had passed and it was approaching midnight, the time when nightlife starts to heat up in Madrid.
First on the agenda for drinks was Tupperware in Malasaña. An unusual name for a Spanish bar, I agree, and it certainly didn’t feel Spanish.
The walls are covered in murals and the back bar has a dingy, vintage feel. The kitsch décor left me feeling more like I was in Camden in north London than in Madrid, especially because of the indie rock blaring out.
Our plan was then to visit Sala Clamores for live music but found ourselves passing a venue with an inconspicuous door with house music playing from behind it so we couldn’t resist going in for a dance.
At 4am, just a little drunk, I promise, we made our way back to the hotel. We picked up a few pizza slices on the way home and dipped into the mini bar, taking our goodies out onto the balcony to gaze across the city before hitting the hay.
We had planned to wake up early but failed, of course. Luckily the breakfast at Barceló Torres de Madrid runs until 11.30am on the weekend (10.30am during the week).
The breakfast offering was amazing and so quintessentially Spanish – I know, why was I surprised? There were churros, tortilla Española (Spanish omelette), cheeses, hams and all the ingredients to make your own pan con tomate (bread and tomato, a traditional breakfast dish from Catalonia). They also had chia puddings, a selection of readymade smoothies ranging from protein fuelled, to energy fuelled and immune boosting – and of course a chef on standby to make fresh eggs or anything with the ingredients at hand.
We then got a wriggle on to make our way over to El Rastro de Madrid, one of the most popular markets which we had planned to hit early, before the crowds, but arrived around 1pm with two hours remaining.
The market was endless, with streets filled with clothes, homeware and vintage items darting off in every direction. It felt much like being in a maze trying to remember where we had been, where we came from and where we needed to go next. A marvellous adventure which added to our exploration of all the interesting Knick knacks.
As vans began to invade the bustling streets to pack things away, we decided to head to the place notorious for the best churros in town – Chocolatería San Ginés.
On our way there P notice my energy was waning and suggested it might be best to get some proper food before indulging in so much sugar and so came another spectacular discovery – 100 Montaditos.
The menu consisted of those little Spanish sandwiches I mentioned in day one, bocadillo or bocata, as well as sides.
The offering included unusual looking sweet sandwiches, including one with an Oreo filling, but we were here for lunch and chose fillings such as fresh cheese and pesto or Iberian ham with extra virgin olive oil.
The real beauty in our discovery was that on Wednesdays and Sundays (the day we were visiting), most things were either €1/1.50. We got two sandwiches, two fries and two large glasses of tinto de verano (similar to sangria), for less than ten euros!
Then we finally made our way to Chocolatería San Ginés, somewhere I had constantly been suggesting as it is open 24 hours a day seven days a week.
You go in, order your food, take a seat and then a waiter will take your receipt and promptly deliver a hearty numbers of churros with a mug-full of chocolate. I think it goes without saying that it was dee-licious.
By now the afternoon is turning into the evening and, with the hope of another late night ahead while still recovering from the one before, we headed back to Barceló Torres de Madrid for a drink on the balcony and tentatively exploring the rooftop in the wellness area before dinner.
That night we ate at the hotel restaurant, Somos. We began with a cava – most restaurants don’t serve prosecco, my usual dinner tipple, because Spain is all about their cava. Throughout the dinner of making the very wise choice of moving into a gin and tonic – wise because of the generous amount of spirit and the magnificent goblet in which it was served.
If you love fish, particularly raw fish, you’ll love this restaurant. Neither me nor P do, so the menu was slightly restrictive. To start with both had the Braised eggplant with honey, katsuobushi and smoked cheese (€14) – I’m a big fan of combining aubergine with honey and this lived up to my decadent expectations.
P, a pescatarian, was tentative about the raw fish mains and unimpressed with the vegetarian offering and so went for Hake fish and chips with hummus, romesco and tartar sauce (€19). I do eat meat (when reviewing) and, feeling a little more adventurous, went for the Iberian pork cheek with Korean marinade, roasted pineapple and cilantro (€18).
As soon as I put my fork into the meat I was on cloud nine – it fell apart so spectacularly softly that it was difficult to keep on the fork. It was the most beautifully cooked pork I have ever had.
To finish I had the gorgeous raspberry sorbet with passion fruit foam and white chocolate while P had the textures of cholate (better known here as a chocolate trio of desserts) and he seemed pretty chuffed (both €7).
Midnight was approaching and so we made our way over to 1862 Dry Bar, Calle del Pez, for a few cheeky cocktails.
Our last day in Madrid.
We have walked at least 20,000 steps each day, stayed up late and had drunk a little too much. So we wake for breakfast and then request a late check out at Barceló Torres de Madrid. They generously give us until 2pm and so P and I head to the wellness area for a little workout, a swim and a sauna session.
The gym was a little dinky, but it did the job, neither of us were up to much. I then went for a nice swim whereas P, after taking AT LEAST 20 minutes to get into the pool (it was freezing, ergo I am very brave) swam two lengths. The sauna was a godsend.
After reluctantly checking out, we had two hours to spare before we needed to head to the airport to catch our flight home and so returned to La Casa Del Abuelo for their heavenly garlic prawns.
The only thing I wish we had don (which I discovered on Instagram the day after we returned!) was to visit Retiro Park.
According to the official tourist website of Madrid, it only opened to the public in the later 19th century after being privately owned by the Spanish royals.
The oasis is the city’s largest park, home to over 15,000 trees and boasting several beautiful gardens: the Jardín de Vivaces, the Jardines de Cecilio Rodríguez (classical gardens of an Andalusian style), the Jardines del Arquitecto Herrero Palacios, the Rose Garden, and the Parterre Francés with the oldest tree in Madrid, and a bald cypress that is believed to be 400 years old.
Among its architectural, historical, and popular elements are the lake for rowing, and the Velázquez and Glass palaces, both used today as exhibition halls. The Glass Palace, a romantic pavilion created to house a collection of exotic plants for the Philippine Exhibition of 1887, is one of the main examples of cast-iron architecture in Spain.
In addition, the retreat shelters outstanding sculptures and fountains such as: the Monument to Alfonso XII by architect José Grasés Riera; the Reserve of Ferdinand VII, located at the corner of O’Donnell and Menéndez Pelayo streets, which includes the Casa del Pescador; the artificial mountain; and the Casa del Contrabandista (formerly, Florida Park banquet hall) which confers a romantic air; the statue of the fallen angel, the only sculpture in the world representing the devil; and the Galápagos Fountain created to commemorate the birth of Isabel II.
Double rooms at Barceló Torre de Madrid start from €180 per night.
Rates are based on two sharing a Deluxe Room with views of the Royal Palace and Gran Via Street. Room only basis.
easyJet flies from Bristol, Edinburgh, Liverpool, London Gatwick and London Luton to Madrid up to seven days per week, with prices starting from £18.74 per person (one-way, including taxes and based on two people on the same booking). All flights can be booked at www.easyjet.com