If you are following me on any of my social media sites, you will be aware from the ‘Holiday Spam’ that I have just came back from a city break in Madrid! Having been to Barcelona numerous times with Hector to visit his family, but Madrid was somewhere we had been thinking about going to for a while. We had been planning on going to Barcelona in April for a wedding, so we decided to expand our trip and squeeze in a few days in Madrid as well. I had never been to Madrid before, so wasn’t sure what to expect, but after this trip I will definitely be back…
We didn’t fly there direct from the UK as we were heading there from Barcelona, but most usual airlines will fly there.
We travelled to Madrid from Barcelona Sants station by the Ave train; a high speed train which travels up to 300 km per hour (186 miles…eek!) but amazingly you don’t even notice it.
I would definitely recommend travelling by Ave as it is extremely comfortable and the roomy, leather seats come in either two or one so whether you are travelling alone or as a couple, you don’t need to sit next to anyone. The tickets were fairly reasonable as well, about €85/£67 each. The train we were on took 2 hours and 45 minutes, while driving by car would be around six hours, so it’s a much speedier and relaxing way to travel.
Where to stay
We stayed in Las Ventas, in the IBIS Madrid Centro Las Ventas.
The hotel was in a great location, away from the noisy city but close enough to get there. It was right next to a metro station (you can see it from the window!) and 7 stops away from the Puerta Del Sol, the main area in city centre, getting you there in around 15 minutes. There were a few days that we decided to walk and took 30 minutes on a straight road, Calle de Alcala.
The hotel was great, we got a great price so I was expecting basic budget, but I had nothing to worry about. The room was clean, roomy and was so quiet with the windows closed – which was a miracle as there is a busy main street right outside. The bed was huge and so comfy! We never ate at the restaurant, as there were great wee places nearby (see what to eat & drink) but the bar was well stocked and really reasonable.
Our room was €280/ £220 for four nights. I would definitely recommend this hotel for anyone going to Madrid.
Read my Tripadvisor review here!
Metro, Metro, Metro! I can’t stress enough how easy to use and punctual the Metro system is in Madrid. There are trains usually every 5 minutes or less and so easy to navigate where you’re going. We used a 10-journey tickets and they cost €12.50, you can buy one and use it for more than one person. There are so many stops as well, and so close together, so there is really no need to take taxis at all.
What to do
We were really lucky with the weather as it was supposed to be raining a lot when we were there, but it was sunny most days and only rained a few times! We walked SO much without even noticing it, walking over 8.5 miles one day. I would definitely recommend seeing the city this way, stopping off for a cold ‘cerveza’ now and again! We visited El Retiro park where we hired a paddle boat which was lots of fun. The lake the boats were in is a good size and cost €6 for 45 minutes which is plenty of time.
Another ‘must-do’ is get a photo with the Oso y Madroño, which is the famous statue of a bear and a strawberry tree and is on the Puerta Del Sol. There is also a point on the square where it is the centre of Spain.
Madrid is well known for its theatres, so we decided we should really go to a show. The Lion King was our first choice but no surprise it was sold out. We then settled on ‘Los Vivancos’ a flamenco dance show, made up of seven brothers. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but I left the show amazed. Combining flamenco with martial arts, I was mesmerized from start to finish – oh and it helped they were topless for the majority of the show…! I would definitely recommend going their show if you can.
Seeing as we went to a show with shirtless men, it was only fair we balanced it out with a football game. As Hector is a Barca fan, the Real Madrid Stadium was a definite no-no, so an Atletico Madrid game was the better choice! Again, the stadium is really easy to get to by Metro.
Oh, and of course, shopping! Head to Gran Via in the city centre where you will find Zara, Blanco, Stradivarius, Kiko and the BIGGEST Primark I have ever been in my life!
What to eat & drink
Now, this is what I loved about Madrid the most… Just about every bar you go to, you get FREE TAPAS with EVERY DRINK! I am not joking! Depending on the place, it could be a bowl of olives, an open sandwich of jamon or in the case of El Tigre, a huge plate of food.
El Tigre is a dodgy looking, backstreet bar which is famous for its free tapas. Several people recommended it to us before we went and I am so glad they did! It really is one of those places where you will love it or hate it. If you are looking for a quick drink and snack, El Tigre is for you. If it’s a sit down meal with table service, don’t even bother. In fact, if you’re looking to sit down at all you’re out of luck as everyone stands. But for €5 for two beers and a plate of patatas bravas and sandwiches with jamon, cheese, tortilla and chorizo, you can’t complain.
Most days we ended up not going for lunch as we were just wandering around the city, stopping off for a drink every few hours and eating pretty much all day! If you’re looking for somewhere to sit with a drink and people watch I would recommend La Tona, just off of the Plaza Mayor. Depending on what kind of place you are looking for, the Plaza Mayor will be for you or it won’t. It is an overpriced tourist trap and was the complete opposite of what we wanted. I always look for two things when going somewhere to eat – if the menu is in English avoid it and if there are locals there go for it!
Before I went to Madrid, I had heard of their famous dish – a Bocadillo de Calamari, a calamari sandwich. We were recommended to visit Bar La Campana, also just off of the Plaza Mayor as it is famous for its bocadillos.
As a HUGE calamari fan I was so looking forward to trying it and was not disappointed! For €2.70 you get a massive roll filled with crisp and tender calamari. Again, La Campana is a busy wee place where you order at the bar and is suited for those looking for a quick bite.
As for Las Ventas, where the hotel was, there were a lot of places nearby. We never ate in the hotel as the breakfast was €7.50 each for a continental breakfast, and there was a great wee bakery around the corner called Granier.
Cafe con leche and torrijia!
With a huge selection of pastries and cakes, we went there most mornings before heading into the city centre. It was so reasonable as well, with two coffees and two croissants costing around €5.Try a Torrija – a madrid speciality, it’s like a sweet French toast.
For dinner or drinks, I would recommend Bar Jarritus, just a stones throw from the hotel.
We went there twice for dinner and a few times for drinks, and with six flat screens it’s perfect for anyone wanting to watch the football. The manager/owner (not sure!) was so friendly and remembered us the second time we went. It’s really reasonable, lovely staff, has a friendly atmosphere and perfect for strolling from back to the hotel! Will definitely return next time we are in Madrid.
In case you haven’t already worked it out, I LOVED MADRID. It was one of the best city breaks I have been on and would definitely go back.