Travel Guide: Madrid, Spain

Travel Guide: Madrid, Spain

posted on: 5.20.2015

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Lookin' like a damn superstar in Plaza Mayor
I can say this with certainty: Madrid, Spain has my heart. I've always considered myself a New York kinda gal, but spending two weeks in Madrid was a total game changer. This was my first international trip (I'm excluding all the cruises I've been on), and while there were certainly downfalls (I'm lookin' at you, gastroentiritus), the charm and beauty of Madrid made it all worthwhile.

I thought that today I would share with you some of my favorite pictures from my trip, along with some of my recommendations on things to do in Madrid. This is going to be a lengthy post (hence the "read more" link), so click through for my full travel diary!

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Both pictures from the Ópera area of Madrid.
Before I dive into my recommendations, a lil' background on my trip: my best friend Rosie moved to Madrid in September 2014, which is basically when I knew I had to go to Spain ASAP. I've always wanted to visit Spain (and Europe in general), so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to go. My mom came with me (because real talk- I'm too chicken to fly alone haaaa), and we embarked on our first European adventure.

Originally, I had plans to spend about a week in Madrid, and then a few days each in Barcelona and Paris. Lololol. I had no idea of what was to come. At some point within the first two days of my trip, I managed to get the stomach flu. I wish I could tell you how and when that happened, but I still have no clue. I rarely ever get really sick, but when I do, I get suuuuper sick. Like, I'm an all or nothing kinda sick person. It's certainly not ideal, especially when you're in a foreign country. I was in Spain for 14 days, and I was brutally ill for 9 of those days. So clearly I did not get to do as much as I originally intended! But I definitely took advantage of the time when I was feeling well, which is what you're going to see in this travel guide!

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Near Palacio Real in Madrid.
We ended up staying at three hotels in Madrid. The first hotel we stayed at was Hotel Ópera, which was a really nice boutique hotel located in the Ópera area in Madrid. Just down the street from this hotel is the Royal Palace, and across the street is the Teatro Real opera house. It was in such a fantastic and central location, and I can not recommend this hotel enough. It was a bit noisy at night though, but that is literally my only complaint. The metro is right around the corner, which makes it that much easier to move around Madrid. This hotel is also located just minutes from Callao, Puerta del Sol, and Plaza Mayor. So yea, amazing location. Gran Vía is also right around the corner. These four areas have amazing shopping, and were great for picking up souvenirs and clothing. The pictures above were taken near the Royal Palace- isn't it just insanely gorgeous?

The second hotel we stayed at was Hotel Meninas, which is actually the sister hotel of Hotel Ópera. It is on the next street over, actually. We ended up staying in Meninas because I was sick, and Ópera no longer had any open rooms in their hotel. This hotel is a lot smaller than Ópera, and a bit more claustrophobic. I had heard horror stories of how small hotel rooms were in Europe, but we never had that problem in Ópera. But we definitely had that problem in Meninas. So I would definitely pick Hotel Ópera over Meninas!

Our third and final hotel in Madrid was Hotel Hesperia, which was pretty much located on the complete opposite side of Madrid. I think this was our favorite hotel in Madrid. The amenities were insane, and the rooms were luxurious and spacious. I believe that this was more of a business hotel, whereas Ópera and Meninas were smaller, boutique hotels. I don't know what neighborhood this hotel was in, but it was definitely more of a business district. It was definitely not central to much shopping, so taking the metro around was a must. Fortunately, the metro station was practically right next to the hotel, so that made commuting easy.

The verdict? For an amazing location and an overall great experience, I would choose Hotel Ópera. But if you're looking for some straight up luxury and swankiness? Hotel Hesperia, all the way.

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Palacio Real
Speaking of the Royal Palace, did I mention how beautiful it was? When I was sick, I would have a constant desire for some fresh air. So I would slap a cardigan on over my pajamas (oh, the looks I got from Spaniards) and walk out to the Royal Palace for some fresh air and people watching. I know you can take tours of the Palace, but I never got to do that. But hanging out in the gardens in front of the palace was amazing. It's a good place to just sit for a few minutes and chat with friends.

Right around the corner from the Palace is the Senate. On the same street as the Senate is one of my favorite restaurants in all of Madrid. Called La Mi Venta, this was the best meal of my life, for sure. They are known for their ham, so definitely go there for some amazing jamón ibérico with some of the best wine you can have in Spain.

There was also another restaurant that I absolutely loved right next to La Mi Venta, but I am SO sad to report that it has since closed down for good. It was called Nomeolvides (oh, the irony) and I am forever depressed that it is out of business. REST IN PEACE.

After enjoying lunch or dinner at La Mi Venta, continue walking past the Senate and you will hit Plaza de España. There's a really cute little park there, and I guess on some nights they have a market set up there. I bought some really cute leather coin purses there. There are a ton of leather goods there, and it is definitely worth checking out for some great souvenirs.

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Left: Casa Hernanz in Plaza Mayor. Right: Cibeles, a post office/museum
Now let's talk a bit about shopping. An absolute must-see in Madrid (or must-do, really) is Casa Hernanz, located in Plaza Mayor. Here you can choose from hundreds of espadrille designs and find the shoes of your dreams. And did I mention how crazy cheap they are? The most popular espadrille designs were only 8 euro (the picture above shows how the shop is set up). Here in the States, they'd easily be over $100. How crazy is that? But make sure you get there early- the line is insane here. Everyone wants these shoes! It's totally worth the wait, though.

Another great place to shop is the huge department store, El Corte Inglés (not pictured). This is like the behemoth of all department stores. It is so. insane. The El Corte Inglés I went to was situated right inbetween Callao, Puerta del Sol, and Gran Vía. And there are so many of them clustered together on the same street, but each sold totally different things. One of the buildings housed this amazing food floor on the roof level, and was called the "Gourmet Experience". Definitely go there and try food from the different restaurants housed up there. Everything is delicious! Also, the shopping in these stores are crazy good, and you can literally buy anything your heart could ever desire. You can also go get your teeth cleaned at the dentist, and then hit up the spa on your way out (not kidding)!

Zara. Is. INSANE. We all know and love our local Zara's, but did you know how much better they are in Spain? Zara is a Spanish-based retailer, so it should come as no surprise that if you shop at Zara in Spain, the prices are hella cheaper. For example, I bought four amazing pieces at Zara in Spain: two dresses, a pair of shorts, and a blouse. I went on the US site, and totaled up how much everything was coming out to, which was over $200. I went to the register and paid in Spain, and the grand total came out to 91 euro. My credit card bill showed that it came out to exactly $100. WHAT! It is so cheap over there. They also have a Zara home store over there (I don't think they have that here in the States, but I could be mistaken). Ugh, I'm getting so depressed talking about how great Zara is over there. Someone take me back!

Madrid Travel Guide, things to do in madrid, unique things to do in madrid, non tourist stuff to do madrid, museums in madrid, museo del prado, prado museum, museo thyssen bornemisza, roy lichtenstein, mark rothko
Left: Painting by Roy Lichtenstein. Right: Painting by Mark Rothko. Both in Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza.
We ended up visiting two museums: the Museo del Prado and Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. If you're really into Baroque and Early Renaissance type works, then you will love the Prado. Some notable paintings that I was excited to see at the Prado was "David and Goliath" by Caravaggio, and "Las Meninas" by Velázquez. I don't know if this is part of the permanent collection, but they also had a room full of Goya paintings from his "black period" that were supremely interesting and disturbing to observe.

My favorite museum was the Thyssen museum. This had a really great mixture of art from various periods of time. This place was jam-packed with paintings from some of my favorite artists, such as Picasso, Van Gogh, Dégas, Toulouse-Lautrec, Mark Rothko, and Roy Lichtenstein. This museum is just bonkers in regards to the diverse collection is houses, and the gift shop was just as great. I would come back to this museum, for sure.

Madrid Travel Guide, things to do in madrid, unique things to do in madrid, non tourist stuff to do madrid, paseo del prado, plaza mayor
Left: Puerta de Alcalá  Right: Just another insanely picturesque Madrid street, near Plaza Mayor.
Here are some other notable things that you absolutely must do when visiting Madrid:
  • Visit the Malasaña neighborhood. This is the über cool "hipster" neighborhood. I think it's the coolest at night. We had an excellent meal at naif, which is a burger place. The food was crazy good there, and the atmosphere was just so cool. After dinner, head on over to Greek and Shop for some incredible baklava and carrot cake. Do it. Trust me. You won't regret it.
  • Getting tapas is an absolute essential, especially in Madrid. Getting homemade vermouth is also an absolute essential. You can get some AMAZING tapas and some of the best vermouth you've ever had at Taberna La Concha, located in La Latina (near Plaza Mayor). 
  • Another amazing dining experience we had was at La Mucca. I don't even know how to describe the cuisine here, but we had one of the best pizzas I've ever eaten. We never ordered anything bad at La Mucca. There are multiple locations throughout Madrid. This is a must-do!
  • For the best gelato of your life, you absolutely must visit Amorino. Seriously, nothing compares to this place. It is just so creamy! Granted, I've never been to Italy nor tried Italian gelato, but I imagine this comes pretty damn close. And I just found out that there's a location in New York City. I am going to camp out there when I'm in New York this summer. Just you wait!
  • Looking for a super cute café to hang out at for a bit, with some amazing coffee and treats to have, too? El Azúl café is great, and isn't very far from the museums in Prado.
  • For a crazy cool culinary experience, definitely visit Mercado San Miguel. If you've ever been to Philadelphia's Reading Terminal Market, then you're familiar with how Mercado San Miguel is setup. But Mercado San Miguel is just incredibly cool, and is always jam packed with people.
  • To get some super cool artisanal, olive oil-infused soaps, check out Enjabonarte. I got some pretty cool soap from there!
  • The metro in Madrid is extremely efficient and safe. It is incredibly easy to navigate Madrid's metro. Definitely take the metro around instead of a cab- I could not get over how expensive the cab rides were, and sometimes they took longer than taking the metro! 
Okay, I think that just about wraps up my recommendations of things to do in Madrid. If you have any questions, leave them in the comments! I feel like I have a very good understanding of the healthcare system in Spain after my stomach flu debacle, too... haha!


  1. What a great post about Madrid! Lucky you (except for the GI troubles). I have always wanted to go to the Prado & the Thyssen-Bornemisza. We went to Spain (with a quick stop in Lisbon) 3 years ago: Seville, Granada and Barcelona. I have always been a huge fan of Italy and France, but Spain definitely blew me away. Would love to go back again and add Madrid to my list. Have you read Leaving The Atocha Station by Ben Lerner? a interesting short novel about a young, self-involved American poet who spent a year in Madrid.

    1. I've never heard of that book! I'm going to add it to my reading list. Thank you for that recommendation! I would love to visit Seville, Granada, and Barcelona. I'm hoping to go back next year for more Spanish fun!

  2. You are giving me incredible flashbacks, back in 1994 I was a student at Universidad Complutense in Madrid, one of the best years of my life. I stayed in Cuatro Caminos so everything sounds familiar. Every weekend I did solo or group trips all around, have seen most of the country except Canarias. My favorite cities in no special order were Sn Sebastian, Barcelona, Bilbao and Marbella/ Cordoba close tie. I gained a ton of lust for travel since. So glad you had a friend to host, so fun :)

    1. That is so cool, Norah! I really want to visit San Sebastian and Barcelona. I would looove to spend a month exploring the country!

  3. Gorgeous pictures! What a wonderful post! You are making me want to travel right now!

  4. Wonderful trip overall. Blame gastroenteritis for killing the moment. Great summary and picturesque views

  5. Your trip sounds incredible, even with being sick! I've always wanted to go to Spain and now I have a great travel guide for when I do. :)

  6. I would love to visit there one day! <3

  7. Aside from being sick (such a bummer!) it looks lit it was an incredible trip. Would love to visit one day!

  8. Ah... beautiful photos. I'm so sorry you were not feeling well, but overall I'm sure it was still a great experience. I have this on my list of places to visit for sure. :)

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