DAY 3: All Aboard!
I woke up super early for my morning train to Madrid. Renfe is the train company for domestic travel in Spain. It’s incredibly fast and it’s an affordable option to travel. There are various methods to buy tickets for the Renfe. Some book directly with the website, but it can be a hassle and the site did not accept my foreign credit/debit card; I used Omio for my booking. The benefits of the railway is that there’s no check in time. You can literally show up 5 minutes before the train departs and be fine.
Three hours later, I arrived at Madrid Atocha Railway station, I collected another subway card from Metro Madrid called the Multi-card which is a rechargeable card for the subway. Like most cities in Europe, Madrid is very walk-able and I felt like I barely used it except to get to and from the Renfe railway stations and the hostel.
Once I was at the hostel, my routine was the same as in Barcelona: drop off my backpack, find something to do, and then check in later. I ended up joining a walking tour which collected tourists from various local hostels to walk around the area of Centro in Madrid. It was a good way to get a lay of the land and meet like-minded travellers. If you are not staying with a hostel and want to do your own path, I’d recommend this path. First, go to Puerta de Sol and find the symbol of Madrid, a bronze statue of a bear and strawberry tree. From there, I’d head northwest along Calle de Arenal. If you continue along Calle de Arenal, you’ll end up in front of the famed opera house, Teatro Real. Behind that is the Royal Palace. If you walk along the palace, you will find Calle Mayor which will lead you to Plaza Mayor.
Plaza Mayor, aka Main Square, is truly a bustling square in which shops line all four sides. Most of these places are tourist traps, so I’d avoid them for food or drink as they are overpriced and poor quality. Immediately adjacent to the Plaza Mayor is Plaza de San Miguel, a market similar to the one in Barcelona with many stalls selling tapas and food. This quick trip should get you a feel of the central Madrid area which is where I spent most of my time. After my tour, I returned back to the many streets branching off Puerta de Sol to shop for things and ended up with a snack at Chocolateria San Gines which is off of Calle de Arenal. I’d recommend a cup of thick, thick hot chocolate with a side of crispy churros to dip into the chocolate.
At night, I joined the hostel’s group dinner and bar crawl. The end of the crawl ended at Teatro Kapital which is one of the biggest clubs in Madrid and it doesn’t close until 6AM. It had seven floors with different DJs playing different kinds of music and was worth a visit.
DAY 4: It’s my way or Hemingway
Coffee and espressos are everywhere in Spain, and incredibly cheap compared to the US. It’s very easy to find a cheap combo of a cafe con leche with a croissant.
My day time trip was to the Royal Palace of Madrid. Again, this is another attraction that I’d recommend buying tickets in advance. There’s no reason you should spend your vacation waiting in queues if you can help it. The Palace is the official residence of the royal family but they do not actually live there. Spend some time touring the many rooms (it actually has 3,418 rooms to be exact) and appreciate some of the history within. There is no shortage of beautiful paintings on the high vaulted ceilings and walls draped in colorful tapestry.
The afternoon was spent at Sobrino de Botin, famous for being the oldest restaurant in the world as well as being in Hemingway’s novels. The interior is rustic, brick-laden, and accented by dark wood. Their signature meal there is a suckling pig with fingerling potatoes and a half bottle of wine.
That night, a bunch of us at the hostel went to another big club in the city, ICON. It was a smaller venue than Kapital, but worth a visit for drinks and dancing. Madrid has a vibrant nightlife and I couldn’t get enough of it.
DAY 5: It’s always Vermouth hour
It was a beautiful Saturday and I took a long morning stroll to El Retiro, the largest green space in Madrid. In the center is a palace of glass, aptly named Palacio de Cristal. Many other tourists and locals alike took advantage of the weather and strolled along the many paths within the park. It reminded me of very much of New York City’s Central Park.
A thing I wanted to try in Madrid was callos madrilenos, Madrid-style tripe soup. One of the more famous places for this was Cruz Blanca de Valleca located south of the Nueva Numancia subway station. I made a mistake of not confirming my reservation here and was told they were booked for the day. Hungry and defeated, I returned back to Centro. Luckily, there were tons of other amazing places to eat.
At Meson del Champinon, I ate a ton of grilled mushrooms stuffed with a little cube of chorizo in the center as well as blistered padron peppers. You’ll learn to love padron peppers in Spain.
No trip in Madrid is complete without seeing Gran Via, aka the SoHo of Madrid. It’s an area lined with shops for high end and fast fashion. Continuing north, you’ll reach El Tigre, a tapas bar where you will get FREE tapas with every drink you order. I can’t imagine a better deal.
That evening, I discovered my second favorite alcoholic drink of my time in Spain. At Taberna La Concha, it’s always time for vermouth. Drinking vermouth is a tradition in Madrid and it’s enjoying a comeback among the youth. The vermouth, or vermut, served is different than the typical spirit people associate with martinis. Served with a spritz of gin, an olive and an orange peel, it paired well with their version of callos madrilenos and foie gras.