Madrid, Spain travel tips

Where we ate:

  • La Trucha – After being in Spain for a while, a Californian will crave vegetables. This is the tapa bar to get them, along with delectable smoked fish and perhaps a free plate of calamari with your drink: YEH!
  • Lateral – One of the many restaurants with outdoor seating in Plaza Santa Anna, this place took chances by slightly updating traditional Spanish dishes, all while staying affordable, considering the surroundings: YEH
  • Baraka – The Baron and Baroness are big fans of Samantha Brown, who said Baraka serves the best paella outside Valencia. It was indeed excellent, though admittedly we didn’t make it over to Valencia for comparison. We were however, left wondering – where was our crusty rice? Had we been misled?: YEH
  • Toma Jamón – A strange place. They have a beautiful, tempting leg of jamón in the front doorway, but their free tapa is a plate of pig cracklings. Ignore what they put in front of you and order one of their gigantic jamón sandwiches instead: MEH
  • La Cava – A small bar with limited tapa near, but not too near, Plaza Santa Anna. They’ll give you a free tapa, though nothing too exciting: MEH
  • Txakolina – Our first encounter with pintxos, of which we’ll write about more soon. Overrated, their pintxos are not very good. Our waitress/bartender was truly as dumb as a stump, making it nearly impossible to order and enjoy ourselves: MEH
  • El Lacon – A warm and friendly bar with a local vibe, where you get to choose one tapa from a short menu for every drink you buy. Be careful though, they might have callos (tripe): YEH
  • Mas Que Cañas – Mmm…various ham spreads on bread. Ok, the free tapa left a lot to be desired, but they have tables with personal beer taps that measure your drinking, like you’re at a gas station: YEH

Where we stayed:

  • Hostal Villar – Right off the bustling Plaza Santa Anna, it’s convenient and budget-friendly but loud and a bit grungy. Bring earplugs in case your room faces the street, as the hotel is right above one of the area’s more boisterously drunken bars: MEH
  • Chic and Basic Colors – If you’ve got some extra cash, their apartment-style rentals are well-equipped (washing machine!), modernized, and spotless. Becomes more affordable if you share an apartment between four people, with two on the sofa bed: YEH

What we saw:

  • Walking around Madrid – The guide books and elsewhere have understated how fantastic Madrid is. You could spend a week just walking around looking at its architecture, eating tapa in outdoor plazas, and enjoying city life. Don’t miss it: YEH!
  • Reina Sofia Museum – The Prado gets all the hype, but the Reina Sofia blew it out of the water. The curators seem to be bringing in cutting edge contemporary exhibits. There’s also something to say for a museum that stays open this late; we stayed for a long time, only leaving when they closed at 9 pm: YEH!
  • Bullfight at Plaza de Toros de las Ventas – Despite the gore, it was a completely unusual experience that we’ll always remember. It’s not for everyone: YEH
  • Saturday Flea Market in La Latina – A monstrously large outdoor flea market that unfortunately sells mostly the same made-in-China junk you can find at any flea market in the world: MEH
  • Prado Museum – It is definitely a world-class museum, with world-class crowds. Avoid the free times or you may wait a while to get any glimpse of the big name paintings: YEH
  • Madrid’s metro system – Cheap, easy to navigate, and frequent, the metro trains are the best way to get around: YEH
  • Plaza Santa Anna – Guidebooks and discussion boards will tell you this is one of the touristy plazas, and to head elsewhere. Bah, it was fine. More than fine even, it had some nice tapa places nearby. The drinking crowd can get very loud and rowdy on weekends especially, evidenced by the tapa booth that was set on fire one night. Despite the bozos: YEH
  • Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor – These plazas are as touristy as they say, if not more so. Plaza Mayor especially was really kitsch. The architecture is worth a visit but plan on heading elsewhere to eat or chill out: MEH