Exploring Madrid

After an amazing time eating through Barcelona and watching fireworks competitions in Tarragona, the surprise birthday trip continued with our last stop in Madrid. It definitely exceeded our expectations and was lovely to wander through the streets, take in the culture and of course, eat.

The food — let’s start with that, obviously!

The food in Madrid did not disappoint either. Why would it? We loved walking through narrow streets that would suddenly open into expansive squares with outdoor restaurants and tables that dotted the courtyards. It was magical to visit in the summer when the evening air was warm and dinners lasted late into the night.

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One of our favorite food stops was Mercado de San Miguel, located just on the opposite side of famous Plaza Mayor near where we were staying. Mercado de San Miguel is a covered gastronomical oasis of deliciousness. It was SO hot when we were there so in addition to the fantastic seafood, we ordered cups of cold, creamy gazpacho (made with bread and olive oil to create a thicker, silky consistency) and perched at a bar next to a large fan. It was wonderful!

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As someone who grew up not eating pork (and still not eating much pork), I was a late comer to charcuterie. And although I don’t love a lot of pork (bacon, ham etc.) I do LOVE prosciutto. So, when we saw massive herds of people heading into a huge restaurant with a sign that read Museo de Jamon, Justin couldn’t keep me from running half way down the block.

Check out this amazing variety! I didn’t even know where to begin? Caption: How much jamon can I afford?

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Then it was Justin’s turn. We’d heard that Madrid was known for chocolate con churros (churros with sipping chocolate) but rather than waste the calories on mediocre churros we set out to find the best. We wandered into Chocolatería San Ginés and indulged in the crispy churros and sweet, thick chocolate.

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Exploring the city

Madrid is a beautiful city with so many different types of neighborhoods. One morning out exploring we came across a packed open-air market where I got an awesome hat for 5 Euro (one of my favs to this day!)

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We continued along and soon stumbled upon the oldest restaurant in the world, Restaurante Botin. It first opened in 1725 and has been operating ever since — even retaining the original 18th century firewood oven! (And check out the new hat!)

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At that point it was time for a cold drink and snack so we looked up a popular bar near where our feet got tired and ended up ducking into Casa Revuelta, an absolutely awesome old school bar where you saddle up and order a beer (teeny tiny) and an order of bacalao (fried salted cod — a local favorite).

They may have had a variety of beers (but I doubt it) and other foods (but what’s the point?) so if you go, just order the local favorite. Also, you’ll need several napkins to soak up the beer on the bar and the oil from the fish, which you then crumple and toss on the ground. And the staff — the staff was the friendliest group of guys ever! Definitely a must-stop!

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After that awesomeness, we needed a rest and a respite from the heat, so we retreated to our awesome Airbnb near Plaza Mayor for some chill time (literally, chill, chill time). And, btw, our Airbnb was fantastic! Justin booked a great find and we loved that location — super central for walking to everything.

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When we recouped our energy, we set out to explore the Royal Palace of Madrid. It was larger than we were expecting, beautiful and really fascinating. They had a whole massive room of just armor, which Justin loved, but at that point I was still hot from the afternoon heat and was thinking more about ice cream than protective breastplates.

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And ice cream we found….fabulous soft serve at a local chain called Llaollao with the absolute best passion fruit topping!

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Taking in local culture

I was super keen to take in two local traditions: bull fighting and flamenco dance. After learning a lot about bull fighting, I couldn’t quite bring myself to watch an actual fight, but we did tour Plaza de Toros de Ventas and learn about the history and culture behind bull fighting.

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After the tour I felt even better about not witnessing a live fight. Too heartbreaking. But very interesting to learn about.

We then took in a far less violent but stunningly beautiful display of Spanish culture at Cardamomo Flamenco. Coincidentally, I spent a half-year in high school studying the migration of flamenco dance to Minnesota (all rooted back to a husband/wife team of guitarist/dancer from Andalusia, Spain). So I was riveted watching the incredible display of rhythm, passion and beauty in this performance.

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If you go:

  • We loved staying near Plaza Mayor because it was so central and allowed us to walk to all the major destinations
  • It was SO hot in the summer. If you go then, head out in the morning and come back to your apartment for a siesta under a ceiling fan. Rest up before venturing out for a late dinner of delicious food, cold drinks and strolls through the cobblestone streets.
  • Definitely take in the Cardamomo Flamenco show. It isn’t a touristy or gimmicky, it’s absolutely beautiful.

What to pack:

  • GOOD walking shoes. It is a fabulous walking city and we rarely took public transit. Almost everything was very walkable.
  • If you go in the summer, very light clothes, a sun hat and sunglasses — it can be sunny and very hot
  • A good travel purse (as always)

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