When Brett said he needed to go to a conference in Madrid, we immediately started scheming a weekend getaway. I’ve mentioned our love for Spain before, and although it’s far away from our favorite sparkling Mediterranean, Madrid is no exception.
What’s Not to Love?
It might not have an iconic landmark, but located in the heart of Spain, the city has a vibrant pulse that beats day and night. Madrid is just so…Spanish. It’s everything that Spain is meant to be – shady narrow streets, sun drenched plazas, royal palaces, grand churches, late nights, and some of the best food your taste buds could ask for.
Why it’s Special to us:
As if that wasn’t enough to love, Madrid is also the first European city that Brett and I experienced together. That was in 1998 (18 year ago! Oh my!) When we were dating, I spent a college semester studying in the Andalusian town of Cadiz. He had recently started a new job and didn’t have a lot of vacation time, but wanted to come and visit me. We decided it would be a good idea for him to fly from Seattle to Madrid for a weekend. Yes, it was slightly irrational to travel half way across the world for a weekend. But oh, to be young and in love! Besides, he had no idea what jet lag was.
Although it would have been fun to take the girls and introduce them to the Spanish capital, we decided to leave them with my sister this time. She now lives only an hour away (yay!) and the girls had a great time playing with their cousins.
On the plane, we listened to a Rick Steve podcast to refresh our memory of Madrid. One of his guests mentioned a new riverfront area, so we decided to get up early and go for a run in the morning to check it out.
Note: Nobody gets up early in Madrid. (Nobody goes to bed early either.) So if you decide to be an early bird, you not only beat the heat, but you eliminate the crowds. It’s pretty incredible. The downside is, you can’t sit outside with a café con leche before 10am! But after a run around the blistering streets of Madrid, you’ll want a fresh squeezed orange juice instead (zumo de naranja natural).
Where we stayed: Dear Hotel Madrid
It’s a strange name for a hotel. Telling a taxi driver (in Spanish) to take you to “Dear Hotel” feels wrong. It made up for this by being a lovely place with incredible views. I do love a good roof top view, where you can survey the lay of the land from high above and watch tiny people meander the streets.
Where To Eat:
Although Spanish tapas are a highlight, it’s easy to go wrong and get sucked into touristy places with plates of deep fried calamari and chips. Out of practice and mesmerized by rosy pitchers of sangria, we fell into this trap once and quickly regretted it when the food came.
Tips: Follow the Madrileños, not the tourist. Some of the best tapas places are not in the most picturesque locations. La Latina district is a good area for a concentration of authentic tapas bars, but the touristy joints are seeping in at the sides, so you have to be careful. If in doubt, hire a guide or take a food tour.
Markets: We enjoyed both Mercado de San Miguel and Mercado San Anton for picnic shopping and food tasting. The latter is in the Salamanca neighborhood and slightly less touristy.
Best Way to Spend a Sunday: Retiro Park
A weekend in Madrid would not be complete without a lazy nap in one of the best parks in all of Europe. Once belonging to the Spanish Monarchy, Retiro Park is the largest in Madrid. It’s twisting walkways, lined with mature trees, makes it a sanctuary from the sweltering Madrid heat. There are puppet show, street performers, row boats and paddle boats, but we think time is best spend with a picnic and a snooze in the shade, followed by a stroll with ice cream.
Not Mentioned: If it’s your first time in Madrid, some museums (Prado & Reina Sofia to name two) are worth a visit for some incredible art collections. Madrid is also a great place to book an evening flamenco show.
Thanks for a lovely weekend, Madrid!