3 DAYS IN MADRID
We got to Madrid early in the day, earlier than we would normally be allowed to check- in at the hotel. But we had planned for this and had called the hotel a few weeks earlier and asked for an early check-in. This is often a coin toss in the high season as it is pretty much dependent on an empty room from the previous night or an early check-out by the prior guest.
I wasn’t worried about laying my head down, but I did want a chance to refresh so I could hit the town running. I hoped that if nothing else, there would be a lounge or room in which we could refresh- however knowing that our hotel was a smaller hotel, there was a high probability that they may not have that option available.
The drive from the airport was pretty standard as airport drives go, passing through the suburbs of Madrid, before hitting the city center. There is a marked difference in architecture as you approach the city, this is often the case with most European cities. While the outer periphery reflects the future, the center retains architecture of a time past- and that is often the appeal to most of us who visit Europe. It’s walking along narrow, windy, cobble stoned streets that makes one feel like stepping into a time machine. I find that I now appreciate it all so much more than any modern skyscraper or high rise.
Our chosen hotel Pestana Plaza Mayor was as central as can be, smack dab in Plaza Mayor. Plaza Mayor is a major public space in the heart of the city, built in 1580 and once the centre of Old Madrid. It remains one of the most popular areas for tourists to shop, walk around, eat, and enjoy the outdoors. I’ll share more on our hotel later, but for now, I’ll get to what you came here for: a rundown of how we spent 3 nights in Madrid.
As luck would have it, we were able to get into our room by noon. This meant we had 2 hours to freshen up before joining a free walking tour starting right at Plaza Mayor, a few steps away from the hotel. We could actually see the meeting point out the window of our hotel room.
Free Walking Tour: 3 hours
Cost: Free, but do tip your Guide
Recommended companies for Free Tours in Madrid: Sandemans, Free Walking Tour, Leaf Madrid
Why? These tours often focus on central Madrid and while they may not tell you everything you need to know or show you everything, they are the ultimate “getting your bearings”. Tour highlights often include everything from:
- Famous royal sites such as the Madrid Royal Palace and the Teatro Real Royal Opera House.
- History on Spanish Inquisition and the impact of the Spanish Civil War.
- Gastronomy- Oldest restaurant in the world and famous Madrid markets.
With tour completed, you’ll have a better sense of places you want to return to, for proper exploration or just for more time lingering. However, you might be tempted to have dinner around 6 pm, but don’t do it. 6 pm is way too early for dinner in Spain. We nibbled on tapas and drinks- and waited for a decent hour like 8 pm for dinner.
Eating, Shopping, and People Watching
Even though it was early in the day, we had been sufficiently tempted by Bocadillos de Calamares (a calamari sandwich) at every turn. To be honest, the no sauce, no mayo sandwich didn’t make much sense to me but after we tried it, we got the appeal (kinda). Their popularity here compares to a New York City slice of pizza- ubiquitous, most often – any old place will do the trick and super cheap. Plaza Mayor is likely the best area to grab the sandwich though.
From a quick bite, we hit the main shopping area in Madrid- Calle Gran Via. My goal was to only step into stores I wasn’t familiar with. This included Sfera, Oysho, 2 Espadrilles (where I picked up my most fave espadrilles), Aldolfo Dominguez and many more really small boutiques that you can only find by stepping away from the main strip.
Great places for people-watching in the high afternoon when locals are having their siesta or when it’s a bit too warm for walking include the area around the Palacio Real (the Royal Palace). There’s greenery that provides shades and there are restaurants and bars with outdoor seating. Across the Palace, is another park – Plaza Oriente.
We also walked not too far away to the nearby area- Barrio de la Latina for pictures; using the aged orange and yellow-hued walls as our backdrop.
More eating came in the form of a walk to one of the most popular indoor markets in Madrid- San Miguel market. My advice: come with an empty stomach and don’t rush it. The offerings can be overwhelming- so very many options in both traditional Spanish cuisine, seafood, baked good, desserts as well as modern and fusion interpretations. There’s definitely something for everyone here.
We last minute had to cancel our plans and stayed close to the hotel to get some work done. We sat on our balcony and didn’t feel like we missed a beat. That’s the energy in this city.
However, I will share what we had on the itinerary for the final day:
First, Head out on a day tour to Toledo. This ancient city is only 30mins away by train, and considering it’s rich history, architecture, culture – this would have been a no brainer. While you can book a tour, that’s not necessary. Everyone generally agreed, prepare to walk and take plenty of pics in a place that seem very much frozen in time- in the most beautiful way.
Last, catch a flamenco performance. Our Tour guide from Night 1 had given us a few tips about the cost, what makes a flamenco performance authentic and had pointed out a few places we could try. This one came highly recommended.
The one thing we did do, is locate an African restaurant. After traveling back to back for the amount of time we had, we were missing African food and wondered if we would find a good spot in Madrid. We initially went to Lavapies, an area known for its African immigrant population. The place we intended on going to was unfortunately closed. Surprisingly, right back in the center of Madrid- close to the Royal Palace and exclusive Opera House was a tiny African restaurant – Sankara Lounge Bar. The decor was nothing special and there may have been 4-5 tables max. But the Guinean owner was delightful (switching between French, Spanish, English with his customers, diverse clientele of non-African Spaniards and French Africans). Our dishes came out fast and most importantly were delicious. Funny that our last meal in Madrid was African.
Even if you don’t get to do everything you planned, you can still have amazing memories.
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