Our final friend finally joined us the previous night so we spent the entire day exploring the city streets and eating our hearts out and visiting a few cathedrals. It was so incredibly sunny in comparison to the day before so we spent as much time as we could outside! I just can’t get over the colors of all the buildings and the railings – it just makes the city look so bright and welcoming.
Our first stop was to visit Plaza Mayor – designed in 1619, it is one of the most recognizable and prettiest open spaces in Madrid. It used to be a marketplace before they decided to turn it into a real square where it became the center of festivities, such as royal coronations and executions, as well as bull fights! Plaza Mayor did go through several reconstructions as buildings surrounding the square burned down three times throughout history in 1631, 1672 and 1790 (probably because of the burnings of heretics at stake). At the center of the square is a statue of Philip III on horseback – which I managed to photograph with Casa de la Panadería (also known as the “Baker’s Guild”) in the background!
DID YOU KNOW?
There is a traditional Christmas market at Plaza Mayor every year that dates back to more than 500 years in time!
After the Plaza, we walked over to El Rastro, the oldest and most famous flea market in town. Located on Calle de la Ribera de Curtidores, the market has dozens of stalls set up selling second-hand clothes, vinyl records, jewelry and just about any object you can imagine! We didn’t purchase anything while we were there but it was a lot of fun just browsing through the goods while we walked through the street. El Rastro is only open on Sundays and public holidays so take care to keep that in mind when planning your visit in Madrid.
I would also recommend visiting Puerta de Alcalá at Plaza de la Independencia (located right next to El Retiro). It’s an ancient neoclassical-style gateway (puerta means “door”) to Madrid and it’s great for photography – similar to Paris’ Arc de Triomphe. The best time to take photos is actually at dusk, when the lights shine on the arches.
SOBRINO DE BOTÍN:
Order sopa de ajo con huevo, cochinillo asado (roast pig), and cordero asado (roast lamb)
Reservations can be made in advance here
Address: Calle Cuchilleros, 17, 28005 Madrid, Spain
We ended up getting lunch at Sobrino de Botín. Founded in 1725, it is one of the oldest operating restaurants in the world. Famous for its roast suckling pig, this restaurant is mentioned in an Ernest Hemingway novel and Francisco de Goya also worked here as a waiter back in the day.
Our waiter recommended the roast lamb more than the suckling pig so we ended up ordering both because…why pick one when you can eat them all? As for appetizers, we ordered the sopa de ajo con huevo and morcillo. The first appetizer is an egg poached in chicken broth and laced with sherry and garlic while the other is basically a blood sausage, both of which I highly recommend. When we got to the main dishes, our waiter was right – the roast lamb was indeed better (I don’t even like eating lamb and I found it to be delicious). The suckling pig is really good but the lamb was definitely more memorable. As for dessert, I ordered the copa mascarpone de mango, which I also highly recommend! It wasn’t too heavy and was just right for the end of the meal. You can find both the food menu and dessert menu here.
Once we finished with our late lunch, we decided to walk it off by visiting Real Basílica de San Francisco el Grande, a church located right next to Catedral de la Almudena with a very pretty interior. It contains paintings by Francisco de Goya and once functioned as the national Pantheon and housed the remains of famous politicians and artists. It is quite a jarring juxtaposition next to Catedral de la Almudena because the latter is not Spain’s most impressive cathedral. It’s considered something of a miracle that it even exists at all because for centuries, the Church and State could not agree on whether Madrid should have a cathedral; once they did, it took 110 years to complete it!
Madrid is very reminiscent of Washington DC back in the States – very old, historical, lots of museums. The food and nightlife were great but it was a very small taste of what Spain has to offer. I included a few more recommendations for food and drinks below! One thing to remember is that in Spain, dinner tends to be a lot later – closer to 21:00 and sometimes even 22:00! We ended our day back at the “OG” churros spot for one final memory before heading out early to Sevilla the following day.
OTHER FOOD RECOMMENDATIONS
- Celso y Manolo
- Tapas and paella
- Address: Calle Libertad, 1 28004 Madrid
- Taberna El Sur
- Address: Calle de la Torrecilla del Leal, 12, 28012 Madrid
- Where to eat cocido (chickpea-based stew native to Madrid)
- Lhardy: One of the oldest recipes in Madrid
- La Bola: They serve hundreds a day
- Malacatín: Traditional Madrid tavern in La Latina
- El Brillante Café
- Best calamari sandwich
- Be sure to ask for it with or without lemon or mayonnaise (to suit tastes)
- La Latina in Plaza de la Cebada
- Cava Baja
- Cava Alta
- Malasaña: Modern bars with vintage decor co-exist with gritty taverns that have stood their ground for generations
- Alonso Martínez: Neighbour of one of the richest areas in the capital
- Tribunal: For those who plan to be out till the wee hours
- Moncloa: Favourite among university students
- Chueca: Best gay nightlife in the city