Looking for ideas of what to do in Madrid? Here is my guide for a perfect Madrid city break
Madrid. Madrid. Madrid. A city that I called home for quite some time and a city that makes me smile every time I hear its name. You see, that is where Mr. O and yours truly fell in love. Paris may be the city of love, but for me, Madrid is it. So why not return for a perfect weekend in Madrid? A Madrid city break is one to look forward to.
I know many people prefer Barcelona (I like it too, don’t get me wrong), but there is something very special about Spain’s capital. It is very pleasant to the eye, the food is amazing, and so are the people – I still have many friends here and I wished I went back more often. So, to break the dry spell, so to speak, we decided that Madrid would be the host city for one of Mr. O’s birthdays. Any excuse, I know…
My Madrid is different from the one on the tourist guides – it is going down memory lane all the time. So that is what we did on a recent weekend in Madrid. Vamos?
Friday Evening – What do to in Madrid
We landed late afternoon and headed straight back to our hotel, the stunning Villamagna, which has been refurbished and is, for me, a city landmark and a perfect base for a Madrid city break. It has the perfect Madrid location – on Paseo de la Castellana, bang on the Salamanca district, which is where I lived and worked before.
After unpacking (not much, I have to say, as I came prepared with a carry-on inside a proper sized suitcase), we decided to test the hotel bar – it would be rude not to have a glass of cava and start our weekend in Madrid in style.
For dinner, we headed to one of my favourite restaurants, a very simple tapas bar called El Rincon de Goya, which is within walking distance and perfect. From iberico, to manchego, croquetas, foie-gras with a glass or three of Rioja, we were going to town. I have been going to this place for over 10 years and never had a bad experience. You stand up, have some tapas and move on to another place, or you get in early (around 8.30pm) if you would like to wait for a table. We did and it was incredible, as always.
Somehow, before we knew it, it was midnight, and we had a reasonably early start, so we went back to the hotel, had a lovely Gin & Tonic (Spanish style, of course) and had an early night. Because we can be very well-behaved, sometimes.
What to do in Madrid – Saturday
We were told to have a very light breakfast, which was pure torture as the hotel’s spread was one of my favourites ever – but good things awaited. We were to spend the morning with the lovely James from Madrid Food Tour, on the ‘Ultimate Spanish Cuisine Tour’, which was apparently designed for the hungry foodie! I am a big fan of food tours, as you may know.
We got things started at around 11am at Plaza Mayor, where we met James and started a little walk around town. Just a little one, as we were people on a mission…
Things started well, very well – at one of Madrid’s oldest taverns where we were to sample the finest iberico (with a little crash course for my non-Spanish friends), olives and vermouth. It was 11am, perfectly acceptable.
I have to say, I have tried Martini (the ‘Coca Cola of vermouths’, said James) a few times and I quite like it, but I never understood the part it played in Madrid’s social scene (possibly within older generations). For me it has always been about the cava, wine and gin (Gin & Tonics taste better in Spain, believe me) – it is good to mix things up a bit, I must say.
This tour makes at least 8 stops around the center of Madrid, sampling around fifteen different foods, and also includes the option of different Spanish wines. I am not going to tell you everywhere we stopped – but I can tell you something, we loved every minute of it.
I loved visiting the San Miguel market – which combined old and new so so well. I had never been before and was in for a treat. A food lover’s paradise indeed. Mas, por favor.
The tour’s tasting stops include everything from sweet local pastries to savoury cured meats and cheeses, and the eating stops were broken up with commentary about the most beautiful parts of Old Madrid, by James, a kiwi who married a Spanish, and had a captive audience of 3 fellow natives, 2 Brits and una portuguesa. What an international group, my friends…
For almost four hours, we carried on. And we ate, and we drank a little bit and we were so happy, I could not tell you. But our time in Madrid was very limited and there was something we had to do: help the local economy, as much as possible.
Shopping in Madrid is, without a doubt, outstanding – and the Salamanca district is, in my opinion, the best place to do so – it has all the shops I love and even though the rain started after we finished the tour (small mercies) didn’t stop, we were on a mission…
… which was very successful, I must add.
After a little nap (and a significant stop at El Corte Ingles, which has direct access to the hotel – think, a ‘secret passage’), it was almost time to change and head out. I have to say I bought some food to bring back (think ham, cheese etc) and loved that the doormen who really tried to help us carrying our shopping didn’t even bat an eyelid when I asked if we could keep some things in cold. Apparently, I am not the only one that does not resist El Corte Ingles.
Dinner this time, was somewhere new for me – nice to mix it up a bit, huh? Luzi Bombon is the first Madrid opening of Barcelona-based restaurant group Tragaluz, whose other restaurants I adore. Notice the plural. I would be rude not to test and enjoy their latest project, and I have to say, we were not disappointed. After a meal here, I can now declare that I quite like anchovies, which I really didn’t before.
But the night was still young, and I really wanted Mr. O and our friends to experience a bit of Madrid’s nighttime movida. So after a short walk (we walked everywhere, love it), we arrived at Fortuny. I cannot believe that after 18 years since my first visit (do not do the maths), it is still going. We arrived early, but left late, and had a brilliant night out. A little night time fun is a must on a weekend in Madrid.
What do to in Madrid – Sunday
Getting out of bed in time for breakfast wasn’t the easiest thing in the world, but we did it. One last chance to have some lovely queso de burgos, which is a white cheese with almost no calories and a bit of iberico. At breakfast, why not?
We also had a short window before lunch (which was really early for Spanish standards) as our flight was at 5pm, which meant leaving town just after 3pm. That meant we could go back to El Corte Ingles and buy those wonderful gin glasses. They are not wine glasses, for the record (because of the weight of the ice, etc), they are indeed ‘Gin Tonic’ glasses and there are quite a few options in this category. This purchase made us immensely happy and whenever I look at them, I think about this great weekend in Madrid.
Lunch, well, was amazing. Sobrinos de Botin, not far from Plaza Mayor, is a Madrid classic (potentially a bit on the touristy side, but still with many locals, worry not). Suckling pig? Check. Kid goat? Check. Blackpudding? Mas por favor. And also try the clams as they are delicious, believe me.
Before we knew it, it was time to head back to London after a perfect weekend in Madrid. And believe me, it won’t be 5 years until I am back for a Madrid city break.
On this trip, I flew with British Airways on the outbound flight and made the mistake of flying with Iberia on the return home. It was 10 years since I last did it, and sadly, some things never change. Service standards are really not the same across both airlines, which means that better integration in terms of systems and culture is really needed.