Madrid and Toledo, Spain
April 24-27, 2014
Madrid is like any other major city with historical monuments to see, lots of people, and city cars hustling all around you. While the city’s architecture doesn’t come close to Barcelona’s, it is beautiful and the number of plazas where people gather to eat, meet, or just have a cup of coffee are endless. My favorite area to wander was Cortes, which is west of the Prado museum and east of Plaza Mayor. The streets are narrow and the buildings are colorful, each window has a balcony and some even have beautiful flowers draping over the cast iron bars.
After finally being able to eat normal foods after I caught something in Mexico back in February, I ate my way through Madrid and Spain’s tapas culture provided the perfect setting! Starting at Mercado de San Miguel with a gentleman from London after our free walking tour (yes, the tour was free – best way to start a trip), we savored our first tapas experience with a glass of wine in hand. Mercado de San Miguel is both a market and a tapas court depending on the time your arrive. You can buy everything from produce to fish, fresh pastas to pastries, all kinds of jamón – even some that cost 100 euros per pack! Or, you can just simply enjoy some tapas. Feasting on croquettes, jamón, stuffed olives, a Spanish tortilla, and an Easter Torrijas, which is a dessert only made during the Catholic holiday (it tasted like delicious French toast drenched in syrup and sweet milk), I can say that my first true Spanish tapas experience was unforgettable!
After the market, my friend Adriana took me to a couple of her favorite tapas bars, Taberna Txakolina and Juana la Loca Pintxos-Bar. Both places were amazing! I had my first Tinto de Verano, Spanish summer wine which is red wine mixed with lemon or orange Fanta. Because of the heat in the Andalusia, I found myself drinking it quite often. It’s like sangria but much lighter. Most tapas bars in the city have transitioned into your typical bar where you purchase everything separately, but El Tigre is a traditional tapas bar – you order a drink and they give you a plate of tapas free of charge. And, you get to throw your trash on the floor!
Now, the churros… Chocolatería San Ginés. The chocolate churros here are to die for! Open 24-hours, this place is often packed with Madrid night owls ending their night/early morning from a evening of partying – it’s like getting drunk pizza in NY. We showed up around 3am and even that was early! Apparently, the crowds come around 4-6am for the sweet (but not too sweet like American churros) snack.
Day 2: A day trip to Toledo. We jumped on the 10:30am bus and headed to the charming town just 45 miles from Madrid. While you can take a group day tour, the bus ride was just under an hour and costs around 9 euros for a RT ticket. Once you exit the bus station, you can actually take a 15 minute walk up the hill to the main part of town, but we didn’t know that so we ended up taking a 15 euro cab ride up to the Cathedral instead.
The best thing to do in Toledo is to wander the streets and allow yourself to get lost. The city isn’t very big and its surrounded by the Tagus River, so you’re never too far from Plaza de Zocodover. We luckily stumbled upon La Azotea de Locum en Hotel Carlos V, a rooftop bar with panoramic views of Toledo. There we met a group of Spaniards celebrating a bachelor/bachelorette party and it was a lot of fun getting to know them. It may have been the highlight of my weekend (other than indulging in the tapas of course).
Day 3: Back in Madrid, I spent my last day attempting to see all the landmarks that I didn’t get to see Friday. I walked over 33,000 steps starting at El Rastro (a Sunday Market) and then made my way along the outside of Madrid’s Centro. I walked past the Almudena Cathedral and Royal Palace of Madrid to Plaza de España, the Temple of Debod, then across Grand Via to Chueca . I stopped for lunch at Mercado de San Anton another market with tapas bars and a rooftop terrace. After lunch, I made my way to Salamanca and finally to Parque del Retiro to see the Crystal Palace. After sightseeing all day and trying to find my way back to Plaza Mayor, I found myself in the neighborhood of Cortes via Calle de Las Huertas, which was a lovely street to walk along. Finally, once I made it back to where my Madrid adventures started in Plaza Mayor, I managed to choose a great restaurant with the best chorizo in town! Liana 1962.
If you have 3 days in Madrid, here is my suggested itinerary:
Day 1: Start your day with a 2-hour free walking tour leaving from Plaza Major. They’ll take you around the area to see the Basilica de San Francisco, Cathedral, Palace, Opera, and the neighboring plazas and streets. Visit Mercado de San Miguel for the start of your tapas lunch and then make your way through the charming streets of Cortes heading towards the Prado Museum, which is free from 6-8pm.
Embrace siesta time, relax and freshen up at your hotel for an evening out. Eat a dinner on the Spanish clock (10pm or later) like the rest of the locals. Botin Restaurant is a must just because its the oldest restaurant in the world! Continue the drinking festivities through the night by hitting up Madrid’s nightlife scene. Don’t forget to stop at Chocolatería San Ginés for late night chocolate churros!
Day 2: Break up your time in Madrid and take a bus to Toledo. Explore the city’s historic sites especially the Cathedral. Get lost in the streets, find a rooftop bar in the late afternoon, and enjoy the 360 views of Toledo. If you can, stay the night because the city views are are much more magical when most of the day tourists have left.
Day 3: If you’re back in Madrid, then finish up your hit-list or all the monuments and churches you didn’t get to see on Day 1. Start at at the Temple de Debod, walk through Plaza España, then along Grand Via or the streets nearby, finding yourself in the hipster area. Walk towards Chueca, Madrid’s gay neighborhood. Stop at Mercado de San Anton for tapas and drinks on the rooftop. Make your way to Salamanca known for its grandeur homes and wealth for some high-end shopping. Finally, rest your feet in Parque de Retiro eventually finding your way to the Crystal Palace. If you can, have a picnic in the park. If you get a chance, have dinner or drinks in Playa Major for outdoor ambiance and to soak in the changing colors of the night sky. The rest of the evening is up to you!
Other cities I visited in Spain: