After living in Madrid for four months, I’ve accumulated quite the list of “Dos and Don’ts.” Whether you’re the casual traveler passing through, or about to embark on your own extended stay in this marvelous city, you’ll benefit from these pointers.
YOUR DEFINITIVE GUIDE TO MADRID:
- Museums: It’s worth carving out time to visit some of the museums that partially make Madrid so grand and culturally significant. The Prado is huge so just decide a few things you might want to see there and enjoy the beautiful surroundings. The Reina Sofía is also worth it and among tons of other stuff you can see Picasso’s world-famous Guernica. My favorite museum, though, was the Thyssen–such a great place. It’s smaller than the other famous museums so it’s less overwhelming, overall relaxed and pretty, and they have so many amazing, high-end pieces (and a great gift shop!).
- Make a day out of going to the Prado by afterwards getting lunch/walking around on the Paseo del Prado. Estado Puro, a famous and modern ‘deconstructed tapas’ place is right around there. Also, for a more off-the-beaten-path choice near there, we loved quirky La Petisa Bar for yummy snacks/tapas and great happy hour deals.
- Some touristy things like the museums are great no matter what your residency status, but other sites like the much-hyped Mercado de San Miguel (right near the equally tourist-loved Plaza Mayor–steer clear) are more of an annoyance. You should go just to understand what the hype is about, and it is indeed impressive, but it’s also claustrophobic when a lot of people were there. Trying going at an obscure hour if you actually want a chance to get some food/drinks and sit down.
- For a better bet overall when it comes to markets, go to Mercado de San Anton in Chueca. It’s the same big open-air market feel with different vendors and cuisines and small bites, but it’s infinitely less touristy/crowded, and they have still have a great selection of prepared foods and fresh produce.
- On a nice day–which is frequent, as Madrid’s weather is often compared to Los Angeles’–be sure to visit the famous Retiro Park, or Parque del Buen Retiro. This is the largest park in the city, filled with gorgeous paths, sculptures, monuments, nature, and a large peaceful pond.
- Neighborhoods: Madrid is broken into many different barrios which are geographical neighborhoods that are small and informal, but still often have their own distinct personalities and features. Go to Chueca for a young vibe, great Mexican food and really fun night stops (also home to Madrid’s gay nightlife scene). Nearby Malasaña is like the “hipster” neighborhood of Madrid and has wonderfully quirky restaurants, bars and shops. Salamanca is the upscale neighborhood of Madrid and has all the shopping you could want or need. The barrio of La Latina feels much more like an old-world European city with winding streets and cobble stone narrow alleyways, and has some great restaurants and cool shops.
- Some of my favorite spots in Malasaña, my favorite barrio: Happy Day Bakery; Creperie La Rue; Olivia Te Cuida (amazing natural food spot); and Cafe Manuela for a fun spot to relax in the afternoon or go for drinks at night–the twist is that they have piles of board games you can play with your friends while you drink and hang out, and it’s surprisingly a lot of fun.
- Malasaña also has the best vintage shopping–a whole block devoted almost exclusively to different vintage stores. The best for a mix of men’s and women’s wear is Magpie.