I just returned from Madrid and I think it’s fair to say that I have fallen in love. Maybe it’s because my husband and I got to spend a few days together, just the two of us, but I suspect it’s more than that. You know how it is when it comes to love: when you know, you know. And in this case I do. Madrid is the real thing.
What’s to love? A city where shops and offices close in the afternoon and everyone takes their dogs out for a walk and has a real coffee break, complete with café con leche and pastries. A restaurant barely wider than a door frame that serves only champagne, cava, cake, and ham. A sunny neighborhood café playing jazz on a Saturday afternoon. People who smile at my broken Spanish and still know what I am trying say (usually: champagne, cava, cake, or ham). Really, what’s not to love?
If you’re ready to take the plunge, check out the places I scouted below and start planning your trip! You can see more about Madrid on our pinterest board here. And feel free to share your favorites or ask questions in the comments below! #townscouttravels #inlovewithespaña
When I travel, I like to stay in places that reflect the city’s culture. The Only You Hotel is elegantly beautiful, thoughtfully designed, full of warm people, and totally welcoming. That is Madrid to a T.
Only You is less of a hotel and more of a home, complete with a living room, a library-ish bar, and a blue and white, sun-filled dining room. I did a little work in the cozy living room, curled up next to the fireplace and resident rhino. Just across the hall is the hotel bar, which specializes in exotic gins and specialty cocktails. If you prefer to stick with wine (like me), you could do worse than the Albarino. They even have Cliquot by the glass!
A comfy bed, waterfall shower, and floor-to-ceiling windows make the room a sweet resting spot when you make it home from your 10 p.m. dinner reservations.
Only You Hotel; 21 Calle Barquilla; onlyyouhotels.com/en/
Madrid elevates dining to an art form. From perfectly composed pastries to perfectly cured jambon, the plates at even the smallest cafés are not only delicious, but beautiful. After eating our way through the neighborhood, I pulled together a few of my favorites for your dining pleasure. There are so many more wonderful spots—just explore!
For coffee, pastries, and macarons visit Mama Framboise. I could have eaten my weight in tartaletas, the two-or-three bite version of Mama Framboise’s famous tartas. You cannot go wrong with lemon or chocolate raspberry.
Mama Framboise; multiple locations (including the airport for last-minute gift shopping!); mamaframboise.com
You must have at least one meal at Gastromaquia. Lunch or dinner, it doesn’t matter. Just go there. We spent a leisurely afternoon in this tiny spot and did not want to leave. Gastromaquia is known for its rice dishes, but do not miss out on the goat cheese with a crisp honey shell or the grilled octopus in a creamy foam of sweet potatoes (!!).
Gastromaquia; No. 6 Pelayo near the Chueco metro; open 1:30-4 and 8:30-midnight
Dinner comes late in Spain. As in, the early-bird special starts at 8:30 p.m. Fortunately, that gives you plenty of time to have a drink and ease in to the evening. Only You serves drinks in the living room as well as the bar, which means you can curl up beside the fire and sip your drinks. My husband swore by their old-fashioned. For a cozy spot, head to the tiny bar at Dray Martina, a lovely and gracious restaurant just a few years old. The bar seats only five or six and there’s a single table for two. It doesn’t get more romantic.
Dray Martina; 7 Calle Argensola; draymartina.com
From Dray Martina, walk a few blocks to dinner at Taberna La Carmencita, one of Madrid’s oldest restaurants. Pablo Neruda is rumored to have penned poems there, and Lorca is said to have enjoyed a drink or two at its tiny zinc bar. If you visit, you can understand why. It’s beautiful and eccentric and traditional and modern all at once. Dark wooden benches, full-length windows and colorful tiles feel more like your favorite old kitchen than a fancy restaurant. The waiters’ English was on par with my Spanish, but we laughed and ate and had wine and it didn’t matter at all. Oh, and the food. I felt adventurous and took our waiter’s suggestion: bluefish balls. I can assure you that it would never occur to me to order fish “meat balls,” and I am so glad I did. Can’t wait to see you again soon, Carmencita.
Taberna La Carmencita; 16 Calle de la Libertad; tabernalacarmencita.es
See & Do
There’s plenty to do in Madrid: the Prado, the Thyssen, the Royal Palace. If you prefer to get lost and wander, try a few of these spots.
Mercado de San Anton. Don’t be put off by the 1970s, non-descript architecture of this market. The first floor looks like a typical grocery store. Keep going. The second and third floors are filled with food stalls offering everything from tapas, spices, cheese, and ham to wine, coffee, and pastries. There’s a restaurant and bar on the roof and outdoor seating just off a pop-up art gallery. On the weekends, it is packed with locals and full of energy. 24 Calle Augusto de Figueroa; mercadosananton.com.
Do Design Concept Store. I stumbled upon this little gem while I was out for a walk. Do is a combination art gallery, housewares, clothing, and all-things-beautiful store. I loved it so much I went back and bought a few gifts for our daughters. I’m still thinking about a certain grey foldover bag in Spanish leather . . . non-buyer’s remorse. 13 Calle Fernando VI; dodesign.es.
Take a stroll along Las Huertas (or any street). Madrid is a city where you can wander, take your time, and spend a whole day doing nothing more than taking it all in. It is a city full of surprises and charms, and full of people willing to be kind to strangers. We spent an afternoon walking up Las Huertas from the Prado. We saw some street art, stopped in shops and galleries, and took a break to listen to jazz and have tapas with a room full of locals. It’s nice to live like a local, if only for a weekend;)