Madrid – the insider’s guide

Madrid-Retiro-Park-pond copy

A couple of years ago one of my closest friends lived in Madrid for a period of time but as I was living in Tokyo at that stage I didn’t get the chance to visit.  Luckily, she was really keen to return to her old haunts and a group of us decided to head there for a long weekend.

I love being shown around a city by someone who knows it well.  And thanks to my wonderful tour guide I really felt that I got to see the best of Madrid in the three short days we were there. There’s a lot to recommend in this city and only a long post will do it justice so I’d grab a comfy seat, a cup of tea and get settled in!


We stayed in a wonderful little studio apartment in the Malasaña district booked through air bnb. Really well located, cosy and very reasonably priced; I can’t recommend this accommodation enough (the owners even left us a freshly baked cake for our arrival!)

Day One – food and frolicking

Having arrived on a horrifically early flight on the Friday we treated ourselves to breakfast at Federal.  While not particularly Spanish, the Aussie style breakfasts and delicious coffee here were exactly what we needed.


We then spent a little time exploring the local neighbourhood which boasts lots of arty, boutique shops before heading out for a fancy lunch (more here).

As it was a sunny afternoon, and we were pretty full from our gourmet fare we wandered to the beautiful Parque del Retiro. With the leaves just turning for autumn, our leisurely wander through this huge park past the majestic fountains,


around the Retiro pond with it’s stunning backdrop, the Monument to Alfonso XII,


and through the beautiful Rosaleda (which was just about holding on to its flowers as the seasons change) was one of the highlights of my weekend.


The newly refurbished Crystal Palace in the centre of the park is definitely worth a visit.


the building itself is spectacular and was home to a really interesting modern art exhibition (complete with rocking chairs) when we visited.


That evening we headed to Mercado San Anton which boasts a wonderful rooftop bar and a bustling food market downstairs where you can pick up some local specialities to share on the communal tables (I recommend the grilled squid in particular).

Day Two – paintings and purchases


Having been relatively sensible the night before (partly due to the fact that our 3.30 am start put paid to any aspirations of a late one) we got up nice and early so as to avoid the crowds at the Prado. This was the only art gallery we made it to over the weekend but my goodness was it a goody. Having been a regular visitor during her time in Madrid my friend expertly led us to all the best rooms – the Goya (especially the very moving Black paintings), Velazquez and the works of the 17th century Dutch artists in particular should not be missed.

Another highlight of Madrid is its shopping – we spend the entire Saturday afternoon ambling along Calle Serrano and Calle Claudio Coello which boast a huge variety of shops.


Conveniently nestled in between the shops are numerous bars to stop in for well-earned tapas and gin and tonics. Mention of which, leads me conveniently on to our Saturday night in Madrid which started and ended in Madrid’s famous gin bars, with a really enjoyable meal at Madrid’s spot to be seen Ten Con Ten sandwiched in the middle (more of which on Friday). Mostly situated on Calle de Pez the gin bars, serving what can only be described as goblets of gin and tonic, are a Madrid institution.


Madrilenians take their (freely poured) gin and tonics seriously – serving each different brand in a particular way. I discovered the really refreshing Brockmans for the first time in Madrid (duly served with fresh raspberries and blackberries); I think I’m going to be pretty sad to return to the slapdash version of gin and tonic served in the UK.

Day Three – market-fare and meandering

Our Sunday was spent walking and eating off last night’s alcohol units. The Mercado San Miguel is another must for a weekend in Madrid – serving up a wide variety of lip-smackingly good Spanish fare this set us right up.





We then spent the afternoon walking around the beautiful old town centre.


Making sure to hit all the highlights: the Cathedral


The Palace



The Parque del Oeste and it’s wonderful view over the city and the huge Casa de Campo.


The perfect end to a wonderful weekend.

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