…moving to another continent was no easy task, but nothing worthwhile is.
My name is Joyce and I was born in Mexico, in a bordering state with the U.S. on the Northwest called Baja California. I moved to sunny LA when I was young where I lived for many years before moving to Madrid.
Going from one country to another, and switching languages was the norm through out my life. Living in California, I got to meet people from all over the world, try all kinds of food, experience diverse cultures and hear a lot of different languages. I considered myself an open-minded and quite an international person. I thought I could experience other cultures through people. I was naive.
Thriving in LA by working in the digital entertainment field helped me accomplish my first goals in life: get my Bachelor’s Degree in Film, get a job in the entertainment industry, have benefits such as 401K and healthcare, etc. I got bored of being an adult and decided to drop it all and go teach English in Spain. The timing was right and my friends and family supported my decision. It was too good of an opportunity to pass.
Like any big change in life, moving to another continent was no easy task, but nothing worthwhile is. During my first year in Madrid, I traveled to 10 countries and countless cities. I met so many wonderful people and I learned so much from these travels, some of them solo. I, by no means, consider myself an expert. Still, I hope other people, especially other solo female travelers, will learn from both my advice and mistakes as I continue to travel in the “new” continent.
Saint-Malo is a port town famous for Intra-Muros, a medieval city next to the sea surrounded by tall walls. It’s quite picturesque and worth a visit when in Bretagne. Intra-Muros is the most centric area, so it’s best to stay here, specially if you don’t have a car since St. Malo lacks public transportation, besides a few buses that run during the day.
This area is also famous for the small “disappearing” islands that you can only visit when the tide is low. The tide changes so dramatically that if you are in one of the islands during high tide, you’ll be stuck there for about 6 hours until the tide comes back down again. One of the memorable spots near Intra-Muros was Le Velvet, a cozy and vintage looking bar that serves delicious mulled wine in the winter.
Another historical landmark to visit when in St. Malo is Solidor Tower, it is beautifully light at night. I loved walking around it at night listening to the beach waves.
Dinard is another Bretonne beach town. It is right next to St. Malo. I recommend visiting during the day and visiting the Market. There are many places to try delicious Bretonne goods such as cider, cheese and pastries. After this, I went walking along the “board walk” that actually surrounds some rocky hills offering both an ocean view, as well as views of my “future homes” aka really beautiful and large houses by the beach I will never be able to afford but I can still appreciate and dream about.
After the walk, I found myself at a local pub that had the best thing to eat in both St, Malo and Dinard, the Coquille St. Jacques, aka Scallops. They are served in a crêpe, with pasta or in their shells. I lost count of how many I had during my visit to Bretagne. That’s where most of my money went. I also spent it in Kouign-amann (buttery cake) aka Bretonne Cake pronounced “Queen Aman”. Another thing to try while in Bretagne. The server at this local pub called Le Skipper was so nice and patient with my “baby French”. She was mainly intrigued, since it seemed I’m the first Mexican they had ever seen in that town. At least, that they know of.
The most curious thing about the Northern French, is the way they drink coffee.
Coffee bowls are a thing! Their excuse is that they have to get the energy from somewhere else due to the lack of sun. Sounds legit.
I noticed the trend when I saw the bowls with names on every souvenir shop. I thought there were for dogs. Later, a local explain the logic behind them. Quite a contrast from the rest of Espresso drinking Europe. My though was “And they saw Americans super size everything”, but then again, to each its own.
A curious rumor about Dinard is that the house from Hitchcock’s Psycho was inspired by a house along the coast of Dinard. This explains the random Hitchcock statue with birds, that ironically was covered in bird poop.
There are many beautiful cities and towns to visit while in Bretagne besides the mentioned above, such as Rennes and Nantes. Pays de la Loire is also very near and worth a visit. Remember to bring an umbrella, even when visiting in the summer, since the weather changes drastically. No matter where you stay, enjoy the delicious French wine, cheese and bread. Give seafood and Kouign-amann a try when in Bretagne, walk it all off with a stroll around the coast (during low tide please) and always BE PRESENT!
Nantes left an impression on me despite its gloomy weather so much so that I’ve been here both during Christmas time, as well as summer. This college town offers so many attractions as well as good public transport. I’m a sucker for Belgian beer and Nantes’ Delirium Cafe was never as crowded as the original in Brussels.
What to eat
The center is pretty walkable with plenty of restaurants where to try the famous Gallete Bretonne (salty crêpe) as well as the Kouign-amann (buttery cake) aka Bretonne Cake pronounced “Queen Aman”. Don’t forget to pair your Gallete with the Bretonne cider. A small but great spot in the center isCrêperie Au Vieux Quimper.
L’Epicerie is a cosy and delicious tavern looking restaurant that is opened late and serves delicious and local food. A good option for a cute date night. I can’t even remember what I had, but I do remember it was cheesy and damn delicious. Sorry for the blurry pic, but I also remember being hungry.
What to see
…serves as a canvas where a stunning and colorful images are projected to the beat of the music.
Cathédrale Saint-Pierre et Saint-Louis is beautiful and has an amazing show during Christmas season. The front of the cathedral serves as a canvas where stunning and colorful images are projected to the beat of the music. Not that it was related to Christmas, but I saw exotic birds flying in a forest, among other landscapes. You can get a glimpse of this odd but beautiful show in my Instagram Highlights.
Another beautiful landmark in the center of Nantes is theCastle of the Duques, shown as the Feature Image on this post. There’s an entrance fee but if you have the time, I truly recommend exploring this Château. It is not far from the train station, so def worth a visit if you got an hour to kill.
One of the most visited areas in Nantes, apart from the castle is the Passage Pommeraye. This Renaissance inspired mall is quite fancy. I personally do not care for high end brands, but walking through this mall was free and offered many great selfie corners. It is beautifully decorated during Christmas as well.
Last but not least, my favorite place in Nantes, even more so than Cafe Delirium, isLes Machines de l’Île, The Machines of the Island. This place is hard to describe, but it’s basically a steampunk paradise. There’s a gorgeous and sophisticated carrousel with a variety of mechanical creatures. You can also ride through the center in a larger than life size mechanical elephant. Or if you decide to pay the museum fee, you are also able to get to get inside and drive a mechanical spider and look at other mechanical animals such as hummingbirds. Even if you’re not into steampunk, this place is worth a visit when in Nantes. You don’t need to pay the entrance fee to appreciate most of the machines.
Where to shop After living in a small town and riding horses everyday for two weeks, I was in dire need of a new pair or jeans. Passage Pommeraye is not an option for my unemployed self, so I had to resort to my well known chains such as H&M, Zara, Bershka, etc. You can find these stores, as well as some small locally own boutiques near the center on Rue de Calvaire. It leads to other small streets like Rue de Budapest. It’s all very walkable.
Where to party
I was drawn into the “Canadian pub” out of curiosity and because of …
Being that Nantes is a college town, some bars are more affordable but crowded with college students, specially during the weekends. I was drawn into the “Canadian pub” out of curiosity and because of their “vin chaud”, hot wine or mulled wine. One of my favorite winter drinks. Bar Tabarnak was quite spacious, with outdoor seating and friendly staff.
Le Chait Noir (The Black Cat) is cool speak-easy type bar with live music and a good wine selection… because France. Delirium Café is always a good idea if you’re a beer fan. It’s a good spot to go as a group or start the night, maybe even a pre-dinner drink, maybe before dinner and after dinner… I could have Belgian beers anytime of the day, no judging here. If cocktails are your thing, La Ribouldingue, which can mean “party” is cool spot with a terrace and a DJ on some nights.
Whatever your reason may be for visiting this jolie ville, you are guaranteed a memorable time. Enjoy your visit, bring an umbrella or rain coat and always BE PRESENT!
I had the privilege of doing volunteer work through Workaway at an equestrian center in Pays de la Loire where I also got to explore a bit of Bretagne. Which deserves its own post where I write about towns like Saint-Malo, Dinard and Nantes. And as always, I’ll list my fave food spots and what I ate in beautiful (and butter covered) Brittany, Bretagne in French.
Workaway is for travelers who want to live, work and eat like a local. My work at the center included teaching English, helping with the stables, assisting in the kitchen, as well as supervising and entertaining the campees. In exchange, I received free lodging, all 3 meals a day (including plenty of French cheese!), beach trips, private equestrian lessons and most importantly, I practiced French everyday. Also, my amazing host was gracious enough to drive me around to explore the surrounding towns.
I arrived at the St. Nazaire train station and my lodging was located at Saint-Brevin-les-Pins. My work schedule was so flexible that, some mornings, I could run to Plage L’Ermitage, a beach next to a small forest, or to Plage de Saint Michel. Neither beach was ever overcrowded despite it being the middle of summer. Not even on Bastille Day where we had an evening picnic to watch the fireworks.
Among some of the most memorable towns I visited were Pornic, Le Croisic and La Roche. Each town has its own water views, landmarks, boutiques, cafes and ice cream shops that are best exploring on foot since the summers are pretty tempered here due to it’s northern location. You’ll find delicious strawberry ice cream everywhere as well as affordable Belgian beers at the bars and cafes. Pornic was busy with Parisians during the summer making it a bit more expensive, but still beautiful. Le Croisic is famous for its WWI US Naval base and Le Roche is a bit more local and small, a hidden gem.
Being that I am the product of the Disney generation, I’m a fan of castles, especially medieval looking castles. Guérande is a medieval town next to Le Croisic where you’ll find several castles and old churches, mostly used for events such as weddings but open to the public when there are no events. Here is a list of several castles in Guérande.
My Workaway host has a sweet tooth and I’m grateful because French pastries quickly became my addiction. Cheese already was, I totally adored that French people have cheese for dessert! If it wasn’t for my horrible pronunciation, I could so fit in with this culture.
There’s so much to see, do, drink and EAT in North Western France. I’m sure no matter where you go, you’ll have a delicious time. When visiting, keep in mind this area of France is not too far from the UK. Don’t expect a lot of people to speak English but do bring an umbrella, even in the summer. I found the weather would change dramatically one week from the other. En fin, also remember to always BE PRESENT!
My first Madrid post serves the tourist who’s visiting for a few days. It gives basic info on the MUSTS in Madrid such as Rastro, which is the Sunday flea market. As well as a DIY walking tour of landmarks in the city center. I also listed some amazing places to visit outside the center for you to pick from.
The second post is on Where to Eat & Drink in Madrid. A comprehensive list of my fave spots I frequented during my two years living in this lively city.
“This post focuses on the coolest neighborhoods in Madrid, as well as tips and tricks to experience the city like a local.”
BEST BARRIOS IN MADRID
Lavapiés is a short walk from Sol and it is one of the most affordable neighborhoods near the center. It has numerous bars and restaurants to enjoy and is home to Tapapiés, a food (more specifically, tapas) fest celebrated in October. Many of the restaurants in the area offer a special and affordable (€1-2) tapa for the event. Beware of the many Indian restaurants in the area, most of them are tasteless.
Tapapiés is how I found one of my favorite spots in Madrid, Toscanaccio, a small and family-owned Tuscan bakery. I honestly visited this place weekly. It is delicious, affordable and offers veggie and vegan options. It has both savory and sweet choices.
“If you’re a risk taker and want to blend in with the locals and expats…”
If you’re a risk taker and want to blend in with the locals and expats, then stop by Plaza Dos de Mayo in Malasaña. Beware, it smells like piss most of the time. The reason being that this is the most popular area for “botellón” which is the Spanish tradition of sitting and drinking on the street. It is not legal to do so, but most days, the police looks the other way. Police cars will show up later in the night to disperse the crowd so as to avoid noise complains, and I have heard stories of people who have been fined in this plaza, so this is an “at your own risk” experience.
La Latina is the neighborhood for foodies. It is home to the many restaurants in taverns for all tastes and budgets. I made a list of my fave restaurants in this area including El Buo and La Taberna Sanlúcar in the Where to Eat and Drink in Madrid post. For drinks, I recommend Hopper, which has amazing cocktails and a great happy hour. On hot summer nights, I went to the rooftop of El Viajero, just be mindful that you’ll have to be patient to get seated. Another great roof top that is frequented by tourists, since it belongs to a hostel, is The Hat. A cute place with a terrace near the metro stop is La Bobia, famous for its delicious and affordable Asturian cider.
There are infinite options to choose from in La Latina. You can walk around and look at the menus posted outside, just be mindful that most places close after lunch and open for late dinner.
Malasaña is home to numerous boutiques, bars, restaurants and local specialty stores, as well as a lot of original street art because of a festival called “Pinta Malasaña” where shop owners select an artist to decorate their store front. This fest is celebrated annually, keeping the art fresh and different every year, while making way to new local artists.
Malasaña is a cultural hub and also the home to the Conde Duque Cultural Center, which hosts all kinds of events. From art exhibits, to free concerts, even beer fests.
Goya is a “pijo” area. Meaning that people with funds tend to live or visit this area. Hence, it is a bit posh but has the best stocked stores in my opinion. It is near Retiro park, so you could easily exit from the north side of the park and walk around Goya. The plaza is known for the Wizink Center where many international artists have performed. Unlike Gran Via, It is not usually crowded nor are the stores picked out. It is beautifully decorated during Christmas and there’s plenty of local restaurants, so this area definitely deserves a visit if you’re in Madrid for a longer stay.
Don’t buy day trip tour packages and don’t pay for museums.
THINGS TO KNOW
Museums are free during the last 2 hours.
Arrive 30 minutes before the free hour (6pm or 7pm, depending on the day) to get in line. It will be long but it will move fast as soon as the doors are open for free visitors. Check each museum’s website for their schedule:
Avoid bocadillo de calamares. I love calamares but fried calamari on a dry baguette is not the best. Drier than a torta de tamal.
Avoid taxis departing from the center. Use Uber or Cabify., they cannot enter the small streets but can pick you up on may avenues that are always near. Taxis tend to overcharge and taking longer routes, with the additional fee if you get picked up at the center.
Tap water is potable and tastes fine. Don’t pay for water, buy vermouth or wine instead.
Don’t buy day trip tour packages. These are sold at kiosks and they’re rushed and overpriced. It’s really easy to move around in train or bus to other cities. Below are the details on how to DIY day trips like to Toledo, Segovia, Salamanca, Zaragoza and El Escorial/San Lorenzo from Madrid.
lunch 3pm (shared raciones & tapas or menú del día)
Eggs are also for lunch and dinner
Paellas in Madrid tend to be frozen. It’s best to try it in Valencia or Murcía, even Andalucía
Use the renfe website for checking train schedules. Cercanías trains move within the Comunidad de Madrid, meaning the outskirts. For example, you can take the Cercanías train to El Escorial which is still Madrid Comunidad, but it’s not Madrid city.
To visit Segovia or Toledo, you need a Long Distance train (tren de larga distancia) which is also renfe. If you want to go to Barcelona or Málaga, you can take the AVE, which is the fast train to further Comunidades. Barcelona being in Catalunya, for example and Málaga in Andalucía, but Segovia is Castilla León and Toledo y Castilla de la Mancha, which are the neighboring Comunidades to Madrid. Easiest way to understand this is imagining that the Comunidades are like States.
Once you’ve arrived in the station you can use public transportation to get to the city center or wherever your lodging is. To explore the schedules of metros and buses in Spanish cities or in other European countries I recommend using Citymapper and the Moovit app. You can see The Essentials blog post where I explain how to use these. Google maps tends not to have accurate info on buses in small cities like Toledo.
Feel free to reach me with any questions regarding travel within Spain, especially departing from Madrid. I was once a lost tourist and know the struggle. Spain is incredible easy to travel, not only because of its size, but also because its many transportation options within the country. You have the option of using low cost airlines, fast trains, comfortable buses and BlaBlaCar. This last one is a ride sharing app where you travel in a local’s car. Much more affordable and faster than other road transportation options.
Wherever you go, I am sure you will have a blast in this beautiful and diverse country. Enjoy every moment of your travels and always BE PRESENT!
I’ve made 3 posts on Madrid so far since I lived in this lively city for two amazing years. I don’t claim to know this city inside and out since there are new things popping out all the time, but I’ve listed the places I frequented making it “My Madrid”. For info on landmarks or for a brief and efficient visit, check out my first post. For insider tips on the city check out the Madrid like a local post.
WHERE TO EAT
Lavapiés is a short walk from Sol. It is one of the most affordable neighborhoods near the center. It has numerous bars and restaurants to enjoy and is home to Tapapiés, a food (more specifically, tapas) fest celebrated in October. Many of the restaurants in the area offer a special and affordable (€1-2) tapa for the event. Beware of the many Indian restaurants in the area, most of them are tasteless.
Tapapiés is how I found one of my favorite spots in Madrid, Toscanaccio, a small and family-owned Tuscan bakery. I honestly visited this place weekly. It is delicious, affordable and offers veggie and vegan options. It has both savory and sweet choices.
Besides Toscanaccio, I also frequented Mercado de San Fernando in Lavapiés. This food market offers options from all over the world.
My faves are, no doubt, the Mexican spot as well as the Peruvian since you’ll find delicious ceviche in the latter. The Mexican restaurant has amazing micheladas and several types of tacos, as well as tamales. Near it, there’s a Puerto Rican and Lebanese spot. This Mercado also has all types of Asian, including Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese, etc.
La Latina is near Lavapiés and it’s the most famous barrio for dinner. My favorite restaurant in this neighborhood is La Taberna Sanlúcar, which is a cozy and delicious tavern serving Andalucían food. The menu might take some time to decipher but the waiters are so kind and will gladly offer suggestions, I do recommend you try the “vino de Jerez”. Sanlúcar is next to“Off Latina” which is a legit flamenco venue if you’re planning on catching a show.
If Tortilla (Spanish omelette) is on your list to try, which despite being egg based is enjoyed for breakfast, lunch or dinner, I suggest Buo. There’s one in La Latina and another in Chueca. It also has its sister restaurant, La Buha. Despite location, I never found any differences between the two. The one in La Latina has a terraza (outdoor tables), so you could enjoy your dinner outdoors when the weather permits, just be aware that Spaniards are avid smokers. Buo has a large selection of ingredients for their large Tortilla and it’s only €10. It will feed at least 6 people. Another famous Tortilla spot is Pez Tortilla. There’s one in La Latina and another on Calle del Pez in Malasaña. Pez offers raciones (slices) of a wide selection of tortillas, as well as craft beer.
El Capricho Extremeño is a must on Rastro days (Sundays) and only serves Tostas which is toasted bread with a variety of toppings. They also have a delicious white sangría that pairs great with the Tosta de Pulpo. La Extremeña offers veggie and vegan options. The line is long, but it moves fast since it only serves “To-Go” and premade toasts.
Also in La Latina, Lamiakhas the best pintxos, which are bigger tapas from the north of Spain. It gets really busy so it’s best to arrive for US dinner time instead, considering that Spanish dinner time is between 9 and 10pm.
Txirimiri is a chain so there’s a few locations in different neighborhoods. It serves Basque country cuisine and it has the best Solomillo I’ve ever had, which is a very tender beef bathed in a type of light gravy
Juana la Loca is near Sol and is a great place to go with groups. Reservations are available. The decor is very original and cute, but the real deal are the delicious and affordable tapas.
Los Artesanos 1902 .Churros & Chocolate (fudge) are a thing in Spain, especially during cold weather. This place has the best chocolate I’ve had in Spain, taking into account that it’s a thick fudge for dipping, although some locals sip on it.
WHERE TO DRINK
Madrid has probably more bars than people, hence the long list below. I listed a few bars I frequented with the reasons why. Keep in mind that there’s a plethora of options depending on the kind of night, or day, you’re looking to have. La Playa de Lavapiés is a bar frequented by locals that serves Estrella Galicia on tap. Believe me, much better than Mahou which is the only beer you’ll find in almost every bar. La Playa is not far from the Lavapiés metro stop and it’s on a popular street filled with bars and terrazas, which are a hot commodity unless it’s raining since everyone wants to smoke and drink at the outdoor tables.
If you’re a craft beer lover, you need to stop by Chinaski. It is on Calle de la Fe and conveniently located across from Toscanaccio. Chinaski has plenty of indoor seating, perfect for a rainy or cold night, but the biggest attraction is the wide variety of European craft beer at affordable prices.
Casa Camacho is a landmark and a must when in Malasaña. A great way of starting the night in Madrid is with a “Yayo”, the staple of Casa Camacho. A Yayo is a small glass of Vermouth, gin and tonic water. Beware of the alcohol content, don’t be fooled by its size.
Sala Equis is an old porn cinema turned bar. It is difficult to describe this place since it is still a cinema, but showcases modern films. Downstairs there is stadium seating with some lounge chairs facing a the projected film. Upstairs is a bit more intimate and covered in red neon lighting. Cocktails are great and there’s a good selection of Spanish beers.
Pepe Botella is an indoor and typical tavern frequented by locals with plenty of seating. It is deal for an intimate night with friends or date.
Vacaciones Cocktail Bar is a cute but small summer themed bar, great for dates too. Fyi, there’s more seating downstairs.
Ojalá is another interesting place in Malasaña, it is known as the “sand bar” because the floor is covered in sand. I’ve heard the food is good here but I’ve only been for drinks.
La Realidad was my go to place, especially for dates since its corky decor and dim lighting make it a perfectly cozy place to get to know someone. It is also near, Pirata Malasaña, which is another one of my go-to craft beer bars, along with the recently opened Mikkeller Madrid.
Next to Malasaña, you’ll find the famous Chueca. I could write a whole post about this popular neighborhood, but I’ll stick to mentioning one of my favorite, and the nerdiest bar in Madrid. Twist&Shout is decorated with Sc-Fi and comic book fandom. The drinks are themed as such, and you’ll find anything from Butter Beer to Game of Thrones or Disney themed shooters.
Fuencarral street is known for its many shops during the day, but further up towards Tribunal metro stop, it is known for its lively night life. You’ll find a mix of locals and expats in this area, drinking at bars such as Freeway, Triskel Tavern or dancing the night away at La Vía Láctea, unless you’re looking for a club, then Teatro Barceló is nearby.
BEST COFFEE SPOTS
HanSo Café best avocado toast I’ve ever had! Free Wi-Fi and great place to work in Malasaña. Just remember that it’s pronounced “wee-fee” in Spain.
Cafelito, cozy and cute coffeeshop in Lavapiés with an affordable and wide menu. Conveniently near Toscanaccio, my fave Tuscan bakery.
La Doña is quite affordable, centric and spacious. it is located next to Noviciado metro spot. It has plenty of seating and a clean bathroom. The only downside is that the Wi-Fi is limited to about an hour per visit.
Wherever you go and however long you stay in Madrid, you are guaranteed a good time. This city has something for everyone and I hope my list serves as a guide for an unforgettable time. Enjoy beautiful Madrid and always BE PRESENT!
I’ve been postponing this post since I have so much to say about the city I called home for two years. So I decided to make at least two posts of Madrid. This one being about the best things to see and places to visit, including a DIY Walking Tour that I would give my friends when they visited.
DIY Walking tour in the city center
1. Start at Puerta del Sol
This is the busiest and most centric area in Madrid. It is also where you can find Km 0, the point from which distances are measured in Spain.
The most tourist thing to do here is take a pic with the sculpture of the Madrileño bear. You’ll have to be patient since many tourists line up for this pic. I personally preferred the picture with Km 0, something that tends to go unnoticed.
2. Walk to Plaza Mayor
Take Calle Mayor towards Plaza Mayor and enter from any of the many of the passages leading to the Plaza. During the day, you’ll be able to appreciate the fresco-like painting covering the façades. It is also beautifully lit at night.
3. Mercado de San Miguel
I had my first vermouth in Spain and my life will never be the same. This has become my drink of choice, and although Spaniards drink it as an aperitif, I drink it at any time of the day. There is a wide selection of types of vermouth in Mercado de San Miguel, starting from sweet, dry then bitter. My personal favorite is the “Andalucía” because is a good blend between sweet and bitter. Enjoy your vermouth with any of the many delicious tapas that the Mercado has to offer. You will need the strength to continue your walking tour. Remember to save your receipt since they’ll ask for it before entering the restroom, otherwise it’s ¢50 which is not bad if you are in dire need of a clean restroom in the center, but then you also have Corte Inglés for free.
4. Sabitini Gardens & Royal Palace
The Sabitini Gardens are located behind the Royal Palace, which can be easily accessed without entering the palace. The best pics are from the stairs heading down towards the gardens.
5. Plaza España from behind
Walk out of the gardens and head towards Plaza España. There’s a monument of Don Quixote & Sancho Panza next to a pond on the back side of the Plaza. If it’s not too busy, you’ll be able to take pics with the monument without too many tourists around.
6. Parque del Oeste & Templo Debod
Enjoy the views from Parque del Oeste and, if you’re lucky, Templo Debod will have water. At sunset, the reflection of the temple can be appreciated along with the colorful sky. The temple was donated by Egypt and it’s a must see while in Madrid. The park hosts free concerts during the summer.
7. Plaza España from the front
Walk back down to Plaza España, but this time walk in front of it, towards Gran Vía. This side has a large fountain representing the Birth of Water and other large sculptures. Definitely, more impressive with lights at night.
8. Gran Vía
Walk up to Gran Vía and check out the shops and theaters. I consider this area to be more beautiful at night with all the big city lights. If you plan on doing some shopping, most shops close around 9 or 10pm. Primark is a must if you want cheap shopping, but you have to be patient because this store will be crowded with every tourist in Madrid. Luckily, there’s toilets, Wi-fi, chargers and couches for shoppers to take a break. A local tip is to go pay and use the fitting rooms on the floor before the last. This is the floor with men’s clothes and home accessories.
Places to visit outside of the center
This is biggest park closest to the city center and it has several entrances. It is famous for the Crystal Palace and a lovely man-made lake where you can rent boats. The Crystal Palace is free and has a rotating art exhibit. Keep in mind there might be a long line to enter in peak season. Next to the Crystal Palace there’s the Palacio de Velázquez, a free museum. You can spend the whole day exploring Retiro and never get bored. There’s an innumerable amount of cool looking fountains (including one of the devil with its demons), gardens that look like something out of Alice in Wonderland, even peacocks.
Casa de Campo
This is another huge green area but it might be a bit dry if you go in the summer. Casa de campo is mainly for sports like biking and running, but it also has a beautiful lake surrounded by lounge chairs and restaurants. Inside Casa de Campo you can find one of the entrances to the Cable Car (Teleferico). You can either take it one way from Casa de Campo to Argüelles (where Parque del Oeste is) or viceversa. Roundtrip is 6 EUR as of summer of 2019.
Moncloa Tower (Faro de Moncloa)
Besides the cable car, another great way to overlook Madrid is Moncloa Tower, which is also near the center. It’s 3 EUR to go up an elevator and once up, you’ll be in a well ventilated lobby with an amazing bird’s eye view of the city.
Circulo de Bellas Artes
If you prefer the view without protecting glass, then I recommend going up to Círculo de Bellas Artes. This rooftop bar charges a 4 EUR cover and tends to have a line but that sunset view over Gran Vía is totally worth it.
One of my favorite places in Madrid is a little further south from the center. Matadero is off Legazpi metro station on lines 3 (yellow) and 6 (gray). It’s an old brick slaughterhouse along the river that is now an art hub. It is free to visit and it hosts rotating local art exhibits (naves) along with some free or cheap movie showing in the beautiful theatre. There is also a cantina with a lovely patio that serves drinks and pizzas, as well as a larger cafeteria with plenty of outdoor and indoor seating, including a small theatre inside. Make sure to check out the calendar for the many free events, such as concerts, food festivals, farmer’s markets, etc. It is also located next to huge, new mall if you prefer to avoid the crowds in Gran Vía.
If you’re in Madrid on a Sunday make sure to check out this enormous flea market. It begins in Embajadores every Sunday from 8am – 3pm. You will find everything from antiques, handmade jewelry and clothes, the cheapest coats and shoes, the most affordable souvenirs made by local craftswomen and men, and anything else you can think of. Beware of pickpocketters since it gets very crowded. I found that the best times to go are either 9am or 1pm, so as to avoid the rush.
In my other post I will make a brief reconnaissance of the coolest neighborhoods in Madrid, best times to visits the museums, where and what to eat, understanding Madrid’s public transportation, as well as tips and tricks to experience the city like a local.
Enjoy your time in this magical and underrated city. If you ever become annoyed by the heat, cold or crowds, just stop to have a caña (small beer) and tapa anywhere. You’ll be surprised how affordable this metropolitan city is. Have fun in beautiful Madrid and always BE PRESENT.
“I saw how easy and quick it would be to go from the airport to the city, so I went for it, suitcase and all…”
Famous Neighborhoods & Where to Stay
When I first moved to Madrid from Los Angeles, I had a 5 hour layover in Copenhagen. I saw how easy and quick it would be to go from the airport to the city, so I went for it, suitcase and all, and took the metro to Nyhavn, which translates to New Port. This area reminded me a bit of Amsterdam because of the canal and numerous cyclists, but Nyhavn’s canal is much wider and surrounded by colorful buildings and flooded by tourist boats. Definitely check out this area but beware that the bars and restaurants along the canal are tourist traps , in other words, overly expensive. Drinking in public is legal so it’s def cheaper to take a beer from literally anywhere (souvenir shop, food market, train station…) and enjoy it while overlooking the canal.
There’s a few cafes, restaurants and shops, including the sale of marijuana.
Christiana is only a 15 minute walk from Nyvhan and a MUST when visiting Copenhagen. “Christiana is an autonomous society where each individual can freely develop under the responsibility of the community.” There’s a palpable sense of community when you walk in. I enjoyed strolling around this neighborhood and taking the wide variety of impressive art, including murals and sculptures. There’s a few cafes, restaurants and shops, including the sale of marijuana. Yup, totally cool since this is an autonomous community with its own rules.
The restaurants, bars and shops vary from more affordable than the rest of Copenhagen to more high end ones. All the money spent here stays in the community and serves its residents.
The Meatpacking District is in the district of Vertrebro and is next to Central Station. This neighborhood is very centric. I recommend staying in this area, especially if you’re only visiting for a few days since its home to the trendiest bars, restaurants and cafes. Some are actually affordable and there’s a wide variety of places for all types of tastes.
Where to eat
I tried and recommend Vesterbro Chinese Food (that’s the restaurant’s actual name), Hyggestund has a great brunch menu and outdoor seating for summer days and it’s right next to Mikkeller Bar. Mikkeller is a microbrewery founded in Copenhagen that has become internationally popular. I first tried it in San Diego, California, but have also visited their branches in Los Angeles and Madrid. You’ll find that they have MANY different types of beers. Do not feel overwhelmed, you can ask the bartender for a taster or get a small glass to start with and to allow yourself to try different kinds. Beware of the alcohol percentage, it will be written on the board.
For the freshest, most legit Mexican restaurant in Copenhagen, you have to visit La Neta. The rumor is that the founder of Mikkeller visits Mexico so often (makes sense since he was breweries in California) that he hired a chef from Oaxaca to open La Neta in Copenhagen. The tacos and quesadillas are sooo good, just like they would be at home. The best part is the salsa bar! It has many different types of salsas ranging from what I called the “no pica” (mild) one to “no mames” (spiciest). La Neta also offers delicious vegan options.
The decorations also brought me home, along with the cumbia playing in the background. Of course, they only difference from taquerías back in Mexico is the price per taco. Converting from DKK they’re around 3 EUR each. Still, that’s a price I’m willing to pay for good Mexican food while living abroad.
Landmarks The Little Mermaid statue is not in the center, but not far from Central Station. It’s about a 20 minute metro ride. You can take any line (metro or train) 2-3 stops (2 for train, 3 for metro) to Østerport then walk towards the port. There’s not much to see in this area, but the statue is in a park facing the ocean, so a picnic is a good idea if the weather allows for it. Be mindful that the statue is small but the crowds might not be, especially if there are tour buses parked near by. You’ll have to be patient if you want a picture with the statue, or of the statue with no one around.
The Royal Library is locally known as “The Black Diamond” since its Copenhagen’s new pride and joy. It’s a very modern and beautiful glass building by the river. I definitely recommend this place to watch the sunset. Check out their website for visiting hours.
Børsen has one of the trademarks that makes Denmark’s architecture stand out and it’s what I call the “unicorn horn”. A twisty and pointy tower erected from almost every building. Turns out that it’s a spire representing 4 intertwined dragon tails. You’ll also find dragons everywhere since it’s a symbol of the city.
Vor Frelsers Kirke (The Church of Our Savior) is a small church with an incredibly tall tower that is only open when there’s good weather since it goes really high up. Unfortunately, it was drizzling when I went so the stairs were closed. I’ve heard that the views are unreal from up there, definitely worth the 35 DKK (about 4.60 EUR) or 25 DKK with a student card. You can see if they’re open on their website.
Another good place to have a picnic is at the King’s Gardens. This is a pretty large park where to get lost in and admire the some unique sculptures, as well as the Rosenberg Castle. The castle is guarded off with a fence and soldiers, but you can pay to visit the inside of the castle, its gardens and museum with the crown jewels. If you’re interested in visiting you can find details on their website.
Last but not least, in my opinion, one of the most gorgeous places in Copenhagen is the Tivoli Gardens. I might be biased since I visited in spring when the gardens were in full bloom. There were huge and beautiful tulips and lilies everywhere and some in colors I’ve never even seen them in before! I avoided paying the entrance free (about 12 EUR) until my last day in Copenhagen where my brother persuaded me to go in a rollercoaster with him for all times sake. I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to scream my heart out in a socially acceptable environment.
Rumor has it that Walt Disney was inspired by Tivoli when creating Disneyland and I can certainly see the resemblance. For starters, the mascot at Tivoli is a monkey with red overalls and big yellow buttons. The park itself is divided into different sections, including a type of “tomorrow land” and every Saturday night, the park closes with a beautiful fireworks show that can be appreciated from the surrounding neighborhoods. Tivoli retaliates by selling Disney character merchandise.
Surprisingly, the prices inside the park are quite affordable compared to the city’s. Although the ride prices add up, food, drinks and souvenirs are the cheapest I saw in the city. There also packages you can buy if you intend to go on many rides with the additional benefit of reentering the park as many times as you’d like.
You can find the entire list of places I’ve mentioned here, including some beautiful and peaceful cemeteries with cherry blossoms, which I believe bloom around February but the petals are quickly blow away by the Danish wind. Remember, you can download Copenhagen’s map on Google maps to save data. For instructions on how to download offline Google maps in your phone check out my The Essentials post.
Copenhagen is a beautiful city with so much to offer so I hope you enjoy every moment despite what the weather might offer. Even when exhausted from walking all day remember to look up and take everything in… always BE PRESENT.