All You Need to Know About Madrid

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.

In this post, I break down Madrid for the traveler who wants to visit like a local. I’ll share every relevant thing I’ve learned while living in Madrid, such as late dinner times, as well as the best ways to travel. You’ll be surprised by the many travel options that Spain offers and the diverse possibilities for near travel from Madrid. Let’s begin by listing the best neighborhood, aka barrios, in Madrid.

“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.  MUST WHEN IN LAVAPIES!

“If you’re a risk-taker and want to blend in with the locals and expats…”

Plaza 2 de mayo
Botellón @ Plaza Dos de Mayo

If you’re a risk-taker and want to blend in with the locals and expats, 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 complaints, and there are people who have been fined in this plaza, so this is an “at your own risk” experience.

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. This barrio is also home to numerous boutiques, bars, restaurants, and local specialty stores.

My favorite thing about Malasaña is its plentitude of original street art thanks to a festival called “Pinta Malasaña” where shop owners select an artist to decorate their storefront. This fest is celebrated annually, keeping the art fresh and different every year, while making way to new local artists.

PintaMalasaña
Street Art from Pinta Malasaña

La Latina is the neighborhood for foodies. It is home to the many restaurants and 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. 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.

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 and wait a while to get seated. Another great rooftop that is frequented by travelers, since it belongs to a hostel, is The Hat. In your in the mood for Asturian cider, a cute place with a terrace near the metro stop is La Bobia. The bottle of cider is affordable and shareable. It is also low alcohol content, and great day drink.

 

Goya
Plaza de Goya

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, except for Christmas time. Although busy, 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 NOR 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:

  • Thyssen Museum is free on Mondays but closes at 4pm.
  • History Museum of Madrid is always free
  • Avoid route buses during rush hour.
  • Avoid bocadillo de calamares.
    I love calamares but fried calamari on a dry baguette is not the best. Drier than a  torta de tamal (yet another Mexican reference, worth a Google)
  • Avoid taxis departing from the center.
    Use Uber or Cabify., they cannot enter the small streets but can pick you up on main 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 by 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.
  • Spanish schedule:
    • breakfast 9-10am
    • lunch 3pm: shared rations & tapas (small plates) or menú del día (a preset menu that includes appetizer, meal, drink & dessert)
    • dinner 9-10pm
  • 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
Toledo
Toledo. Castilla La Mancha

DAY TRIPS FROM MADRID

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
  • Málaga is in Andalucía
  • Segovia is Castilla León
  • Toledois in Castilla de la Mancha,

Both Castilla León and Castilla de la Mancha are the neighboring Comunidades to Madrid. The easiest way to understand this is by imagining that the Comunidades are like States.

comunidades-espana
Map of Spain’s “Comunidades Autónomas” for reference

Once you’ve arrived at 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 incredibly easy to travel, not only because of its size but also because of 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. Follow me on Instagram @joyzcortez for more pics and travel ideas! Enjoy every moment of your travels and always BE PRESENT!

Where to Eat and Drink in Madrid

I’ve made three 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 up 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 and best day trips check out the All You Need to Know About Madrid post. This one is for the foodies, a comprehensive list by neighborhood of my fave taverns, bars, holes in the walls, etc.

WHERE TO EAT

Lavapiés is a short walk from Sol and 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!

20190914_210421 (1)
Ceviche peruano in Mercado San Fernando (man butt not included)

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. Check out their opening hours since its best to visit during the day.

Taberna Sanlucar
La Taberna Sanlúcar en La Latina

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 toOff Latina” which is a legit flamenco venue if you’re planning on catching a show.

Buo
Tortilla from Buo en La Latina (objects are larger than they appear)

If Tortilla (Spanish omelet) 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 beware 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.

Extremeño
Tosta de Pulpo & Sangría Blanca, El Capricho Extremeño

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 serves pre-made toasts “To-Go”.

Also in La Latina, Lamiak has 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, it is much better than the popular Mahou. La Playa is not far from the Lavapiés metro stop and it’s on a popular street filled with bars and terraces, which are a hot commodity unless it’s raining since everyone wants to smoke and drink at the outdoor tables.

Chinaski
Beer Menu at Chinaski in Lavapiés

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.

Screen Shot 2019-10-23 at 7.59.45 PM
Yayos at Casa Camacho

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 X1
Decor in Sala Equis

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 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 ideal for an intimate night with friends or a 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.

20190912_010020 (1)
Stranger Things decor at Twist&Shout

Next to Malasaña, you’ll find the famous ChuecaI 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 and 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 nightlife. 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.

20190921_172759
Cafelito with Sarah ❤

Cafelito, cozy and cute coffee shop in Lavapiés with an affordable  and wide menu, including all types of plant-based milks. Conveniently near Toscanaccio, my fave Tuscan bakery.

La Doña is quite affordable, centric, and spacious. it is located next to the 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. Follow me on Instagram @joyzcortez for more pics & travel ideas. Enjoy beautiful Madrid and always BE PRESENT!

The Best of Madrid by a Local

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 three posts about Madrid. In the All You Need to Know About Madrid post I  make a brief reconnaissance of the coolest neighborhoods in Madrid, the best times to visits the museums, understanding Madrid’s public transportation, as well as tips and tricks to experience the city like a local. For the foodies, I recommend checking out the Where & What to Eat Madrid post. This one is 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

IMG_20170929_235729_672 (1)
Km 0 marks the geographical center of Spain

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 touristy thing to do here is taking 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.

Plaza Mayor 2
Plaza Mayor

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.

San Miguel
Bird’s eye view of Mercado San Miguel

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 to 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 in the other hand, you also have the option of the restroom at Corte Inglés for free.

Palacio
Behind the Royal Palace, above the gardens    (I’m so awkward at poses)

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, shown in the pic above.

5. BEHIND PLAZA ESPAÑA

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.

20180414_203207 (1)
Templo Debod in Parque del Oeste

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. The park has the most amazing views and plenty of space for a picnic. Be mindful you’ll have to go up a few stairs to reach the park and temple, also it tends to be windy up here.

7. THE FRONT OF PLAZA ESPAÑA

Walk back down to Plaza España, but this time walk in front of it, towards Gran Vía. This side of the plaza has a large fountain representing the Birth of Water and other large sculptures. Definitely, more impressive with lights at night. If you’re lucky enough to be in Madrid during Pride Fest, this is area hosts one of the largest stages.

8. GRAN VÍA

Walk up to Gran Vía and check out the shops and theaters. I also 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 are 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 THE CENTER

Retiro Estanque
Lake in Retiro Park

RETIRO PARK

This is the largest park closest to the city center. It has several entrances including one by the famous Puerta de Alcalá. The landmarks inside the park are 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 vice versa. Roundtrip is €6 as of summer of 2019.

Faro de Moncloa
Arco de la Victoria next to Moncloa Tower

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 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
View from Círculo de Bellas Artes

CÍRCULO 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 cover and tends to have a line but that sunset view over Gran Vía is totally worth it.

MATADERO

One of my favorite places in Madrid is a little further south of 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, even 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 a huge, new mall if you prefer to avoid the crowds in Gran Vía.

RASTRO

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 pickpocketers 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 the All You Need to Know About Madrid post I  make a brief reconnaissance of the coolest neighborhoods in Madrid, the best times to visits the museums, understanding Madrid’s public transportation, as well as tips and tricks to experience the city like a local. For the foodies, I recommend checking out the Where & What to Eat Madrid post.

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. Follow me on Instagram joyzcortez for more travel pics & ideas. Have fun in beautiful Madrid and always BE PRESENT.

 

A bit about moi

20170430_194749(0)
Plaza Mayor in Madrid

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 become a digital nomad, starting 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 left my introverted shell and met so many wonderful people. 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; the biggest takeaway is to always BE PRESENT.