How manage a metropolis like Madrid | Ways to Make it Yours via Oregon Girl Around the World

Make Madrid Yours


When my family first met Madrid – the capital of Spain – we were overwhelmed. Sometimes you just don’t click on the first date. Yes, Madrid was nice enough. Attractive enough. But the chemistry just wasn’t there. Do you know what I mean? It definitely wasn’t the worst date ever and we have fond memories of foods tasted and experiences shared, but we were definitely not interested in a repeat. No second dates required. Thanks, but no gracias.

So when my husband had an opportunity to travel back to Madrid for work, at first I didn’t get very excited. Too many other places to see.  But maybe it wasn’t about Madrid. Maybe it was about me. Maybe Madrid needed a second look. A second date of sorts. I am SO GLAD I said yes. Two years later. This September.

But how to make it mine this time. How to avoid a bad first date syndrome again. Madrid is big. You have to be ready for it. I want you to make Madrid yours. It is so worth trying.

So how do you make a huge city like Madrid feel less intimidating? More like yours? I will be happy to show you how I made Madrid mine. More intimate. More accessible. More approachable.



If you read along with our travels at Oregon Girl you know that I am a big fan of apartment rentals when it comes to travel. We have five in our family and hotels rarely fit us. But even when I’m not traveling with all my not-so-littles in tow, I look to apartments to create a home base in a new town. I appreciate being able to get some essentials to keep in the fridge, have a little more space to stretch out and make some coffee in the morning. I found an amazing apartment via Airbnb that gave us access to popular Plaza Mayor. Literally overlooking this central square on the city. Somehow being part of the action, but in my own space made it mine. I could enjoy the view from my balcony, but not feel the pull and sway of the crowds and masses. It was perfection.


Madrid | Spain Tips to make this Metropolis yours from Oregon Girl Around the World
Staying on one of Madrid’s main squares makes it more personal

Plaza Mayor


When first in a city, it nice to know what the local landscape offers in edible options. A market – or mercado in Spanish – is a perfect way to assess and sample. When in Madrid – don’t miss the wonderful Mercado San Miguel. Tapas and tastes from the many vendors here is a great place to start your taste tour of Madrid. Grab a glass and pick a plate. Pointing and gesturing welcomed and allowed here.

Mercado San Miguel
Plaza de San Miguel, 28005 Madrid, Spain

Madrid | Spain Tips to make this Metropolis yours from Oregon Girl Around the World


What better way to immerse yourself in a place as major as Madrid than share your breakfast shoulder to shoulder with Madrileños. Make your way to La Mallorquina. Meet the pretty pink señora of pastries waiting for you at the corner of Puerta del Sol. Ogle the baked goods and peruse the wares from the windows. Then step inside. It is bustling and busy and charming in here. Somehow standing downstairs at the counter made me feel connected. Entrenched. Part of it. Something about La Mallorquina feels sacred and delicious. So different from the pushy buskers in the Puerta next door.

La Mallorquina
Calle Mayor 2, 28013 Madrid, Spain


Madrid is made for museum lovers. And if you love art – then you are in luck. But don’t get overwhelmed when it comes to the options. For true lovers of art – the grand Museo Nacional del Prado is king. But for many, its massive halls can make minds numb to masters. It may have my kids.

Are you a fan of Picasso? Then the Reina Sofia is for you. Just to wind through and see Guernica alone. It’s impressive in size. But so are the masses that march through to see it. May I recommend an alternative. The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum is an accessible tour through well known art history. With just one of each master, each room offers something for everyone.

Museo Thyssen Bornemisza
Paseo del Prado 8, 28014 Madrid, Spain


While Madrid may be walkable, knowing where you are headed helps this metropolis become manageable. Making an effort to move just a little way past the main tourist drags gives many options for menus that can prove memorable. We found delicious and authentic meals in tiny tapas tidbits as we moved from stop to stop. Here’s where I recommend for trying some tapas.

La Latina:
Truck your toes towards Calle Cava Baja and Calle de la Cava Alta. So many options up and down these quaint little streets. We tried a wine bar called Temperanillo with excellent and affordable wine by the glass and tasty simple tapas.

El Temperanillo
Calle Cava Baja 38, 28005 Madrid, Spain


Just through Retiro Park, up past the Puerta de Alcalá you will find another neighborhood street of tapas bars to treasure. All along Calle Dr. Castelo are tasty stops to tempt you. Try a cold Mahou with any of their house plates. Try one at each stop. Try your Spanish. Or not. There are few tourists here.

Taberna El Capricho
Calle Dr. Castelo 14, 28009 Madrid, Spain

Atlántico Casa de Petiscos
Av. de Menéndez Pelayo 11, 28009 Madrid, Spain


No time to meander so far from the center? Don’t worry – the Huertas neighborhood will be perfect for you. Cruise cozy Calle de la Huertas to Plaza Santa Ana. Here there are several tabernas to try. Find one that suits you and pick a spot on the square. I can highly recommend Zahara. Try the tuna tartare and the crispy shrimp cake.



Madrid is made for people watching. Roll through Retiro. Pick a bench or a café. Listen to live music. Watch the performers perform. Enjoy the parade. Drop a coin in the box. See what happens. Connect with the people. Make it yours.

How do you make a place feel manageable? Especially in a town as magical and major as Madrid? I’d love to hear.

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Madrid | Spain via Oregon Girl Around the World

Make Madrid Mine

Madrid didn’t do it for me. Not the first time. Millions and millions of Madrileños can’t be wrong. But it didn’t make my heart sing. Not at first.

Maybe we missed the magic of Madrid. The first time.

Let’s rewind. For a minute. Two years ago. Having moved my family around the world to Copenhagen, Denmark. We took a flight leaving Portland, OR to Vancouver, Canada on to Frankfurt, Germany then finally landing in Copenhagen. Capital of Denmark. That alone was exhausting. We picked up a tiny (at the time) rental car and dropped seven HUGE overstuffed overweight bags at my husband’s office. What a great first impression that was. And then, after only two days in damp, dark Denmark, we took our very first European family trip.

Why? Why did you do that? Well. We had a few weeks before my husband’s job contract was to start and the children had open spots in their new school. We had to move out of our house in Oregon because we’d already rented it to incoming Aussies. What better way to spend those gap weeks than traveling. Immediately. I know it sounds intense. (As it turns out – it was.) But this was part of the reason we took the job in Denmark to begin with. All those amazing travel opportunities.

We decided on Spain. For a week. We planned to split the week between Barcelona and Madrid. That Renfe express train between the two cities is amazeballs. You should try it. It was November. It was definitely not peak season to visit Spain. Perfect timing we decided. The weather was pleasant. Not too hot. Not too cold. Definitely warmer and brighter and lighter than the dark, near December we encountered upon landing in Denmark.

Fall in Retiro Park, Madrid SPAIN

This was Spain. This was my first visit to Spain. My husband’s first trip to Spain. My childrens’ first visit to Spain. This is why I chose it. Why we chose it. I wanted our first familial foray into European exploits to be a FIRST for us all. Perhaps in retrospect, a wee bit of familiarity might have been preferable. Make our transition easier. Maybe.

Madrid is amazing. But Madrid is a metropolis. The third largest capital in Europe behind London and Berlin. Madrid is HUGE. And crowded and bustling and busy and loud and large. We were overwhelmed. Overstimulated. Exhausted. And because of this, I will admit, we were underwhelmed with the Spanish capital. Lo ciento España. I’m sorry Madrid.

Madrid is a METROPOLIS. It is mega huge.

We had a perfectly situated Airbnb apartment near Puerta del Sol. The epicenter of Madrid. Of Spain, really. This is kilometer zero. All mileage in Spain is calculated from this point. There is where first impressions are made. Ours ? A wary sense of outsider-ness. I don’t know how to explain it any other way.

It was different from Barcelona’s colorful, whimsical, mosaic’d and mercado’d  beach vibe. Madrid hit us like a Flamenco dancer – fast and loud – clapping and stomping to a beat we couldn’t hear. We couldn’t understand.

Maybe it was the somewhat intimidating costumed characters strolling around the plaza at Puerta del Sol looking for a little pocket change in exchange for a photo op from passing tourists. Chubby spider men busting the seams of their suits; slightly tarnished Mickey and Minnie Mouses taking breaks with their “head” under their arms. But the most disturbing and definitely creepiest – was the red headed giant butcher knife wielding Chucky looming atop the fountain mid plaza. THIS is what my daughter, then 8, remembers most about Madrid. Did you see him? He was creepy.

I have to jog her memory (and mine) about the delicious chocolate con churros at world famous Chocolatería San Ginés. OH YEAH! Those were good! Can we get those again? Maybe. We’ll see. And how about that stroll through Retiro Park, listening to the live music at that outdoor cafe while boats paddled in the nearby lake? Oh yeah! That was good too. Is THAT where we had the milkshake? Yes. Yes it was.

And how about renting bikes and riding along the canals down to Casa de Campo (a gorgeous green space/park five times the size of New York’s Central Park?) Remember we found the ropes course and climbing structure? That was MADRID? Yes. Yes it was. OH. That was cool! A little stressful I will admit as parents letting our 8 year old ride an adult sized bike in a not as bike-friendly town as our new home Copenhagen, but she did it. In spite of the hills!

And how about that kilo of bacon we bought at the Museo del Jamon? HAHAHAHA! Group chuckle inducing memory jog. Having just moved to Europe and not yet used to metric weight system, I ordered one kilo of bacon. It seemed reasonable at the time. There are five us and three are growing children. As we watched him slice and slice and slice….and SLICE. And. SLICE. And keep slicing. We soon realized we’d made a critical error. OH. Kilos. Got it. (For those of you – who like me – didn’t get the conversion immediately – one kilo of bacon is exactly 2.2 pounds of bacon.) Yep. I cooked that bacon for an hour. Couldn’t take raw bacon home to Denmark you know. I will admit – although I couldn’t shake that animal fat smell for days – it was delicious.


So many fun memories when we sit and think about it. So why then the ho-hum response when we look back at Madrid on our list of places visited? Timing. Bad timing. Unfortunately I think our collective familial state of shock that we had actually packed up all our earthly goods, sold off half, put some on a ship and stored the rest in my mother’s attic and shlepped ourselves AROUND THE WORLD – before even establishing ourselves in our new home just MIGHT have had a little to do with it.

When my husband had an opportunity to travel back to Madrid for work, at first I wasn’t interested. Too many other places to see. Don’t need a repeat. But I am SO GLAD I did. Two years later. This September. I will be happy to show you how I made Madrid mine. More intimate. More accessible. More approachable.

How do you make a huge city feel less intimidating? More like yours? I’ve got ways. Now. I’ve had to learn. Ways we have made it work in the past two years. I’m happy to share. I’d like to hear yours. Madrid is mine part II to follow. Stay tuned. Memories help – a place looks better in retrospect sometimes. Look at all those things we did. We are grateful. That matters. It helps make a place like Madrid ours.

Cheers from Copenhagen, xoxo Erin


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Sharing with Faraway Files Travel Blog Community – a link up hosted by Katy at Untold Morsels, Clare at Suitcases and Sandcastles and me – Oregon Girl Around the World. Click the badge to add your own post or come over and read where to travel next! Cheers, Erin


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