WAYS TO MAKE A METROPOLIS LIKE MADRID MANAGEABLE
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.
WAYS TO MAKE MADRID YOURS
- FIND AN APARTMENT HOME BASE
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.
28012 Madrid, Spain
- MUNCH AT A MERCADO
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
- TAKE COFFEE WITH THE LOCALS
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.
Calle Mayor 2, 28013 Madrid, Spain
- PICK OUT ONE MUSEUM FOR ART
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
- FIND A NEIGHBORHOOD FOR TAPAS
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.
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.
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.
Plaza Sta. Ana 17, 28012 Madrid, Spain
- SLOW DOWN, SOAK IT IN
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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57 thoughts on “Make Madrid Yours”
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I’m still in transition from hotel to apartments for my travels. We’ve been getting away with staying at hotels but as my children grow older, partly out of necessity for the space and to keep within budget, we are slowly moving towards apartments.
I always try to hit the market when I’m visiting a new place! And those tapas are making my stomach growl. #FarawayFiles
Yes – my kids are a little bigger than yours – teenagers! So I definitely need space when traveling! We all do! Cheers and thanks for linking up with FarawayFiles this week! -Erin
There’s only been one place I’ve visited that I haven’t loved and that was Aachen, but I don’t think I could ever give it a second chance. The historic part was pretty cool, but I found the city really dirty, scummy and a lot of homeless people laying on benches, the buildings and homes that ugly 70’s style cement style. It just wasn’t for me. But it certainly seems giving Madrid a second chance was definitely worth it! I liked how you really worked hard to make it a better experience. #FarawayFiles
Ok – that was kind of my gut reaction to Pisa as well. Saw the tower, skedaddled.
Yes now that I think about it I felt that way too about Pisa
I have been to places that didn’t click, but Madrid, despite its size, was one that I instantly fell in love with. I loved the big city vibe and felt like it was a latin mix of London and NYC, I know that sounds bizarre! We nearly always stay in apartments and eat at markets. I love your advice, your points are all things I click with!
Good! Yes – I’m glad I gave it another shot. I always seek out the local market – nice to see what is offered locally! Cheers, Erin
I remember your other post about Madrid – I’m so pleased you went back and had a great time. I agree about apartments. You really feel part of the place if you have a proper base to go home to. The museums sound tempting in Madrid- I really must go! #FarawayFiles
Yes – apartments are perfect pick especially when traveling with kids – being able to start the day with some familiar fuel from the fridge is fantastic! Cheers from Copenhagen!
For longer stays we love an apartment, it makes you feel as if you belong. My boys have declared that they would like a weekend away for their birthday (chips of the old block) I’ll show them this to lobby for the inclusion of Madrid on the list of possibles.
Haha! Excellent training! Can’t wait to see where they pick! Thanks for linking and engaging with #FarawayFiles – cheers from Copenhagen, Erin
Madrid is a particular favourite of mine – it has all the culture and food sewn up. I will be showing hubby those razor clams.. he loves them and you cant get them in Australia or the UK easily. Mmm Madrid – I think we need to vamos there quickly!
YES! Come to Oregon – we’ll take you digging for razor clams!
Such fantastic tips, Erin. Big cities can be so overwhelming at first – it’s just a joyless experience lurching from one tourist sight to another so I love your tips about making it smaller, more accessible – and infinitely more enjoyable. A brilliant post for #FarawayFiles
Too kind! But I do love Madrid!
This is interesting – I also had no chemistry at all with Madrid when I went. I even met up with Spanish friends from there, but still didn’t feel the love. This is a great guide as I’m sure many other people find it overwhelming too. Your ideas are spot-on
Thanks kindly! Cheers from Copenhagen!
Yes I also remember your post on your first visit to Madrid and it’s great that you managed to make it your own! Fabulous tips here, not just for Madrid but any new destination where you are laying down roots for some time, I especially like coffee with the locals, great idea! Thanks for taking the time to make us think differently about somewhere big and new!
That was one of my favorite things – nestled in at the counter at La Mallorquina listening and watching and learning! Cheers, Erin
Lovely Post and beautiful pictures! Thanks for the recomendations 🙂 #FarawayFiles
Thank you kindly! Cheers from Copenhagen!
It is so great that you had a different experience the second time. My favorite thing about getting to know a new place is the “self-guided” walking tour. I love initially just walking around and seeing what is there. #farawayfiles
Great idea! Do you download anything to help guide you where to start or are you more of a rambler? For me – it depends on whether I have kids in tow or not!
We also had a terrible first time in Madrid largely due to the bin men strike. Our only good day was when we did a day trip to Toledo. Maybe it’s worth a second chance #farawayfiles
Yes – that would definitely make a bad first impression! I did love it second go round!
You did a great job finding some of the best things to do in Madrid. I lived there for many months, and my daughter did the same years later, and I think we would have come up with a similar list of things to do in a few days’ time. Of course, we have a few more, but you can ask for those when you are ready for your third trip! 🙂
Perfect! I’ll definitely hit you up! Cheers from a much chillier Copenhagen today – Erin
Maybe because I don’t live in a huge city I don’t find big cities intimidating when I travel. On the contrary I quite enjoy them!;) #farawayfiles
It’s funny – it’s not all big cities – I love Paris, Berlin, San Fran and Sydney – but it took a little longer to click with Madrid – love it now!
Until recently I’ve been very resistant to the idea of an apartment while traveling, maybe it’s because it feels too much like home and I’m looking for an escape when I travel, but you may have changed my mind… We didn’t have time to explore Madrid on our last visit to Spain, but I am hoping to get there someday…
It might be the difference between having two kids and having three. Very rare to find hotel rooms that accommodate more than 4 and I don’t want to have two separate rooms, but like having a little personal space between my nearly man-children! 😉 Madrid is amazing, but I think you saw some epic Spain! Cheers and thanks for engaging with #FarawayFiles, Erin
Even with two it can be tough, we’ve had to book two rooms in many cities, but If I want to keep up this traveling habit I’m thinking I’d better consider airbnb! 😉
Depending on where you go – sooo affordable and Booking.com adding apartments to their lineup as well. TripAdvisor also has “vacation rentals” from private owners. Some are better than others, but check reviews and ask questions to find the best fit!
I totally agree about the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. We loved it there as it was manageable and we didn’t end up with museum fatigue. In fact we ignored the Prado altogether and plumped for this one and the Reina Sofia. The best way to make a city more manageable is to feel confident enough that you don’t have to see the major sights. We often just find a spot to chill and watch the world go by.
YES. Exactly. Museum fatigue is real folks. And while there are “expected” sites you are supposed to see – I think sometimes that adds to the overwhelm. I had never even heard of the Thyssen-Bornemisza – was actually headed to the Prado, stopped in for a peek and was like… HELLO. This is an art museum collection of perfection! Cheers and thanks for engaging with #FarawayFiles
My favorite time in Madrid was getting woken up from my “siesta” by the whole Real Madrid team who were dining in the restaurant opposite the apartment we’re staying in. I didn’t know who they were at the time and I was wondering why there were so many photographers and people around. LOL. Other than that, I do love Spain’s tapas culture. Hard not to love it. :p
That is an amazing story and I’m sure millions would have loved to have been in your shoes! So fun! Real Madrid! Yes, hard not to love tapas! Cheers and thanks for engaging with #FarawayFiles!
I love Madrid, so, I didn’t need to give it another chance. I enjoyed my second visit to the max. Agree it is very important to eat and mingle with the locals. That gives you a sense of place. You feel welcome in their city. #FarawayFiles
I’m so glad I went back to Madrid. Did you ever “not click” with a place besides Madrid? #EatLocal is my mantra! Thanks for connecting –
Having recently moved home after living in Madrid for three years, your post certainly made me nostalgic 🙂 What I’d do to be back!!
I’m sure I will feel that way about Copenhagen!
Your post made me hungry for tapas… and breakfast! I’m hoping to make it to Madrid soon, and will be checking out your suggestions. I’m usually a hotel dweller, but your Airbnb here sounds amazing!
Let me know if you want the link – perfect for two!
I’ve always been a huge advocate for staying in apartments when travelling. I think it’s better to stay off the main tourist areas, and immerse closer to the locals. You can observe their daily habits and discover great local cafes and bars that may not be in tourist books or websites, but are totally amazing. Your tips are all excellent ways to slowly adjust to a new big place.
Thanks Ali! Cheers from Copenhagen – thanks for joining in with #FarawayFiles. Erin
Good to read about your lovely experience in Madrid on your second visit. Finding an apartment overlooking the plaza was a great idea. I can imagine that that itself set the tone of your visit.
Yes – it was amazing!
Grrrrr… I read this an hour before lunchtime – absolutely starving now! ;o) Reading your article I can practically taste the tapas already.
And I can’t believe that you got an apartment right ON the Plaza Mayor. Similar to your first impressions of Madrid, my first “dates” with Airbnb have been underwhelming (verging on scary); I think I need to give it another chance. Greetings from Luxembourg #FarawayFiles
I’ve always preferred countryside to cities, so Madrid has never been on my list to visit. You make it sound rather more appealing though – definitely good to focus in and see something in depth rather than try to experience it all. #farawayfiles
So glad you gave it another go. I have visited Madrid twice – once to party with friends and the other as a family. So I’ve seen different sides to the city but I was really taken by it and would definitely go again one day. #farawayfiles
Yes – WHO you go travelling with will always color your experience won’t it? I love exploring with my kids, but sometimes it is SOOO nice to have an “adult” only holiday! Thanks for engaging with #FarawayFiles – looking forward to seeing where you take us this week – cheers, Erin
Great to re-read for #citytripping. Can’t believe the position of your apartment. Perfect for immersing yourself into Madrid! Some great tips here. I’m a Picasso fan so know where to head next time.
When I visited Madrid, I liked the city, but I didn’t fall in love with it. I felt like you did, an awkward, bad first date. After reading your post, I’m beginning to think maybe I missed something. If I get the chance to go back, I’d revisit and take my time as you did. Perhaps we need to do that everywhere we go: Take our travels slower and with a little more intent. #citytripping
Great tips – I haven’t been to Madrid (yet) but it’s so easy to feel overwhelmed in big cities, I think, especially to start with. I definitely agree about having your own space, since my daughter came along I love AirBNB or apartments. And touristy though they might be, I like the open top buses, or a walking tour sometimes, to help get my bearings at the start and feel a bit less like a rabbit in the headlights. Thanks for linking up with #citytripping
Yes – a preview of the city is a great way to start – I always recommend the canal tour here in Copenhagen – a perfect overview! Cheers, Erin
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