As you've probably gathered, we are no strangers to Europe. It's one of the easiest destinations to travel to from Boston - both in terms of direct flights and award availability. It also happens to be full of our favorite cities. Spain reigns supreme in terms of our top list.
There's something about the Spanish lifestyle that we identify with. Spaniards are super laid back and extremely welcoming. They know their country is a draw for tourism and they embrace their visitors with open arms. We always feel welcome here - even with our broken Spanish. That's why we're so excited to recap our trip the way we intended it: starting and ending with Madrid.
On the first leg of our trip, we stayed at the Radisson Blu hotel in the El Barrio de las Lestras. The location was perfect for everything we wanted to see and within walking distance. We arrived on a red eye, completely exhausted, hours before check in. Luckily, the front desk was able to offer us a room upgrade for a room that was available. We seized the opportunity to nap! The upgrade came with breakfast, which was perfect. Not to mention, came with ample Nespresso coffee. Overall a very good value.
On our return to Madrid, we stayed at the the Principal Madrid. Although much pricer than our first hotel, the Principal was pure perfection. Comfortable, sprawling rooms are well tended to and the decor is very well done. Although the layout of the hotel is odd, the bonus is that this boutique hotel has a rooftop terrace overlooking bustling Gran Via.
There's so much to do and see in Madrid. First things first, you'll want to check out an art museum. Given our timing, we decided to forgo the Prado in favor of the Reina Sofia Museum, which seemed very manageable than the Prado. Plus, we were more interested in Picasso and Dalí than the Renaissance paintings (although Prado has a much wider range than that).
Make it a priority to visit the Templo de Debod. This Egptytian temple was gifted to Spain as a thank you for helping to preserve some of Egypt's monuments. It's an interesting slice of history to explore in sprawling Madrid.
From there, head to Gran Via. You can catch some sweet views from the top of the Gourmet Experience atop the Corte Inglés. The views and the shopping are to die for.
If your shopping habits err more on the luxury side, head to Salamanca. Here, you'll find every designer boutique known to man. Ask Tim about his time at Chanel. Such a trooper for returning three times with me!
In terms of some less expensive outings (read free), head to the Retiro Park. There's a man-made lake with boats plus the Palacio de Cristal, which reflects the light in the most perfect way possible. You should also check out the cafes and entertainment in Plaza Mayor. Although the talent may ask for a donation, it's a worthwhile place to sit and enjoy a drink,
From neighborhood cafés like La Plateria to Michelin star restaurants, there’s no shortage of good eats in Madrid. Yet, the most unassuming places serve the tastiest tapas we’ve ever had. There’s something so cathartic about hopping from spot to spot, enjoying a beverage and a small bite. You really can’t go wrong in Madrid, but if you’re looking for our tried and true favorites, look no further:
For lunch, try one of the many bustling markets. Mercado San Anton was by far our favorite, although Mercado San Miguel is also quite tasty (albeit host to more foreigners and tourists). Starting from bottom floor, various stalls sell spices, meat, fish bread and other staples. Heading up to the second floor, the smell of delicious fried seafood and various other hot dishes will take you over. Grab a bite and a drink from any of the vendors and make your way over to the counter to indulge. The cured fish toasts were our favorite. Pickled herring anyone? After that, make sure you check out the roof deck on the third floor for a Madrid classic: gin and tonic. I don’t know what it is about Spain, but the gin tastes so much sweeter here.
If you are lucky enough to be in Madrid on a Sunday, you absolutely must head to La Latina. Madridleanos flock here on Sundays to spend time with friends and family, watching futbol and enjoying a pint or two. It’s such a festive environment, with locals and visitors alike. It really felt like we lived here for the afternoon. But Spain has a way of making you feel right at home.
Tim and I stumbled upon Bodega Lucio, where we enjoyed several glasses of the best damn Alberino we’ve ever tasted, with some complimentary tapas (yes, some places still do this!!!). Fresh octopus salad followed crispy pork bites that were out of this world. We also had some Jamon Iberico and manchego to round out our meal. Tim still dreams of this lunch and I can’t deny I do too! This is the type of simplicity and quality that draws us back for more.
Late and relaxed, dinner in Spain is an event – and one to be celebrated at that. Most restaurants open at 9 and many places take reservations either through The Fork or TripAdvisor.
Our first dinner was at La Tragantúa. The owner could not have been more gracious. He ensured everything was perfect for us, including paying close attention to Tim’s allergy. We started with a divine fois gras and ended with some of the yummiest mango mouse we’ve ever had. And Cava! Lots and lots of Cava.
The next night, we hit Gastromaquia in Chueca (one of our favorite neighborhoods). I kid you not when I say the crispy pig ears were by far one of the highlights of our entire trip. Order it and thank me later. Trust. Other dishes were also very good (tuna tartare, goat cheese to name a few) but the ears were a standout.
Our final recommendation in Madrid is La Cabrera. More of a cocktail bar, this place serves up some incredible libations. However, the food is equally as excellent. The steak tartare and the oxtail were incredible. The boquerones were some of the best we’ve ever had. The only drawback was the loud New Yorker two tables away. But what can we say? Can’t live with them, can’t live without them (looking at you DK).
For more of our holiday in Spain, click here.