Insiders Guide to Madrid

Madrid, where do I begin?

In my mind, Madrid was going to be somewhere I didn’t like. I imagined it would be polluted, busy, hot, and an overly crowded commercial city without a heart; without a soul. I couldn’t have been more wrong. So wrong, to the point I've returned back three times in a matter of four months. 

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Five days. That’s all I had in the bustling city of Madrid the first time around. Madrid captivated me so much, I returned back a few weeks later. And while I was personally able to make the most of it, hopping from museum to cafe to landmark to Jamón Ibérico stand to smoothie shop to cocktail bar to gastronomic experiences with reckless abandon, it was simply not enough time. So much so that I returned back a few weeks later; and flash forward a couple months later, here I am in the Spanish Capital once again -- a third time in four months. Madrid swept me off my feet, and placed me in a love spell. There is an exiting buzz to this city, that one cannot explain without experiencing it all.

Like many other travelers to Spain, I overlooked the Spanish capital as a destination to visit. Madrid, often overshadowed by its northern coastal neighbor, beach-y Barcelona; there seems little reason for this, though. It's a place with gratifying food fare, fantastic museum exhibitions, a vibrant nightlife, luxurious shopping, incredible sights, charming neighborhoods, and an up-and-coming coffee culture.

Insiders guide to madrid

It's a place where the weather is reminiscent of the West Coast -- hot, dry summers, mild, balmy winters and sunny spring and autumn days with infrequent rainfall. It's a place where even those that aren't erudite in Spanish can get around; you'll find that many people speak English. It's a city, like many American metropolis is experiencing gentrification caused by the global economic downturn of 2008; yet so humble you feel like you are part of a community. It is as hipster if you will. So hipster it practically hurts and rightfully so comparable to Brooklynn, San Francisco and Portland. As a millennial, I despise the term, hipster, but for the sake of painting you a picture, it'll do.

There have been plenty of times that I've chatted with other travelers that either loved or hated Madrid. There is no in between. I think this is due to the comparison to Barcelona. Barça, it is not. Far from it. It would be like visiting New York and expecting LA; two buzzing cities but completely different in every regard.

Spain is a country filled with plenty of rich history that has shaped a lot of the Americas and for me personally, who I am and my Latin heritage and roots. So, naturally, why wouldn't I be attracted to this magical place? 

Get excited yet again for that glorious feeling of teetering in the unknown; this time, by way of Madrid..

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Neighborhoods

Madrid hosts many neighborhoods that offers up something for everyone. Here are my top 3 neighborhoods worth spending time in:

Barrio de las Letras

Also known as Huertas, this is a central neighborhood in Madrid with some of the best, trendiest bars and restaurants. Huertas was once home to many of Spain’s most famous literary figures. It is very close to Atocha, which is another boho-chic neighborhood. Come here for sightseeing or for its great nightlife.

Malasaña

Close to Chueca, Malasaña is also one of the trendiest neighborhoods in Madrid, well known for its counter-cultural scene. It was the hub of the movida movement in Madrid in the 1970s and 1980s and to this date it conserves its alternative atmosphere. The nightlife here is much less pretentious than elsewhere in Madrid, so if you are looking for a fun but relaxed night out this is the place to be. There are also many boutiques to be discovered in this area.

Chueca

Chueca is one of the most vibrant neighborhoods in Madrid, and is known as the LGBTQ neighborhood. It's home to the trendiest bars, restaurants and shops. Many of Madrid’s youth, LGBTQ or not, head to this neighborhood at night for its fun, relaxed, atmosphere and its chic establishments. Come here and enjoy the stylish atmosphere whilst sipping on some sangria on one of the many outdoor terraces.

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EAT

First and foremost, most of my list of recommendations is credited to my friend and the cocktail master Diego Cabrera of Salmon Guru.  Without his recommendations, I'm sure we'd be rambling aimlessly around Madrid using TripAdvisor, ending up sub-par, tourist-filled places. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but a local guide's opinion takes priority, and bartenders tend to be "in the know."(My tip? Always ask the bartender. They are always "in-the-know.") You should know that Madrid has a plethora of traditional, authentic Spanish cuisine and world-class dining with a contrasting flair. A city that is making it's mark in the global foodie scene, here are some of the must-try places to eat in Madrid: 

Tapas and Vermut at Mercado de San Miguel

Tapas and Vermut at Mercado de San Miguel

Yatai Market

Yatai Market

Eat your heart out at Mercado de San Miguel. Sure, it's a tourist-laden mercado, but an excellent way to get a quick intro to Madrid. The beautiful Mercado de San Miguel sits next to Plaza Mayor and serves a variety of pastries, snacks, and tapas. Locals and tourists alike flock here to sample fresh nibbles, and it’s a great way to see Madrid through the eyes of its natives. Yatai Market is the new kid on the foodie marketplace block. This is cute food market stands out with the whole concept and an ode to Asian street food. Here you'll find plenty of stands from boa to ramen to sushi and poke bowls. Mercado San Antón and Mercado de Antón Martín are two others worth checking out. 

StreetXO

StreetXO

Insiders Guide to Madrid
StreetXO

StreetXO

Shrimp at Taberna Del Sur

Shrimp at Taberna Del Sur

Prepare to get your mind blown at David Muñoz's more casual Asian-fusion StreetXO. This is a dining experience you'll never forget. A visit here requires zero reservation but DO early arrive. Get here 30 minutes before it opens at 8:30 pm without having to wait 2 hours. And above all, try and snag a spot at the bar. It is all part of the dining experience here--dinner is basically a show! 

Sala de Despiece is a must on your Madrid foodie to-do list. They don't take reservations; you'll just need to be patient and hope spots open up quickly. All the dishes are in some way, shape or form traditional Spanish cuisine with modern and artful influences. A must order is the Rolex, a flavorful and rich dish bacon wrapped foie gras and rich yolk. The server comes to you and melts the bacon with a torch, enhancing the visual experience. Nothing is left unimagined here. 

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insiders guide to madrid triciolo
Dinner at Angelitas

Dinner at Angelitas

The red prawns, in particular, are worth a visit at TriCiclo; an elegant but unassuming at the same time kinda place.

Angelita will not disappoint. The tomato salad, possibly the best tomatoes I have ever eaten, dressed to shine in EVOO and sea salt. And a must order dish is the Pork--so tender and yet so rich with fat and yet still cooked to a medium level. After dinner head downstairs and enjoy a cocktail in their cocktail bar.

GoFio is an excellent place for Canaria cuisine. The food is traditional but with a modern interpretation.  The price is really good for the quality of food and experience. Make sure to have reservations for dinner as it tends to get busy most nights. 

Subtle, refined, tasteful and tasty, that's what you'll find at Bistronomica. The restaurant has an intimate and relaxed vibe, making it a perfect dinner escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. The food is a modern take on Spanish cuisine with simple flavors with a few standouts being the raw fish preparations.

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Very nice, modern dining room of La Malaje is a quite unexpected Andalusian restaurant in Madrid's old city. Try the tortilla on gazpacho with an Andalusian wine; you won't be disappointed.

For really good Northern Europe cuisine with a menu that changes daily, Fismuler is a place you'll enjoy. Taberna el Sur for really good Spanish food in a casual environment.

Taste the sea at Glass Mar. Located inside the Hotel Urban, Glass Mar will excite your sense. Order the tasting menu and you won't be disappointed. 

Founded in 1725, Sobrino de Botin is one of the oldest restaurants continuously operating in the world, the oldest being Ma Yu Ching's Bucket Chicken House.

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Healthy Eats

There is no denying that Madrid is full of amazing place to eat. But what happens when you just can’t eat any more jamon, cheese, and vermut? It’s time to head to one of Madrid’s healthy spots, juice bars, and eco-friendly cafes. Thanks to vegan foodie and insta-friend Steffana, I was able to find a balance!

Honest Greens is beautiful, yet casual restaurant is in the financial district of Madrid so gets quite busy during lunch times. You can get warm entree plates or amazing entree salads. They also serve a range of juices that they make on site (and bottle) that are delicious. Absolutely delicious vegetarian food, lovely place and great service, Level Bistro is a great place for a plant-based lunch. Located in Malasana, Super Chulo is a twist on asian fusion but with a vegetarian flair.  Frutas Prohibidas in Chuca neighborhood is a really good lunch spot with a great menu offering of items like avocado toast, salads, acai bowls, smoothies, juices and nut milks. Fit Food is another good smoothie spot offering juices, acai bowls and nut milks with various locations around Madrid. 

Flat White at Toma Cafe

Flat White at Toma Cafe

And, a trip anywhere wouldn't be complete without coffee, and as a self-proclaimed coffee snob, you know my search for the best was on. The coffee culture in Madrid is thriving, and you'll find plenty of great places serving up single origin beans in any form from flat white, americano and single drip. Toma Cafe is an institute for being the trailblazer in the coffee scene in Madrid. , HanSo Cafe is great for that uber hip coffee spot with breakfast items like Avocado Toast and Matcha waffles. They also make a really good matcha latte if coffee isn't your thing. Coffee and Kicks and ZeroPoint are also great spots to stop for a good cup of coffee.


insiders guide to madrid salmon guru
Madrid Travel Guide Salmon Guru
Madrid Travel Guide Salmon Guru

DRINKS

It is said that Madrid has more bars per capita than anywhere else in the world. If you want to ditch the beers and sip on something a little more elegant, there are plenty of cocktail bars not to be missed. 

Your first stop? Salmón Gurú, the latest venture from Diego Cabrera. This boutique sized cocktail bar with an eclectic speakeasy feel, are serving up some of the best drinks I've had. Creative and dressed to impress. Hungry? The lite bites don't stand far behind. Located in the super cool neighborhood of Malasaña is 1862 Dry Bar that brings a dash of old glamour and vintage cocktail classics. Located under Angelita's is Bar Americano offers a hint of a speakeasy vibe, down-right delicious cocktails, and an impressive collection of rare spirits. Filled with antique and restored furniture, V Manneken is another great place for classics. The Bar at Ten Con Ten for a G&T. Madrid’s favorite cocktail is the gin and tonic—and there’s no better one than at Ten Con Ten. This chic bar is hugely popular with upscale Madrileños and celebrities. The eclectic menu also includes queen scallops, roasted octopus, Asturian beans with quail, and monkfish hamburger. Be sure to reserve your spot well in advance!

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Hotel Urban Madrid Travel Guide Madrid
Urban Hotel

Urban Hotel

The cutest little corner in Madrid in my  Airbnb .

The cutest little corner in Madrid in my Airbnb.

SLEEP

Airbnb. This is the most perfect way to experience Madrid like a real local. Opt for neighborhoods like Alonso Martínez, Barrio de las Letras or Malasaña.

It’s all about location, location, location. And, the Hotel Urban 5*GL is sitting in the center of it all, with high-end and high-street boutiques all within a short stroll, and some more bohemian hipster-neighborhood-feel atmosphere kind of shops within steps of the hotel. The Urban Hotel is precisely what a five-star hotel should be, where not one detail is left undone.

High-roller and feeling fancy? Hotel Ritz, Madrid is your place. Built in 1910, this beautiful Belle Époque hotel offers excellent restaurants and an intimate cocktail bar. Don’t miss the luxury spa wellness center, which offers premium massage treatments and facials. The Hotel Orfila is a stunning boutique with cream-color walls, a flowered patio, and a rooftop terrace. Built in 1886, the hotel feels more like an art gallery with its period furniture and marble décor. Single, double, family, and panorama rooms all with Wi-Fi are available at La Pepa Chic. La Pepa Chic, a modest B&B in the historic center, is close to the Atocha train station and has an Art Nouveau feel.

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The Wellness Experience Spa

The Wellness Experience Spa

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Super cute and uber cool tee's at Typographia

Super cute and uber cool tee's at Typographia

INSIDERS GUIDE TO MADRID SHOPPING

PLAY

As a lively capital city, full of history and culture, beautiful parks, and exciting nightlife, Madrid envelops everything a traveler could ever want -- world class museums, spas, culture.

First and foremost visiting the Golden Triangle of world-class museums: Prado Museum, the Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Fundación Reina Sofia. Get lost strolling around Paseo del Prado, Puerta del Sol, Plaza Mayor and the Retiro Park.

Flamenco Dinner is a must. One of the most iconic forms of dance, Flamenco originated in Spain and still plays an important role in the culture. Madrid has a range of venues that offer Flamenco shows with a traditional Spanish dinner—a lively and fantastic way to spend the evening. Be sure to check out Villa Rosa  or Corral de la Morería.

Catch a fútbol Match. Fútbol (aka soccer) fan or not, catch a Real Madrid match at Santiago Bernabéu Stadium. Not into the sport? It's a great way to get a peak into another side of the culture here. Or, at the very least ogle over Cristiano Ronaldo. 

Marvel at Palacio de Cristal. Located inside of Retiro Park, the Palacio de Cristal was built in 1887 and is made almost entirely of glass set in an iron framework. It is set in a 130-hectare park alongside a large lake where there is a variety of flora and more than 15,000 trees to discover on a sunny Spanish afternoon.

Visit the Catedral de la Almudena. This ornate cathedral is one of the largest in Europe and blends a neo-Gothic style with modern statues and pop art décor. Construction took more than a century and the cathedral was only consecrated in 1993.

Be Well and relax. Allow yourself to be taken to a world of relaxation and beauty at Wellness Boutique Experience, Chi Spa, or The Natura Bissé spa at the Urso. Get pampered, primped and lashes at The Lab Room.

Shop till you drop. Madrid offers plenty of shopping with your typical run-of-the-mill shops from Gucci to Zara. But, if that isn't your thing for the obvious reasons, and then head to Malasana, Chuca and Barrio de las Letras. A few of my favorite must visit shops have been: Typographia for screen printed tee's, Trakabarraka and Kling for vibrant mod fashion, and . Vintage and second-hand shops, check out Magpie VintageThe The Storage, and Flamingos Vintage KiloNomada Market is a pretty rad place for shopping that brings together creative designers and dozens of shops. If you're into vinyl head to El Almacén de Discos and Recycled Music Centre.

Valerie Fidan

Valerie is a San Francisco native who gave up the comforts of home to travel the world continuously. Now based in Portland, OR, Valerie is a Social Media Marketing Consultant, helping solo entrepreneurs and small business owners DIY their social media by teaching them the in’s and out’s of SMM. She enjoys health hacking recipes, a good cocktail, yoga, hikes, live shows, puns & dad jokes.

Suite Life: Hotel Urban Madrid

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It’s all about location, location, location. The Hotel Urban 5*GL in Madrid is sitting in the center of it all, with high-end and high-street boutiques all within a short stroll, and some more hipster-neighborhood-feel kind of shops within steps of the hotel.

Located in the most darling neighborhoods in Madrid, Barrios de las Letras, it also accompanies the financial, political, cultural and commercial center of Madrid. Visitors are steps away from the city’s Golden Triangle of world-class museums: Prado Museum, the Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Fundación Reina Sofia, and not to mention Paseo del Prado, Puerta del Sol, Plaza Mayor and the Retiro Park.

Madrid is a bustling city and with a room at Hotel Urban, it’s possible to soak up so much of the passionate Spanish spirit whilst having the option to retreat to the modern and sleek Derby Hotels Collection property here in Madrid.

The Urban Hotel is precisely what a five-star hotel should be, where not one detail is left undone. 

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Checking Into the Suite Life 

Upon arriving at the Madrid airport, I collected my bags and headed straight to my Uber. For a trip to the hotel, you can expect to pay around 28-38 € for the 15-25 minute journey.

When my Uber stopped out the front of the Urban Hotel, I could instantly see that I was right in the center of it all in Barrio de las Letras and a quick stroll to Puerta Del Sol – perfect for any length of stay. Checking in early was overlooked by the reception staff, as they promptly took care of my arrival and had my bags waiting for me in my room before I had been escorted up to the room by the reception staff.

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The Urban Hotel Experience

The property features all that is to be expected of Derby Hotels Collection – boasting 96 designer rooms and suites, meeting rooms, venues for special events, outdoor swimming pool (only in summer season), solarium, gym, and sauna.

Derby Hotels Collection properties are renowned for their commitment to guests’ experiences, with complimentary welcome drink and chocolates on arrival, a daily mineral water in your room, and turn down service in the evening. 

Forget the traditional notions of a hotel — This art-deco themed hotel brings a lot of charm and a twist of glamour. Guests at Hotel Urban can enjoy unique art pieces of great historical value, hiding around every corner, on display in both the hotel’s Papua New Guinea Museum and in each of its rooms and common spaces perfect for guests who shy away from the conventional in an avant-garde building.

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Course 1 of a 12-course lunch at Glass Mar

Course 1 of a 12-course lunch at Glass Mar

Eat Well

And, as if that wasn’t enough, it is also home to CEBO a Micheline-starred restaurant with a central focus on season fare; and Ángel León's Glass Mar, a seafood restaurant that will excite your senses in every regard. Breakfast inside CEBO was a modern and twist on traditional Spanish breakfast and a continental buffet, with fresh-pressed green juice and all. I was fortunate enough to dine as a guest at Glass Mar thanks to my well connected and dear friend Diego Cabrera of Salmon Guru. (A full review of this experience to follow.)

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THE ROOM

Once inside my room, I was delighted to see the usual luxury hotel amenities, high-quality technology in the room, a king-size bed with a variety of plush pillows -- all create an atmosphere where stress is left behind as soon as you walk right into your room. 

The bathroom was a generous size with a luxurious oversized bathtub, undoubtedly the highlight of the room, along with a walk-in shower. Be sure to take note of your view when booking a room, as the views over the courtyard weren’t particularly attractive in the sense a city view and limited the sunlight in the room, but great if you'd like peace and quiet.

This was all-in-all an incredible experience, fit for even the most discerning traveler. 

 

Urban Hotel Madrid, $202 - $396 (Based on Average Rates for a Standard Room); www.hotelurban.com


Let's Regale was a guest of the Urban Hotel Madrid; as always, all opinions are my own.

Insiders Guide To Madrid's Christmas Markets

There is no denying that the Christmas markets in Europe are some of the best and they form the perfect setting to get into the holiday spirit. And, Madrid is no different.

Madrid puts on a great show during the Christmas season, with sparkly lights hung across every street, the sweet aroma of cinnamon spice and the echo of Christmas jingles in the air, and market stalls full of festive fare. I got a chance to explore the Christmas Markets last year, and if you're in the Spanish Capital during this time of year, you are in for a magical wonderland of magic. Get ready for another festive adventure into the unknown, this time by the way of Madrid.

Insiders guide to madrid christmas markets
Insiders guide to madrid christmas markets
Insiders guide to madrid christmas markets
Insiders guide to madrid christmas markets

Plaza Mayor

Madrid’s main traditional Christmas market is held on the city’s main square, Plaza Mayor, and has been going strong since the 19th century. Over 100 wooden stalls set up home on the plaza for the month of December, selling everything from nativity scenes to wigs and jokes for the Day of the Holy Innocents, Spain’s version of April Fool’s Day, which takes place on December 28. This beloved Christmas tradition sees people playing practical jokes on each other with items they have bought from the Christmas markets.


Feria Dulces de Navidad

If you have a sweet tooth, don’t miss this one. The market, which is set up in front of the Teatro Real, Madrid’s opera house, sells only Christmas sweets. Favorites include turrón, a nougat-style block made from almonds that is popular at Christmas Time in Spain.


Plaza de Callao Christmas Market

Every year, Spain’s main department store, El Corte Inglés, installs a huge winter cabin on Plaza de Callo, a central square just off the Gran Vía shopping street. The festive cabin sells Christmas accessories, including baubles, tinsel, and lights, and is a popular spot for locals and tourists to stock up on their Christmas decorations. The square is dominated by a gigantic Christmas tree that is the ideal backdrop for that festive selfie.


Feria Mercado de Artesanía

This artisanal market, on Madrid’s Plaza de España, draws craftspeople from across Spain, selling everything from leather goods and jewelry to ceramics and handcrafted toys. It’s a good place to shop for Christmas presents as it has a range of traditional Spanish products from different regions of the country.


Mercadillo del Gato

This cool pop-up market is the place to come if you want to find something less bauble-related and more stylish. The stalls are populated by young, local designers selling everything from clothes and accessories to art, games and vintage homewares. The Christmas market will be held in the Westin Palace hotel from December 1 to 10 and at Gran Vía 13 from December 15 - January 5.


El Rastro

While not exactly a Christmas market, we couldn’t leave Madrid’s biggest street market off the list. El Rastro is more than just a market; it is a weekly event, held every Sunday, when locals browse the stalls selling bric-a-brac, antiques, flamenco records and leather goods, then enjoy some tapas and beers in the little bars lining the market’s route.


Mercado de Diseño

The Design Market unites dozens of designers every month for a market held at the Matadero, Madrid’s former slaughterhouse that is now a thriving cultural space holding regular exhibitions and concerts. Past years have seen the market host a Christmas-themed event in the run-up to December 25, so keep an eye on its website for details of up-and-coming Christmas markets.


Plaza La Remonta

Slightly to the north of the center of Madrid, in the Tetuan neighborhood, Plaza La Remonta holds one of the biggest Christmas markets in the city, with stalls selling all the traditional fare, from Christmas decorations to toys and games for the kids. Don’t miss the ice rink, a great festive activity for all the family.


Mercadillo de la Plaza de Jacinto Benavente

Just off the Puerta del Sol, right in the heart of Madrid, the Plaza de Jacinto Benavente holds an annual craft market. Over 20 huts, designed to emulate a medieval village, sell sweets, Christmas decorations and beautifully handcrafted accessories that make lovely souvenirs to take home from Spain.


Published December 7, 2017 - Updated December 7, 2018