I have got a confession to make: I HATE city break guides.
Yes, I know. I can hear your thoughts from here – why in the name of God are you writing one then, huh?
Well, the point is I hate the kind of 48 hours city guides crammed with tourist traps and famous over-priced restaurants that feel more like a check-list marathon than a holiday. You know what I am speaking about, right? I mean the type you could easily think is a Lonely Planet appendix, and whose writer has rarely spent more than the aforementioned 48 hours in the given city, which makes the content… well… mostly superficial, to be honest.
Now, I am not suggesting you should be a total native to write a city guide at all, but I do believe visiting at least a bunch of times can provide you with a bit more of perspective when you are trying to provide assistance to others. As a blogs reader myself, it is not unusual for me to spend a few hours looking for content on the cities I am visiting before a weekend abroad. However, more frequently than not I only get disappointed by the tips I find.
Last month, I was searching for some cool recommendations for Madrid, a city I have visited quite a lot already but which I was expecting to wander around like a native for a change. All I could find nevertheless was classic basic advice like: visit El Prado, the city center street food markets and Gran Vía… No offense intended, but I think most writers could do better with a bit of will AND research.
So after visiting Madrid myself (and quite a bunch of times, as mentioned before) I thought I could share some favourites of mine: not the sort of tips you would get from most guides, but more like a personal approach on what to do if you wish to avoid the check-list marathon style and simply enjoy a couple of days living like a local. So if you are here looking for basics about what to see in Madrid, maybe you should keep looking, sorry. Instead, these are my favourite tips to enjoy the charming vintage vibes Madrid can offer.
My favourite places to eat in Madrid
I do not consider myself a foodie, but I do like my food. So obviously, this is one of the top targets on my priority list when travelling. People will tell you Spanish food is wonderful (and in all honesty, it is) but you do not need to spend a small fortune on a five forks Michelin Guide restaurant to enjoy. So where do I enjoy my meals when in Madrid?
Tea time – Being a teatime and general snacks lover, it is not rare for me to try different tea rooms when visiting a new city. My favourite place in Madrid used to be The Ritz, but this year it is closed due to renovation works. In exchange, I recently discovered Le salon des Fleurs, a little tea room and flowers shop which offers the most tempting cake you can wish for. In my last trip, I tasted their homemade buttercream violets sponge cake and I can tell you it was delicious. Also, their shop is absolutely gorgeous, and a very grammable place if you ask me. If you have a craving for churros, please visit Maestro Churrero, you will want to come back.
International couisine restaurants – Many people are only interested to try the national couisine when travelling, and it is very understandable. However, I believe if the food is good, there is no reason to choose.
Being a Spaniard myself, I rarely take the chance to eat Spanish food when visiting Madrid, but I prefer to take advantage of the high-quality international offer. In my last trip, I discovered a couple of new fantastic places. Ginza is an authentic Japanese restaurant at the national congress neighborhood whose sushi Bentos are to die for and whose prices are truly reasonable. Greek and Shop has got both a wonderful Greek shop and restaurant in their little place at Malasaña neighborhood, all the food is homemade and they offer a delicious daily fixed menu for about 8 euros. If you are all about Brazilian food, you can visit Tapioca Chill in La Latina (do yourself a favor and order some coxinhas as a starter!) Do you fancy some Mexican? The tacos at Slow Mex are to die for!
My favourites places to shop in Madrid
If you are into fashion, Madrid has got a lot to offer. My personal favourites are vintage shops, but they are not the only ones. When having a walk at the golden mile in Serrano, I always make a stop at Guantes Varadé: a wonderful artisan shop based on gloves manufacture – you only understand what “to fit like a glove” really means when you try one of their pairs (no pun intended). Of course, I always take the chance to have a look at some of my Haute Couture places, including Miu Miu, Chanel, and Dolce and Gabbana, but they need no introduction, do they?
My favourite places to visit in Madrid
If you are around Serrano, as I previously said, there is a lot to see: block some time for window shopping and also to see the little Belle Epoque merry-go-round in the closest corner to Gucci shop.
If you have got a soft spot for art and history but you have already visited the biggest galleries, I can recommend a little and not that well-known museum: Museo Cerralbo was the official residence of the Marquise of Cerralbo (1845-1922) and keeps an exhaustive record of his private art collection. Also, the amazingly well-preserved nineteenth-century manor house deserves some credit by itself.
I would also definitely suggest to have a look to the Botanical Gardens (they are breathtaking during Autumn) and wander around El Paseo del Prado.
I promise you will not regret it.
Madrid is a city with a lot to offer not only to the ocassional visitor, but also to its locals. If you are spending some time there, please take the chance to wind down and enjoy its charms.
And have a very happy city break in Madrid!