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Madrid originally wasn’t on my Spain itinerary. With all I wanted to see in Andalusia, and needing to get to Valencia in time for Las Fallas, I didn’t think I’d have the time.
But after I announced this, there was a mild mutiny on my Facebook page. “DO NOT SKIP MADRID,” my friend Hilary implored. She wasn’t alone — reader after reader chimed in, siding with her. And once my friend Erin offered me a place to stay, I knew I had to visit Madrid!
Erin, the blogger behind La Tortuga Viajera, provided me with one of the nicest homestays I’ve had anywhere. Erin, whom I met at TBU in Innsbruck last summer, is a California girl who moved to Spain and later married a Spanish man. If Spain interests you in the least, her site is a fantastic resource — she’s been all over the country.
She also knows where to get the best tapas.
Bread, cheese, jamon iberico — GOOD! Enjoyed with a tinto de verano, of course.
Erin got out a map and planned out the perfect route, showing me the best of the city. She also showed me some places that most people wouldn’t know about, like Goya’s gardens.
But in addition to Erin’s suggestions, I decided to check out what you wanted me to see. After I asked for my readers’ advice of what to see in Madrid, you chimed in with so many suggestions. I could go for days on your suggestions alone!
To get started, Chelsea and Karawan suggested I visit the Parque del Buen Retiro.
Madrid feels far more urban than the other cities in Spain, and consequently, getting away from the city feels like a challenge. But when you step into this enormous park, you feel miles away from highways and concrete.
This park is a great place to relax, smell fresh air, and enjoy a bit of nature, smack dab in the middle of the city.
Next up, Adam, Coral, Gillian, and Liligo UK suggested I go to Reina Sofia Museum to see Picasso’s Guernica.
This is an excellent, extensive modern art museum — one of the best I’ve seen, along with the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the MALBA in Buenos Aires. (And at a surprisingly reasonable six euros for a ticket!)
Guernica itself can’t be photographed. And while I understand that it’s a very important piece of art when it comes to context, I’m just not a fan of looking at it. I can think of dozens of Picasso paintings that I prefer (the man was prolific!). Luckily, many more of them are at the Reina Sofia.
My favorite painting at the museum, albeit not by Picasso:
It’s called A World and it was painted by Spanish artist Angeles Santos Toroella in 1911. I spent a long time entranced by it.
The most popular suggestion for what to see in Madrid? Rachael, Chelsea, Dylan, Gillian, the Globetrotter Girls, and the Time-Crunched Traveler suggested I visit Mercado San Miguel.
Now, this was one of my favorite stops in Madrid. This market may be on the pricey side, but it’s a great place to grab lunch. Several food stalls are set up and you can get all kinds of food served in small portions so that you can try everything. It’s like a mini-Quincy Market.
My favorite part? MEAT IN A CONE.
It exists, people. Go to Madrid.
And just outside Mercado San Miguel is Plaza Mayor, one of the most famous plazas in Madrid.
Plaza Mayor is a great place to sit and people-watch for awhile.
By that point in the day, I started to tally up the interesting things about Madrid. First of all, the metro, while nearly as extensive as the systems in Paris and London, seems far more efficient. (Also, Erin and I got mooned by some Russians on the metro, but that’s another story for another time.)
Secondly, drivers in Madrid stop vigilantly for pedestrians, even if you’re just standing on the sidewalk. According to Erin, it’s the only rule of the road they actually follow. It was jarring!
Third, Madrilenos have BIG dogs. Most city-dwellers tend to have smaller dogs who can enjoy life in an apartment. Not so in Madrid — I saw more huge dogs than I have in any other city in the world.
And fourth, Madrid has a LOT of statues of men on horses.
Anything else to do in Madrid? I got a haircut.
Erin recommended I go see Leo, who might as well be the official hairstylist to American women living in Madrid! Several of her expat friends swear by him.
Leo’s salon is, essentially, his apartment. Ordinarily, as a solo female traveler, I wouldn’t go to someone’s apartment on my own — but with so many recommendations from Erin’s friends, I felt safe. And my worries went out the window within moments of meeting him.
Leo is such a sweet and interesting guy, and he did a great job on my weak hair (it’s still fried from a few months of beach bummery in Southeast Asia last year). Best of all, the haircut only cost me 20 euros. Going to Madrid? Let me know and I’ll hook you up.
Another nice thing about Madrid is that it’s home to so many parks, filled with fountains like this one. If you need to be near a bit of greenery, Madrid is a great city for you.
And finally, Erin’s neighborhood is home to a place called Cheese Bar. Do you think I could really walk past a place called Cheese Bar and not go in? Mmmmm, nope.
Overall, I enjoyed Madrid, but not nearly as much as I enjoyed Granada and Sevilla. It was a nice city, and I had a fun time, but I just didn’t connect with it. Which is fine. I’m not crazy about every place I visit, and I don’t expect to be.
But am I happy I stopped in Madrid? You bet. Thanks for giving me the push I needed, readers.
31 thoughts on “Madrid in One Day — As Curated By You!”
So glad you didn’t skip Madrid and that you enjoyed the Reina Sofia and the Mercado del San Miguel!
I also got my haircut a couple of times while I was living in Madrid – it’s SO much cheaper than in the states! I miss that.
Lots of little things are cheaper in Spain — that’s what I think makes it a surprisingly good budget travel destination.
Now I’m bummed I didn’t make it to Madrid! Like you, I had so much I wanted to see in Andalucia and had to return to Barcelona before heading to France that Madrid fell to the wayside. It looks gorgeous though! I will just have to go back to Spain!
Never a bad time to head back to Spain!
Seems like you’ve seen the best. I recently wrote a post about top places to visit in Madrid, we had a couple in common, parque del buen retiro is my favourite as well!
It looks like a fun city to visit. Loved the colorful building and the Parque del Buen Retiro.
Cool! Glad you liked the Mercado and glad I made the cut :). I could wander around that place for hours, stuff myself with tapas and totally be ok with that. Next time, hop on a train over to Toledo…you’ll love it!!
Toledo is definitely a priority for next time! Thanks!
Yes! So glad you enjoyed Madrid. I’d almost forgotten about the Mercado San Miguel—great place!
I almost went twice in one day. 🙂
I totally understand the lack of connection– I’ve lived in Granada, Seville, Cadiz, and am now living near Retiro Park in Madrid. I miss Andalusia a lot, but Madrid does have its plus sides (above all a central location, international food/drink, and art/theater). Living in Granada is awesome, but sometimes you do miss the culture of a big city. That said, I’d move back in a heartbeat given a great job opportunity!
Very true, Lauren! Being so close to everything is a huge factor as well.
What a day! You covered alot and you have to come back. I love Madrid. The Prado and Sorolla Museums await! And of course more tapas!
Glad you enjoyed the market – we had some great tapas & wine there last year… always stop there when we’re in Madrid 🙂 The first time I went to Madrid I thought it was only ‘okay’ but the more you go the more it grows on you. It’s still not as charming as Seville or Granada though.
Loved Mercado San Miguel! For something off the beaten path try the Egyptian temple, just up the street from the Royal Palace
Meat in a cone! We have one too in San Francisco at the Ferry Building – they’re awesome aren’t they?! LOL. I really need to get myself to Madrid next time I’m in Europe. The meat, cheese and haircut alone is convincing enough. 🙂
I’m going to Madrid in two days! So excited 🙂 Would you be able to give me the info for where you got your haircut?
solo un día, no es suficiente para una ciudad como Madrid, pero ya que no tenías más tiempo, lo aprovechaste bien, te faltaron muchas cosas pero tenías buenos cicerones que te aconsejaron bien para que no te perdieses algunos de los sitios más típicos.
Pero lo de tomar un tinto de verano, muy refrescante si, y no un buen vino…. ¡qué pena!
Hello… I am planning a trip to Madrid and can you share the location of Goya’s Garden. A search on the internet seems fruitless and only leads me back here. Thank you.
I couldn’t tell you — reach out to Erin at latortugaviajara.com!
Thank you so much for the information! Please could you set me up with Leo, I would love to get a haircut!
I will be in Madrid for 2 nights and 1 day and so if you have any recommendations for vegetarian restaurants , I would be grateful!:)
I’m in Madrid right now! The market is on my list of things to do. Could you hook me up with Leo’s information? I’ve been traveling for over two months and really need a haircut haha
I am heading to Madrid in december as part of a 2 month long backpacking trip and I know my hair will need help at some point! Can you please give me Leo’s details?! 🙂
Great tips. Im glad you went to Madrid. It was one of my favourite cities. I thought the buildings, architecture and plazas were brilliant.
Thanks for this – heading to Madrid just for the day next month and want to make sure I catch the highlights and spirit of the city!
Really enjoyed the article, but it was not what I was expecting- from the URL, I thought it was going to be about skateboarding (“adventurous skate”), so I was a bit surprised! 😀
Oooh tapas! I want to come to Madrid again 🙁
When I went there the weather was not so good but I really enjoyed it anyway. Spanish food is just so amazing, and the city is beautiful even when it’s raining. I also went on a free tour with some guys I met on Puerta del Sol – I believe the company was called MADride – to enlighten on Madrid history a little bit, it was so nice! And Spaniards are sooo friendy
Where are Goya’s Gardens? I have looked all over for them. Where were those photos take and where did you go? Thanks.
I haven’t tried that “meat in a cone” and don’t have any serious plans to do so. I’d rather it as part of a bocadillo. I agree with you when you wrote that metro here is efficient. I’d have to add that the autobus system is very efficient too.
This really puts a bug in my ear of new things (like a haricut) to do in the future. We like to get off the beaten path and stay where the locals do…sometimes in apartments and we find grocery shopping and cooking loads of fun! Once at a grocery store in Bologna, Italy, I bought what I thought was spaghetti sauce (based on my limited italian and the visual clue of tomatoes on the jar) only to find, once back in the apartment that had only salt and pepper for seasoning, it was only tomato sauce….with no seasonings. LOL! Dinner that night was memorable. It included the most amazing mushroom raviolis and the most bland terrible tomato sauce ever. LOL!
But, I have never even considered a haircut. It sounds like a great experience and a way to show the kids that for all the differences between citizens of the world and we really have a lot in common. Our next far off adventure looks like it will be Greece and a haircut needs to be a part of it!
We loved Madrid and southern Spain and so did the kids. Warm, interesting, and colorful. Thanks for the great idea and inspiration!