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July 3, 2011

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How to Spend One Day in Madrid, Spain

by Anne Paddock

Madrid is a very popular European city that draws millions of visitors every year. Filled with world-class museums, restaurants, historical monuments, parks, theaters, and a population that never seems to sleep, Madrid has a wonderful dry climate that makes the tourist experience pleasant throughout the four seasons.

I spent four years living in Madrid and our apartment – in a neighborhood called Salamanca – was in the heart of the city which allowed us to truly experience day-to-day life in the Spanish capital. Often times, friends or acquaintances ask me what they should see on their first visit to Madrid – a question that has always been difficult to answer because it depends on how much time they have and where their interests lie. 

Every Friday in Madrid, a booklet called Guia del Ocio – Guide to Culture – is published and can be purchased at any magazine/newspaper kiosk on the city streets. The guide provides an extensive listing (in spanish) of the theatre, movies, concerts, festivals, dance recitals, art exhibits, children’s programming, and restaurants of Madrid. I found this guide an invaluable resource while living in Madrid and on our return visits. You can also go to: www.guiadelocio.com/madrid.

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Planing a trip takes a lot of time.  There is no way around doing your homework if you want to fully experience a new place.  But the amount of information can be overwhelming especially if time is a factor. With that in mind, I formulated a tourist plan for one day to spend in Madrid. If you have more time, simply refer to the options listed below or the Guia del Ocio as there are many choices to fill additional days, weeks  or years. But, if you have only one day to spend in Madrid, Spain my recommendation is to schedule your day as follows:
  1. Breakfast
  2. Morning City Tour
  3. Mid-Morning Pick Me Up
  4. Museum
  5. Lunch
  6. A Walk/Shopping
  7. Dinner
Breakfast
Madrid is a city that wakes up late.  Breakfast is not typically a big meal in Spain – usually coffee, fresh squeezed orange juice, toast and jam although there are variations that include hot chocolate and churros (fried dough). Churros are to the Spanish what donuts are to Americans. To save time, have breakfast at your hotel or if you want to experience a unique breakfast, go to Cacao Sampaka at Calle Orellano, 4 (www.cacaosampaka.com) which opens at 10:00 am every day of the week.

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Famous for their chocolate, Cacao Sampaka is divided into two sections:  a store devoted to all things chocolate; and a cafe/restaurant. The cafe serves buttery flaky croissants or tostado (Spain’s version of toast) with homemade jams and of course, thick hot chocolate and churros. If you don’t make it to this gem of a place for breakfast try to come back later in the day for tea or to buy chocolate: dark, milk, and white that are plain or flavored with herbs, nuts, or dried fruits.

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Morning City Tour
The best way to see Madrid is to take a 75 minute tour bus ride on what used to be known as Madrid Vision and is now called Bus Turistico Madrid.  A panoramic hop-on hop-off open top bus tour, this is a great way to get an overview of the city.

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There are two tours: the historic and the modern and I highly recommend the historic route. Each tour stops in about 12 locations throughout the city (where tourists hop on or off) that are readily visible by looking for the Bus Turistico Madrid sign at bus stops.

Or you can go to www.gomadrid.com/madrid-vision as this website provides a complete listing of the stops on each tour. Tour buses usually come every 20 minutes so the wait is never long. If you are still unsure of where to pick the bus up, ask the hotel concierge. This tour is very popular in Madrid so information and advice on the closest stop should be readily provided.

When entering the bus, a ticket is purchased and a pair of headphones will be provided so you can listen to the ongoing commentary (in 8 languages) on the sights.Take the full bus tour one time around without getting off.  If you happen to have a second day in Madrid, purchase the 2-day pass so you can go back and explore the various monuments and historical neighborhoods the second day.

 Mid-Morning Pick Me Up

1453561_544660022297458_1446360388_nThe Embassy Restaurant (www.embassy.es) located at Paseo Castellana, 12 (note that street names are written first followed by the number) has been around since 1931 (and still looks almost the same from the outside as it did back then) and originally opened up as a tea house for British expats. Now a full service restaurant, gourmet shop, bakery, and gift store, there is no better place to sample some of Madrid’s finest pastries.

 Stop in for a cup of tea and a pastry or order a selection of small tarts that can be boxed and sampled when you need that mid-morning pick-me-up.  There are about 15 different varieties of pastries but be sure to choose La Crema or La Crema con Almendras –  cream tarts with or without toasted almonds. The lemon chiffon, strawberry or raspberry tarts are equally as delicious.  There is also a wide selection of breads, cheeses, meats, and prepared foods to go. Open on Wednesdays to Mondays from 10:00-4:30, be sure to arrive early as the selection dwindles as the day progresses.

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Museums
Madrid is full of world class museums so choose one of the following based on your interests:
  1. Museo Prado, Calle Ruiz de Alarcon, 23 (www.museodelprado.es):  The Prado is one of the most impressive museums in the world with an expansive collection of Spanish artists including Velasquez and Goya. Open from Tuesday-Sunday from 9:00-8:00. Closed Monday.  This museum can be overwhelming so hire a guide for 1-2 hours and ask him/her to focus your tour on what is of interest to you or what will keep the kids interested. My husband would take our daughter to the gift shop first where she would pick out 3 postcards of art in the museum and then embark on a scavenger hunt to find the art. Since the art is displayed by type and date, hints on the back of the postcard helped her to locate the piece. The Spanish adore children and place a high value on exposing children to art, so children are well tolerated in museums.canstockphoto4012849
  2. Museo Reina Sofia, Santa Isabel, 52 (www.museoreinasofia.es): The Reina Sofia is known as the modern art museum in Madrid with “Guernica” by Pablo Picasso its biggest draw.   Open Monday-Saturday from 10:00-9:00 and on Sunday from 10:00-2:30.  Closed Tuesdays.canstockphoto11707311
  3. El Museo de Arte ThyssenPaseo Prado, 8 (www.museothyssen.org): The Thyssen is my favorite museum in Madrid because of the variety of art displayed in a building that does not overwhelm. Open Tuesday-Sunday from 10:00-7:00. Closed Mondays.424882_10150632485542833_772074173_n
  4. Museo del TrajeAvenida de Juan de Herrera, 2 (museodeltraje.mcu.es): The Museo del Traje is the fashion museum in a modern building located in Madrid but outside the city center. The collection is vast if your interest lies with great Spanish designers including BalenciagaManolo Blahnik, and Paco Rabanne.  Take a cab to this museum. Open Monday-Saturday from 9:30-7:00. Closed Sundays.430535_10151116542464352_672008227_n
  5. 5.  Lazaro Goldiano MuseoCalle de Serrano, 122 (www.flg.es): This museum was once the home of a couple whose interests collecting art, ceramics, jewelry, and bronzes are brilliantly displayed.  Completely restored in 2003, a self-guided tour throughout this mansion is a treat. Open Wednesday-Monday from 10:00-4:40. Closed Tuesdays. For a typical Spanish snack, walk across the street and up 4 blocks to Calle de Serrano, 89 where the restaurant “Jose Luis” makes the best Spanish potato tortilla “tortilla de patata” in Madrid. Enjoy at a table or order a tortilla to go in a box that resembles an American pizza box.64315_164640946884800_6941071_n
Lunch
Lunch is a big deal in Madrid and throughout Spain so reservations are highly recommended. Most businesses close down which forces everyone to sit down and enjoy the main meal of the day.  Lunch is typically served from 2:00-5:00.  Depending on your preference, the following restaurants are recommended:
  1. La PalomaCalle de Jorge Juan, 39 (www.rtelapaloma.com):  This is my favorite restaurant in Madrid because it gets two things right:  atmosphere and food.  Located on a chic street known for shopping, this small restaurant feels like it was plucked out of Provence.  My favorite meal is fried eggplant fritters drizzled with honey, followed by sea bass and a homemade free form apple tart (that needs to be ordered when you place your entrée selection as each tart is made to order and takes time). Phone number: 34 91 576 8692.galeria01-600x338
  2. El Lando, Plaza de Gabriel Miró, 8. This restaurant does not have a website and is not advertised. We were introduced to it by Spanish friends. El Lando is difficult to find as the restaurant is located on a small street, down a flight of stairs, and through a final nondescript door. You have to know where you are going but most taxi drivers know exactly where El Lando is.  Famous for their traditional Spanish cooking, the grilled asparagus or french fries topped with a fried egg are delicious.  If you want to experience real Spanish cooking, this is the place to eat.  Phone number: 34 91 366 7681.ElLandomadrid
  3. Restaurante HorcherAlfonso XII, 6 (www.restaurantehorcher.com):  Horcher is probably the most famous and finest restaurant in Madrid.  Open since 1904, the atmosphere is formal, the service excellent, and the food superb. Phone: 34 91 522 0731.
Walking/Shopping
Madrid is a city with an amazing dry and sunny climate which is why everyone is outside all the time. After lunch, take a walk down Paseo de Castellana – one of the main roads through the center of the city. The center of the road is a narrow park with beautiful vegetation, wide sidewalks, and cafes.  Or take a walk through Retiro Park, the largest park in Madrid with 350 acres of land filled with beautiful sculptures and monuments, a lake, restaurant, and a galleries.

canstockphoto5324431With miles of walking and biking trails, El Retiro provides a welcome respite from busy city streets. Or, if you want to shop, walk down Calle Serrano, Calle Jose Ortega y Gassett (which is referred to as “Lista” by locals), or Calle Jorge JuanThese streets contain both national and local brands along with speciality boutiques:

  1. Lavinia at Calle Jose Ortega y Gasset, 16 is the largest wine store in Madrid and contains a vast selection of wines and spirits. Their website is:  www.lavinia.es
  2. Loewe, a Spanish luxury brand known for their leather goods, clothing, ties, and scarves is located at Serrano, 34.  Their website is:  www.loewe.com
  3. Corte Ingles, Madrid’s only department store with locations throughout the city offers a vast selection of almost anything you need including groceries and pharmacy items.  The grocery store is usually located on the bottom floor where you can purchase raw marcona almonds, Spanish paprika, or amazing olive oil while the gourmet shop is on the top floor.  Their website is: www.elcorteingles.com
  4. Mercado de la Paz, located at Calle Ayala 28 (very close to The Embassy Restaurant) is one of the best markets in Madrid with vast selections of cheeses, olives, fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, and seafood. Stop by Alimentacion Miguel Angel and purchase “Arte Fritas de Soria” – the most delicious potato chips. Or go see Sal at La Boulette for a fine cheese selection.
  5. And, if you happen to be in Madrid in December or early January, go to a bakery called 388181_170076366425495_2106153802_nFormentor located at Calle General Diaz Porlier, 7 which is located right off Calle Goya and buy “Pan de los Reyes” which means “Bread of the Kings” – a holiday cake-like bread made in honor of Kings Day, January 6th. Every bakery in Madrid makes their own version of this butter coffee cake throughout the holiday season but Formentor makes the most superb example and the cake comes in many sizes. Be prepared to wait (it’s worth it) as the line sometimes wraps around the block, but moves quickly.386353_171332822966516_752283096_n
Dinner
Dinner in Madrid is a late night event by American standards.  Most restaurants open at 8:30 pm but prime seating is at 9:30 or 10:00 pm.  If you don’t mind eating alone, early (8:30 pm) dinner reservations can be made but if you want to experience a lively restaurant atmosphere, try to make a later reservation at La Paloma, El Lando or Restaurante Horcher.  
Finally, a few travel hints:
  1. Madrid is an elegant city and people are very well dressed.  Dress comfortably but neatly.
  2. Wear very comfortable walking shoes.
  3. Madrid has a very clean, safe and extensive metro system but if time is limited, take a taxi.
  4. The Spanish love to smoke but smoking in restaurants and bars was outlawed in Jan, 2011.
  5. The DK Guide to Madrid is an excellent resource for information about the city.
  6. Most Spaniards don’t speak English so carry a Spanish-English dictionary if you don’t speak Spanish.
  7. The Spanish don’t adhere to walking on the right, passing on the left and also don’t share the same personal space comforts that Americans are used to so don’t be alarmed if you feel your personal space is violated.
  8. Most stores are open from 10:00-2:00 and then reopen from 5:00-8:00 pm.
  9. Don’t carry a backpack where a wallet can be pick pocketed.  Although a relatively safe city, don’t wear expensive watches or jewelry.
  10. Pay attention to traffic signals that tell pedestrians when to walk across streets.
  11. When entering a room, always greet people with “Buenos Dias” (Good Morning) or “Buenas Tardes” (Good Afternoon).
2 Comments Post a comment
  1. May 18 2015

    Spanish ” good afternoon” is ” uenas tardes”, not ” buenos Tardes”.

  2. May 19 2015

    Actually, I believe “good afternoon” is “buenas trades.”

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