A weekend in Madrid: tips for your Eurail trip

I first visited Madrid on my first ever European rail trip, as a stopover on the way to Pamplona (where we watched the famous bull run). Through a combination of spending only a short amount of time there and eating some extremely salty calamari, I didn’t really have the best time there and wasn’t too inclined to return. However, I gave Madrid another chance by re-visiting the city for a long weekend… and I had a much better experience! In this blog post I’ll take you through what I got up to and provide some hints and tips about how to make the most out of visiting Madrid on your eurotrip.

Day 1 | Friday

Highlights

  • Canapes at El Diario
  • Walked to Plaza Mayor
  • Mercado San Miguel
  • Tapas at Stop Madrid

We set off relatively early on Friday morning and touched down in Madrid at 2pm local time. We tried to be savvy by downloading the locally-used taxi-ordering apps (MyTaxi & Cabify), but it turns out there’s pretty much a flat fee of €30 to get to the city centre from the airport, even if the apps incorrectly quote lower fares. So, if you want to get a taxi from the airport, it’s actually quickest & easiest to just go to the taxi stand and queue up like we did in the old days.

The drive to our Airbnb on Calle de las Huertas took about 30 minutes, and we ended up being a little too early for the arranged check-in time. However, it was lunchtime, so rather than hang about on the doorstep, we went a few doors down to El Diario, where we enjoyed our first Spanish food of the trip. We shared some canapes, which by this restaurant’s definition were various assortments of meat and cheese arranged on top of bread slices. That might sound simple, but it’s simply delicious! One particularly scrumptious one was topped with black pudding, so make sure to go for that one if you ever have the pleasure of visiting El Diario.

After lunch, we checked into the Airbnb, and set out to explore the area! Our accommodation was located in a fantastic part of Madrid: Huertas, also known as Barrio de las Letras. Roughly translated, this means “Literary Quarter” – it is named for the famous literary figures who used to hang out here such as Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote, and Calderon de la Barc, a world-renowned playwright. This area of Madrid is great for daytime touristic activities as well as nightlife, so it’s the best place to stay if you plan to visit Madrid on your Eurail trip.

We walked towards the Plaza Mayor, treading excitedly along busy streets lined with lively restaurants and bars. However, once we got to the Plaza Mayor, it wasn’t as impressive as the surrounding streets, so we continued on to Mercado San Miguel.

Mercado San Miguel is a food market, which feels both historic and trendy – it was originally built in 1916 but was renovated in 2009, with its iron structure now encased in glass. Inside, there is an eclectic mix of stalls selling gourmet tapas, and you can get a glass of Rioja to carry round with you as you peruse the options. The market had a fantastic atmosphere with the mix of sounds and smells, and the perfect level of hustle and bustle.

The blurry hustle & bustle of Mercado San Miguel

After leaving the market, we concluded our evening by enjoying some tapas at Stop Madrid. There are a number of these dotted about the city – the one we went to was El Leon De Oro, with a statue of a gold lion in the middle of the restaurant. We had a variety of dishes, but the standout was the Galician Empanada with Beef, a scrumptious pastry-encased delight.

Day 2 | Saturday

Highlights

  • Warhol exhibition at the CaixaForum
  • Mercado de Motores
  • Brew Wild Pizza Bar
  • Tapas at Cerveceria Cervantes
  • Experiencing Madrid’s nightlife!

Saturday started out with an attempted trip to the Reina Sofia, but it was raining so we found ourselves sheltering under the CaixaForum, a huge building that appears to be somehow suspended above the pavement.

Sheltering from the rain under the seemingly floating CaixaForum

There was a Warhol Exhibition on, so we went inside to have a look. It was a great exhibition, with well-known pieces such as Marilyn Monroe and Campbell’s Soup Can, but also lesser known pieces that really showed off the extent and diversity of his work. For example, there was a room filled with floating metallic balloons, and some mesmerising audio recordings. The exhibition was meant to finish in December 2017, but was still on in March 2018, so might be worth checking to see if it’s still on when you visit Madrid on your Eurail trip.

Marilyn Monroe portraits by Andy Warhol

Following the exhibition, we had a late breakfast at nearby cafe, El Patio Vertical, and then headed over to the Railway Museum which holds a monthly flea market: El Mercado de Motores. It was a surreal experience, with aisles of hipster market stalls separated by massive old-fashioned locomotives. If you head out the back of the museum, there are also some very trendy-looking food trucks. Overall, a very cool place and worth a visit – the market is on the second weekend of every month, so see if you can time your Eurail trip so that you’re in Madrid when it’s on!

Vintage clothes amongst vintage locomotives in the Mercado de Motores

Whenever I visit a new city, I try to find at least one decent craft beer bar. I use an app called Untappd to find the best places, and it never disappoints. This time was no different, and we discovered Brew Wild Pizza Bar, who served up delicious pizza and plenty of craft beers, including some from the local La Quince brewery. Following that, we headed to one of the many Irish pubs in Madrid to watch England play France in the Six Nations.

After the rugby, we headed back in the general direction of our Airbnb, looking for somewhere to eat. We landed on Cerveceria Cervantes, named after the famous writer who used to hang out in the area as mentioned. This place felt very authentic, with lots of locals dining there. We went for some traditional tapas dishes, such as pimientos de padron (green peppers), calamares, garlic prawns, and mussels. Whilst very simple and straightforward, the food was delicious, mainly because of how fresh it was.

You can’t really fully experience a city until you experience it at night, and that was just what we did next. The area around Plaza Sta. Ana is a bit of a Madrid nightlife hotspot, so we went there and started the night off in an Irish pub – a different one to where we watched the rugby. However, it soon became full of hen parties, so we set off in search of somewhere a bit more local. We ended up in a flamenco bar on Calle Echegaray, which is a street with many bars & clubs on it and the streets around it. (In fact, Brew Wild Pizza Bar is also on this street.) Definitely a good area to head to if you want to have a night out while you’re in Madrid on your Eurail trip.

We were actually too late to see any flamenco dancing, apart from a few customers drunkenly showing off their moves, so after one drink we thought we’d move on to the next place in our unplanned bar crawl. We found ourselves back in the Irish pub where we watched the rugby, and got chatting to some Erasmus students studying in Madrid for the year. They were heading to Teatro Kapital, which is Madrid’s biggest nightclub with 7 floors, all playing a range of different music – we thought it would be worth checking out, so decided to join them. However, on arrival, we were faced with the largest queue for a club I had ever seen – difficult to count, but was easily in the hundreds, possibly over 500 people. So, if you want to go to Teatro Kapital on your Eurail trip, some forward planning is recommended.

We didn’t want to queue so we made an about turn and headed to a place near our Airbnb that had intrigued us since we arrived: it had a neon sign advertising ‘Laser Karaoke’, which isn’t something I wanted to leave Madrid without experiencing. We couldn’t figure out the laser aspect, but the karaoke was going strong and the bar was surprisingly busy. It was a fun place, although it has to be said that Spanish karaoke songs aren’t the most inspiring, and the DJ never did get round to fulfilling our request. Still worth checking out though!

The “Laser Karaoke” bar

We met some Spaniards and all headed to Nomad nightclub, back near Plaza Sta. Ana and Calle Echegaray. It was less busy than Teatro Kapital so we could walk straight in, but it was still busy inside so we had a good time until we decided to call it a night and head to bed.

All in all, Madrid’s nightlife didn’t disappoint, and the best part was that even though we did a lot of walking, we were pretty much always within a 15 minute walk of our Airbnb!

Day 3 | Sunday

Highlights

  • Tapas at Taberna Maceiras
  • Walked to Almudena Cathedral and the Royal Palace of Madrid

Because of Saturday night’s antics, Sunday started a bit later than the previous days, and the first order of business was food. Not really ready for a walk, we went to a restaurant literally opposite our Airbnb called Taberna Maceiras. However, we didn’t go there purely out of the convenience – it did also look very nice, and again was filled with locals, which is always a good sign. It was traditional tapas again, and we enjoyed some fantastic croquettes. However, if you’re in the area on your Eurail trip and can only go to one tapas place, I would recommend Cerveceria Cervantes over Taberna Maceiras.

After food, we decided to explore more of Madrid’s neighborhoods, walking through Lavapies and La Latina. Lavapies is the most multicultural area of Madrid, and there was a street of Indian restaurants reminiscent of Brick Lane in London. The streets on our walk were also full of street art, so it’s definitely worth just wandering around Madrid on your Eurail trip and seeing what you come across. Be warned though, Madrid is surprisingly hilly and there are a couple of pretty steep streets!

La Latina is a more traditional area, and is near to the Almudena Cathedral and the Royal Palace of Madrid, which are next door to each other. As some of the most significant landmarks in Madrid, they are definitely worth a look.

We finished the day with dinner at Rosi La Loca, which is a part-Hawaiian, part-Spanish tapas bar. They did a great Paella, but the tapas was average compared to some of the more authentic places we visited on our trip.

Day 4 | Monday

Highlights

  • Breakfast at Matilda
  • Reina Sofia
  • Lunch at El Azul

We started the morning on our final day with breakfast at a lovely little cafe called Matilda. The coffee was the best I had in Madrid, and I also had a delicious Tortilla de Patatas (Spanish omelette with potatoes). I highly recommend going here for breakfast if you’re in Madrid on your Eurail trip, possibly for every day you’re there!

After breakfast, we thought it was about time we went to the Reina Sofia, given that it’s the most famous gallery in Madrid and a must-see. The building itself is beautiful, with the different gallery rooms surrounding a central courtyard. The artwork within, however, is ridiculous. The gallery’s main collection contains works from some of the most famous artists in the world, with paintings from Picasso, Joan Miró, Salvador Dalí, and many more. It’s certainly one of the largest and most impressive galleries in Europe, and probably needs more than one day to fully appreciate – luckily, the gallery sells tickets that are valid for two days.

The Reina Sofia courtyard

We had our final meal in Madrid in El Azul, which offered quite a modern menu and was a departure from the traditional tapas we’d been eating. However, it was still good – we had some very tasty sandwiches. Go here if you need a break from tapas and feel like some healthy-ish deli-type food.

We jumped in a taxi and set off home, having had a thoroughly enjoyable time exploring what Madrid has to offer.

Hopefully this blog post has inspired you to add Madrid to your Eurail plan and given you a few ideas about what to do and where to eat when you visit on your eurotrip. If you haven’t started planning your Eurail trip yet, you can do so here.

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