The top 10 things to do in Madrid once you've settled in
Lucinda Riding is in her third year studying Hispanic Studies with English at King’s College London. She's spending her entire year abroad in Madrid at Universidad Carlos III. Here are her recommendations for the ten best things to do off the tourist trail in the Spanish capital!
1. Go for a proper coffee – Toma Café
When you’ve settled in in Madrid it’ll soon become clear that coffee is something that Madrileños take very seriously indeed – a lukewarm latte from Starbucks just won’t cut it in this city! So, after I’d settled in, I made it my mission to track down the best establishment in which to quaff this magical, dark liquid. Tucked away in the back streets of Malasaña is ‘Toma Café’, a tiny coffee house that serves what I believe to be the best flat white in the city. The finest coffee beans are sourced from all over the world and the baristas in here really know their stuff and aren’t in the slightest bit pretentious. What about if I’m peckish I hear you cry? Well, just wait until you see their cake selection (their cheesecake is a personal favourite), not to mention their yummy lunchtime sandwiches. Don’t worry if coffee isn’t your thing they have an extensive tea menu, as well as, wait for it… A SALTED CARAMEL LATTE, which actually, doesn’t contain coffee at all, it’s simply warm frothy milk with a swirl of salty caramel goodness. Bliss.
2. Go for an ice cream – Mistura
When the sun comes out it’s basically that law that you go for ice cream. So one day, tired from trying to navigate Calle Fuencarral in the blazing heat on a Saturday afternoon (I know, I’m crazy), I stumbled in to ‘Mistura’ for a sit down and an ice cream. The founders of the shop, Carlos and Carmelo, are fans of the marble slab technique – you choose an ice cream flavour(s) and topping(s) and then both of those things are mushed together on a big marble worktop and popped in to a tub/cone. I know, sounds delicious…but bear with me! What makes Mistura so fabulous is the fact that the ice cream that they produce is completely free of nasty things and is created using seasonal produce. They cater for Vegans and those with allergies and every month they create a new, exciting flavour - this month’s is Matcha Green Tea. If you happen to be thirsty on your visit here be sure to try one of their juices, the ‘Hangover Help’ is very popular at weekends…
3. Go and be cultural – Matadero
Done the Reina Sofia and El Prado? Looking for your next culture fix? Well look no further than ‘Matadero’. In the heart of Madrid’s Arganzuela district you’ll find this old slaughterhouse, which, at the turn of the century, underwent a huge transformation in order to provide the city with a new and exciting cultural venue that showcases everything from independent cinema to the work of up- and-coming artists. If the thought of visiting an old slaughterhouse freaks you out a bit I’d implore you to give the venue a go on a busy day, as it feels much less eery and there’s a great atmosphere when the place is bustling. There’s a cinema, a café, countless exhibitions to visit and there are usually design and food markets at the weekends. Perfect for both sunny and rainy days.
4. Go and eat something other than tapas – Goiko Grill
It’s a well known fact that tapas is the best type of cuisine however when you’re a little sick of boquerones, croquetas and tortilla ‘Goiko Grill’ is definitely worth a visit. In many major European cities you’ll find yourself tripping over mediocre burger restaurants but here in Madrid they believe in quality over quantity and Goiko Grill’s extensive burger menu will leave you spoilt for choice. Highlights include the M30 (goats cheese and caramelized onion topping), the Elvis (fried banana, peanut butter and bacon topping) and the Chips Ahoy milkshake. Calorific. Looking for Madrid’s best burrito? Head to Alonso Martinez and give Tierra a try.
5. Go to a rooftop bar – The Hat
As Madrid doesn’t have a beach, when the sun comes out Madrileños head in their droves to their favourite rooftop bars to soak up some rays. A new favourite comes in the form of The Hat Hostel just off Plaza Mayor, with its cosy terrace looking out over some of the prettiest rooftops in the city. The decoration is simple, we’re talking wooden benches scattered with cushions, mismatched chairs and tables, a cosy covered bar and twinkly fairy lights. The chilled vibe of The Hat provides the perfect setting for weekend day-drinking and if you’re feeling peckish they serve small plates throughout the day.
6. Go for brunch – Little Big Café
Tucked away in a quiet corner of Chamberi is Little Big Café, a tiny space with a massive menu. The staff in here are super friendly and for just €17 you can get their brunch menu, which includes a savoury course, a sweet course, a soft drink, tea or coffee AND a slice of cake, phew. Definitely worth venturing a little further out of the city centre for!
7. Go and watch the sunset – La azotea del Circulo de Bellas Artes
Due to the high altitude of Madrid, the landscape surrounding the city is pretty breath taking. When the sun sets, the rooftop of Circulo de Bellas Artes has, without a doubt, got one of the best views in town! It’s normally €3 euros to go up but if you’re a student at one of Madrid’s major universities, it’s completely free! The building itself is architecturally stunning and hosts many cultural events throughout the year. The perfect place to enjoy a tinto de verano con tus amigos!
8. Go to a market – Mercado de San Ildefonso
A pioneer of the new ‘street food’ craze currently taking Madrid by storm, Mercado de San Ildefonso is the perfect place for quick, good-quality food. Its central location (Calle Fuencarral) makes it the ideal place for chilled food and drinks with friends at any time of day - there’s even a cool terrace away from the bustling stalls where you can scoff your purchases in peace. I’d recommend checking out the juice and pincho bars for a light lunch and the burger bar is worth a visit if you’re feeling ravenous. If you’re visiting on a weekend be prepared to queue as the space is pretty narrow and fills up very quickly.
9. Go to a (small) gallery – Combustión Espontánea
Founded in 2013, Combustión Espontánea is fast becoming one of the best galleries in Madrid. Originally a ‘pop-up’ affair, the creators recently decided to open a permanent base on the outskirts of Chueca and the gallery has since hosted exhibitions by some of the most exciting new artists/photographers around. Head here to enjoy some fascinating pieces and make sure you take advantage of the cute gift shop on the way out!
10. Go and EXPLORE
Once you’ve begun to adjust to life in Madrid, the best way to get to know it is to walk around it so you can see how different areas connect with each other. Go and wander around all of the boutiques in Chueca, go vintage shopping in Malasaña, go and explore the fascinating buildings in La Latina, just don’t sit in and wait for your grasp of the city to come to you. It’s all too easy to retreat into yourself when faced with a new and scary situation but it’s so important to keep yourself occupied, particularly in the first few weeks. I found my lull in enthusiasm/ fear for the year abroad came about around 3 weeks in, when I’d done all of the touristy things, had found my own flat and had realised that I wasn’t just on some extended holiday. Pushing myself to go exploring really helped my confidence and made me feel as though I actually lived in the city. If you do one thing from this list, this is the one I’d recommend most! Not only is going for a long walk a great way to take your mind off homesickness and other year abroad-related issues, it also gives you the opportunity to absorb some all-important Vitamin D!