How can you visit Spain without going to the city at its very center? Spoiler alert: you can’t. I know, I know. I studied in Barcelona, and I am ultimately loyal to the jewel of Cataluña first and foremost, but if you’re visiting Spain, Madrid is a must-see. When I went, it was the first few days of my spring break, and my best friend Cheyenne was studying there. I took the AVE to meet her, and she showed me around for a few days before we headed to Mallorca together. (If you’re curious about our amazing girls’ vacay in Mallorca, you can click to read all about it here!) I had an absolute blast in Madrid! Here are the sights to see and things to do in Madrid that made the top of my list during my first visit.
Mercado de San Miguel
One of my favorite places in any new destination is the local food market. I did a walking tour of the central market in Barcelona, another in San José, and I got a delicious veggie paella with strawberries for dessert in the Valencia market. Suffice to say, el Mercado de San Miguel was a top priority for a visit and some vegan grub while on my trip with Cheyenne. Honestly, this market is probably the nicest one I’ve ever been in. We grabbed some veggie paella and desserts from a couple of different food vendors, walked around for a little while, and sat down to eat all within the market. You can’t come to Madrid without seeing this place!
Museo de la Reina Sofía
If you’re anything like me, then you love art. When Cheyenne suggested we see the Reina Sofía, I was sold without much persuasion. We were a little disappointed when we saw how long the line was to enter, but Cheyenne had already visited with her study abroad group and knew there was also a back entrance. There were maybe 5 to 10 people in that line as opposed to the hordes of people out front. If you’re a student in Spain or the EU, or if you’re studying abroad and your university gave you a student ID, show it to the teller! You’ll probably get a nice discount.
Once you’re inside, there are so many rooms with paintings to admire that it’ll make your head spin. It’s not as overwhelming as the Louvre or the Met, but it’s magnificent in its own way. One of the most famous paintings in the museum is Picasso’s Guernica, a piece that takes up an entire wall and documents the atrocities of a Nazi bombing in Spain. Seeing that painting in person was so incredible after years of studying it in class for my Spanish major. I will never forget it.
Now let’s get to the reason many of you are considering a trip to Madrid, and if you weren’t before, you are now: the Royal Palace. The Spanish royal palace is in Madrid, and is open to the public for visits. If you want to go inside the gates, you do have to buy tickets. If you’re interested in that, you can inquire more about ticket prices and what they include here. We decided to skip the tickets and just admire the palace from outside the gates, like true commoners. It is such gorgeous architecture, and is a must-see in Madrid. Go ahead, enjoy the palace and pretend you’re a long-lost member of the royal family. I’m not speaking from experience or anything…
Walk the Winding Streets + Parque El Retiro
In all of my travels, I love to give myself enough time to just enjoy the destination. Madrid has some of the most beautiful winding streets and cozy neighborhoods with locals just going about their daily lives. If you’re into nature, head to Parque El Retiro. It is stunning, with nice walking trails and will make for a lovely afternoon stroll. In any itinerary, I highly recommend having some time to relax, unwind, and just walk. You never know what you’ll find! It could very well be your favorite part of the trip.
Try some paella or a menú del día
What are travels without the food? If it’s your first time in Spain, you must try some paella! Spanish wine is also some of the best I’ve ever had, and you can’t go wrong with tapas. My personal favorites are patatas bravas. Most restaurants will have the lunch menu of the day written on a chalkboard outside their door with the price on it. I would never pay more than 10 or 12 euros for a menú del día in Spain. You’ll get water or wine, an entree, and either an appetizer or dessert with bread included. This is customary all over the country, is such a good value, and is always delicious! If you have a special diet like me, then you’ll still be able to find what suits you in Madrid. Cheyenne and I found plenty of restaurants that cater to our plant-based diets.
As always, the one regret I have is not being able to stay longer. I’m actually planning a return trip to Madrid with family and friends as I type this post, and I’m chomping at the bit to be back in the heart of Spain! Next time, I’m going inside the Palacio Real, back to the Reina Sofía, I’ll be spending a day at El Prado, and, of course, trying some new vegan restaurants that have popped up in the two years since my last visit. Adiós for now, and get to packing!
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