My time in Madrid, Spain was short, so I didn't have a chance to explore too many hidden gems. I did, however, get to sample some of the more popular adventures Madrid has to offer. While they may be slightly touristy, these were my favorite highlights from my four-day trip to the city. I would recommend everyone visiting the city hit up these spots, as they represent so many facets of the experience.
Mercado de San Miguel: One of my absolute favorite places in Madrid is a market we stumbled upon when exploring the Plaza Major. San Antone Market is a large building where different artisans and vendors can set up shop under one roof. Upon entry, you’re greeted by a large produce vendor, with all of the most delicious fresh fruits and veggies you could want. Next to that, a fish market selling sashimi grade, smoked, cured, and cooked fish atop crispy flatbreads for one euro each. This was probably my favorite stop, as three euros got me a satisfying sample platter. Visitors can also get wine, mixed drinks, sangria, bread, sweets, and all types of cured meats and cheeses. Basically, all that is good is housed under that roof, and every single thing I tried was delicious.
Toledo: About 30 minutes outside of Madrid sits Toledo, a medieval city that is still inhabited. The people of Toledo seem to embrace its middle age charm, hanging banners above the narrow streets, placing flowering plants in the windows, and keeping things looking as authentic as possible. It’s basically like walking into a time capsule; the buildings are very well preserved and restored. We’re told Toledo was a hub of religious activity back in the day, with Christians, Muslims, and Jews living together peacefully (for the most part). Visitors can tour a colossal, timeworn, beautiful cathedral, which is down the street from the Jewish quarter complete with synagogues and shops. Not far from that you’ll find a mosque, and all throughout there are quaint restaurants and shops. There are parts of town that seem a bit more of a tourist trap than I’d like, but if you focus on the authentic parts of town it really is amazing. Definitely worth checking out.
El Sobrino De Botin: Established in 1725, Botin is one of the oldest restaurants in the world. Boasting patrons like Earnest Hemingway (who is said to have had his own table, in the corner of the restaurant on the top floor), and former employees like Goya (who is said to have spent some time as a dishwasher there), this place is a must-see. The traditional Spanish architecture, heavy wooden doors, and beautiful stained glass complement the eclectic menu. Items like roast suckling pig, black squid pasta (in its own ink), and bone-in chicken with almond sauce are all prepared in the back in large portions and served up tableside as it's ordered. Plan on spending more here than at more casual restaurants, as a visit to Botin is a fancy affair. It’s worth it to experience sitting and eating where so many others have, and the food is delish as well! Dad really enjoyed his suckling pig, but I wish I had ordered something a bit more adventurous than the almond chicken (although it was still good). Get a pitcher of sangria… it’s phenomenal.
Tablao Flamenco La Quimera: Housed in the newer area of Madrid is a lovely flamenco venue called Tablao Flamenco La Quimera. The restaurant is small, with a small stage in one corner. The house is packed nightly, and we made our reservations in advance (which was probably an excellent choice). Upon arriving, we were showed our table, which was right in front of the stage, although there wasn't a bad seat in the house. The flamenco troupe consisted of two male dancers, one female, a guitar player and a vocalist. All were amazing at their craft and showed real passion when playing or dancing. They didn't hold back at all and were dripping in sweat by the end of each performance (each was about 40 minutes long, with a small intermission, for about an hour and a half total). The food they brought out was plentiful and delicious. We had the tasting menu, which consisted of a green salad with seasonal fruits, a Spanish omelet, filet of salmon and mini toast with cream cheese, Iberian cured ham with bread and chicken paella. Bread and one drink were also included (although we ended up ordering more wine, which was not expensive). All in all, it was an enjoyable experience, and I would recommend it to anyone!
The Prado Museum: A trip to Madrid isn’t complete without visiting the famous Prado Museum. Within its walls sits one of the largest collections of masterpieces around, complete with paintings and sculptures from Raphael, Goya, El Greco (more). Admission is free from 6-8pm, but I would recommend allotting yourself more time if Renaissance and Middle Age art is important to you. We opted to go during the free hours and only made it about 1/3 of the way through the museum. It was still incredible and highly recommended.