Madrid Travel Guide: Exploring History, Cuisine, and Culture in Spain’s Capital


the blog:

Exploring Madrid: Our Family’s First European Adventure

Where do I even start? Our 15-day trip through Spain was absolutely incredible, marking our first trip to Europe. We kicked off this adventure in the bustling heart of Madrid, a city that immediately won us over with its vibrant culture and warm hospitality.

Our Stay at Cool Rooms Palacio de Atocha

Let’s talk about our hotel first. Cool Rooms Palacio de Atocha might just be the best place we’ve ever stayed. The attention to detail was mind-blowing, and the staff was nothing short of amazing. They reached out weeks before our arrival to ensure everything would be perfect. Just yesterday, I learned they received a Michelin star—talk about great timing! Its central location in Madrid allowed us to explore most of the city on foot, saving us the need for cabs!

The History: Tours and Landmarks

Our exploration began somewhat by accident (because it was the only tour with openings on Easter Day) with a visit to the Prado Museum. This turned out to be a blessing as the wealth of historical insights provided a deep understanding of Spain’s regal and tumultuous past, which enriched our visits to places like the Royal Palace and various majestic plazas. The Prado was a gateway to the stories of kings and queens and the infamous “ugly king” (you’d have to see for yourself!). PS – this king paid artists to paint him more favorably, but one Spanish painter, Goya, apparently did not and portrayed this king the most accurately.

Culinary Adventures

Madrid is hands down the JAMÓN capital and definitely a foodie’s heaven. We dined at the legendary Botin, known as the oldest restaurant in the world and listed in the Guinness Book of World Records. We couldn’t get just a reservation, so we booked a tour of Botin that included a lunch and visit to their 16th-century wine cellar—absolutely fascinating and the food was classic and delicious! PS – they are known for their suckling pig, so you will see a LOT of roasted pigs staring at you when you walk in – just a little forewarning!

Our #1 must-hit spot was a small wine bar called La Fisna – the food was as incredible as the service and we would go back to Madrid just to go back there! It was probably one of our favorite meals of the entire trip!

Restaurants We Ate At:

  1. Botin
  2. Ferraria (Michelin Star)
  3. Mercado Jamon Iberico (not fancy but DELICIOUS for lunch)
  4. El Riojano (churros with lady fingers)
  5. Aarde – ‘fancy’ dinner
  6. Casa Gonzalez (great cheese + jamón)
  7. Rooftop Bar at Hotel Riu Plaza España (just did drinks but great view)
  8. La Lonja del Mar (seafood restaurant with views of the Palace)
  9. Mercado de San Miguel (gorgeous market with tons of tapas)

Restaurants/Tapas We Wanted To Go To But Couldn’t Get In:

  1. Alimentacion
  2. El Barril
  3. Divorare (there are three of these viral sandwich shops across the city)
  4. Taberna La Concha (drinks)

Sipping and Sightseeing

Our leisurely strolls through the city were punctuated by casual sips of wine in the Royal Gardens and historic scenes at various plazas like Plaza Mayor and Plaza de Oriente. We enjoyed gorgeous views from a rooftop bar at the Hotel Riu in Plaza de España. NOTE – wine is amazingly affordable in Spain—just three to four euros a glass, and we didn’t have a glass we didn’t enjoy!

Areas/Plazas We Walked Through:

  1. Royal Gardens (grab a glass of wine near the lake)
  2. Plaza Mayor (so much history)
  3. Plaza de Oriente (in front of the Royal Palace)
  4. Calle Huertas (lots of cute restaurants – this area was about a 12 min walk from the hotel we stayed at)
  5. Gran Via – where all the fancy shopping is!
  6. Plaza de Espana

Reflections on Our Time in Madrid

The pace of our trip was perfect, with days dedicated to a single major activity like the Prado, allowing us time to wander through the city’s heart, return to our hotel to relax, and then head out for dinner around eight or nine. Contrary to popular belief, we found that the local dining culture did not revolve around late dinners at 11 PM, but more like 9 PM.

Madrid, Valencia, and Barcelona? It’s tough to say which city stole our hearts, but Madrid is a strong contender with its unforgettable experiences and culinary delights. While Barcelona had its highlights, Madrid and Valencia brought us closer to the true spirit of Spain.

PS – I have created a Google Map for each city with all of these spots I listed in the blog post so you can easily find them on your travels. Here is the link: Google Maps Link

Stay tuned for more tales of our travels, including the charming city of Valencia, in my upcoming posts!



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