Discovering Madrid

Have you ever visited a city and as soon as you arrive already know you can’t wait to return? That’s how I felt about Spain’s capital, Madrid.

I visited Madrid for the first time as part of a hen party to celebrate my friend’s upcoming nuptials.  Now on these sort of trips what goes on tour stays on tour 😉 but I’m going to break the rules a little and indulge in some of the discoveries we made amongst all the debauchery.

Meandering the streets of Madrid

Our base for the duration was Hotel Moderno overlooking Puerta del Sol, the historical centre of Madrid.  The hotel was clean, bright and modern with friendly staff – just don’t try to cram more than 4 people into the lift!  Here we were within a short walking distance of all the places mentioned below, handy to the city sightseeing bus tour and a short walk away from Plaza Mayor where free walking tours leave from.

Hotel Moderno, overlooking Puerta del Sol

Amongst the many museums and galleries a laid back sightseeing experience can be found at Parque del Buen Retiro – Park of the Pleasant Retreat, literally.  The “lungs of Madrid” occupy over 300 acres of the city.  Take a stroll around the many gardens with their fountains and statues, explore art exhibitions in the Palacio de Velázquez and Palacio de Cristal and for great value fun take a row boat out on the lake for only €8 to test your strength and more importantly co-ordination!

Manicured gardens at El Retiro
Inside the Palacio de Cristal
Fun comes cheap in a little row boat…

It seems every street to be explored in Madrid is full of wonderful historical architecture.  With classical, baroque and the Moorish influenced Neo-Mudéjar style of architecture the city certainly isn’t short of picture perfect places to capture.  The Royal Palace of Madrid (or Palacio Real de Madrid) is one such landmark.  Situated to the west of downtown Madrid the ornamental façade of the palace can be admired from it’s surrounding plazas and gardens.  The palace is open all year round with an entrance fee of €10.

Plaza de Oriente at Palacio Real de Madrid

With a little sightseeing completed the majority of our girly trip away was taken up with eating and drinking, well what better way to soak up the local culture I say!

The Mercado de San Miguel is a place we kept gravitating towards and really is a must visit.  Similar in vain to our own St Georges Market, in this food market you’ll find permanent kiosks and little stands with local and international cuisine offering fresh quality produce.  Our gastronomical experience included croquettes filled with creamy chicken, ham, cheese and mushrooms, calamari bocadillos (crispy squid sandwiches) and tostadas topped with prawns, caesar salad and gulas (an eel like seafood product made from the flesh of pollock, doesn’t look very appetising but I’m told has nutritional value).

Unlike our Belfast market you’ll be able enjoy a beer, wine or a cocktail as you peruse the culinary delights.  A large delicious class of rioja will set you back €3 and if you charm the sellers with your Spanish language skills they may even throw in a carnation too!

Fresh produce at Mercado de San Miguel
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Tostadas and rioja at Mercado de San Miguel

Another must visit is a little hidden treasure located on the top floor of the Salvador Bachiller shop on Calle Montera off Puerta del Sol.  Surrounded by plants, gazebos and flower pots El Jardín de SB is a secret garden cafe experience not to be missed.  It makes for a  beautiful spot for lunch or a typical spanish breakfast of pan con tomate, a simple but tasty recipe of bread with tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and salt.  The extensive tea menu comes served in glass teapots, the plates are colourfully decorated and even the spoons are cute.  If you’re taken with the decor and crockery, like me, you can purchase the Spanish style homewares on the floors below or if you’ve limited room in the suitcase you can also purchase online.

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Secret Garden cafe at Salvador Bachiller
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Secret garden breakfast


Quaint surroundings at El Jardin de SB

Alongside it’s historical architectural Madrid also has quite a few historical establishments offering up treats for those with a sweet tooth.  Being based in Puerta del Sol meant we had the perfect opportunity to explore most of them!  Along the street from Hotel Moderno you’ll find Chocolatería San Ginés.  THEE place to go for your churros and chocolate fix.  Since 1894 it’s been serving up the fried dough snack and adorning the walls of it’s tiled and marbled interior are photos of it’s many famous customers over the years.  Open around the clock the establishment is a popular place to convene after a night out.

Just opposite our hotel we popped into La Mallorquina, with chocolate and pastries galore you can take in the comforting bakery smells and hustle and bustle whilst standing at the counter with your coffee and cake.  Or opt for a calmer experience with the table service upstairs.

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If you want to take home a few souvenirs of Madrid’s historical treats then picking up some turrón is a must.  A typical Spanish sweet treat made of honey, sugar and egg whites, turrón nougat is consumed in most of Spain.  In Madrid a few of us couldn’t resist the delectable displays of Torrons Vincens who have been in the business since 1775.  The shop is located close to Plaza Mayor and with a few samples to try before you buy I doubt too many people leave empty handed.

Hard to resist the nougat delights of Torrons Vincens

A sweet treat specifically traditional to Madrid is a sugary candy flavoured with violets.  La Violeta is the original and oldest establishment selling the floral candy opened by Mariano Gil in 1915, the tiny shop is located just off Puerto del Sol.  Sold by weight, the candies come packaged in porcelain,  glass jars and little paper boxes decorated with ribbons and flowers.  If you like parma violets you’ll love these.

Violet sweets beautifully packaged in La Violeta
La Violeta, est 1915

The food and sweet treats are just a small taster of what Madrid has to offer.  Couldn’t resit the pun!! With a culture of eating late and staying out to the wee small hours there is a constant energy and buzz to the city making it a fun place to explore…but like I said I can only divulge so much…

I had a wonderful time soaking up the sights and culture and all in the company of such great girls.  If you’re considering a city break I’d highly recommend putting Madrid on the list, I’m already considering another trip to the city later in the year!

The gorgeous bride to be and all the lovely hens.  Classy ladies.

Thank you girls for an unforgettable trip xx


To get there:
We flew with Ryanair direct from Dublin to Madrid.

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