Madrid to the Max

Stuff your senses Spanish style

A compact centre which you can cover on foot, historical richness everywhere, hot sunshine even in January, world-class art, and a million bars which all serve tasty food. No need to stop while you’re in Madrid. The invention of the wonderful “cañita”—or small draft beer—and the small snack delivered with it—means your capacity for enjoyment has just increased ten fold. Here’s my day in the Spanish capital.

Breakfast / Simplicity

Don’t trek across the city to find the perfect breakfast spot—get into the nearest café offering desayuno and order a “pan con tomate”, often available with fresh orange juice and coffee for a risible amount like two euros. Bread smeared with olive oil and covered in mashed tomato—so simple, so delicious, and so absurdly cheap.

Morning / Inspiration

Hit one of the big three galleries first thing—you don’t want to miss peak lunchtime. Each of the killer institutions offers something different. The Thyssen-Bornemisza, a private collection made public, coasts from Italian Primitive Art through Renaissance to Impressionism and cherry-picked modern works. The Museo del Prado is one of the globe’s foremost art troves, up there with the Louvre, and just as hard to see anything more than a fraction of. So go in with a game plan—and don’t miss Francisco de Goya’s “Black Paintings”. Finally the stunning Reina Sofia Museum takes you through the art movements of the last two centuries. Forget the hype because “Guernica” lives up to it—Picasso’s giant, powerful tribute to the fascist bombing of the Spanish city is an imprint on your soul.

Lunchtime / Celebration

Weekday, weekend… Lunchtime is a massive deal in Madrid. And if you see a bar totally stuffed with people, do like the Madrileños and plunge right in there. Not far from the three museums is the century-old charm of Taberna la Dolores on Plaza Jésus. Stop in for a cañita, your first, but not last, small beer of the day. Order a “gilda” pincho, or skewer loaded with umami tidbits, named after a 1946 Rita Hayworth character. Now your appetite is tuned in, step next door to Taberna la Daniela, a bright tiled place with an expansive menu and friendly staff. Go for the full “cocido madrileño”—a chickpea stew with all kinds of goodies inside. Or just get some calamari (rabas) and move along to the next one.

Afternoon / Meditation

La Chueca district has had something of a renaissance in recent years, becoming a centre for gay culture and fashion, and with new bars and restaurants renewing the vibe. Right on Plaza de Chueca is Barei, a clothing store with a sumptuous collection of multi-brand elegant clothes for both sexes. To divide and conquer, you could leave some of your party perusing the wares while you step into Taberna Ángel Sierra, another 100-year-old bar with painted ceilings, sepia farm scenes and a thousand dusty bottles. To continue with the continuous consumption, Barra Atlántica is half a block away. If you make it there before 3pm it’s worth popping in for the “almejas al estilo madre” (clams cooked “mother’s style”) and a dish of “navajas”—long, juicy razor clams.

Afterwards take a walk through the mazy streets of Malasaña to the west, scout for vintage shops, and then turn south to Chocolatería San Gines for the classic pre-evening sugary pick-me-up of churros and chocolate, in a spot that’s been making them since 1894. On the wall you can see the owner with plenty of luminaries from the past decades, including Paloma Picasso and Pele.

Evening / Stage

Microteatro Por Dinero is a triumph of resourceful creativity in a city that has had no money for too long. In a former brothel, five plays are on the bill—tickets to each cost just four euros, and they only last 20 minutes—which might be longer than some of the old brothel appointments used to take. If you can understand Spanish don’t hesitate and get down there. But even if you can’t, popping in for one show will be an experience short and dynamic enough to appreciate. It’s part of the fun having a drink in the bar and waiting for your next play to be called. The pieces run on rotation all night so just fit it into your schedule.

Night / Fiesta

A maelstrom of eating and drinking possibilities can be found on and around Calle de Ponzano. Start by gazing at the elegant hand-painted-tile exterior of Cervecería El Doble. It’s as elegant outside as it is not inside—though the unflattering white light, referred to by my friend as “Grandma’s-bathroom-style” doesn’t deter madrileños who squeeze in by the tens to knock back a few cañas and pinchos. Judging by the photos on the walls, every Spanish footballer of the last 20 years has been there, which would mean it might be the place to get extremely up-close and personal with celebrity athletes. Lurch outside and hit some of the others on the street—Restaurante Ponzano greets you with the sight of massive slabs of hanging pork and does a mean fried artichoke, while Cafetería Hermar is the pure no-frills canteen style place to counteract this micro-hood’s trendiness.


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