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So, I really love Madrid

reasons to love madrid

I just realized it’s been way too long since I’ve written about my beloved Spain and I thought I’d share some of my reasons to love Madrid.

For those of you who are new to the blog, I lived in Spain for three years on and off before moving to New Zealand in 2013. Spain has always been one of my homes, and I hope it always will be. And while I’ve called Salamanca, Cordoba and Logroño home, I realized I have neglected to talk about a place where I spent quite a bit of time over the years – Madrid.

For me, Madrid is the heart of Spain and it’s a place I know really well. Geographically the center of the country, it’s also the center for travel and work and I pretty much am always passing through there over the years. It’s where many of my friends are and it’s a massive hub for expats. I know it well.

For some reason Madrid doesn’t always have the best rep – people tend to compare it to Barcelona a lot. Madrid versus Barcelona is more than just an epic soccer rivalry, and tourists tend to love the flashy beachside Catalán capital a lot more than traditional Madrid. Having spent a lot of time in both, I can safely say I hate Barcelona and love Madrid.

reasons to love madrid

reasons to love madrid

reasons to love madrid

For me, Madrid is the real Spain. It doesn’t get anymore Spanish than Madrid. With great food, amazing arts and culture, historic neighborhoods, adorable old man bats, fabulous shopping and super fun events, not to mention it’s the center for just about anywhere, Madrid a very livable lively city. I have so much nostalgia for it, especially in summer!

Why have I not talked about this before on the blog? Why? Better late than never, I guess.

I visited Madrid for the first time in 2005, spent a lot of time there in 2007/2008 and finally lived there for the first time in the summer of 2009 which researching for my college senior thesis at the National Library and have been coming back on and off ever since.

reasons to love madrid

reasons to love madrid

reasons to love madrid

Even though Madrid is a well-known city, for me it doesn’t feel touristy. It still has an authentic, traditional Spanish vibe that I love and adore. And while I generally always enjoy being in the countryside or small towns, I really also love big cities, especially ones that I know pretty well.

I spent over a week chilling out in Madrid a year ago and thought I’d piecemeal together some bits and pieces of my time there and why I love Madrid so much. I literally spent so much time there that I had to force myself to leave and head south to go exploring!

There are so many reasons to love Madrid. Far from being any sort of clear guide of what to do or what not to do in Madrid on holiday, and since I have never really gone to Madrid for a holiday anyways, I thought I’d go ahead and share personal reasons for why I love Madrid, what keeps bringing me back there and where my favorite haunts are.


reasons to love madrid

1. Pigging out on all the amazing food

It’s no secret, I love food; and Madrid has some banger Spanish food which by default means I love Madrid. And since Madrid is usually my first stop on my way to or from Spain, I always start my stay with eating my favorite Spanish food.

Bring on the ham!

Since I had left Spain, a good friend of mine Lauren from Spanish Sabores launched Madrid Food Tours which have grown massively over the years. I was so stoked to check them out when I was in Madrid. While I know a lot about Spanish food (mostly if it’s delicious or not and what wine to pair it with) I don’t know that much about the history behind it, which is why I wanted to give it a try and learn more.

I’ve known Lauren since the very beginning of my blog over six years ago when we were both English teachers and I’m so impressed with the business she has built out of a passion over the years.

reasons to love madrid

reasons to love madrid

reasons to love madrid

I opted for the Huertas neighborhood food and market tour since it was I place I didn’t know that well. I am a big believer that you can learn a lot about a country through its food and traditions, so I recommend taking food tours whenever you get the chance as a introduction to a new place. It’s also a great way to experience a city like a local.

A morning tour, don’t eat anything before showing up! You’ve been warned.

Exploring all over Huertas, we got a literal and figurative taste for pretty much every aspect of the Spanish diet. From churros with chocolate to the mighty acorn-fed cured ham to the typical cheeses to tapas to drinks, you literally get it all with stories and history and interesting travel tips woven in.

It’s the perfect introduction to food in Madrid but also to Spain and great for people like me who just love to eat!

reasons to love madrid

reasons to love madrid

reasons to love madrid

2. Airbnb on Gran Vía

My last trip to Spain I spent most of my time staying around Gran Vía. If I’m only there for a short amount of time I like to be as central as possible. Gran Vía is like the Broadway of Madrid, a huge ornate boulevard that sprawls through the center and is near the famous Plaza del Sol. But even though it’s big, it’s super easy to turn down a side street and get lost for hours.

Also Gran Vía has like every major shop you could ever want, and I always look forward to heading back to Spain and buying as much Zara, Mango and everything else that I can get my hands on. No shame.

I stayed in a super cute Airbnb right next to Gran Via, it was tiny and adorable, perfect for solo travelers. Airbnb’s are really affordable in Madrid and you can get ones that are very central. While I often stay in hotels on work trips and campaigns which I love, I tend to prefer apartments when I am on my own or have longer to explore a certain place. This time around in Spain I mostly stayed in Airbnb’s.

If you want something more intimate, my favorite other neighborhoods are Malasaña or La Latina – my friend Lauren has a good blog about neighborhoods here.

Sign up to Airbnb with this coupon and get $32 in credit! You’re welcome!

reasons to love madrid

3. Hanging at the Prado

The Prado is Spain’s greatest art museum, and I first visited back when I was in high school over a decade ago – what?!

Seeing works like Velázquez’s Las Meninas after reading about it in my Spanish high school textbook is something that sparked my deep love for travel. The journey to seeing or experiencing something you’ve heard about for a long time is quite special for me. Like an art pilgrimage. I am a huge history and art nerd, so I absolutely fizz at museums and love spending a lot of time in them. Especially ones that have as great of collections as the Prado.

I kid you not, every single time I am in Madrid, I got to the Prado. And I often go back multiple times when I’m there, I just love it. By now I’ve been dozens of times, especially as you get free admission for the last two hours of every day.

reasons to love madrid

reasons to love madrid

Here is 16 year old me in Spain for the first time (green dress) – glad to see my posture hasn’t improved

reasons to love madrid

4. Naps at Buen Retiro

El Parque del Buen Retiro is a massive old public park in the center of Madrid. As someone who loves green spaces, it makes me so happy to find one this big in the heart of an urban jungle.

There’s a lake you can paddle around in, so many gardens and terraces where you can sit out in the sun, or take naps in the grass after a long morning at the museums nearby. Though one of my favorite places is the old Crystal Palace.

Retiro is the kind of place that exists on any traveler’s must-do list for Madrid, but it’s worth it. And it’s big enough you never really feel crowded there and a great place to try out a siesta and sleep off a hangover. Cough cough.

reasons to love madrid

reasons to love madrid

reasons to love madrid

5. Tapas at Mercado de San Miguel

If you find yourself in the center of Madrid with a hankering for tapas but have no idea where to start, head to the famous Mercado de San Miguel. While it could seem to be very touristy, and trust me, it can be. At the same time it’s a really traditional and affordable market.

While you can pick up your bits and pieces and get an idea of staple ingredients in the healthy Spanish diet, there are also plenty of tapas waiting to be had here.

Wear your stretch pants.

reasons to love madrid


6. Getting lost among the cute streets

My favorite pastime in Madrid is to wander and get lost amongst the cute streets and quirky neighborhoods. Madrid is a very walk-able city so it’s worth it to just wander around though you can always hop on the Metro if you need to go further.

Luckily Madrid has those in abundance. You could live there for years and never explore them all. Since I flew in from New Zealand I was incredibly jetlagged and tired once I got to Spain; I was wide awake around 5am which meant I went for plenty of early morning walks around the city. Oh how times have changed. When I lived in Madrid in my early twenties, the only time I saw the city at 5am was when I was stumbling home from the discotecas.

I definitely suggest building in time to just wander around and explore. You’ll find the cutest places that way. And definitely check out the Huertas neighborhood food tour with Devour Madrid – you’ll get to explore the old Literary Quarter of Madrid and get to eat well at the same time!

reasons to love madrid

reasons to love madrid

reasons to love madrid

7. Rooftop sunsets

This last time I was in Madrid, I was really starting to get into my photography and wanted to go up to a beautiful spot for sunset. After doing a little research I realized that near where I was staying on Gran Vía is the Círculo de Bellas Artes which has an epic rooftop bar called Tartán Roof.

It’s amazing and has some of the best views of Madrid I’ve seen, enjoy!

reasons to love madrid

reasons to love madrid

8. Day trips galore

One of the best things about Madrid is that it’s geographically in the center of Spain and it’s very well connected to pretty much everywhere, especially by train which is my preferred form of transport. On most of my longer trips in Europe I end up traveling with an Eurail train pass which helps get me around. Since I was just in Spain I used the one country pass this time around.

Ever since I first started visiting, there were three places I would always end up going on day trips from the city. Toledo, Segovia and El Escorial. While I didn’t get around to visiting these spots on my last trip, they are still amazing spots that I want to go back to.

Toledo is an ancient city on a hill that has one of the best views in Spain and it’s an easy quick train ride from Madrid; you can even get there on the high speed train. Segovia is another favorite spot outside Madrid with an ancient Roman aqueduct and a Disney-esque fairytale castle. Finally another famous daytrip I often make is to El Escorial which was the historical residence of the king of Spain. Along with the nearby grim and controversial Valle de los Caídos, where Franco is buried, it’s the perfect daytrip from the capital.

reasons to love madrid

9. Indulging at the Corte Inglés

No shame – I love El Corte Inglés – Spain’s major mega department store. I go into the one in Sol in the morning and can spend all day there AND not even buy anything! Just sucks me in!

reasons to love madrid

10. Enjoy the Madrileño lifestyle

But above all I love Madrid because of it’s vibe. A very Spanish city that while it could be fast-paced and have a hustle lifestyle, it still manages to maintain a sense of peacefulness about it. I love hanging out on the terraces with friends eating and drinking after work, going shopping on the weekends, going on walks through the park and just enjoy being there.

Like most places in Spain people are friendly and social and enjoy being out and about instead of stuck inside. It’s cheap and affordable and beautiful to boot, what’s not to love?

Have you been to Madrid? Do you love it too? Madrid versus Barcelona? Where’s your favorite city to eat?

reasons to love madrid

61 Responses to So, I really love Madrid

  1. Stef October 30, 2016 at 2:55 pm #

    Yesss! I completely agree with you! I’ve visited Barcelona and Madrid and cannot understand why people like Barcelona more. I’m in the Madrid Team with you!

    • Liz October 31, 2016 at 9:55 am #

      Yay not just me!

  2. Maria October 30, 2016 at 9:12 pm #

    I am on vacation in Madrid right now!! It is my happy place and 100% agree with you on Barcelona; I live in a tourist town (Puerto Vallarta) and really do not care for touristy areas when I am on vacation. Besides, the food is much better in Madrid! My favorite places (in no special order): Plaza Santa Ana, Botanical Gardens behind the Prado, the Prado, Reina Sofia y Thyssen (3 museums all together basically), las Huertas area and El Retiro. Some great restaurants DStage, Juana La Loca, Arzabal (now also in Reina Sofia museum), Bocaitos and La Castela and my two favorite bars are La Venencia (where they only serve sherry and with an attitude) and the Bar Cock.

    • Liz October 31, 2016 at 9:56 am #

      Awesome tips thanks!!!

  3. Erika October 31, 2016 at 8:55 am #

    I went to Madrid on vacations last September, and just love the city! it´s easy to walk and find great neighborhoods, shops, restaurants, and excellent museums. I walked a lot and had a lot of fun, and I would come back for sure! I visited Toledo and stayed some days at Sevilla too, and loved these cities also. Barcelona is on my list, so I can´t say yet which one is better. Nice post!

    • Liz October 31, 2016 at 9:56 am #

      Oh cool, sounds like a rad vacation!

  4. Danielle October 31, 2016 at 9:41 am #

    I’ve never been to Madrid, or Spain for that matter, but you sold me on the food alone. I want some fresh bread from that little bakery in the picture so bad!

    Madrid is beautiful. Your pictures reminded me why I think I would love exploring European cities with all that old world charm.

    And a siesta in the park sounds right up my ally too. I think Madrid and I would get along just fine.

    • Liz October 31, 2016 at 9:56 am #

      freshly baked bread daily is one of my favorite things about Spain!

  5. Lauren October 31, 2016 at 9:53 am #

    I’ve lived and worked in both cities and at one point I would have said I preferred Madrid, but that changed when I started learning Catalan. Going back to Barcelona and being able to read signs so much easier or just order a coffee in the local language made a big difference! Suddenly I felt like I belonged and wasn’t just another tourist. Parts of Barcelona can feel really touristy but still I never get tired of seeing La Sagrada Familia, watching a sunset from the top of Montjuic, or roaming the streets of the Barri Gotic. I do love Madrid for all the reasons you mentioned above, but I think the main deterrent I would have to living in Madrid again would be that it’s so far from the ocean and it gets SO hot in the summertime! I’m team Barcelona 🙂

    • Liz October 31, 2016 at 9:57 am #

      I bet knowing Catalán would make such a difference!!! I love being by the sea too!

  6. Claudia Aymerich October 31, 2016 at 10:46 am #

    Ouch, I’m so sorry you hated Barcelona!

    Although I’ve been in Madrid a few times and have enjoyed it quite a lot, I was born and raised in Barcelona, and I am hopelessly in love with the city. I bet if you gave it a second (or third) chance you’d change your mind! 🙂

    Any way, nice article ^_^

    • Liz October 31, 2016 at 6:41 pm #

      You have to show me around next time and change my mind!

  7. Virginia October 31, 2016 at 2:05 pm #

    Here a spanish girl. I’ve just found your blog and It’s amazing! I’ve been working in Madrid for three years now and I share the feeling for this awesome city. I’m from a small town called Cuenca (This should be your next trip in Spain! It’s just 1h 30 min by car and 30 min by AVE from Madrid and It has a beautiful old quarter and landscape :D) and what you have posted are the reasons why I decided to move there (the vibe of this city is hard to find in others). My place is in Ópera and my favourite neighbourhoods are La Latina and Malasaña. Nice article. I’ll keep reading you! Un abrazo

    • Liz October 31, 2016 at 6:41 pm #

      I’ve never been to Cuenca but it’s on my list!

  8. stephanie October 31, 2016 at 11:04 pm #

    Oh my Madrid looks lovely. I agree with you that Barcelona gets all the attention, but to be honest, I have been to Barcelona and wasnt blown away by it.
    Hopefully i can visit Madrid one day 🙂 i bet i like it more than Barcelona! haha!

    • Liz November 1, 2016 at 1:20 pm #

      Probably if you weren’t wowed by Barcelona, Madrid is awesome!

  9. Danny November 1, 2016 at 10:30 am #

    I feel like I need to give Madrid a second chance. When I was there, it was mid-February and the weather was absolutely terrible – dark, gray, and even snowy! However, I did really enjoy the two day trips I took – Segovia and Toledo – and the food was some of the best I’ve had in Europe. Perhaps I just need to give it a try in the summer… 😉

    • Liz November 1, 2016 at 1:21 pm #

      Middle of winter can be dreary, but peak summer can be quite hot!

  10. Jacob Peterson November 1, 2016 at 11:14 am #

    Hey I love your work! Keep it up! You’ve inspired me to start doing my own blog and YouTube channel too! Check it out!

    Your awesome!

    • Liz November 1, 2016 at 1:21 pm #

      awesome that makes me happy to hear!

  11. Fer November 2, 2016 at 1:53 am #

    Well as a spaniard I have to say… you really know Madrid! Really nice article and a great beginners guide to the city. I prefer the Thyssen museum, but that’s just personal haha. I’m not from there (Alicante, a little coastal city south of Valencia), but I come whenever I can. Again congrats on the article!

    • Liz November 2, 2016 at 8:46 am #

      Thank you!

  12. Athena November 2, 2016 at 5:45 am #

    I’ve been to both cities and while I liked Barcelona, there was just something about Madrid that I liked more. Even if it was raining the whole time I was there (woo spring weather!).

    • Liz November 2, 2016 at 8:47 am #

      Agreed 🙂

  13. Melissa November 2, 2016 at 5:50 am #

    I’ve been to both Madrid and Barcelona (and have to admit, Barcelona is my favorite), but I definitely loved my time in Madrid too! Especially the Prado, the tapas, and chocolate con churros! Hope I can make it back one day.

    • Liz November 2, 2016 at 8:47 am #


  14. Cat Gaa November 2, 2016 at 7:46 am #

    I also prescribe to the EW BARCELONA camp and am beginning to make a home in Madrid. I miss Sevilla like crazy but know it’s just a matter of time before I can unlock La Capi.

    ..that is, once my child is a toddler. Or a teenager.

    • Liz November 2, 2016 at 8:50 am #

      hahah yay!

  15. Imad Nohad November 2, 2016 at 8:58 am #

    Nice tips about Madrid, I’m a huge fan o Real Madrid and would love to visit the city.
    Thanks for the nice post.

    • Liz November 2, 2016 at 12:08 pm #

      Then you have to come and visit the stadium!

  16. Yvonne November 3, 2016 at 2:09 am #

    I spent 24 hours in Madrid recently, and I loved it! I walked around, ate lots of good food, stared at Guernica till I got weepy, poked around in the churches, and drank a great cocktail. I’ll be back!

    • Liz November 3, 2016 at 8:55 pm #

      So cool!

  17. Victoria @The British Berliner November 3, 2016 at 3:03 am #

    Yep! I’ve been to Madrid. The first time I went was years ago, and I didn’t really like it lol! But I went again only this Easter and my opinion has changed! I too stayed at a little Hostal on Gran Via ,so we were slap-bang in the middle of everything, which I liked very much!

    I’ve been to Barcelona many, many times, but it’s still my favourite place in Spain to visit. Sorry!

    I loved going to the little tapas bars on every corner in Madrid. You have to watch yourself though ‘cos they tend to ignore Spanish ways when they know you’re a tourist! Having said that, once they understand that you’re in the know so to speak, they’re all smiles and treat you as they treat their own!

    • Liz November 3, 2016 at 8:56 pm #

      Gran Via is an awesome spot!

  18. Jose November 3, 2016 at 10:13 pm #

    Madrid aglutina la diversidad cultural española y de su cocina, por eso su encanto, es un resumen de España. Había un dicho que el mejor pescado de España se comía en Madrid.
    El Corte Ingles tiene que ver con América con Cuba, era una sastrería de Madrid, que adquirieron, unos asturianos que habían emigrado a Cuba, y habían trabajado en “El Encanto” de La Habana, fundado también por asturianos.
    Madrid unites the Spanish cultural diversity and its cuisine, so its charm, it is a summary of Spain. There was a saying, that the best fish from Spain, it was eaten in Madrid.
    El Corte English has to see with America with Cuba, was a tailor shop in Madrid, which, an Asturians acquired, who they had emigrated to Cuba, and they had worked in “El Encanto” Havana, also founded by Asturians.

    I apologize by my English (I don’t speak English)

    • Liz November 4, 2016 at 6:25 pm #

      Muy bien dicho!

  19. Signe Christensen November 4, 2016 at 6:57 am #

    Thank you for a lovely post, I felt like I could have written it myself. I’ve always travelled a lot in Spain, almost once a year since I was 8, but when I visited Madrid for the first time 2 years ago, I knew I had to come back one day to live. Your post and pictures fill me with nostalgia and dreams cause Madrid is just as amazing and beautiful as you write. I am currently doing my exchange semester in Buenos Aires but my heart really belongs to Madrid.

    Thank you for giving this wonderful city some well deserved attention 🙂

    • Liz November 4, 2016 at 6:29 pm #

      I have so much nostalgia too!

  20. izzy k November 4, 2016 at 12:02 pm #

    I’ve never been to Madrid but I’ve always wanted to! Now I REALLY want to lol!

    • Liz November 4, 2016 at 6:30 pm #

      Add it to the list!

  21. Aya November 5, 2016 at 9:47 am #

    I’ve always wanted to go to Spain and visit all of it’s beautiful cities !! i never thought that Madrid is this gorgeous, you made me want to go and live there :)) thank you xx

    • Liz November 7, 2016 at 1:13 pm #


  22. Anna Belkina November 9, 2016 at 11:34 pm #

    I dont hate Barcelona but I love and prefer Madrid for all the reasons you listed (I studied there for half a year ages ago). It IS real Spain, it is so alive, and it has the best sunrises of anywhere in the world.

    • Liz November 10, 2016 at 9:50 am #


  23. Mercedes Heritage November 11, 2016 at 1:04 am #

    I’ve been in Madrid and Barcelona. I liked both, but Barcelona is special and magical. I love this city 🙂

    • Liz November 11, 2016 at 10:02 am #

      I have to spend more time there!

  24. Alisa November 14, 2016 at 7:04 am #

    Ay por diós, cómo echo de menos a España! I’m totally team Barça, but I actually know Madrid much better, having lived (near) there for about 1.5 years. It definitely grew on me as time went on, but en realidad Galicia is better than both… 😀

    • Liz November 15, 2016 at 7:14 pm #

      haha that is true! long live northern spain!

  25. Tajinder Pal Singh Ahluwalia November 15, 2016 at 9:03 pm #

    Hey Liz, thanks for the awesome tips. I am planning a Euro trip in December and spending most of my time in Madrid and Barcelona. I have to admit, I was thinking of getting a day off from Madrid and move it to Barcelona but won’t do it now. For an American, anything you recommend I should bring home from Spain? Also, do you recommend any day trip out of Madrid/Barcelona. I don’t know when I am going to be in Spain again and want to get the most out of the Spanish culture as I can.

    • Liz November 16, 2016 at 9:15 pm #

      I definitely recommend a day trip to Segovia and Toledo!

      • Tajinder Pal Singh Ahluwalia November 18, 2016 at 7:23 pm #

        Awsm, thanks

  26. Andrew Cariboni November 18, 2016 at 5:16 am #

    I can see why. Food looks nuts.

    • Liz November 20, 2016 at 6:55 pm #

      it’s amazing!

  27. Mahee Ferlini November 22, 2016 at 4:05 pm #

    I love Madrid!!

    • Liz November 22, 2016 at 5:03 pm #

      It rocks!

  28. Alouise November 26, 2016 at 10:34 am #

    I booked a trip to Madrid last year on a whim, and loved the city. For being a capital city it’s a pretty destination, but it has all the things I love when I travel, a great vibe, amazing food, interesting architecture, culture, history, cool places to get lost in, great parks, and did I mention amazing food. I haven’t been to Barcelona, so I can’t comment on that rivalry, but I definitely want to go back to Madrid after reading this post.

    • Liz November 26, 2016 at 1:05 pm #


  29. Antilog Vacations December 6, 2016 at 12:07 am #


  30. Sarah Jordan December 14, 2016 at 3:40 am #

    Hey Liz,
    thanks for all of your awesome travel tips. I will be in Madrid for New Years eve in 2 weeks. I am 52, single and traveling with my girlfriend (also 52 and single), and her son who is 22 (he is teaching English for this year in Spain in Logrono.Can you please suggest somewhere we could go for New Years Eve. We both like to party, but I don’t think we would enjoy a club of only 25 and younger.

  31. Miriam December 18, 2016 at 12:15 pm #


    First of all I must say I’m from Madrid. And I loved your passion for my city.

    One of the best things of Madrid is that everyone is welcomed. We try very hard to make people feel at home. So, there’s no doubt you’ll enjoy visiting our city.

    Here citizens say: “De Madrid al cielo”, which means “From Madrid to Heaven”

    • Liz December 19, 2016 at 10:10 am #

      I love that!

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