***Updated on 03.11.2023
Weeee did it! Grace is all dropped off in Madrid and starting her new life in this incredibly friendly and beautiful city.
When we left for Madrid, I thought I was heading there as a tourist. But the reality set in pretty quick, that I was there to be a Spaniard. It may sound crazy that I tagged along on Grace’s big adventure, but truth be told–I needed to make sure that she was all set up for success–in a safe apartment, navigating the Metro, and just comfortable in her new surroundings. I’m not sure could sleep otherwise.
Before I say anything else, I have to give Grace so much credit for making this all happen. She got her Visa, opened an international bank account, ordered a Metro card, found roommates, improved her Spanish, and made appointments with handful of apartments for us to see before we left Chicago. Getting her situated would not have been as easy as it was had she not tackled all of this before we left.
Outside the Catalonia Las Cortes Hotel
That said, once we landed we hit the ground running checking out 4-bedroom apartments for her and her roommates. Grace is living with three amazing young women who are also teaching in Spain this year. The one thing girls were warned about about before to moving to Madrid was not to sign any apartment leases until they saw it with their own eyes. The probability of online scammers is high so this was great advice. And I’m happy to say that within 48 hours of arriving in Spain, they found an apartment right near the Royal Palace of Madrid and moved in!
From here, we were gals on a mission–cleaning their apartment and getting it set up for them to live. Without a Target and Homegoods to turn to, we learned to love Primark and work the Metro. So needless to say, there wasn’t a lot of time for sightseeing on my short time in Spain, but I did get a taste of what it’s like to be Spanish.
Grace in front of the grade school where she’s teaching
This blog post recaps where I stayed, where we ate, and some tips to consider on your first trip to Madrid. I am counting the days to go back and really explore this incredible place.
How I Got There
We are a United Airlines family and United doesn’t currently fly direct to Madrid. On the way to Spain, Grace and I had a short layover in DC and on the way home, I flew through Newark. All of our flights were completely packed, meaning my carryons were gate-checked coming and going. This didn’t end up being a problem at all.
Where We Stayed
Grace on the balcony of our hotel room at Catalonia Las Cortes
Even though I was in Spain to help Grace, I did want to do some travel research for my blog while I was there so I booked myself in two different hotels, on opposite sides of the city.
For the first part of our week, we stayed at the Catalonia Las Cortes and we loved it. Just a few blocks from the Plaza del Sol, this hotel truly felt like it was walking distance to everything. Located on the most charming street–Calle del Prado–we really felt like we were somewhere special. The hotel was pristine, our room was spacious, the bed was so comfortable and it had all of the amenities to make you feel like you’re on vacation. While we opted out of the breakfast package when booking our room, we did take advantage of the little treats they would make available in their lounge throughout the day. Coffee service, little salads and sandwiches, even smoothies and cake–it’s more than we could have asked for. The hotel’s neighborhood was also very quiet, which was so nice after fighting the crowds in the city center during the day.
The staircase at Catalonia Las Cortes
For the second half of my stay, I booked a room at the Only You Boutique Hotel Atocha. This hotel had so much personality and was definitely more hip than Catalonia Las Cortes. The room was super modern and clean, but as I was walking to my room I felt like I was staying in a very nice dorm. I also felt more dependent on the Metro and Cabify (Spanish Uber) at this location and being a big walker, this was a bummer for me. But all of that said, this is a lovely hotel with an incredibly helpful staff, situated near one of the largest Metro stops in Madrid.
On my return visit to see Grace, I stayed at the Riu Plaza de Espana. This hotel is perfectly central to all of the things a tourist would want to see while they’re in Madrid, yet still a few blocks away from the craziness of Gran Via (the Times Square of Madrid). Grace lives just a couple of blocks away, so she would text when she was on her way over, and by the time we came down to the lobby, she was there waiting for us. This hotel has a number of amenities, including one of the THE rooftop bars in Madrid, but we weren’t in town long enough to take advantage of them. Overall, the hotel was incredibly clean, quiet and just what we needed—a comfortable bed and a hot shower.
Another hotel to consider:
The Four Seasons Hotel Madrid: I’m not sure things get any better than a Four Seasons property, but this one in Madrid was just breathtaking.
Where We Ate
I have to say that one of the most marvelous things about Madrid is that pretty much anywhere you go– will have delicious food. There were so many days where we just walked into a corner cafe for breakfast, lunch, or dinner and we’d leave thinking it was the best meal we ever had. Here are the few places we tried and enjoyed.
La Mallorquina: the best pastries we had in Madrid were here and the coffee service was amazing! Cafe con leche is the coffee order of choice in Madrid and here they bring your coffee to the table and then pour warm milk into your cup tableside. It was the best! I’m still dreaming about that coffee.
La Rollerie: Grace and I wandered into La Rollerie for brunch and it was wonderful. We shared one of their brunch options that included a loaf of fresh bread, a fruit and granola parfait and two different kinds of toast with scrambled eggs. Delicious!
Our toast and eggs at La Rollerie
Zenith: This cute spot is in the Malasana neighborhood that has a very young and cool vibe. The line was pretty long to get a table, but it moved quickly. They had loads of brunch items to choose from but the peanut butter pancakes were my favorite!
Bodegas Rivas: This was the coziest place in the cutest neighborhood. We went here for brunch after mass on Sunday and each of our meals was so fresh. Additionally, they had the best green juice which was just what my tired body needed. And, “brunch” includes the pastry of the day which was the yummiest piece of carrot cake I think I ever had.
Our brunch at Zenith…and the famous peanut butter pancakes
Most nights for dinner, after walking about 100,000 steps, we would just find the nearest cafe. And I’m being honest when I say we never had a bad meal.
Ginger: This was the most elegant dinner we had while I was in Madrid. We ordered their prefixed menu that included an appetizer, main course, and dessert for 20 euros. The ambiance was lovely and the food and service were just what we were hoping for. Their mushroom croquettes were to die for!
The dining room at Ginger
Frida: This was such a fun little place with the best tapas. We were able to sit outside and it was just the loveliest evening.
Grace at Frida
Sanissimo: One night, Grace was just craving vegan food and she found this place within walking distance to her apartment. It was amazing! I had the most delicious burger that was meatless. Who knew?
Casa Macareno: We were the early birds with our 8:30 p.m. reservation but this place was hopping by 10 p.m. We were thrilled we went as their tapas were some of the best we had while we were in Madrid.
Mercado de San Miguel: This is a must see. Most big cities seem to have these expansive food markets, and Madrid was no exception. We hit it at 10 a.m. on a Sunday, just as it opened. It was stand after stand of some of Madrid’s most delicious specialties. Go hungry!
Botin: This is such a special little place to visit when in Madrid. It was opened in the 1700s and is the longest-running restaurant in the world. They have a limited menu, but everything is done so well. And you really feel as if you’re part of Spanish history when you visit.
Chocalateria San Gines: We are always on the hunt for yummy churros and these lived up to the hype! It’s all Chocalateria San Gines does. No matter what time of day you go, there will likely be a line to get in. But it moves quickly and the churros are worth the wait. A must do!
Things to Do
Flamenco Show—Torres Bermejas: Grace treated us to a Flamenco show that was so special. It lasted a little over an hour and gave us a taste of this special part of their Spanish culture. This venue offered dinner with the show, but we opted to just see the show and go to dinner afterwards. It was the perfect way to close out our whirlwind tour of Madrid.
Day trip to Toledo: Toledo is a beautiful historic city about 30 minutes by train from Madrid. Grace booked us a free walking tour that took us on about a 75-minute tour of Toledo, pointing out all of the highlights. It was fantastic! We learned so much and definitely would not have been able to take in as much if we were left on our own. Then before heading home, we ziplined across the one little body of water in Toledo. It was a blast!
Some Things to Keep in Mind When Traveling to Madrid
I thought it might be helpful just to share a few of the things I noticed in my time at Madrid.
Spaniards are incredibly warm and inviting.
Even though many of the signs and menus are in English, very little English is spoken. I leaned on Grace to do a lot of my food ordering, but I probably could have gotten by on my broken Spanish. People were very receptive to me trying my Spanish even with my very American accent.
You will do a lot of walking. But be smart in the shoes you pack. Everyone wears sneakers. I packed a bunch of dresses and wore my sneakers the entire time and completely fit in with the locals.
There is definitely a Spanish “uniform.” It’s very minimalist…lots of denim, white tees, and oversized blazers as they were transitioning into fall. Zara, which is headquartered in Spain, has a store on every corner (the way we have Starbucks) and inspires everyone to polish up their look affordably.
Dining out is very inexpensive relative to the United States. Most of our huge meals were under €30 for the two of us.
Meal times are different in Madrid. There’s no eating dinner at 6 pm. Spaniards eat their big meal in the middle of the day and then around 9 pm have something lighter. This is just something to keep in mind when you’re dining out or making reservations because restaurants tend to open for “dinner” later in the evening than we’re used to.
There is no “fast” food in Madrid, meaning that if you sit down to eat–you will be there for a while. I It does take a couple of days to get used to this pace. It’s much slower than we’re used to, but that’s kind of nice. There’s also no real “to go” dining. But again–this is all part of the experience.
The Metro is your friend. You can get everywhere on this very clean public transportation system in Madrid. The best part, Google maps can help you navigate and get you to wherever you need to go using the Metro. I just bought my Metro card at the station and refilled it as I needed to. Masks are still required on the Metro, but that seemed like such a small thing for the luxury of getting around so easily all over the city.
Madrid is the city that never sleeps! Night life is huge, but alas–I’m a mom–and it was enough that I was eating at dinner at 9 pm! Ha! I’ll have to have Grace do a future post about Madrid night life.
I could talk for days about my short time in this beautiful, historic city. I can’t wait to go back and do the touristy stuff: Retiro Park, the Prado Museum, Toledo…soon, very soon I hope!
Grace and I outside the Royal Palace of Madrid
Please let me know if you have any questions. I love this stuff!