It’s been a while since I had a destination review here. The last one was about Amsterdam (find it here) which many of you found useful (there are also gift guides about Paris, Marrakesh and Bali, if you have a bit of time). Today, I’m going to introduce Madrid with all its stunning architecture, culture and, of course, gifts to bring home.
Places to visit
Mercado de San Miguel (website)
It’s featured in every recommendation/city guide I’ve read about Madrid, and it really is worth it. Head there for an early dinner – the typical dinner is after 9pm, but things do sell out fast there, especially sea food, so 7pm is better. The choice is limitless, so simply indulge. The portions are small enough to try quite a few things (well, we still ended up going there twice). My personal top recommendation would be oysters and champagne.
Just opposite the oyster bar is a tiny stall where they serve vodka and caviar (insider tip: if you are Russian, they give you an extra shot).
Real Jardín Botánico and El Retiro Park (website)
These botanical gardens are right next to the Prado museum and you’d expect it to be packed. Instead, it’s a relaxing sanctuary that smells heavenly and has unique plants from all over the world. When we were visiting in April, it was full of tulips. After a day at the museum, it’s simply perfect.
After some rest at the gardens, head to the nearby Retiro park for a bit on panting (prepare to queue, it’s popular).
Opera brunch at the Westin (website)
Now this one was a true find. I would recommend this experience to everyone who loves opera and good food. Held every Sunday at La Rotonda restaurant at the 5* Westin Hotel, it combines opera classics (the standing couple below are professional singers from Teatro Real) with amazing service and fantastic food (think unlimited lobster and free-flowing vintage cava).
And the desserts!!!
It’s not cheap at €78 per person, but we were completely blown away. Book a few weeks in advance.
Things to Buy
Customise a t-shirt at the official Real Madrid store (website)
This is a must for any football fan – two floors of everything Real Madrid, from their full kit to things like watches and toys.
The best part is the customisation area of the store, where they create t-shirts with any player’s name on right in front of you. Just pick a name from the catalogue (we went for Ronaldo) and let the magic happen. The stickers are heat-pressed, and it takes a few minutes only.
Get a book at Desperate Literature (website)
On the way back to our hotel (it was approaching 11pm) we stumbled upon a small shop which was still open and where everyone spoke English to each other. It got us curious enough to walk in and discover Desperate Literature – the cosiest, most intelligent book shop I’ve ever visited.
It’s much more than a shop – it’s a place to meet, have a conversation and play a bit of chess, all whilst being surrounded by hand-picked books. Go there to immerse yourself in the world of paper books you thought disappeared when Kindle took over.
This shop just celebrated its 1st anniversary, so come say hi and buy a book to support their enterprise. Every book you buy gets a stamp, so it reminds you where you got it from – a nice touch.
Buy unique tea at Tekoe (website)
Yep, that’s right. Not ham, not a flamenco dress, TEA. Forget English Breakfast and Green Tips, here you’ll find such things as yellow tea and Wasabi-flavoured tea. There’s even Japanese tea that is infused with gold, which is sold for over €100 for 50g (that would make one very luxurious gift to a tea lover).
The shop is a café too, so stay a bit longer to try their red velvet cake – it’s sublime.
A few extra tips
The best meal we had was at Casa Perico. Apart from top notch food, don’t forget to ask the owner why they have a giant Playboy chandelier – it’s quite a story (no spoilers) 🙂
We spent 4 night at Dear Hotel, which was central enough to walk almost everyone. During summer months they have a rooftop pool (one more reason to get back).