Thanks to the high speed AVE rail network, Madrid is a fantastic city to explore the whole of Spain from. After a prolonged battle with the RENFE (Spain’s train company) website, we finally managed to purchase a Renfe pass, which gives you a set number of journeys to any destination in Spain.
Here are some tips / information:
Apart from the poor website, I can’t recommend Renfe’s AVE network enough - it seems that punctuality is their priority and all of our trains arrived early!
We stayed in two hotels while in Madrid: Petit Palace Savoy Alfonso XII and the Radisson Blu Hotel. The links are to my tripadvisor reviews. Finding an hotel is difficult and even now we’re not sure what the best area would be, or indeed what the best hotel would be. If you don’t like noise it’s probably best to ask for a room without a view e.g. facing an inner courtyard. Madridstas stay up late and the narrow streets, busy traffic and plentiful outdoor seating means noise is never far away.
Madrid is accessible by foot and the Hop On Hop Off Bus tour we did was frustrating - if you’re on the bus from the beginning and never get off you’ll be happy. If you’re trying to hop on and off, as the name would imply is possible, you’ll likely be frustrated by delays and overcrowding. We wasted a lot of time waiting for their Route 2 - time which would have been better spent using the city’s subway.
There seems to two major focal points in Madrid - either Callao or Plaza Mayor. The latter was being rebuilt, but it’s still an impressive sight and bursting with life - though we had to dodge the less than trim spiderman and his fishing net! The former is full of people dressed as cheap looking Simpsons’ characters.
We had tickets to see Athletico Madrid vs. Real Madrid in the Madrid derby. Tickets for the Vicente Calderón Stadium didn’t come cheap at 200 Euros a pop - only “VIP” tickets were available. Not that there was anything VIP about our seats - the whole pitch was visible, but it felt enclosed due to the low overhanging roof - we could see the pitch, but could not see the stadium panorama. Still it was an entertaining 1-1 draw and our seats were at the correct side to see both goals. Getting to the stadium involves a subway trip to Pirámides and then a slow walk, due to the heavy crowds. Where to enter the stadium and where to go once in the stadium could have been clearer - but the stewards pointed us in the right direction. The atmosphere was good and never appeared threatening - although some firecrackers being set off in the street before the match did make us jump!
Estado Puro is on the side of a busy roundabout. Inside there is a overhanging bridge made of Flamenco hair combs. Stylish and trendy are definitely the words. It’s a little more expensive than others, but the trio of mini hamburgers and the Spanish omelette were excellent. Less impressive was the paella - which I had think had been rushed. Still a good modern tapas restaurant.
Lateral is another modern tapas chain - we sat inside at the narrow, sleek wood fitted Plaza Santa Ana location. The service here wasn’t so friendly, but the tapas were good . Highlights were the patatas bravas and alioli combination, refreshing salmon and avocado and the black pudding with fried egg. I think a branch of Lateral is worth trying, if like me, you like tapas for the modern era.
The Bernabeu is slap bang in the middle of a residential area and it has shops and restaurants built into its base. The Real Madrid stadium tour starts with an elevator assisted ascent to see a panoramic view of the stadium; a view spoilt somewhat as the pitch markings had been removed, heaters were over the pitch and the goalposts were nowhere to be seen. After walking back down you stroll through a corridor filled with videos, exhibits and trophies. The best parts of the tour are being able to walk alongside the side of the pitch and sit in the dugouts, followed by wandering through both first team and away team dressing rooms.
I liked the tour apart from the forced photos, where two separate checkpoints force you to queue to have your photo taken (which they will later try and charge you for). Unfortunately the staff don’t like taking no for answer and are overly pushy. This combined with charging 120 Euros for a replica shirt at the end, make it perfectly clear that Real Madrid’s priority is to take money out of your pocket and into theirs. We bought tickets for this tour on the “hop on off bus” tour we were on - my advice is don’t bother, as it’s the same price at the stadium and you have to queue to convert the tickets anyhow.
We only made it one Madrid food market - Mercado de San Miguel. This place is extremely popular with tourists and locals. It has a lively atmosphere and it’s tourist friendly - the concept of eating a little snack with a glass of red wine, in a hustling and bustling market, is fantastic. Lots of people were enjoying oysters and champagne, but our more ‘down to earth’ tastes led us to the mini-pizzas - a great sausage topping, but a little heavy on the olive oil. I really wish every city had a food market as good as this.
It may sound strange to eat at a shopping centre, but there’s no shame in heading to the top of Spain’s famous department store El Corte Inglés. On the ninth floor you’ll find the Gourmet Dining Experience - an upmarket food shop surrounded by small concessions selling a huge variety of ready to eat food. There’s even an outside terrace, although we skipped this as it was too exposed to the midday sun.
On a previous trip to Marbella we had wonderful dumplings and noodles at Tse Yang Dimsumclub. Dimsumclub XS is the smaller version which the Madrid Gourmet Experience hosts - so the menu is not as extensive as its big brother. But I find their steamed or fried dumplings and noodle dishes hard to fault - and they provided a very welcome break from tapas. Incidentally the larger version of Dim sum club does exist in Madrid - it’s at the El Corte Inglés near The Bernabeu. If we’d known at the time we would have gone.
Seeing Picasso’s Guernica at the Museo Reina Sofía is the highlight of a visit to this impressive art museum - though the Dali pieces are intriguing too. Guernica is gigantic, a little grotesque and as apt a representation of war today as it would have been previously. Shamefully we never made it inside the Prado, but this will be a must for most. The Royal Palace of Madrid is worth a visit to see the main staircase alone. The tour misses all modern aspects of the palace and no bedrooms were in sight, but there’s still over 20 diverse and impressive rooms to enjoy.
La Mi Venta is very near the Royal Palace - upstairs is a traditional tapas bar, but downstairs is a charming restaurant, which used to be the cellar where the famous Spanish hams hanged. The restaurant has a traditional charcoal grill, so all the meats were good - my ‘secreto’ cut of Iberian ham was fantastically moist and flavoursome. The roasted green peppers it was served with are one of my favourite Spanish treats too. Lunch is possible without a reservation, but if you want to be in the “romantic bit” downstairs for dinner, it’s best to pick up the phone.
Sant Arcangelo is a charming looking neighbourhood Italian restaurant. The pizza was a huge disappointment - too doughy and the cheese had not melted properly. To be perfectly honest I’ve tasted better from the supermarket. The meats looked much better, but I really recommend you try somewhere else. We only came here because our first choice of Alabaster was fully booked.
Bar Museo Chicote is apparently the bar Ernest Hemingway used to frequent when in Madrid. If he were alive now I’m sure he wouldn’t leave the rotating entrance door until he was back on the street. It’s not a nice bar and the filthy glass we received was enough to persuade us to drink out of the bottle and make a quick exit.
We hadn’t been faring well on the dessert stakes until we literally stumbled across Moulin Chocolat. I really wish we’d bought one of everything - it’s that good. The patisseries are fantastic. Infact, world class. Our lemon tart with meringue topping was wonderful. The chocolates we bought were very good. And the macaroons were very good - though living in Switzerland, it’s impossible rate them above the Luxemburglis.
Finally Madrid has Dunkin’ Donuts. Any city that can fix me up with Boston Kremes is a good city in my book!
Seville has a lot of tourists sights and we visited most of them:
We stayed at the Gran Meliá Colón. Again the link goes to my tripadvisor review.
Fargo is ran by a French guy who is trying something other than the traditional tapas. He explains in great detail what dishes are available by way of the blackboard. No dish is outstanding but the ideas, ethically sourced ingredients and flavours are present in abundance. The four different types of chocolate for dessert included an incredibly brownie that was melt in the mouth perfection and a biscuit which was as dry as it was disappointing. But the owner is an outstanding host - only too happy to let you sample the wines and sherries - he more than makes up for any inconsistencies with the food.
Another city and another trip to the Gourmet Dining Experience at El Corte Inglés - this one is on the 5th floor and has sweeping views over Seville from the outside terrace. The huge pan full of seafood tapas attracted us to Barajas 20 - wow, just wow. This paella was the tastiest I’ve ever eaten. And I have eaten a lot of paellas. The menu was varied and every dish was bursting with texture and taste e.g. asparagus tempura and shredded honey chicken with tempura. Like the Gourmet Experience in Madrid there was a branch of Hamburguesa Nostra here - we’ll definitely check out their burgers on a future visit.
Gago 6 is on the main tourist thoroughfare which stretches from the Cathedral - incidentally horse and cart rides are very popular in Seville and the main congregation point for them is outside Seville Cathedral. The food was’t remarkable but was reliable e.g. plates of grilled vegetables and fried pieces of cod. Homemade nachos with guacamole were very enjoyable though - a good place to sit and watch the world go by.
If you have any questions about the trip please leave a comment, mail or tweet me.