What do you do when you turn fifty years old? You collect as many of your closest girlfriends as you can and head to Madrid, of course! At least, that is what I did and for four days, we laughed and laughed and laughed. In between laughing, we ate at some amazing restaurants, drank a phenomenal amount of white wine and explored Madrid.In this blog, I am going to provide our itinerary and recommendations. This itinerary created the perfect balance of structured tours with free time to wander, shop and explore different areas. We combined advanced reservations at recommended and acclaimed restaurants with drop in lunches whenever and wherever it suited us. It was a fantastic trip that satisfied the wishes and needs of, dare I say, six high maintenance and demanding women!
Accommodation and Location
We arrived late in the evening. Five of us came in from the West Coast of North America and one arrived from Dubai. We booked an Airbnb with four bedrooms (eight beds), a large living room, full kitchen and a penthouse deck next to Bilbao subway station, a very central and cool part of town. The accommodation was excellent! The large living space allowed us to comfortably hang out with each other. We were just steps away from terrific shopping that offered everything that we needed: from baked goods and coffee, to wine and cheese, and a few hip clothing shops in between.
We regularly used the subway during the day and found it easy and inexpensive to use. Taxis were everywhere. We found them safe and reliable, and were a dependable means of transportation in the evening. We were always a short subway or taxi ride away from major tourist destinations or amazing restaurants.
We made 11:30 pm dinner reservations at Rameses Suria, only minutes away by taxi. We ate dinner upstairs and it was excellent. This was a refined and luxurious restaurant in terms of menu, service and price. It was a fabulous way to start our trip.
However, what was cool and unexpected was this restaurant was one of three offerings by the same company in the same space. So, there was an entirely different scene on the first floor of the restaurant. It was filled with gorgeous men and women drinking and mingling to music – more of a club scene. On either side of us, there were another couple of restaurants offering different atmospheres and menus. Outside, there were multiple patios with spectacular views of the Puerta de Alcala. These were packed with a younger crowd.
After dinner, we found our way to one of these patios, tried a few delicious cocktails and of course, people watched. We left at closing time, invigorated and ready to find the next amazing place.
Segway Tour of Madrid
We slept late and started our day with coffee, sandwiches, and baked goods from the coffee shop below us. Then, we headed out on our Segway Tour. This tour was 90 minutes and focused on the City centre. It was offered by Madrid Segway.
This was a total guilty pleasure on my part. When I thought about my incredibly well coifed girlfriends in their stylish outfits, I couldn’t help book this tour. And, they didn’t disappoint! From the moment they had to sport a hair net underneath their helmet, I knew that I had booked a winner. Some hopped on the Segway with abandon ready to knock over locals who were not quick enough to get out of their way. Others clung white knuckled to their Segways with such focus that I almost felt bad. Only one fell off (ass over tea kettle is the saying that comes to mind), but at a virtual stop so injury was avoided. I must admit that I have a crazy smile plastered on my face as I remember and write this. It was fantastic.
After our Segway tour, we stumbled up a restaurant called the Taste Gallery, right next to San Miguel Market. This restaurant was an absolute treat. We had an amazing tapas meal with a ridiculous amount of food, sangria and wine. It was inexpensive and filled with locals. I would return again without hesitation.
We headed to the Literary Quarter to a restaurant called Vi Cool. The food was spectacular. The menu was primarily tapas but not traditional tapas. The menu was filled with items with new and edgy flavours that were exciting and fun to eat. Again, the prices were very reasonable. The restaurant was in a cool area with lots of bars and dining options. The only criticism would be that the atmosphere and decor in the restaurant were not of the same quality as the food (our table was in the basement). Regardless, I would recommend this restaurant without hesitation.
Private Tour of the Prado Museum
Another late start with coffee, sandwiches and croissants, and we headed to the Prado Museum for a 2 1/2 hour private art tour. I booked “The Bit of All” tour with Madrid Museum Tours and it was superb. Nobody in our group were art aficionados… and no one was in the mood for a long boring lecture on Spanish art. Thankfully, our guide quickly grabbed our attention with stories about palace intrigue, the personal lives of the artists and their inspirations for their paintings, and hidden messages lurking within the paintings. We all thoroughly enjoyed this tour.
After the Prado, we were starving. Nearby, we found a restaurant called Maura Wines and Food which had a lovely covered outdoor patio. The food was a bizarre mixture of Vietnamese, Mexican, French and Spanish tastes. It was a little hit or miss… some of us had delicious food while others had bland or unusual pairings. However, the setting was beautiful and it was overall a nice place to relax after our tour.
After lunch, we walked up to Retiro Park or El Parque Del Buen Retiro. This is the most famous park in Madrid. It was packed with locals enjoying a beautiful Saturday afternoon. It was another great spot to people watch. From there, we walked a few blocks and spent a couple of hours shopping.
We headed back to the Literary Quarter to the restaurant El Barril de las Letras. We had a more upscale refined meal that was excellent, in a space that was beautiful.
We went to Rastro Flea Market which is Madrid’s and quite possibly, Europe’s largest open air flea market. It is only open on Sundays, and some public holidays.
This market was a lot of fun. There were dozens and dozens of stalls filled with unique crafts and artisans’ works. There were edgy and cool fashion items offered for adults and kids alike. The deals were amazing. You could have also spent your entire time eating your way through the market. We ended up getting lots of great gifts for friends and family while we were there. I am not a huge fan of craft markets or fairs, but I would definitely go back to this one.
Tour and Dinner
For our last night, we treated ourselves to a Flamenco show. We went to Corral de la Moreria which is considered one of the best to see. We had to purchase tickets that were for the dinner and show as the tickets for the show alone were sold out.
The flamenco dancing, singing and music were incredible. It was unquestionable how talented the dancers and musicians were. The food was pretty good… I would have preferred to have eaten elsewhere but as far as a dinner and show goes, the food was reasonably good. The food prices were a little expensive for the quality, but again, nothing surprising in light of the context.
The one negative comment that I do have is that the show was extremely short. It was just over an hour long and for the cost of the tickets and the dinner, it was unreasonably short, in my opinion. For that reason, I have mixed feelings about recommending this show. I think seeing a Flamenco show of the same quality as the one we saw is an absolute must while in Madrid. However, it would be ideal if you could find one that is much longer or a lot less expensive for the same amount of time.
Madrid was a lovely surprise. I loved it. Spain is one of my favourite countries in the world. I have spent many weeks over a couple of decades exploring different cities, small towns, and coastal beaches and have rarely gone somewhere that I did not like. But, I was cautious about going to Madrid. I knew it was a large city and from what I heard, it seemed to lack the charm of many parts of Spain. However, my caution was misplaced.
For sure, Madrid is different from most of Spain. It is a large city with many diverse areas to explore and visit. There is a sizeable local population and an economy that isn’t driven by tourism.
However, Madrid welcomes tourists easily. It was effortless to explore the City and its unique Spanish history and culture. And it did so, without making me feel like a tourist. I felt that I experienced restaurants, parks and museums as a local. Not once did we find ourselves behind a group of tourists being led around by a guide or in a restaurant that only offered food from photos. I don’t even think we saw any of those. This was a huge contrast to our four days in Prague, the city that we visited after Madrid. We spent three days trying to enjoy a spectacularly beautiful European city without being overwhelmed by the hordes of tourists. It was definitely a challenge! If you are interested in reading about our time there, please see my blog Prague Beer Spa: How to Enjoy Prague Like a Local.
Madrid was a large, welcoming and cosmopolitan city that I would return without hesitation. During our four day stay, we only scratched the surface of what this city can offer anyone, tourist or local alike. If you love Spain or adore the energy of cities, you definitely need to add Madrid to your list of must see places!
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