In celebration of my first year in Europe, this post is dedicated to the first European city I have ever set foot in.
I love Madrid.
For me, it was the ideal city to live in. One semester is enough to make it feel like my home in Europe. Madrid is very well-connected, rich in culture, and relatively affordable. It is big enough that you will never run out of things to do and places to see: palaces, museums, clubs, parks, churches, bars, restaurants, flea markets, concerts, festivals – you name it. But at the same time, it is not intimidatingly large (compared to Paris for example). Everything is reachable by Metro, and even the distance between Metro stations are walkable.
Below I list down some things which I think you must do if you ever go to Madrid. These experience won’t necessarily change your life, but I think they would give you a feel of the “real” Madrid – at least from my point of view. This is in no particular order.
1. Have merienda at Chocolatería San Ginés
If you have been researching about Madrid, then you most probably have heard about this very famous churros place. They have been serving tradicional chocolate con churros since 1894. The shop is near Sol, and is often crowded and has a long line. But, it is tolerable and I think it is worth it. Order one serving for sharing, and this can easily become your comfort food in Madrid.
2. Take your second merienda at 100 Montaditos (pronounced “cien” montaditos)
This is a bar/fastfood chain all around Spain. They serve montaditos, which are mini sandwiches. There have 100 flavors, thus 100 Montaditos. They have promos depending on the day of the week where you can get montaditos for just 1€ each, or in a combo deal with tinto de verano*. Honestly when I first tried it, I thought it was expensive. Imagine eating pandesal with palaman for 60 Pesos! But eventually I stopped converting exchange rates and the price became more acceptable. 100 Montaditos is tradition. Running out of new places to hang out? 100 Montaditos. Feeling a little tired on a Friday night? 100 Montaditos. Hungry but not really? 100 Montaditos.
*Tinto de verano = red wine with sprite. A refreshing summer drink. Do not leave Spain without trying this.
3. Do some groceries in Mercadona
Mercadona is a supermarket chain, like SaveMore or PureGold. Honestly I never went to a Mercadona while in Madrid, because other supermercados were closer to where I lived. But a close friend swears that he has compared ALL choices, and Mercadona is the best and cheapest.
Why go to Mercadona? In every country/city, I think you should visit a supermarket to see what local people actually consume in their every day lives.
What to do in Mercadona?
- Learn Spanish. A lot of my vocabulary actually comes from shopping.
- Get cheap (50 cents) chocolates! They are really good and you can buy some for pasalubong
- Load up on Spanish wine
- Get some bread, olive oil, and jamon** and make your own bocadillo*** for yet another merienda
- Take some jamon chips with you, to eat as you stroll around the city
**jamon = cured ham made from pork leg. Typical Spanish food. You have no idea how obsessed they are with this. Go to Mercadona to find out.
***bocadillo = an open-faced sandwich? Basically just put some oil on the bread, top with jamon, and enjoy. This is one of the famous tapas they serve.
4. Party at Teatro Kapital
Night life in Madrid is amazing. There are a lot of pubs and clubs along Malasaña. Usually they have promos where you can have unlimited drinks (beer or tinto de verano) for 2-3 hours, then you can stay to dance. The biggest club (or discoteca) is Kapital. Think Valk or Revel. It has seven floors – each with a different theme. There’s the normal EDM, latin music, karaoke, and the “chill” area where you go to sober up. However, entrance isn’t free and drinks are really expensive. But, there are days when they have promos and you can get in for free. You can check out their website for this. As for drinks, you can always have some pre-game from the wine you scored from Mercadona. There are a lot of foreigners in Madrid, and Madrileños are crazy fun people. So, you won’t really feel out of place. If you’re tired from all the reggaeton, get some 1€ Telepizza in Sol. It’s open 24 hours, especially for people to sober up while waiting for the metro to open.
Metros run until around 1AM – the drunk train. It opens again at 6AM – the other drunk train. There are also night buses that basically follow the metro routes, so transportation is not a problem at all.
I think the Madrid Metro is a part of its culture. There are many talented musicians who busk in the station, or in the train itself. Sometimes, some Madrileños would randomly sing or dance with them. This makes even mundane train rides enjoyable. The different lines are well-connected and go through all the major parts of town, so it is also very convenient.
6. Shop along Gran Via
In Gran Via, you can find Primark, which is basically six floors of retail heaven. They have cheap, and I mean cheap clothes and accessories, even for Philippine standards. Once I got a pair of boots for 8€, and they weren’t even on sale! The quality of their products may be questionable, and they source cheap labor from developing countries. But if you need basic things, this is the go-to place. So far my Primark wardrobe hasn’t failed me yet.
Madrid is a pedestrian-friendly city. And contrary to popular belief, I think it is safe. Of course as in any place you visit, if a certain area looks shady, don’t go there. Always be mindful of your belongings especially in touristy areas. This is common sense. Otherwise, soak in the culture. There are several exhibits or fairs that don’t necessarily appear in tourist guides. But, you can discover them by strolling around. One thing: if you are in Madrid, make sure to go out and bask in the Iberian sun.
That ends my nostalgia for today. If I missed anything, let me know! ♦