Madrid: Neighbourhoods, Food, Drinks & Day Trips
Having lived in Madrid for a short period of time, I’ve realised how many hidden gems are dispersed around the city. As a tourist, it’s easy to overlook the magic as the city often hides under Barcelona’s shadow. But don’t worry, whether you’re in town for only a few days or have recently moved in, the article breaks down spots you won’t want to miss.
Sol – Center point of Madrid, known for its extensive shops and restaurants; nearby neighbourhoods include Malasaña and Chueca.
Malasaña – The birthplace of the countercultural movement after Franco’s death. Its streets are filled with art, vintage boutiques, outdoor cafes, hip bars and restaurants.
Chueca – The LGBTQ neighbourhood is full of trendy cocktail bars, cafés and shops.
Salamanca – One of the most expensive neighbourhoods of the city - filled with designer brands, luxury apartments and Michelin-star restaurants.
La Latina – One of the oldest neighbourhoods in Madrid; famous for streets lined with tapas bar.
Lavapiés – A multicultural hub filled with cuisine from various parts of the world. Alongside its street art, the neighbourhood is home to many hip cafes.
Plaza Mayor – Madrid’s most famous square surrounded by bars, cafes and traditional eats.
Retiro Park – The city’s leisure spot for both tourists and locals (go row boating, have a picnic or bask in the sun).
Royal Palace of Madrid – After visiting 20+ castles around Europe, this palace is still one of the most stunning palaces I’ve visited. The decor, the colourful details and its many rooms are all worth a visit. I’d recommend an audio guide or visiting with a tour.
The Golden Triangle of Art
Prado Museum (Museo del Prado) — a National Museum featuring pre-20th-century art
Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum — a National Art Museum with a collection of historical through contemporary art, open to the public.
Temple of Debod – An ancient Egyptian temple that was dismantled and rebuilt in Madrid; a beautiful spot to watch the sunset.
El Rastro – Every Sunday, La Latina opens its streets for a flea market. From 5 Euro denim jackets to souvenirs, this street fair attracts those eager to shop.
Gran Vía – The city’s biggest shopping area full of various mid to high end brands.
Circulo de Bellas Artes – A rooftop with stunning views of the city. It costs a few euros to take an elevator up and theres also a rooftop bar, Azotea del Círculo.
Mercato de San Miguel – A tourist stop but still cool to check out as it offers various tapas, sangrias and jamon (Spanish ham).
Bar La Campana ($) – Try the Bocadillo de Calamares aka calamari sandwich, a bit strange sounding but I promise, it’s so good! Also try the Patatas Bravas (fried potatoes) on the side with the white and red sauce.
El Brilliante ($-$$) – another great stop for Bocadillo de Calamares
San Gines ($) – Try the Churros con Coco here, although full of tourist, it’s still a classic.
La Negra Tomasa ($-$$) – One of my favourite dining experiences in Madrid because it offers live music, dancing, hefty portions and very tasty Cuban food. Come 30 minutes before peak times (lunch and dinner) so you can find a seat and enjoy the ambiance when the music starts playing and people start dancing.
Ojala ($-$$) – Trendy decor on the top floor and a sand bar underneath it all. This spot is great for brunch or evening drinks with friends. Definitely go downstairs for their surprise sand bar!
Takos ($) – Have a big appetite but only spare change? This taco joint hits the spot every time with just a few euros.
Yatai Market ($-$$) – One of my favourite stops for diverse Asian food. A hawker style indoor market where you can find dim sum, ramen, chow fun, sushi and more.
Tintos y Tapas ($-$$) – Your classic Spanish tapas bar; be sure to try their Tinto de Verano and Tortilla Española.
Restaurante Zara ($$) – Craving Cuban food? This is the place to go. I’d highly recommend their fried chicken and rice.
StreetXO ($$-$$$) – Chef Dabiz Muñoz’s casual spin-off to his 3 star Michelin restaurant, DiveXO. The restaurant serves Asian-European small plates and cocktails without reservations needed, but be wary of the queue.
El Tigre ($) – I’m begrudgingly including this on the list; although not known for its quality, its quantity makes it a popular place for pre-drinks. The bar serves a free flow of tapas with the order of one cocktail
Ojala ($) – As mentioned above, you have to check out this cool sandbar - be sure to go downstairs!
Jardines Secreto ($-$$) – A kitschy spot for evening drinks with vibrant decors
La Bicicleta ($) – Casual lounge/bar with a gritty feel and decent drinks
1862 Dry Bar ($$) – Great cocktails
El Chapandaz ($-$$) – A cave bar with a dive bar feel; although the scene may not be glamorous, this bar guarantees a unique experience as the drinks flow out the drippings of a man-made cave.
In sum... any bars in the neighbourhood Malasaña or Chueca is great for bar hopping
Cafes with WiFi access
Cafe Pum Pum
Segovia (30 minutes on the AVE high speed train) – Known for iconic structures like its aqueducts, castle and cathedral, Segovia’s quant architecture will really take you back in time. Read about how to get there and what to see.
Toledo (30 minutes on the AVE high speed train) – UNESCO declared Toledo a World Heritage Site in 1986 for its extensive monumental and cultural heritage. The city boasts over 2,000 years of history and is home to one of the richest El Greco collections in Spain. Read about how to get there and what to see.
Sierra de Guadarrama (1hr 20 min by train) – Escape the city and go for a hike with friends. Read about how to get there and what to see.
In all, I hope you enjoy your time in Madrid. The city has so much to offer and I hope some of these recommendations can show that