NATHANIEL TRAN- So 11 weeks into my semester abroad and I finally feel comfortable enough to provide a list of recommendations when visiting Madrid. Here is the ultimate list of things to do/eat, enjoy!
Real Jardín Botánico de Madrid:
Centrally located in Madrid to the side of the famed Prado art museum, the royal gardens are a true hidden gem. A lot of people skip over the idea of visiting a garden when they’re visiting a new city but the history and beauty of the grounds are more than worthwhile. Divided into several tiered areas, each level has it’s own theme from perennial flowers, fruits and vegetables, topiary and shrubs, cactus greenhouses, tropical biomes, and grapevine arches are some of the many offerings. As a student, my program has unlimited reimbursements for museum and when I felt like spoiling myself I’d pay the €3 admission fee and find a shady bench to work. The gardens are a quite, tranquil place to sit and read or write in a notebook. This is a rare refuge in a bustling city! Bonus points: See if you can find the bonsai garden and koi fish pond.
Plaza de Vázquez de Mella:
There is nothing fascinating about this plaza at first glance. The streets are dirty and the drinks are expensive here. But past this superficial façade, if you take a moment to just sit and observe you’ll notice that Chueca locals flock here on Friday and Saturday nights to sip on cans of beer and talk for hours along the park benches. I’ve often found myself on the bench on a weekday afternoon sketching the Oscar Hotel and the juxtaposed older buildings. That’s what is so beautiful to me about this plaza, buildings that are hundreds of years old are nestled next to very modern, minimalist edifices. And for a supposedly Catholic nation, when Chueca comes alive it shows the true colors of a warm, welcoming city instead of living up to the expectation of a cold, distant conservative town.
La Parrilla de María:
Probably one of the best meals I’ve had in Madrid so far is the €12.50 menu. It’s advertised as the half-menu but I promise you it’s more than enough. It’s traditional Argentinian grilled meats served in a very Spanish-esque way with a menu del día that comes with a sausage or empanada, a salad or potato dish, a choice of meat, dessert, wine, and a surprise. I personally always vouch for the delicious beef empanadas and crispy well salted fries. I’ll leave the meat choices up to your personal taste but I’m telling you there’s nothing like a well prepared, Argentinian steak that is seasoned with course salt. Enjoy the surprise at the end too!
Chocolatería San Ginés:
I have the pleasure of having introduced several of my friends to this Mecca of late night snacking. It is the duty of any good Madrileño to trek to San Ginés to indulge in the the crispy, fried deliciousness. At just under €4 for a plate of six churros and a cup of sipping/dipping chocolate that is too much for one person, I often find myself splitting a ration and it always works out well.
Thick, semi-bitter chocolate and thin, crispy profiterole batter come together to form a true match made in Spanish heaven.
Almond croissant // croissant de almendras. €2. That’s all I’m gonna say.