By taking advantage of Spain’s high speed rail system, we were able to travel from Barcelona to Madrid in about two and a half hours. We left the city as peaceful protests were turning into fiery clashes with the police that were closing down the airport and train stations. After checking in at the beautiful Radisson Blu Hotel, we set off to explore the city. The first stop? San Gines, the city’s oldest Chocolateria! In Spain, hot chocolate isn’t a powder poured over hot milk like we’re used to. It is an incredibly rich, thick chocolate sauce that is served with fresh churros for dipping. At San Gines, the line was out the door, but moved quickly. Inside was a chaotic scene. You order from the counter, then scramble to find a seat. Waiters carry trays stacked high with cups of chocolate and churros for the masses of patiently waiting people. It was well worth the wait!
There were plenty more foodie sites to discover in Madrid. Around the corner from San Gines is the San Miguel Market. Built in 1916, the market was completely revamped about ten years ago to feature gourmet food stalls and tapas. From fresh seafood to jamon, there are plenty of treats here for everyone…even vermouth on tap!
Thoroughly fueled with tapas, we headed to the Plaza Mayor for our three-hour Sandeman’s Free Tour of Madrid. We were lucky to have a great guide who was very knowledgeable about the city’s history.
From the Plaza, we headed through the city streets. Even in October, the tourist hotspots were busy.
Our first stop was the oldest restaurant in the world. Botin has been serving suckling pig since 1725 and is even mentioned in a Hemingway novel.
Our guide explained the different styles of architecture that can be seen throughout the city in between tales of Madrid and Spanish history.
From our hilltop vantage point, we were able to get some great pictures of the Catedral de la Almudena.
Because the cathedral took so long to complete, there is an unusual mix of architecture styles.
Although the mix of neoclassical, neo-gothic, and neo-Romanesque make for a strange mix, they sort of harmonize together.
Across from the cathedral is the Royal Palace of Madrid. We would be touring it another day, but getting an overview of the history of the Spanish royal family on our tour really helped give it context. Our tour wrapped up outside the Royal Opera House.
After all of that walking, a siesta was much needed. That evening, we explored central Madrid. I really wanted to check out the craft beer scene, so we stopped in Fogg Bar Birras & Cheese. Each brew came with a free tapa, but we couldn’t pass up a local cheese platter.
For dinner, we headed to Revoltosa, which was nearby. This airy gastropub was a great way to end the evening. We shared some grilled veggies, a nice change of pace after all the ham, and grilled squid with black risotto rice. Overall, a great start to the Madrid leg of our journey!