48 HOURS IN MADRID
You might be wondering, why would anyone spend only 48 hours in Madrid? I don’t know. I really, really don’t know.
My stay in Madrid was scheduled for just two days, where I would then go to Granada, followed by Seville, with a final stop in Lisbon. As mentioned in my Primavera post, I had to stop short at Madrid because, well, I’m dumb.
I had been in Spain for 12 days prior to Madrid, and parts of me felt a little disappointed. The food — which aside from Primavera, was what I was most looking forward to — lacked. The people weren’t that nice, staying downtown was expensive, “free” tapas were nonexistent, and even the weather was hard to keep up with. Woody Allen was on some serious shit when he kept describing it as “balmy”. Fuck you, Woody. Fuck you.
I know what you’re thinking. How can you possibly complain that much about Barcelona? And what’s your beef with Woody Allen?
I found myself wondering the same thing.
It’s true, “Barcelona” rolls off the tongue romantically and exotically. So, why did my experience lack these two important factors while vacationing?
Questioning my own judgment, I asked around to those who had traveled both Barcelona and Madrid, Spaniards and foreigners alike. The majority agreed that Madrid owns Barcelona, and that if you want a beach, go to a fucking island.
Touching down in Madrid from Mallorca made it evident that the majority of people I asked had it right. Madrid was everything I hoped for in Spain, and I had only been there seconds.
Coming out from the subway platform, everything felt…Spanish. I headed to my second Airbnb of the trip, which was a humble little flat centered downtown just a few minutes walk from the subway. Already, I was stopping to snap pictures of cafes that had potential for day drinking.
After dropping our bags off, I started scoping out what to do, where to eat, the usual, not realizing how irrelevant this habit was at the time.
While Madrid is the capital city, it still maintained its authenticity in the sense that I didn’t have to look that hard to find something great. Something that the locals loved. Something that the locals could afford. Food that didn’t come with patatas, Spanish for fries. FRIES EVERYWHERE IN BARCELONA.
Here’s what I was able to scramble up with just 48 hours in Madrid.
48 HOURS IN MADRID
I’ll be a little sleazy. The first thing I noticed about Madrid was that it was DTF. Seriously, this place screamed sex. Just getting on the airport shuttle to the city, I was greeted with this little number:
Don’t get me wrong, I loved it. I have no idea what that billboard says, but it’s clearly offering some male to male companionship.
Being in “conservative” China where sex is taboo unless you’re a government official or lady of the night has even put me in a don’t-kiss-and-tell mindset.
Strolling down through our temporary digs we saw heaps of ads for call girls/boiz. The sex shops were not only dedicated to incredibly priced lingerie for women, but also, lingerie for dudes. Not in a touristy way, either. There were people of all backgrounds shopping for something more comfortable to slip into. Hell ye.
My dirty mind would later work against me. Because I was under the impression that Madrid was always tryin’ to fugg, I thought it would be of personal interest to check out the Museo del Romanticismo, which turned out to be about 100 meters from where my Airbnb was. There I thought I would have an educational Kamasutra-like experience, when in reality, it was more so about about encapsulating what 19th century life was like for political figures, religious leaders, royal families and artists. Because I’m a perv at heart, I could not take the let down, and was only creeped out by the religious works of art that lined the pristine museum.
Burnt out on sightseeing in Barcelona, I made zero to little effort to catch any attractions in Madrid, making the Museum of Romance the only destination I paid to get into. Because I walked everywhere in Madrid and was also centrally located, I inevitably stumbled upon a few landmarks.
Madrid’s architecture reflects heavily on the city and its people. Not known for being the influence of design and city planning, but rather, absorbing its identity through centuries of different rulership and and traveling architects. Somebody tell Costanza.
I made a promise to myself that I would do zero shopping until I hit my last destination in Spain, which would have been Seville. I know this sounds strange, but considering I live in a capital and tourist city, I know that most shopping is not good in these kinds of places. If you want the quality stuff, you will pay for it, and it might not always be that authentic.
Because I didn’t make it to Seville, I made a strong effort to find some souvenirs from Madrid. I wasn’t totally on my A-Game being that my face was swollen and aching, but I am incredibly impressed at how easy it was to find my style there, and clothes that were also not my style, but that I was totally willing to make life changes for.
The look in Madrid blows Barcelona’s away. For women, it’s not just about dressing for what’s comfortable or in, it’s a unique blend of bohemian, modern, and sexy, but not skanky. The women in Spain, whether it be Barcelona or Madrid, fully embrace their curves. As someone that’s little in the middle, yet has much back, I was in awe. I could finally shop.
The first shop I went into, Divisa, was off the main strip of down own and slightly buried into the alleys.
Owned by a woman that acted as your personal stylist right when you walked in the door, I felt at ease.
Designs from France, Italy, and locals lined the boutique. None of these clothes I would have normally taken interest in, but I was, not to sound cheesy, so inspired by how the women in Madrid dressed. I tried on a few things, all of which the owner and her assistant gave me their honest and helpful opinion on, and ended up walking away with a very typical looking Madrilenian dress, and neutrally striped top that came in a two-piece set. Damn, I regret not getting the bottoms.
The day before, I kept trying to go into this shop as we wandered through all the nooks of our temporary hood. Both times I went they weren’t open, but provided some window shopping that made me certain I would get in there one way or another. Despacio, somewhat like a more down to earth Urban Outfitters, would be my go-to if I lived in Madrid. And I WILL live in Madrid some day. Mark my words.
The staff was so helpful and knowledgeable. The selection for men was as equally as wonderful as the selection for women. The handcrafted home goods, accessories, lighting, signage, and displays made it such a fun shopping experience. The two girls working, one local, one from Venezuela, were awesome and genuine. Proving tips for care, showing us extra colors of what clothes we were sifting through, and making sure we knew we’d have a friend if we ever came back to Madrid.
Some fresh white kicks by Dandies (the most perfect ever) shorts by Dr. Denim of Sweden, one top, one dress, and the most adorable organic cotton button up Thinking Mu for the boyfriend cost just under €200. I can’t count how many times I wracked up the same bill shopping at H&M or Forever21 in Beijing, for far lesser quality streetwear.
When traveling, I don’t just shop for items that can be worn or saved, I shop for food. Looking for Spanish gin to bring back for a friend in Beijing, we were directed to Mercado San Antōn.
Sans the gin, this market had everything. For my Phoenicians, consider Desoto, but three floors, a roof top, plus organic and local grocers. Like any market that specializes in going back to basics, San Antōn was slightly more pricey. Here you could find restaurants that could satisfy your hunger for any type of world cuisine, desserts, cocktail bars, wine bars, cured meat aficionados, grain sellers, fruit and vegetable stands, oils, spices…everything.
I hate to say it, but out of two days worth of eating in Madrid, I had to forfeit not one, but two meals due to the swelling in my mouth.
Madrid is known for a few particular dishes, none of which I had. One, a calamari bocadillo (sandwich) that I would have not been able to open my mouth wide enough for, a hearty pork stew, which might have been too hot to eat during a Spanish summer, and a churro that’s served with melted chocolate in which you dip fondue style. The churro sounded amazing, but I ate three at Primavera Sound. Yes. I walked around a music festival with a massive chocolate churro.
Good food in Madrid was so easy to find. I stress the “good” part because of how many meals I felt I wasted in Barcelona. In hopes of finding something affordable and authentic, I’d often have to settle for a prosciutto baguette. Don’t get me wrong - I will always love anything on a baguette, but because good, local food was so hard to find in Barcelona, I was burnt out on the bread.
It wasn’t until hitting Madrid that the free tapas started making their way to our table. Marinated mushrooms, cured meats, olives, breadsticks, peppers, any basically anything that could be made salty.
Although we just enjoyed a few Spanish beers at El Economato, it was evident that the food was a winner. The airy and colorful space specialized in packed oysters and fish. Some becoming as expensive as €50 a can, with lunch options appearing sizable and fairly priced. At nearly every restaurant I had olives at over two weeks, my favorite came from El Economato.
For a cheap three-course lunch, we stumbled into a traditional Spanish place. I had lentil soup to start, fish for a main, chocolate cake for dessert, and a glass of red wine to sip. €10.
It was by no means the best meal I had in Spain, but it was filling, the mom and pop were super cute, and I got cake. And wine. For cheap. TEN.
During my 48 hours in Madrid, I reached a new level of foodieism. I crossed through a protest to get to a restaurant. Not just any restaurant. Casa Labra.
Sure, Casa Labra is no secret local favorite. It boasts thousands of reviews between Facebook, Yelp, and TripAdvisor, with damn good reasoning.
What made me trust Casa Labra were a few things: there were a lot of old Spanish people there, we were the only tourists, and €1 glasses of wine. €1.
My judgment did not fail me, and crossing through a protest was totally worth it. We dined like kings.
There are two options when eating at Casa Labra. You can order tapas and drink standing outside or inside with a few chairs available if you arrive fast enough. But, it wouldn’t be uncommon to bump elbows with customers also trying to partake in high quality €1.50 tapas.
The other, less popular, option would be to make a reservation and wait for the dining room at 8:00pm, which houses eight or nine tables. By 9:00, with the sun still shining, every table was taken. I'd opt for reservations.
We started with their famous cod croquettes. Crispy and golden on the outside, with gooey melty cheese and cod flakes on the inside. I had a lot of croquettes over a two-week period in Spain, it’s without a doubt that these were the bee’s knees.
Arriving with our croquettes was their fried cod, also well-known as Madrid’s best. It wasn’t until my mid 20’s that I deliberately ordered fish n’ chips at restaurants. The trick to ordering battered fish is that the place must specialize in it. If it’s just shitty pub food, you’re fucked.
Luckily for me, Casa Labra does specialize in fried cod, making it equally as good, if not better, than the croquettes.
With bellies full of wine, bread, and fried foods, we were already stuffed. Since it was our last night in Madrid, and I still hadn’t had a mind-blowing paella yet, we splurged and ordered just that.
Here’s a pro-tip for the non-Spaniards: if you order paella in Spain, you typically order paying per person, and there’s a two-person minimum in almost every restaurant. A cheap paella is €10.50 per person. Not bad, and quite standard for a rice/meat dish.
Casa Labra may not be known for their paella, but it was unique in that a massive paella had no two-person limit, and was just about €12 for the biggest, baddest paella I had been served throughout my trip. Seafood and chicken laid on top of flavors of saffron, lemon, marinated peppers, and stock-infused rice.
No stranger to pushing the limits and being the best I can be, I also shared the largest and freshest piece of seared cod with my boyfriend. The tomato sauce was smokey, almost like my grandma’s red enchilada sauce. The side was a crusty baguette with slices of cured jamón.
That did us in. Feeling boozy, and beyond satisfied by the food and how the busy staff paid attention to us so closely, we decided to head out with our bill, including a bottle of house wine, coming to a mere €50. I’ve spent more on shitty western food in Beijing.
This meal made parting with Madrid so soon really difficult. We decided to find a place to have a nightcap and ended up at yet another amazing market. More specifically, a two-story street food market. Mercado de San Ildefonso, much like San Antōn, had tons of different food and drink options from all over the world. Every seat was taken, the only language I heard was Spanish, and an Estrella was just a couple of Euro.
I really wish I hadn’t overdone it at Casa Labra, but it’s places like San Ildefonso that make me positive I will find my way back to Madrid.
As a tourist, I hope I spent my 48 hours in Madrid the right way. There are a few other places I didn’t get the names of, but if you go, you’ll have no trouble spending your days just as the locals do.
Have you checked out any of these places? Have you ever had just 48-hours in Madrid? Let me know in comments below!