Spain Part I; Dancing,Tapas, and Gaudi.
We're landing in foodie Madrid, taking a day trip to medieval Toledo, and ending in artistic Barcelona. Join us on a 6-day journey to Spain's Central region on this Spain part I blog, eating, strolling, and soaking in its culture.
There's something for everyone in Spain. Whether you're a foodie, art lover, or a night owl, you'll fit right in, from welcoming Madrid with its local feel, fantastic food, and friendly people to the Metropolitan City of Barcelona full of art and nightlife.
Did you know Toledo (once the capital of Spain) is only a 30 min train ride from Madrid?— Making it an unforgettable day trip! This small town's scenery will take you back to Medieval time with its stunning churches and a fantastic spa.
Welcome to Madrid — we took an overnight flight from NYC to Madrid, landing at 6:35 am in the capital. Once at the airport, we took a yellow express Aeropuerto bus that took us to the center of town near our hotel for only €5. You can find these buses outside the terminal. From the center, we walked for about 20 min.
Madrid has plenty of taxis, but we wanted to familiarize ourselves with our surroundings. We travel light with book bags, so walking was the way to go. We found Madrid to be an effortless and safe city to navigate via public transportation and on foot. TIP: always carry cash for a taxi after a night of drinking, and for little hole-in-the-wall Tapas spots you'll find along the way as most don't take cards, and it's where the good foods at! You'll find locals eating at these spots; always a good sign! Also, don't shy away from crowded restaurants. If a restaurant is super full, it means the food is good. There's always room at the bar, even if full, push your way through and make an order like a real Spaniard; they'll make room. Finally, don't be alarmed if you see people tossing their garbage on the floor after eating, as this is a common practice in Spain.
Food Tour with Devour Madrid —
We started our Madrid experience with a 10:15 am Food Tour. We highly recommend Devour Madrid for this. They took us to so many local spots. The name of the tour we chose was "Huertas Neighborhood Food & Market Tour," and it's about 3.5 hours long, making a total of 9 stops for €79. The tour includes all food, drinks, and a local guide. Some of our favorite eats from this tour included: Homemade Porra and Chocolate, Freshly made Potato Crisps, Cheese and Wine tasting, Ham tasting, and Tapas hopping drinking Sweet Vermouth on tap, a must!
Ham tasting at Mercado De Anton Martin - Ham tasting is a big deal here in Spain, and unless you're vegetarian, it's a must-do during your stay. We tried a total of 3 hams: Jamon Serrano- this ham is most commonly used for tapas and at restaurants. Jamon Iberico de Bellota- made from acorn-fed pure breed Iberico ham, one of Spain's sumptous delicacies.
Cecina de Leon- beef ham salted and dried using air, sun, or smoke.
After, walk off your food coma at El Retiro Park. Here you can take a stroll, rowboat, and gaze at the statue of the falling angel. Bring comfortable shoes; this park is huge! Continue to the Royal Botanical Gardens (€3 entrance fee), where you can marvel at more than 5,000 species of live plants. Head on to the Prado Museum after ( open from 10 am-8 pm with free entrance after 6 pm); if you decide to go after 6 pm, line up early as the line tends to be long but moves fast.
After dark, take a stroll in the area of La Gran Via, making a stop at Circulo de Bellas Artes, where you can go to the rooftop for some cocktails and a city view. *Note: there's a fee to go up, and drinks could be a bit overpriced. For a nightcap and end of day 1, go bar and tapas hopping in Barrio la Latina. Check out "El Viajero" with a secret roof Terrance. If in the Center near Plaza Mayor, our favorite spots were: Los Gatos, Casa Gonzales, Bodegas Ricla, Taberna el 7 de la Cava & Taberna la Concha. If you see a spot that looks interesting, go in have a drink and a tapa. Something I love about Spain is that every time you order a drink you get a tapa on the house! It should be like that everywhere, in my opinion.
Head on to the Royal Palace ( entrance fee €11), brush up on Spaniard Royalty facts and get a glance at how the other half lives.
A few blocks up, you'll find Templo de Debod; an Egyptian temple rebuilt in Madrid. The shrine was a gift from Egypt to Spain as a sign of gratitude for Spain's help in saving Abu Simbel Temple. The temple is free to visit. The best times to go are sunset and nighttime when the shrine is lit up, although daytime still offers a great view.
Time for lunch; many Madrid bars and restaurants serve a mid-week menu del dia - a prefix three-course lunch for €10-€15. Find a local spot full of people and blend in! After lunch ( If you have not done so ) is a great time to head back to the center and visit the top plazas: Plaza Mayor, Puerta del Sol, and Plaza Santa Ana. You can then check out Reina Sofia Museum (Open from 10 am- 9 pm) with free entrance after 7 pm (check their website for updated dates/ times).
For Dinner head on to our favorite upscale market in Madrid — Mercado San Miguel. We loved this market so much, we visited twice! You can find almost anything to eat here with fresh seafood, sweets, and a great selection of wine. Our favorite stall was Mariscos Morris, where we tried so much local and fresh seafood for the first time! After an elaborate tasting at this spot, here are my top 3 you should try. 1. Percebes or barnacles--
I would have never even thought about trying this, but here in Spain, it is very prevalent and a delicacy at about €25 a plate. I loved it and think everybody should give it a try.
2. Sea urchin - so fresh and soft with a pudding texture that melts in your mouth, It almost tastes like a dessert. My first time trying it was at this market, and I fell in love with it. Since I've had it in Japan and New York City and my favorite spot to try them is still this market. It's the freshest form of them all. They open it in front of you, sprinkle a dash of salt on top, and the squeeze of lemon is all it takes to eat this delicacy that is better enjoyed raw.
3. Forget happy hour oysters; Concha de Malaga is where it's at—caught in the South of Spain in Malaga's beach town. I'm not sure if it's typically sold in the states, but it's a local find in Madrid, so a great place to give it a try. During our seafood adventures, we also became obsessed with boquerones - well, Fernando more than I, but I recommend giving those a try as well. The stall right across from this one has great ones. You have to order a full plate, though, as single units are not sold, but they are small, so it's doable between two people. Another great place to try boquerones is at Mercado de Anton Martin ( where we went ham tasting), and any tapas bar will have them as they are prevalent in Spain. To end the night, we're heading over to Corral de la Moreria for a live Flamenco show. You have the option of dining while watching the show or having a drink ( included with your entrance ticket ). I recommend eating beforehand and just having a drink here and enjoy the show.
Day 3 — Day trip to Toledo
We are visiting Toledo, Once the Capital of Spain. This charming, medieval, picturesque town will teleport you to another era. Still, with cobbled streets, ancient historic sites, and impressive religious facilities, this town looks like a movie set instead of a functional one. Yet, life here is led regularly with typical day to day activities. We were so happy we had the opportunity to visit this place! We assure you this will be a day trip you'll never forget. We still talk about it every time we think of Spain. It's always the food in Madrid and the sights in Toledo for us.
Getting here is super easy as it's only a 30 min train ride away from Madrid. Trains leave every hour from Atocha Station from
6:50 am-9:50 pm, and the cost of a one-way ticket is €13. I recommend booking your ticket ahead of time as lines can be long at the station. Once at the train station in Toledo, take a taxi into town as the town is a bit far and the road is rocky and full of hills, or if you're into hiking, then wear comfy shoes and take off. If you opt for cabbing, make a stop at Mirador del Valle to get a bird's eye view of the town, as shown in this photograph. Taxi's run for €5 to€15 to town.
Our first couple of stops in town are at the Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes and Sinagoga Maria la Blanca after (both open from 10 am-5:45 pm - entrance fee €2.50). After, make your way into town, stopping at the Santa Cruz Museum €6 open from 10-7 pm and find El Pozo de los Deseos (wishing well). The well is in the basement of a small shop, so keep an eye out for the signs. Once there, make a wish in this magical town, and you never know, it may be granted. Take your time soaking in the scenery of the colorful streets as you walk through.
Explore the town. Toledo is so photogenic, full of small shops and places to grab some tapas, a drink, and relax. You can go wine tasting at Enodiffusion, have tapas and wine at Taberna Tecnica de Vinos Amboades, or the trendy La Malquerida de la Trinidad.
Be sure to Visit the Main Cathedral; It's simply breathtaking, one of my favorites in all of Europe - €8 open from 10-6:30 pm.
Go during regular hours and do all the activities (you can climb on top of the bell), then come back during the night, when locals hang out, mingle, and the town truly comes alive. During the holiday season, the markets are also set up in this area.
After a day full of activities and exploration, relax at Medina Mudejar Baños Arabes-- An underground Turkish bathhouse that's out of this world! If possible, try making a reservation before arriving as they have limited space if you want to get a massage. You can stay overnight in Toledo or end your day by taking one last stroll during the night. If heading back to Madrid, be sure to check for the previous train departing so you don't miss your train back as taking a taxi could be expensive. End of day 3.
Day 4 — Hello Barcelona!
Take an early flight from Madrid to Barcelona. Unlike Madrid, Barcelona is a big city, so you're going to rely on public transportation way more. I recommend getting a T10 card from one of the vending machines at the airport €9.95 - this card can end up saving you lots of cash. A T10 card is a prepaid transport card that can be used for ten journeys across Barcelona. The card can also be shared between two people, each getting five trips. Be sure to figure out the zones you'll be visiting when purchasing the card, as you must select zones that will be covered. For us, it was Zone 1 & 2. Then settle in with refreshments at your hotel and even take a siesta before heading out again.
After a couple of unwinding hours, head out for a drink in the Gothic Quarters at 4cats and walk the same streets as Picasso in the early 1900s. Established in 1897, 4cats is said to be Picasso's favorite restaurant back in the day. He would visit daily and had commissioned his first work as an artist here--the restaurants' menu. If you ask the staff, they'll bring out the original menu for you to see; how cool is that? --This restaurant also holds one of Picasso's original paintings. Not too far from the gothic quarters is las Ramblas, another great neighborhood to check out, stroll around and grab a bite. If time allows, head on to the Picasso Museum after, open from 9 am - 7 pm.
Wake up early and make your way to Bunker del Carmen, where you can catch the sunrise with a bird's eye city view. This is a public and open hike/park so, it's free, and the views are impressive. Bring a blanket and breakfast to have a morning picnic before starting your day. After its time to meet the man that, in my opinion, rules all of Barcelona — Antoni Gaudi. I must confess that before my trip to Barcelona, I knew nothing about this artist, and he now has become one of my favorite architects.
His work is so impressive and way ahead of its time. In Gaudi's world, magic, nature, and architecture intertwine. With all of his "out of the box" creations, this talented artist found inspiration in nature. All he created was for humans' comfort, meaning everything had a purpose, making his work both beautiful and useful. I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to experience his work throughout Barcelona. * before you go, make sure to purchase your tickets ahead of time to avoid lines and it being sold out as they're top-rated attractions and require time slots to visit.
Here are my Top 3 Gaudi sights to Visit: Start with Park Guell- open from 8 am-8:30 pm. Allow enough time before your entrance time (they group you into sections, so it's essential not to be late) to get to the park as depending on where you come from, there might be a steep hike and then another park to cut through. After head over to La Sagrada Familia - open from 9 am to 8 pm * Tip: for €24, you can buy a combo ticket online granting you entrance to Park Guell & LaSagrada Familia. Finish your Gaudi history day with a visit to Casa Mila "La Pedrera" open from 9 am-6:30 pm. I won't bore you with details about these locations; instead, I highly recommend you rent an audio tour headphone set for each of these spots. End your day 5 experiencing the nightlife in Barcelona. A little bar we loved was "El Quinto mo˜no," with a great selection of cocktails, cheese board, and an even more attentive staff that will recommend the coolest night bars for you to visit after, depending on your mood.
Take it easy on your last day, especially if you truly experienced the night live Barcelona has to offer the night before. Sleep in and have a relaxed breakfast. After head over to Montjuic to see the magic fountains (these fountains light up at night, so you might want to come back after dark). Behind the fountain is a giant staircase leading to the Catalan Art Museum €12 or free entrance every Sunday. Behind the museum there are some cable carts you can ride going in opposite directions. The cable cart heading up leads to Montjuic Castle (an old military fortress), and the cart going down leads to Barceloneta-- a human-made beach in Barcelona. It's up to you, whether you decide to go up, down, or do both! We decided to visit the beach.
On your way down via cable cart, you get a great view of the city and beach. While on the beach you can rent a bike or stroll around the many restaurants and bars. We decided for our last meal in Spain to try this famous Squid Ink Paella, making the paella black. It was delicious! We ate at Barraca in Barceloneta, and we highly recommend this spot if you're in the area.
--This ends our 6-days in Barcelona. Safe travels, and thanks for reading!