Madrid Day 1

We woke at 8:45am in order to catch the 10am Sandeman’s New Europe Free Walking Tour from Plaza Mayor, but were both so tired we decided to sleep an hour longer and catch the 11am tour.

Entering Plaza Mayor

We walked about 30 minutes to Plaza Mayor from our AirBnB room near the Príncipe Pío station, and decided that next time we would take the metro as the walk was a bit too long and uphill for our taste. Plus, the metro tickets are just €1.20 each if you buy them in packs of 10 (€1.50 single trip). Along the way, we stopped for a cafe con leche (€1.7) and pastry to split (€1.7).

Our guide Enrique at the beginning of the tour

Our free walking tour – which had about 25 people in our group – lasted from 11am to 1:45pm. It covered most of the tourist sites west of Plaza Mayor and ended at the Royal Palace. It covered some popular places (Plaza Mayor and Royal Palace) and lesser know ones as well as Spanish history to current culture.

Too much yellow!
View of the cathedral, old city wall, and Star of David fountain along the walking tour

Seeing the large entrance line at the Royal Palace reminded us that we should buy tickets online before visiting tomorrow (note: apparently we tried to do this too late, as no tickets were available for Sunday when we checked slightly after midnight Saturday night).

View of the palace and a statue of a king that never rode into battle, but loved being depicted doing so

Our guide Enrique was pretty good, and as usual we were happy with the free walking tour concept. We tipped €10 each and also signed up for the evening tapas walk.

On our way from the palace toward lunch

We tried to go to a restaurant recommended by our guide and the free walking tour map, but all the open tables were supposedly reserved. We opted to walk to Mercado San Miguel instead and get some snacks.

Snacks at Mercado San Miguel

The market was more a collection of tapas bars than a traditional market. At the ‘cafeteria’ bar, Katie ordered a small pineapple and shrimp sandwich (pincho de christorra con pina) as well as a fried brie cheese roll (rollito queso brie) – each for €2.30. JT ordered two ham sandwiches (chapata de jamon y tumaca and chapata de lomo y queso) for €2.90/each. While Katie was very pleased with her choices, JT found some parts of his meat to be too chewy and fatty to swallow (although he tried).

The market was also super crowded and most places seemed overpriced. Nonetheless, we’d recommend pushing your way through the crowds for the experience – and the pineapple + shrimp sandwiches!

We left the Mercado San Miguel still a bit hungry, so we stopped on the way to Puerto del Sol at the interesting and very popular looking Museo del Jamon restaurant and bar (6 locations in Madrid). We noticed the menu had different prices for standing in the bar and sitting at a table. We just wanted a small snack, so we struggled our way through the very crowded bar and JT was finally able to place an order for a salami sandwich and a beer. The prices were very reasonable (€1 meat sandwiches and €0.90 “doble” beers), which is probably why it was so incredibly crowded! JT ate the sandwich and Katie drank the beer quickly and we escaped the mayhem!

The madness at Museo de Jamon

We continued towards Puerta del Sol, which is one of the biggest squares in Madrid. We enjoyed the facades as well as some of the street performers. Although the cartoon character mascots and people selling things were somewhat annoying, there were two different men who appeared to be posing for very long periods on just one or both arms. Obviously they were using some sort of rigid arm/body cast, but it was still pretty impressible.

Impressive street performers! No strings attached!

In front of the Casa de Correos 
Peurta del Sol’s famous Tio Pepe sign (1950s-2011 and 2014-current)

From Puerto del Sol, we walked past many beautiful facades to the Círculo de Bellas Artes.

One of the gorgeous buildings along the way to Bellas Artes

 Once at the Círculo de Bellas Artes we paid the €4/person to visit the rooftop terrace, which was highly recommended by a The Points Guy contributor.

Lounging on the fake grass
It felt nice to put our feet up!

The views from the terrace were indeed worth the time and money, and we even opted to buy two €6 beers so we could enjoy lounging on fake grass while enjoying the views of both the skyline and the other people on the terrace.

View from the rooftop terrace looking East

Visiting the rooftop terrace surprisingly felt like one of the least touristy things we did today, as most of the other people on the terrace seemed to be Spanish.  As we were leaving, we saw that the line to buy tickets to get onto the rooftop stretched down the sidewalk. Probably a 30 minute wait?

We took the extremely convenient 74 metro bus from the Círculo de Bellas Artes to Temple del Debod. We enjoyed the views of the temple, as well as the city views from the surrounding park. The temple was especially pretty due to the low sun.

Part of the Egyptian temple and apartment buildings bordering the park.

 The line to enter the temple was rather long, so we opted to not wait. We did stop for a while to watch a very skilled guy working on some impressive slacklining moves – falling and bouncing various ways off the line, sometimes pulling off flips and other tricks.

While this shot looks like he is falling uncontrollably, he actually bounced off the line and did a trick!

 Despite his skill, we still saw him offering to let a few little kids try slacklining on his line. Seems that he was trying to be an ambassador for slacklining!

Slacklining expert helping a kid try it out
Sunset view

After leaving the Temple of Debod park, we started a mission to find a bathroom for Katie. JT found that the Maps.Me app he had downloaded off-line on this phone was actually very detailed and useful. But the public bathroom it pointed to us nearby seemed to be locked and out of order.

We eventually walked downhill to the Príncipe Pío train and metro station as we (1) figured it would have a bathroom and (2) we could take a metro from that station to the tapas walk. There indeed was a restroom in the restaurant area of the station. We then took the R connector metro to the Opera station which was near Plaza Mayor.

When we exited the metro at the Opera station, we found the streets were much more crowded than they had been earlier in the day. Madrid does really seem to come alive after dark.

Madrid at night

We quickly walked to the Plaza Mayor where our Sandeman’s New Europe Tapas Walk (€16 adults, €14 students) was scheduled to meet at 7pm. The plaza was packed with tourists, the Christmas Market, and vendors selling all the normal touristy items (splat creatures, ferries, balloons, etc) as well as some seemingly ill-fated items (sparklers, pop rocks). We tried to avoid the soap raining down from above thanks to one entertainer’s oversized bubble making.

Plaza Mayor at night

Despite the crowds, we easily found a guide with a red umbrella and checked in. Our group was rather large at more than 24 people and two guides, which made it hard to stay together in the crowds. It would have been impossible to stay together without the umbrella one of the guides was holding high.

Our tour began around 7:05pm and we left the plaza after a short introduction to tapas and Spanish gastronomy. Our first stop was Rosi La Loca (Calle Cadiz #4, +34 915326681), where we had two different potato dishes – one in an interesting sweet and sour sauce and the other covered with fried eggs and bacon – as well as a cheese and bacon croquette and a cocktail made of sprite and white wine that was very refreshing. All of the food here was excellent, and it ended up being our favorite stop of the evening.

Potatoes covered with fried eggs and bacon

 Our second stop was a location of the Museo del Jamon that was different than the location we had visited earlier in the day. This stop was very crowded, as we all had to stand in the middle of the bar and be constantly pushed by other customers as the two guides brought us wine bottled drinks and cheese + meat trays from the bar. It was difficult to hear the guides give any talks in this location as it was just too crowded and loud. It was an experience, but probably not the best experience for such a large group.

Crowded Museo del Jamon

Our third stop was La Cristiana Taberna on a popular tapas street. We got separated and ended up sitting at different tables, but it wasn’t really an issue for us as we both enjoyed talking to new people. At this bar we had red wine, chicken sandwiches, green olives, and paella. The paella was terrible, as it has bones and fatty pieces in the meat! No one finished any of the paella plates on our tables, which is clear sign of how bad it was.

Tapas at La Cristiana Taberna
Part of our tapas crawl group at La Cristiana Taberna

All in all, we probably would not recommend taking the tapas tour unless you really want to meet some other interesting travelers. Tapas can be done cheaper on your own (even following a suggested outline from a travel book). The serving sizes weren’t great, so the only real benefit of taking the tapas tour was meeting fellow travelers.

We stayed around a bit after the guides left and chatted with some Indian guys living in Germany as well as some Brazilians that were visiting Europe for a month. We eventually took our leave and wandered the nearby streets looking for something that looked good and didn’t cost too much. We eventually ended up at City Kebab (Calle de la Cruz 10) that was pretty much across the street from our final tapas walk stop – although we may have walked a mile in between. City Kebab was filling, but nothing special. At least it was cheap! JT’s Menu Doner was €6, Katie’s Doner Kebab was €3.5 plus a €1 drink.

After leaving City Kebab we walked to the Puerta del Sol metro stop. On the way, we saw a deli (Cafe & Te, San Jerinimo) serving ice cream, so we decided to ask if they served horchata. They seemed very confused, so we just ended up ordering some expensive (€4.80) dulce de leche ice cream (which although good, was not worth the cost).

After finishing the ice cream, we attempted the take the metro back to Príncipe Pío station and our AirBnB. However, the metro entrance machine ate our ticket (still with four trips on it!) and the nearby security officer and passengers were no help. They kept trying to get us to use the telephone call box, but we had no shared language with the telephone operators.

Frustrating error on the metro entrance booth

Just as we were dejectedly going to walk away from 6€ in fares and buy new tickets, we saw a maintenance guy fixing a nearby ticket machine. We showed him the error still displaying on the jammed entrance machine. He opened the machine, worked a while to retrieve our ticket, and gave us three new tickets. What was lost in translation for a frustrating minute was that one of the tickets was for three trips. That means we ended up with a bonus one – rather than being shorted one! Yay!

Once back at the AirBnB, we showered and sat in bed blogging (Katie) and catching up (JT). Today was a busy but exciting day, and tomorrow looks to be more of the same!

Full-day FitBit stats:
Steps: 20,304
Miles: 9.34
Flights of stairs climbed: 47
Calories: 4,304

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