I finally hopped on the solo travel bandwagon and headed to Madrid for four tapas filled days this past President’s Day weekend. I honestly didn’t know too much about Spain before I started planning for my Madrid vacation (which by the way I booked super last minute in January) so I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the country. When people think about Europe, they mainly think about London or Paris or Amsterdam. Madrid, when compared to all those more mainstream cities and even its more popular Spanish counterpart city Barcelona, is always kind of under the radar or overlooked. But WOW it is an amazing country. I fell in love with Spain during this trip and I can’t wait for the next opportunity to go back. I loved how easy it was to get around using English, how the Spanish people come outside on sunny days to chat and eat delicious tapas, and how affordable everything was!
Plaza Mayor and Plaza del Sol
If I could describe both plazas in one statement it would be: Madrid’s TImes Square. The plazas are packed with people with stores lining all sides and different entertainers (aka people dressed in creepy costumes asking you to give money to take a picture). Throughout my trip I was constantly walking through both Plazas so it appears that they are pretty central areas of Madrid. Don’t miss out on the famous Bear and Strawberry Tree statue in Plaza del Sol!
2019 marks the Prado Museum’s 200 year anniversary as it was officially opened to the public on 1819. Because of this 200 year celebration, there was a special exhibit inside the Museum detailing 200 years of the Museum and it helped land Madrid on numerous 2019 travel bucket lists. Insider Tip- The Prado Museum is free from Monday to Saturday from 6-8pm. Although there is a long line to enter, it is worth it to save almost 15 euros! The line moves pretty quickly and there is plenty of time to wander through the museums. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of art and museums. I find them kind of boring and dry and I would much rather be outside walking the streets of the city I’m in or experiencing the city’s food scene. But some museums are just must sees! Prado is definitely one of them and going during the free hours makes it less burdensome to have to spend lots of time there. I wandered through the museum for about 1.5 hours (its actually a huge museum) and then was on my way to dinner.
San Gines Chocolateria
A quick Google search of what to eat in Madrid will easily lead you to the San Gines Chocolateria- famous for its chocolate and churros. If you’ve only had American churros and hot chocolate, you will definitely be in for a shock. The chocolate is thicker- almost like it was just melted chocolate in a cup and slightly more bitter. The churros are a lot bigger and not drenched in cinnamon sugar. They are still sweet though! There was a small line when I arrived at San Gines after dinner, but it moved quickly. After finding an open table, guests give their already paid for ticket order to a passing waiter who then brings out the food after a few minutes. Everything moves fast so even if there are no tables available when you go, one will open up soon. At 4 Euros for chocolate and churros, San Gines is a great deal for a late night dessert.
This popular (and crowded!) pastry shop is located on a corner of the Plaza del Sol. While most tour guide books will tell you that anything surrounding these touristy plazas is not worth eating, I really feel like La Mallorica is the exception. The pastries here are exceptionally made and very appealing. Look how adorable my strawberry macaroon was!
La Fragua de Vulcano
One thing I desperately wanted to eat in Spain was seafood paella. Ever since my trip to New Orleans last summer, I’ve been a little obsessed with paella. Who knew rice in tomato sauce could taste so good?? One of the downsides of being a solo traveler in Spain was that I had noone to split my tapas with so I was forced to order less variety and eat all of it myself. Next time, I will definitely be coming to Spain with someone else! When I arrived at La Fragua it was around 7pm- prime dinner time in the U.S- but in Spain it is considered a relatively early time slot to be eating dinner. I dined in a largely empty restaurant until the very end when the Spanish finally began dining (and I was headed back to my hostel for an early night due to jet lag…). I love how different cultures are around the world. Its so interesting to escape your tiny little American bubble and experience how other countries do even simple things like eating meals late.
Where I Stayed: 2060 Newton Hostel
This was my first European hostel experience and I came away from it with mixed feelings. While I was able to save a lot of money (all three days only costed $86) and the central location was a huge bonus (everything was basically within a 20 minute walk), it was slightly uncomfortable sharing a room with 6 other girls who all had different schedules. Because I was an early riser, there were a few times when I wanted to turn on the room light so I could find my clothes and get ready for the day, but I felt a bit bad about disturbing the other sleeping girls. Having the privacy curtains definitely helped though- especially because I usually knocked out around 11pm due to being so active during the day. Sharing a bathroom was also a big change for me- I didn’t even do that in my college dorm! Taking turns with 6 other girls all wanting to use one tiny bathroom was one of the biggest difficulties, I always felt that there was so much hair (I get it girls do shed a lot!) on the ground and so many shampoo bottles lying everywhere. I decided that I would only do the hostel experience again if it was a 3 day or less stay because any longer and my germophobe body probably wouldn’t be able to handle it anymore. Despite all this, the hostel management was really sweet and did everything they could to make my stay comfortable. There was free churros and tea/coffee every morning for guests and free walking tours every day at 11am. I didn’t take advantage of any of the free walking tours since I had my own schedule planned, but next time I decide to stay at a hostel I really want to fit one in. A tip I would give a future first time hostel stayer would be to bring shower shoes (aka flip flops) and bring your own lock to lock up your belongings because there is no guarantee that the hostel locks are strong or secure.
Have you been to Madrid? What was your favorite thing to do?