Whilst Spanish cuisine has always had a flair for the deliciously distinctive, Madrid as a city alone has evolved into one of the richest culinary capitals in Europe. Whilst the enduring traditions of Spanish cooking remain, Madrid has embraced the new tastes that conquer the world and make it uniquely its own. The city is also home to the world's oldest restaurant, the classic Spanish tapas bar and restaurants with huge menus is great place to visit for those also interested in art, culture and architecture - not to mention the incredible weather, with scorching summers and bitterly cold winters.
Staying in Madrid
If you're looking for somewhere to stay on a budget, hostels are definitely a good bet. Rooms can be available and as affordable as ‚€12 (around £10) a night providing you don't mind sharing amenities with others as communal bathrooms and kitchens are commonplace. Usually internet is included in the price as hostels provide their visitors with free Wi-Fi.
For somewhere a little more private and comfortable, hotels are available for a little more, but they often include a little more service, breakfast, a TV and air-conditioning (important for Madrid's blistering summers). Lapepa Bed and Breakfast offers modestly-sized rooms from about ‚€56 - which might seem more expensive than you're willing to pay, but as soon as you see the location of the hotel to the city centre, and the incredible view from the windows, you might change your mind.
How do I get around in Madrid?
The authorities in Madrid have worked extremely hard to produce one of the best transportation networks in the world, and it's something to be proud of indeed. The city plays host to the second largest metro network in Europe, second only to London's, and buses and subways form an integrated web and work with the same tickets - meaning travel in, out and throughout the city happens with rare fluidity.
A single ticket costs ‚€1.50 and will cover you for 5 stations, and a ten-trip ticket costs around ‚€15. Alternatively, you can buy unlimited travel passes: 1 day (‚€8), 2 days (‚€13.40), 3 days (‚€17.40), 5 days (‚€25.50), or 7 days (‚€33.40).
One of the best and least expensive metro systems in Europe, the tunnels of the Madrid Metro system often provide commuters with relief on the hotter days.
Wherever the Metro doesn't cover, the bus system does. They're also equipped with a free WiFi system so that you can look up important details or routes whilst travelling.
As with any major European city, travelling by car isn't recommended for tourists. Driving can be a nightmare and similar to other big cities, there are huge amounts of cars and not enough space to accommodate them, leading to traffic jams in some parts of the city at hours as late as 3am.
Madrid is working to make itself more of a cyclist-friendly city. Several streets in the historical downtown area have been transformed to mean that pedestrians and bikes have priority over cars, and there are new easy bike paths all along the river connecting important sites.
Where is the best place to eat?
In addition to the typical Spanish cuisine, Madrid has its own regional specialties to offer visiting tourists and budding food critics. Dishes like 'gallinejas' and 'entresijos' (portions of different parts of lamb fried in its own fat) are typical of Madrid City. Ironically, for a city located in the centre of Spain, Madrid has a higher quality of seafood dishes than its coastal brothers, meaning that experiencing the city's fishier dishes could be an experience worth the cost. The city is unarguably the cuisine capital of Spain, with over 3,100 eateries and over 9 restaurants with Michelin stars (no easy feat).
For gourmet food: El Club Allard
One of Madrid's most prestigious gourmet temples, this food experience is one you certainly won't forget. Upon being presented with the menu for Allard, you must choose from three varying set menus - 'Rendezvous', 'Seduction' or 'Revolution'. Courses are eclectic in both taste and design, including a salmon cheek smoked and served in a bouillon of saffron with a little sea urchin and baby broad beans garnished with 'coconut air' and banana crab crisps. An example appetiser would be the 'Babybel', an edible parody of the popular red wax-coated cheese treat, where a coating of beetroot encloses a circle of high-quality Camembert flavoured with truffle served with a savoury tuille. For dessert, an egg is presented - only the shell is made from thinly layered milk chocolate, the egg white is made from coconut and the yolk is mango puree. Although worth the taste sensation and experience that the restaurant will give you, menus start from the equivalent of £129, which includes a bottle of wine.
For authentic Spanish cuisine: Moratin Vinoteca Bistrot
A small, welcoming and cosy space with a bookish feel to it, the design elements of Moratin Vinoteca combine to give the restaurant a relaxed atmosphere. The menu is short, but don't expect that it won't provide you with something lovely as the dishes are unusual but really fresh. Prices are fair with starters priced at around ‚€12, including the famous tiny, juicy artichokes with olive oil and salted cecina (a dried and cured beef appreciated throughout Spain) and mains at around ‚€14, which include cannelloni with carrilleras (pig's cheeks, which although sound unappetizing, are tender and tasty cuts of meat) and vegetables.
For churros and chocolate: Chocolateria San Gines
The most centrally located chocolateria, San Gines has been open since 1894 and provides no menu for its patrons as it is pretty obvious that they're about to indulge in something greasy and sweet. The churros (fried dough dusted with sugar or cinnamon) are fresh and the thick chocolate sauce makes for the perfect accompaniment. One serving costs around ‚€3.20.
For the oldest restaurant in the world:
Sobrino de Botin has been serving food to people since 1725, and still does today. Well worth a visit, you can sample things such as classic Spanish hors d'oeuvres and beautifully served fish and meat dishes. Favourite dishes include the incredibly refreshing gazpacho (chilled tomato soup) and the suckling pig. The place is usually packed with not only tourists, but locals too as the prices remain very reasonable for such a popular tourist establishment.
What can I do?
European towns and cities are famed for their markets, but there are none better than the ones in Madrid. The Mercado de San Miguel is a must-visit for foodies, with opportunities to check out all kinds of tapas, snacks and the exquisite seafood - try some of the langoustines on ice, some of the best around. Small tapas stalls offer some of the best dishes of the Spanish traditional food you're likely to taste, so go with an empty stomach free to sample a little of everything.
Similarly, the Mercado de la Paz it located in the city's ritzy Salamanca neighbourhood, rubbing shoulders with the designer outlets and gourmet shops. Taste a little of the market's best pick of fish, fruit, meat, cheese and charcuterie - a taste experience you're not likely to forget. You might find some stuff to take home with you, too. (Don't worry - you're allowed to bring any fruit, vegetables, meat, dairy or other animal products including egg, fish and honey, into the UK so long as you're travelling from a country within the EU).
A place worth visiting is Madrid's Museo del Jamon, even if only for the cheap filled roll at the end stuffed with high quality Spanish ham. The museum is unique for greeting guests with the sight of hundreds of hams hanging from the ceiling, but it provides visitors with an interesting insight into Spanish cuisine and the 'techniques' behind one of Spain's best loved foods.
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