Isabel Eva Bohrer is a freelance writer and photographer livin’ la vida local in Madrid. In homage to the Spanish capital, she currently publishes MADbudget: The Ultimate Guide to Madrid. Here’s what she has to say about her favorite city.
Madrid is My City
The first place I take a visitor from out of town is the Parque del Retiro. Athletic travelers can come for a jog, children can have fun in the playgrounds, and if you’re here with a special someone, rent a boat for a romantic float.
When I crave a good tortilla I always go to La Tortillería, Flash-Flash. Here, they serve 10 different variations of the traditional Spanish tortilla with potatoes. Try adding salsas, cheeses, meats, fish, or vegetables.
To escape the hustle and bustle of downtown Madrid, I head to El Escorial, the former royal residence of King Phillip II. Located 45 kilometers (about 30 miles) outside the city center, El Escorial functions as a monastery and museum, as well as a school. It was officially declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.
If I want to cool off from the summer heat I go to a nearby swimming pool. Some hotels, condos, and gyms have pools, or you can head to a public one. In this case, ask for a polideportivo with piscina. If that, too, fails, jump in a nearby fountain! (Just make sure the police don’t catch you.)
For complete quiet, I can hide away in one of the public libraries. I love browsing through shelves and shelves of books, then settling into a comfortable chair to read. My favorite library is the Biblioteca Nacional de España, the largest public library in all of Spain with over 26 million items including books, journals, newspapers, magazines, music recordings, maps, stamps, drawings, and manuscripts.
If you come to my city, get your picture taken with one of the glittery street performers at Plaza Mayor.
If you have to order one thing off the menu from Casa Salvador it has to be the panaché de verduras, a mix of steamed vegetables drizzled with olive oil.
Mercado de San Miguel is my one-stop shop for great Spanish and international foods, whether it’s local gambas (shrimps), Mexican guacamole, or Japanese sushi. The Museo del Jamón, selling Spanish Iberian ham, is also nearby on Calle Mayor.
When I’m feeling cash-strapped I go and eat a menú del día— an affordable lunch menu for 8 to 12 Euros– offered at most restaurants. Typically a menu del día will include a first course, second course, dessert, coffee/tea, water, wine, and bread. As a vegetarian, I particularly enjoy the daily menus at Yerbabuena. Ask for the tarjeta de cliente fiel (loyal customer card) and collect stamps for each menú del día you consume. The tenth one is on the house!
For a huge splurge I go to Calle Ortega y Gasset. Here, you can find big international brand names, such as Cartier, Dolce & Gabbana, Hugo Boss, and others. In addition, you can find Spanish designers, such as Felipe Varela, here. Varela is notorious for his extravagant dresses.
If my city were a celebrity it’d be a Real Madrid soccer player. Whomever is the most famous at the moment. Madrid goes crazy with soccer, especially if the game is against Barcelona.
The most random thing about my city is the puentes. A puente, meaning bridge, is what happens when a Wednesday is a holiday, and people end up taking the whole week off from work. As a foreigner, this may seem random, but once you start living here, it becomes routine (and you come to enjoy it, too).
My city has the most soccer-crazy men. Pick a day when a game is being played in the Estadio Bernabeu, and it will seem as though the city’s entire male population is off cheering for Real.
My city has the most talkative women. No matter what age, they can go on and on!
In my city, an active day outdoors involves biking. In recent years, Madrid has extended its biking trails, including the Anillo Verde Ciclista Madrid, which covers 64 kilometers and includes a lane reserved for pedestrians.
My favorite jogging/walking route is a mix of trails in Parque del Oeste.
The entire city can be considered a spot for late-night eats. Spaniards usually don’t begin to dine until at least 10 or 11 p.m. and sometimes even later on weekends.
To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, read the Guía del Ocio, which literally translates as the “guide to entertainment.” You can pick up a copy at any newsstand (quiosco in Spanish) or browse all events online.
You can tell a lot about my city from eating in a small, family-owned restaurant. Provided you speak Spanish, you can listen-in on some of the most emblematic conversations of the locals. You might find yourself overhearing the elderly complain about their aching bones, or a group of business men sitting down to play mus, a popular Spanish card game. If you stick around and become a regular, they might even invite you to play.
You can tell if someone is from my city if he or she criticizes people from other parts of Spain, be it the Catalans, the Basques, or the inhabitants of the South.
In the spring you should take a trip on the “Tren de las Fresas” (Strawberry Train) to Aranjuez. During the 50-minute ride, you will be served fresh strawberries. Once in Aranjuez, you can take a tour of the Museo del Ferrocarril (the railway museum) and the Palacio Real (the royal palace).
In the summer you should travel somewhere else. There is a reason that Madrid appears to be a ghost town in August: the real Spaniards are all headed to the coasts or to Northern Europe for vacation. Mid-July to mid-August is the hottest time of the year, and temperatures in Madrid can peak at up to 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit). Pick a cooler destination, pack your bags, and come back to Madrid in September.
In the fall you should enjoy the best time of year in Madrid. People have just returned from summer vacation, are still tanned, and in a great mood. The terrazas (terraces) of many bars and restaurants are great places to enjoy a cool drink and people-watch.
A hidden gem in my city is the Taberna de la Daniela. Great for tapas. Although I hate to give away this secret, I’ll unveil the address: Calle General Pardiñas, 21.
For a great breakfast joint try the Chocolatería San Ginés. Here, you can get the world-famous chocolate con churros. The recipe is quite simple: the churro is basically just fried dough, which is then dipped in hot chocolate. (For all those who like to get up late, no worries, you can have them here any time.)
Just outside my city, you can visit Toledo, the former capital of Spain. Also known as the “Ciudad de las Tres Culturas” (the city of three cultures,) Toledo and its architecture still retains the traces of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian inhabitants. For a great view of the city, including the river Tajo, head to the Parador de Toledo.
The best way to see my city is by walking. Especially downtown, most areas are pedestrian zones. From the Puerta del Sol, you can stroll along the Calle Mayor to the Plaza Mayor, the main square, and from there across the Plaza de Oriente to the Palacio Real (Royal Palace). Make sure to keep your belongings in sight; pickpockets abound.
If my city were a pet it would be an energetic dog, full of life and action. In the summer heat, the dog lies down for a siesta.
If I didn’t live in a city, I’d live (where?) in a mountain hut, waking up to a beautiful sunrise every day.
When I think about my city, the song that comes to mind is “Quédate en Madrid” by Mecano. “Quédate en Madrid” literally means “stay in Madrid,” which is what I myself have decided to do.
If you have kids, you won’t want to miss the countless family-friendly activities that the city offers. In the Retiro Park, for example, there is a puppet theatre for children. Check out the Madrid para Niños (Madrid for Children) website for details on museums, entertainment parks, and theatres with special offers for families.
The Fiestas de San Isidro, including daily bullfights, could only happen in my city. (After all, San Isidro is Madrid’s patron saint).
My city should be featured on your cover or website because there is no city that lives life to the fullest better than Madrid.
Tell us about your favorite finds in Madrid. Leave us the details in the comments section below.