Like the beginning of many adventures, everything was planned last minute. My flight was scheduled to leave on December 31st from Paris at 8:30 pm to arrive in Madrid at around 10:30 pm. I was supposed to make it to the city center by midnight so I wouldn’t celebrate New Years alone in the airport.
Arriving in Madrid was a risky endeavor. Once the plane landed, I tried my best to see if I could board the metro, later finding out it was closed because of the New Years celebrations. My only chance to arrive on time was to take an uber and run as fast as I could to La Puerta del Sol. Finding an uber was also very hard, since the price was a whopping 50 euros, I was sure to spend New Years in a parking lot. After 10 minutes, the price dropped to 25 euros, I hopped into the backseat and left to try to get to the city centre as soon as I could.
I didn’t arrive in time, I received the New Year with a bunch of people that I didn’t know who were facetiming, kissing or getting drunk together. However, I knew that I had started the year in the best way possible, traveling to a new city full of expectations and excitement.
I was nervous about this trip, and although I had a great time, I only had around 100 euros to spend for the five days I was there. I didn’t know if I was going to finish the week eating ramen noodles and drinking tap water for all my meals (or at least the spanish version of that, which is probably a lot more delicious). I managed, and because of that I am here to help you navigate this amazing city without going broke.
Where I ate:
El Museo del Jamon (the Museum of the Ham in english)
What can I say? This majestic and delicious place is the reason why I was able to eat Spanish food at a very cheap price. This place is heaven for the broke traveler, and also for those who don’t mind eating breakfast standing up in a chaotic environment. You can get small ham and cheese sandwiches for less than an euro, and a full breakfast with eggs, bacon, bread, orange juice and coffee for 5 euros. For lunch, I decided to go for the meal of the day which was paella as entree, turkey breast as the main meal, dessert AND sangria for only 8 euros.
Do not expect much for customer service, the waiters often do not care and can give you a snarky attitude, but try not to take it personally and enjoy your meal. I honestly cannot recommend this place enough, it’s delicious and possibly my favorite place in all of Madrid. I ate breakfast, lunch and dinner there (not everyday) and I miss it everyday. If you’re looking for a place that fits your small budget, this is it.
El Mercado de San Miguel
This market is always packed, very touristy and dynamic. It has something for everyone, from gourmet hams to cheeses to fresh fruits and vegetables. Unlike other markets around the city, this one isn’t to buy goods but rather to go with your friends to enjoy a beer and try different tapas. I personally didn’t try any of the tapas here but everything looked fresh and delicious. It was a little pricy for my budget but I would include it on the list to try for my next trip.
Churros and hot chocolate
If you are looking for a sweet treat, don’t forget to try to the hot chocolate with churros. It’s a regular churro in oval shape with a hot chocolate that is a lot creamier, thicker and sweeter than what I am used to eating. The hot chocolate can be used as a dipping sauce for the churros. I ordered them in a restaurant really close to the Mercado de San Miguel (which can be seen in the picture). You can find restaurants selling churros and hot chocolate all over the city, which makes it perfect for that moment of relaxation after a whole day of walking.
As a lover of tacos, I was excited to find this place, where I could indulge in one of my favorite dishes. I am constantly having tacos withdraws in Miami, so being able to eat the (closest) tacos I found to the ones I would find in Mexico City was a dream. I had been looking especially for tacos al pastor, they are very hard to find outside of Mexico.
Let me tell you about this place, you have to wait in line for around 30 minutes and are only allowed to order once. You can choose from pastor, cochinita, suadero, nopal (a cactus), chorizo with cheese or mushrooms and cheese. Here is the best part, not only are the tacos delicious but you also pay just 1 euro per taco. You can accompany them with a michelada,which is a combination of beer, clamato (tomato) juice, lime and salt, and you are done and ready!
What I visited:
Parque del Retiro
This beautiful park belonged to the Spanish monarchy until the late 19th century, when it became a public park. This is one of Madrid’s main attractions, with its beautiful sculptures and monuments, galleries, beautiful lakes and it’s minutes away from the city center.
The park was born in 1630, made for king Philip IV court’s recreational use. Throughout the different reins, the park saw a lot of changes, and it was the home of several operas and other events depending on the king or queen. Countless statutes, fountains and monuments fill the park and tell you a little bit about different important figures of Spanish history.
What I found most beautiful was the Palacio de Cristal. Built in 1887, it was originally used to house plants from the Philippines, however now is just used for art exhibits. I couldn’t enter it since there weren’t any exhibits going on at the time but it was still beautiful to look at it from the outside.
This very famous square is full of many shops, street performers and merchants selling everything from balloons and flowers. Although this plaza is a major attraction and a place to visit, I don’t think it was my favorite. However, I was pleased at how much it looked like many other big plazas you might find in latin america.
Puerta del Sol (Gate of the Sun)
This famous square holds all kinds of entertainment for every kind of tourists. There you can find your favorite animated characters, mariachis and touristy stores. I passed this square around three or four times a day to go to the hostel, and also got lost several times because of its many entrances.
The square is also known for its famous clock where the traditional eating of the twelve grapes at the beginning of the New Year is held.
This street holds many big stores like Primark, Zara, H&M, and it is usually of people going out to shop. Its majestic buildings will make you feel in awe, with its many rooftops and statues. Among the majestic buildings lies the Metropolis, photographed many times in postcards, it was inaugurated in 1911 and currently home to an insurance company.
Its origins lie in the 19th century, when it was build to connect the city center to the rest of the Madrid. The streets have had many different names over the years, changing most frequently in the years before the Civil War. The definite name was given in 1981, finally receiving the name that explained its original (and current) purpose.
Although I wasn’t able to visit the whole city during the time I was there, I was able to walk a big part of it. I would recommend to stay in the city centre, everything is close by and you won’t need to spend any money on trains or the metro. There are a lot of hostels and cheap and nice hotels to stay in to enjoy the city to the fullest.
Something I realized is that Madrid is a city that I could see myself living in. I loved how relaxed down to earth every bar seemed, compared to other places like Paris. It was also nice to understand a little more about the history behind my own origins and culture, where my traditions as a Venezuelan had come from. I truly appreciated this trip, I hope to be able to go back to Spain to explore and to appreciate other cities that I am dying to see.
El Museo del Jamón
Carrera San Jeronimo 6- Beside Puerta del Sol, 28014 Madrid, Spain
$-$$- I recommend it for breakfast and lunch- Breakfast runs until 11 am and lunch starts at 12 pm
Mercado de San Miguel
Calle de la Abada, 2, 28013 Madrid, Spain
International Youth Hostel La Posada de las Huertas
13 euros a night