It’s a Sunday morning at the iconic El Rastro flea market. Hanging side by side at one of the market’s many stands are two t-shirts. One reads: “Madrid: City of Joy;” The other, “Madrid is a Mixtape.”
Amid the shouts of vendors, the crooning piano of street performers, and the bustling energy of a city waking up, the t-shirts prove that there isn’t a better way to describe Madrid than this: a joyful mixtape. Many of Madrid’s neighborhoods couldn’t be more different from one another—from the edgy, youthful energy of Chueca and Malasaña to the quieter, polished, and upscale Salamanca and Chamberí, one street over can feel like a different world. In reality, though, each neighborhood works in tandem to make the mixtape. The city itself wouldn’t be as exciting and wholly alive without the medley of difference. All this ensures you’ll find world-famous art, from the Prado to the Reina Sofía and beyond, a fantastic food scene on the rise and constantly evolving, and one of the most open and accepting communities in all of Europe. That’s what’s remarkable about the city: Madrid, though so different across its various barrios, is community-based in a way that’s proud and accessible to locals and first-timers alike. This much is clear: all it will take is a morning walk through El Retiro park, an afternoon shopping spree through the bustling center of Sol, and an evening over beer and tapas in Chueca, and you’ll be pressing “replay” on the mixtape that is Madrid faster than you can say “Más, por favor.”
The 2-5pm siesta commonly practiced by restaurants and stores across Madrid can make finding a place to eat lunch after a morning of touring difficult. But while many restaurants close their doors for siesta, working men and women throughout the city often do not have time to go home for lunch and then return to their offices. To accommodate these men and women, many restaurants that stay open during siesta offer menús del día, cheap two-course meals that can be eaten relatively quickly. As one madrileño commented, these meals are not advertised to tourists, who often fall prey to the poor quality, expensive food sold around major attractions like the Plaza Mayor. So here’s your Let’s Go tip: if you want a filling, cheap meal that can fuel you even on the hottest of summer days, look for these menús del día. Typically priced at €9-12, these meals give you bread, a starter course, a main course, a drink (sangria, anyone?), dessert, and a cup of coffee or tea.
Also important to note: meal pricing depends on where you sit in the restaurant. For your cheapest option, eat at the bar. Your most expensive meal will be on the terrace or the patio outside of the restaurant.
MEET THE RESEARCHER-WRITER
Emma's 11th grade Spanish teacher told her the most beautiful men in the world live in the South of Spain, and Emma spent the summer fact-checking that statement. Before her main priorities were sangria, tapas, and the coolest sunsets on the Iberian Peninsula, Emma was at Harvard studying History and Literature while attending to a non-stop, color-coded Google Calendar. She traded all this in for a summer of spontaneous wandering around Spain and Portugal– follow along from every café to outdoor market to giant million-year-old cathedral as she gets progressively more lost on the hunt for her next Instagram.