Madrid will always hold a special place in my heart because it’s where I began this journey. My flight touched down at 8am on August 20 in this city where I knew no one and spoke roughly 3 words of the local language. After a brief “What in the world have I gotten myself into?” moment, I pulled it together and made my way to my hostel. I’d never slept in a hostel before, so it was a little out of my comfort zone. Thankfully, MuchoMadrid gave me a clean, quiet place to stay and this incredible view. I stored my bags and set out to make the most of my 24 hours in Madrid.
24 hours in Madrid: what to see, do and eat
Free walking tour
In an attempt to stay vertical and combat jet lag, I joined a MadRide Travel tour— the first of many free walking tours. The guide was knowledgable about the city and had a great story to share for almost every plaza or statue.
The tour began as we stepped (with gusto!) on kilometer marker zero in Puerta del Sol. Legend says that if you step on this place, you’ll return to Madrid. It worked because after stepping on it, I was back just 8 days later!
We saw one statue of a king on his horse which is just a little different now than when it was first built. Our guide explained that originally the horse had an open mouth, but birds kept flying in and being unable to fly out. The square where it’s located played a part in the Spanish Inquisition, and so when people heard the dying birds, they naturally thought the sounds were the ghosts of those who had been killed. It wasn’t until someone set off a firecracker that burst the stomach of the horse that the culprit of the ghostly noises became clear. The statue was repaired with a very important closed mouth adjustment.
We passed by the oldest restaurant in the world, Restaurante Botín, where Hemingway once ate. It opened in 1725 and has been operating ever since. You can even see the original 18th century firewood oven! We also passed by a restaurant that was tired of being asked whether Hemingway ever ate there.
Eat lunch at Mercado de San Miguel
For lunch, Mercado de San Miguel offers drinks, tapas, and sweets to satisfy any craving. The mercado has been in operation for more than 100 years and serves delicacies from all over Spain. A trip through the covered market brings you from the Basque Country to Galicia in just a few footsteps. I can definitely recommend the stand that offers all kinds of mozzarella on bread with different kinds of meat, fruit and vegetables. I also definitely recommend skipping the sea urchin stand. It’s the only new thing I’ve tried and regretted.
Try Spanish churros
In Texas, we eat churros— crispy, fried dough covered in cinnamon and sugar. In Spain, churros have no coating because they’re served with rich, warm chocolate for dipping. There are several places to get these, but Chocolateria San Gínes has been around for over 100 years and is a popular destination. I can’t vouch for it, but a friend tried the chocolate cake and raved about it for the next week! This hotspot is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so you can satisfy your sweet tooth anytime, day or night!
Go to a Real Madrid game
As wonderful as the food and the culture and the chocolate was, though, the highlight of Madrid for me was Real Madrid. An incredibly generous new friend from my week with Pueblo Inglés offered me her season ticket seat with the condition that I cheer for Real Madrid. (As if I would cheer for any other team in a city whose Saturday evening fútbol game was as intense as the Super Bowl.)
“Hala Madrid” (a powerful musical anthem) began to play and fútbol became an emotional sport. I quickly learned the word vamos (GO!) and shouted it with all the fans. My seat was next to the hooligan section, a concentration of the most die-hard fans. They cheered the whole entire game with chants everyone knew and beat drums and waved giant flags. Their energy pulsed throughout the stadium and pumped up the fans as Real Madrid scored again and again (and again and again and again) for a 5-0 game. You can see a few of my favorite highlights in this video.
And here is the face of Real Madrid’s newest fan!
I’m hoping my next trip to Madrid will be a little longer than a stopover… and will definitely coincide with a Real Madrid game!
Have you been to Madrid? What’s your favorite thing to do there?