Casa Labra has been around since 1860. This historic tapas bar still continues to draw a crowd. Follow the long line if you wish to load up on tapas and eat outside at one of the hard to get tables. Or try to secure a seat in the small restaurant indoors where you can order the specialties of the house which are the croqueta de bacalao (cod croquette) and empanadilla de carne (meat turnover). Casa Labra is on Calle Tetúan. Check their website for their menu and prices. www.casalabra.es/en
Gourmet Experience at El Corte Ingles on Plaza Callao
The Gourmet Experience is on the top floor of this department store. There are a number of counters offering different kinds of tapas. I ordered a pintxo of cod with a cool and light tinto de verano. There's also a gourmet store on this floor where you can find wine, Spanish olive oil, olives, chocolates, delicacies and kitchen accessories for the gourmand. The view from the balcony of the rooftops of Madrid is probably enough to entice anyone to check this place out. Drink plus pintxo at Me Voy a Tomar Una Cai equals 6,25€.
Pastries and Hot Chocolate:
Chocolateria San Gines
I love that thick chocolate taste. It reminds me of my childhood days. And those long churros are great for dipping. It's not coated with sugar as they are in the United States. Chocolateria San Gines is the go to spot for the after theater crowd and late night revelers. This is another one of those old institutions in Madrid. It dates back to 1894. It's open 24/7.
El Riojano is an elegant little teahouse established in 1855. It has an irresistible array of pastries and cookies to choose from. And there's ice cream too! Great place for breakfast or afternoon merienda. Calle Mayor, 10.
La Mallorquina on Puerta del Sol
La Mallorquina is a good place to load up on pastries. They have not raised their prices much over the years. Most of their rich pastries like the plain napolitana sell at 1,20€ and 1,10€ for a rosquilla. They have a stand up counter where you can sip your coffee or drink your soda if you're in a rush. There's also a sitting area on the second floor.
Lara - Corredera Baja de San Pablo, 4 (near the Gran Via)
Lara is known for its comida casera or "home cooked" cuisine. They serve generous portions with each course. We had the fixed menu with appetizer, entrée, and dessert and I was already full with the eggplant I ordered for starters. The proprietors were gracious and we were well fed. Though the restaurant is close to the Gran Via, the neighborhood is nice and laid-back.
Mercado San Anton in the Chueca neighborhood, Calle Augusto Figueroa 24
I ordered skewered tuna from 7 Delicatessen Islas Canarias on the second level. It was a novelty for me to eat tuna marinated in adobo sauce. The adobo sauce really transformed the tuna. It was quite tasty. 12€.
Garbo Restaurante on Plaza del Carmen
I love truffles so I ordered pasta with truffles. I sat in the main dining room as it was too hot to sit in the terrace. I like the relaxed ambience of this restaurant. It's great for solo diners. Tallarin tartufo plus a glass of wine added to 16,65€. Price includes a 1,50€ cover charge.
dNorte Taberna at C/Mesoneros Romanos 8
I ordered the Merluza Cantabrico and it was soft, moist and flavorful. With wine the bill came to 15,50€. The restaurant consists of three floors plus an outdoor terrace. Fast and efficient service.
Gino's - C/Gran Via 43
Tavola di Crostini
The Tavola di Crostini above is more than enough for three people. Our bill with wine was 33,40€ including a Pizza Pollo Marinato and a Merluzzo prezzemolo. Enter the restaurant through the VIPS bookstore on the Gran Via and take the stairs down to the basement.
La Marinera on Plaza Mayor
For the price of a glass of wine, you can sit at any of the outdoor cafés for as long as you wish. This can be habit forming. So much going on at Plaza Mayor. I watched a group of joggers run across the square while one of them took a group selfie with his monopod as he jogged along. What will they think of next? Glass of wine is 4€. They'll give you chips to munch on for free.
Plaza Santa Ana
This is a nice neighborhood close to the Puerta del Sol but less hectic. Lots of good tapas bars in the neighborhood.
Calle de la Salud, 13 (at Plaza del Carmen)
Convenient location, friendly staff and reasonable room rates. Request for a room away from the street. Close to Puerta del Sol and Gran Via, shopping, restaurants. Metro stop is Gran Via or Sol.
Free entry days and times at these museums:
Saturday from 2:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
6 to 8 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 5 to 8 p.m. on Sunday.
The Metro is a convenient and least expensive way to go to the center of Madrid. The transfer station is Nuevos Ministerios if your destination is Gran Via, Sol, or Callao. The ticket as of the writing is 5€ which can be purchased at any machine at the Barajas airport station. It's difficult to take the Metro with heavy or oversize luggage as there are no elevators and not all stations have escalators. I had to lug my 21-inch suitcase up several flights of stairs. Though I packed light, it was still a challenge!
Alternatively, there are airport shuttles that can be arranged in advance. Check with your hotel if they can set up your airport pick-up or drop-off. I paid 22€ for the trip back to the airport with Aerocity.
The biggest sale of the year in Madrid is in July. This is also when Madrid is inundated with visitors so the shops are packed with people. Since Spain is the home of Zara, they have branches all over the city. But there are many similar boutiques to browse for clothes and accessories like Sfera, Lefties, Lft, and the popular H&M. I bought several blouses to replenish my meager wardrobe. The department store, El Corte Ingles, has clothes and accessories as well as souvenirs, home goods, electronics, and a supermarket. I fell for a leather handbag and some wallets. And they provide assistance with filing VAT forms so you can be reimbursed for the taxes you paid for your purchases. There's a minimum amount of purchase to qualify for reimbursement.
Images by TravelswithCharie