Overwhelmed by Lonely Planet? Roughed up by Rough Guides? Taking time out from Time Out? Here is Zoë Proud's definitive guide of the top ten things the guidebooks gloss over vis-à-vis Madrid according to the madrileños...
1. Churros – Valor
What better way to start a day in the perennially sweet-toothed Spanish capital by indulging in the local delicacy of choice, chocolate con churros. Beware, traditional hot chocolate lovers, the Spaniards like their sugar fix thick, rich and delicious, and a treat like this should only ever be enjoyed on an empty stomach in order to exploit its full belly-bursting potential. Bypass the traditional hotspot of San Ginés Chocolatería – often crowded even into the wee small hours – and head for Valor
at Callao. A chain this eatery may be, but an experienced one at that: Valor know how to get the old taste buds watering. With over 100 years of service, recipes for chocolate orange and cinnamon-chocolate flavoured delights expand the usual churros experience beyond Madrid’s tried-and-tested favourites.
2. Petra’s International Bookshop
Next head to this renowned bookshop
near Santo Domingo for a morsel of light reading matter to accompany you on your metro journeys around the city, local-style. Petra’s offer friendly, dedicated service and a stunning array of fiction and non-fiction in most European languages and beyond, ranging from the usual Spanish, English and French to the more exotic Norwegian and Swedish, to name but a few. And they have a cat, which scores extra intellectual bonus points. Very PG Wodehouse.
3. Lolina Vintage Café
Newly-acquired bestseller under your arm, head in the direction of this Malasaña treasure
. If Carlsberg did 60s- and 70s-inspired vintage cafés, they’d probably look a lot like this one. Nestled in a flowerbox-adorned corner on Calle Espíritu Santo, their décor is kitsch and the food is riquísimo. The goats’ cheese and blueberry tosta is not to be missed, and reasonably-priced at €4, too. Friendly staff and a rock-and-roll soundtrack ensure you’ll keep coming back here for more.
4. Estación de Chamberí
To walk off the culinary delights you have by now sampled around the city, it’s worth trakking up to Plaza de Chamberí just north of the city centre to check out its restored metro station. Chamberí station was closed in 1966, a victim of line 1’s expansion, but was lovingly restored and saved from squatters in the early 21st century. It now stands as a museum and relic of days gone by, where the metro trains still pass through its low archways, walls decorated with tiled advertisements of happy housewives. Worth a look, and it’s free.
5. Retiro Park
Emerging from the depths of the underground, make a beeline for the Retiro Park in summertime. This isn’t your simple swings-and-roundabouts affair; rather, stunning feats of architecture such as the Palacio de Cristal lie hidden away amongst the rose gardens and neatly groomed flowery walkways. A leisurely spin on the rowing boats in the lake offer great views of the impressive monument to Alfonso XII, and accompanied by the relaxing music of a passing saxophonist or guitarist, the ride is equally enjoyed with that special person in your life or amongst friends.
6. Mercado San Miguel
After the strenuous exertion of a half hour’s rowing, most Spaniards wouldn’t pass up the chance to have a nibble at the famous San Miguel food and drink market
off Calle Mayor. Unwind with a glass of Rioja, or purchase fresh fish, caviar, pastries or cheese for later – just a handful of the many exotic bites to eat on offer.
7. El Tigre
If your hunger is still not sated, head to el Tigre
, famous Chueca haunt and a meeting place for all nationalities and walks of life. A round of drinks here will leave with you with change in your pocket and a generous jarra of sangria in your hand, but best of all, the drinks are accompanied by seemingly endless plates of tapas. Don’t have dinner before you come, and be prepared to hustle for bar space – word spreads quickly that this is the place to be for hungry madrileños.
8. Tapas – Cava Baja
Of course, for those wanting a greater selection of tapas the whole Iberian peninsula would be proud of, look no further than Calle de la Cava Baja
in the La Latina district. Tapas bars line the street on both sides, and include pintxos from the Basque Country, and offerings from Andalucía in addition to typical Madrid fare. Sundays attract a young and lively crowd in the aftermath of the Rastro street market.
9. Templo de Debod
From here, take a relaxing stroll to the Templo de Debod in Argüelles
. This Egyptian temple is particularly bewitching at sunset, when tourists and locals alike gather to experience this oft-forgotten calming corner of Madrid, away from the madding crowds.
10. Malasaña nightlife
And if you still have energy to continue as true Spaniards do into the night and out the other side til the early morning, metro Tribunal is your port of call. Quirky venues such as the beach-themed basement floor of Ojalá
, complete with real sand, and the board game-toting Café Manuela make for truly original evenings every time one dares to cross the eccentric threshold of Malasaña by night.