If you’re looking for a mini break destination that offers great food, great weather and rooftop bars with views to die for, then you can add Madrid, a chaotic and infectiously fast-paced city, to the top of your to-do list.
Our weekend away began with a very short drive to Cardiff Airport. I’ve flown from Cardiff before (to Amsterdam back in November, in fact) and I’ve got to say, I absolutely love the convenience of travelling from there. Saving on the hours of travelling and queuing associated with the bigger airports further afield is always appreciated, plus this time, we even had room for a couple of relaxing glasses of wine in the Executive Lounge before we boarded the plane, something I’ll definitely be making time for again the next time we fly!
The great thing about flying to the third largest city in Europe is that everything is super well-connected. It took us just minutes to grab a taxi from Madrid Airport (and cost us a very reasonable €30).
After getting into our centrally located Air BnB apartment, we dumped our bags and hit the streets in search of a rooftop bar. Being from Wales, drinking on rooftops is not something we get to do very often, and so this was to become a key theme of our weekend!
Our first stop was super-trendy hostel The Hat Madrid. This fabulous, eco-friendly hostel was actually our first choice of accommodation but all of their €60-a-night private doubles were booked up for our dates – gutted! Apart from being seriously good-looking, The Hat is also the first hostel in Madrid to be powered exclusively by biomass, making it one of the most sustainable places to stay in the city.
Though we weren’t staying at The Hat, we headed up to their small but cosy rooftop bar for a relaxing glass of red and our first taste of open-air drinking in Madrid.
What do you do when spending time in one of the most modern and stylish cities in Europe? Book a segway tour, of course! Thanks to Pete’s brother Alex, this is how we spent our Saturday morning, and despite our initial nervousness (and embarrassment) it was actually really fun and a great way to see lots of the major sights and learn the way around.
We booked with Madrid2Weels and an hour’s tour cost €20 each, but there are tour providers all over the city. If you fancy making yourself look as ridiculous as we do in the video at the bottom of this post, you won’t have any problems finding a local ready to take your money for the pleasure!
We spent our Friday afternoon exploring El Retiro park, one of the largest parks in the city. It belonged to the Spanish Monarchy until the late 19th century but now belongs to the public.
My favorite part of the park was the beautiful ‘Palacio de Cristal’ – a metal and glass structure built in the late 1800’s to exhibit flora and fauna from the Philippines. These days it’s empty but still totally gorgeous. I absolutely LOVE city parks and El Retiro was no exception. Definitely worth a wander!
For dinner, we headed to the incredible Mercado do San Miguel – I fell head over heels for it the minute I stepped inside. It’s chaotically busy, thick with the noise of plates clattering and people talking, and filled with the aromas of a hundred different foods, but I loved everything about it.
It is now the most popular market in Madrid.
We spent a couple of hours wandering the stalls, ordering bite-sized servings of seafood, cheese and other tapas, and sipping on wines by the glass – I can’t recommend it enough!
Next it was time for another rooftop bar! This time, we chose the wonderful Azotea del Círculo – part of Círculo de Bellas Artes, a building filled with art, literature, movies, exhibitions and cultural workshops.
There’s a €4 entrance fee for the rooftop but it is SO worth it. We stayed here drinking wine until it was dark and it was just lush – highly recommended.
With thick fuzzy heads, we headed out for a naughty breakfast – chocolate con churros! The cute and quirky Chocolatería San Ginés cafe has been serving this to happy Spaniards since the late 1800’s and continues to do so 24 hours a day. Simply order at the bar, find a seat and prepare to tuck into a handful of the crispest churros you’ll ever eat.
Next on the agenda was a visit to the Royal Palace of Madrid. Though this is the ‘official’ residence of the Spanish Royal Family, it is now only used for state ceremonies. Several rooms in the palace are regularly open to the public, but being the tree-hugger that I am, I was more interested in the gardens which are free for people to wander in whilst catching a bit of a tan.
Next it was time for another market – this time it was the turn of the Mercado de San Anton. A more modern – and less chaotic – experience than the Mercado de San Miguel, I wasn’t as taken with this one, but it does have a rooftop where you can sit and enjoy a beer – and by now you know, I love a rooftop!
Did you know that there’s an entire tapas restaurant in Madrid dedicated to the humble mushroom? When I found this out I knew we had to try it. Situated just metres from the Mercado de San Minguel, there’s room for about 20 seated diners in Meson del Champinon but we chose to eat the way the Spanish do – on our feet, clutching a drink. A plate of garlicky mushrooms and two bottles of beer will set you back about €14.
As our flight home from Madrid was scheduled for 9am on Sunday morning, our final stop in Madrid was La Venencia, an old fashioned Sherry bar where a glass of Manzanilla will set you back a measly €1-2. At those prices, naturally we had about six. Each. There’s a strict no-photography rule and the bar staff can be pretty surly if you make no attempt to order in Spanish, but if I am honest, it all just adds to the charm!
After a fantastic couple of days, we were ready to come back to reality, and with the airport just a 20 minute cab ride away, we managed to sleep in until the very last minute, too. In a nutshell – our Madrid adventure is one we are keen to repeat again, very, very soon!
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A note about Millie the cat
My trip to Madrid was organised by Cardiff Airport, who were keen to showcase their new direct routes to Madrid from Cardiff by working with a local blogger. I was super excited, but on the Thursday morning before we flew, we had to have our dear, sweet old cat Millie put to sleep. Millie was suffering with un-treatable mouth cancer and we had decided to have the vet come to the house to prevent her suffering. It was definitely the right thing to do, and our vet, Charlotte from Cowbridge Road Vets, was brilliant and made the whole process as easy as she could. But, it was still so upsetting and definitely not what you want to deal with the morning before you head off on holiday.
The upset of having my lovely old cat put to sleep did make me think about how lucky we are in Cardiff to have an international airport right on our doorstep. As you can imagine I was pretty distraught for a good few hours after we said goodbye to her. If we’d been flying from somewhere further afield, I doubt we would have made it to the airport on time for our trip, as it took me a good while to pull myself (not to mention my luggage) together.
I felt weird about writing this post without mentioning Mils and the events of Thursday morning. She is normally right beside me on the sofa whilst I am tapping away on my laptop, so here is a picture of me and the lovely Millie (aka Millbur) in our favourite spot.
RIP lovely girl.