Early autumn, one of my favourite times of year to venture on a European city break. The crowds you’d likely encounter in peak season are no obstacle, prices have dipped a little and the weather tends to be appealingly pleasant just as the days begin to recede, darken and develop a chill at home in London.
This year, I found that idyllic autumnal city break in Madrid, somewhere that’s been on my travel wish list for a while. And it certainly surpassed my expectations thanks to its walkability, the almost overwhelming amount of excellent eateries, its glorious sunshine-infused days and the infectious hum from authentic Spanish life that radiated from its streets. It was, in every sense, the perfect city for the solo traveller.
Until next time. . .
Located on bustling Gran Vía, Praktik Metropol is a haven amidst the thriving epicentre of Madrid’s best shopping streets. Stepping into the large open-plan reception area with its comfy vintage-inspired armchairs, stocked bookshelves and help-yourself coffee area, it feels like you’ve arrived to an instantly calming home. Despite its uber-central location, the rooms are quiet and decorated in a serene Scandi-minimalist style; just don’t expect too many frills or fuss, this is a straightforward, but charming, hotel experience that’s exactly what one wants for a city break where you’ll be drawn outdoors for most of it.
One fantastic selling point of Praktik Metropol is the stunning rooftop terrace. The vista of the surrounding cityscape is blissful at golden hour when you can enjoy the sun’s peaceful retreat beyond the horizon.
Mercado San Antón feels like one of the more authentic market dining experiences in Madrid, particularly in comparison to Mercado San Miguel, which although filled with pleasingly appetising food stands in an attractive historical building, felt a little saturated with visitors on the Sunday morning I visited. Located in the city’s cool Cheuca neighbourhood, San Antón has an array of food stands on the upper level to choose from, and focus in particular is on tapas-style delights. There is a fruit and veg market on the lower level, interspersed with inviting bread and cake sellers if you’re doing any self-catering on your trip.
Serving locals in the know, Maricastana is great at any time of day and despite a menu written entirely in Spanish and my little lost-in-translation back and forth with a friendly waitress, the food was excellent and the atmosphere even more so.
Proving to be a culinary highlight of my time in Madrid, Navaja is quite literally a hidden gem just off the busy central city grid. There is nothing on the menu here that isn’t a feast for the eyes and taste buds. The Asian-Spanish fusion throughout is a delight and the appetizer dishes are small and suitable for a solo diner to pick two or three. Thanks to my faith in the recommendations from the lovely waiting staff, I sampled some brilliant dishes including fresh razor clams and scallops with paella rice and seaweed.
The Aussies must have won an award at this stage for services to brunch culture and Federal Café is the quintessential example of just why no one else does eggs, toast and coffee quite like them. Sitting around a communal table with lots of buzz and chat from fellow diners, I found the food matched the atmosphere and the coffee was deliciously smooth. You might have to queue at the weekend for a seat but it’s worth it for a slice of trendy Aussie all-day dining in the Spanish capital.
Located near to the city’s museum hub, Ganz has a bring-your-appetite weekend brunch for €20 for which you’ll be treated to a divine selection of breads and pastries, coffee or tea, juice and a delectable array of egg dishes cooked to your liking. The interior has an arty boutique feel with chequered black and white floors, a turquoise blue bar and plenty of cosy nooks for dining.
A great spot for an afternoon respite boasting a crowd-pleasing fusion of Asian and Spanish cultures, HanSo Café was founded by three budding Chinese entrepreneur pals and attracts a sociable crowd. Coffee, tea and cake are big business here and this traveller was thoroughly impressed by their creamy matcha latte.
I’ve visited some almightily impressive churches and cathedrals on my travels, but for sheer jaw-dropping scale and grandness, the imposing Catedral de la Alumenda has taken the crown. Completed in the early ’90s, it’s a relatively modern architectural feat but considering work first started in 1883 it seems like its construction belies a tortuous history. The result though is an intricate mixture of neo-classical and gothic style, with an exterior and interior that are both equally astounding to marvel at.
The cathedral sits next to the Royal Palace of Madrid, the official residence of the country’s royal family and the largest palace in Europe by floor area. Across from this is the city’s beautiful opera house.
And of course, no visit to Madrid would be complete without a voyage of discovery at the Prado. A little bit of logistical advice is warranted if you want to visit this extraordinary national art museum; go first thing in the morning to beat the queues if you can, or try later in the day (admission is free Mon – Sat 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Sun and holidays 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.).
Besides that, simply enjoy the breathtaking range of artwork housed here, considered to be the one of the world’s finest collections. There are 7,000 paintings to explore, so it’s worth seeking out anything you want to see before you become a little too overwhelmed by the vastness of it all. Highlights include work by Goya, Raphael, Valázquez and Rubens.
It’s evident the moment you enter El Retiro Park that this was a suitably grand location for the Royal Family’s retreats back in the 1700s. It retains much of that grandeur today from the wide pathways lined with rainforest-green trees.
The central Crystal Palace is a worthy find as it houses temporary installations; nearby is a beautiful lake where I spotted the cutest line of turtles emerging into the afternoon sun for some heat before dipping back below the surface of the water. And the incredible Alfonso XII monument sits next to the park’s main lake where you’ll find a classic people-watching spot courtesy of the plethora of visitors attempting to manoeuvre hired rowboats around each other on the water!