1) Free Walking Tours
I wish we would have started our trip with this tour, although I’m glad we snagged a spot with Adam from Utah. In his red Bubba Gump hat and waist-length scraggly hair featuring crooked bangs, he was charismatic in both appearance and personality. When I first saw him, in addition to knowing this tour was absolutely free, I was definitely skeptical. However, the free walking tour ended up being a highlight of the trip. Getting a fun history and narrative of the city gave me some context and connection to the unfamiliar streets and sights around me. It was entertaining, informative, compelling, complete and free! I definitely recommend signing up for one at the beginning of your trip. The only cost involved is in the form of a tip. Choose whatever amount you think reflects what the tour was worth.
2) El Cortijo, Taberna Flamenca
You absolutely CANNOT miss this show. It is fantastic beyond words. The insane speed of the dancer’s feet and the guitarist’s fingers will blow you away. Passionate, colorful, artistic brilliance. Unlike anything I have ever seen before. The show comes with a free drink and a relaxed lounge atmosphere. At about 15 minutes from the Puerta del Sol, we took an Uber that dropped us in a seemingly empty ally that initially spooked us, but as soon as we entered the restaurant, the night came alive. At about €20 a person, this is authentic flamenco on a budget.
3) Chocolatería San Ginés
Chocolatería San Ginés was founded in 1894 and located just outside of Puerta Del Sol in the heart of Madrid. This little shop has a beautiful, antique interior that transports you back to the late nineteenth century. Order chocolate con churros with café con leche, and be prepared to melt into sweet, warm, gooey wonderfulness. Tastily tantalizing for breakfast, lunch, a siesta snack, dinner, dessert, whatever! I do recommend visiting during the week if you are able, as there can be lines out the door and down the street on weekends. But if you have to, it’s worth the wait!
4) Take out a Row Boat in Parque del Retiro
Allow some time to meander through this green oasis on a warm sunny day. It feels like a Spanish Central Park, calm and beautiful – a retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. If you have the time, take a picnic and lay out on the grass to people watch and awe at the gardens. (Beware though, locals can be ~very~ affectionate in the parks.) Eventually, you’ll stumble upon the Retiro Pond where you can rent a rowboat for just €6. A refreshing, affordable, relaxing day of fun in the sun. I mean, did you really go to Spain if you didn’t get an Instagram worthy boat pic?
5) El Rastro Street Market
The morning before our flight home we squeezed in a trip to El Rastro. Some say it is the largest flea market in Europe and I believe it. Open Sundays and public holidays from 9am-3pm, allow yourself plenty of time to browse the many streets lined with some 3,500 different stalls. Also, if you arrive closer to 9am, you can get in some shopping before the streets fill with people shoulder-to-shoulder a few hours later. This is a great place to snag a souvenir or two. I definitely recommend fitting it into your trip – just leave room in your suitcase!