A Sunday in Madrid is anything but lazy.
Fill your day with el Rastro flea market, off-the-beaten-track sightseeing, and tapas in La Latina.
There’s nothing better than a lazy Sunday, am I right? Sleeping in until 10 and spending an additional 15 minutes or so slowly stretching beneath the covers before you tumble out of bed to make a cup of coffee that you’ll serenely sip on as you flip through The New York Times. You’ll either remain in your pajamas all day or, if the weather is nice, venture out to the park or the beach to sip and read something there. Maybe you’ll go out for breakfast. Maybe you’ll catch a movie. Either way, you can rest easy knowing that the day will stretch long and uneventful in front of you, for the Bible tells us so. “And on the seventh day He rested from all his work.” (Genesis 2:2)
Lazy Sundays in Madrid are not an option because this is one of the liveliest days of the week. The two bookends to your Spanish Sunday are El Rastro marketplace and tapas in La Latina. The filler activities are simply activities that you shouldn’t leave Madrid without partaking in. If you read my first post about what to do with a day in Madrid, you’ll have gotten most of the mainstream events out of the way and can look forward to a day slightly more filled with locals. Shall we begin?
El Rastro is Madrid’s famous open-air flea market and is held on Sundays and public holidays. Beginning in the Plaza de Cascorro near La Latina metro station and ending with Ronda de Toledo, the declining street of La Ribera de Curtidores and its smaller side streets are completely packed with vendors selling everything from cheap scarves and artisan jewelry to painted clay sangria pitchers and bootleg DVDs. You can literally find anything you’ll ever need here, except produce. Make sure to grab a café con leche and a quick breakfast at your hostel, Way Hostel, or a nearby pastelería before taking the short walk to the Plaza where the market begins. Also, don’t forget to stop at the ATM for cash. Some of the vendors have credit card machines, but most don’t. And remember my tips! Keep that money on lock down to avoid pickpocketers in the crowded space. I also recommend bringing a backpack or a larger bag to put your purchases in because we’re not going right back to the hostel after the market.
They say el Rastro runs from 8am to 3pm, but if you get there after 1, you’ve basically missed it all because the stands like to pack it in early. Try to get to the market by 9 or 10 so you have plenty of time to stroll and shop at your leisure. Don’t buy all the things you want at the first few stands because you’ll see about a hundred more stands along the way with better items, and you’ll wish you had bought that cool Heineken sweatshirt instead of your lame I ‘Heart’ Madrid sweatshirt. Do haggle, bat your eyelashes, and speak in Spanish. ¿Cuanto cuesta, señor?
When you’ve finally made it to the bottom of the Rastro hill, it will most likely be around 1 o’clock. You must be hungry. Grab some fresh fruit from the frutería and chow down on inspired tostas, open-faced sandwiches, from one of the restaurants near the Plaza del Campillo del Mundo Nuevo. Rest your weary feet while you people-watch with the locals.
A very short walk away from where you are luncheoning is la Tabacalera. The first time I bought weed in Madrid, my new dealer friend took my BU friends and me to this abandoned tobacco factory-turned-art exhibit, and it was so fucking cool. To get here, simply walk down the Ronda de Toledo towards the Embajadores metro stop and then make a left up Calle de Embajadores. The Tabacalera will be on the right side of the street. “FABRICA DE TABACOS” is carved into a worn cement plaque above a graffiti-covered metal gate that has turned a dark green with rust, but this isn’t the entrance, which is down a side street. You may have to do a bit of exploring to find it, but when you do, you will be blown away by what is inside.
The cultural space is part government-owned and part self-managed social centre. Art of all genres covers the white walls. A culture dedicated to freedom and exploration resides here, and La Tabacalera de Lavapiés is home to many different exhibits, performances and even parties. Take some time to walk around and enjoy the gritty art scene of Madrid.
The Royal Palace, while the official, not the actual, residence of His Majesty King Felipe IV of Spain, is an impressive piece of architecture. Either walk the half hour there or take the metro to the Opera stop.
Entry to the palace costs about 10 euro. The palace is home to interesting exhibits like the Royal Armory and the Royal Pharmacy. You can spend some time inside enjoying the rich mahogany windows and doors and fine Spanish marble. Truth be told, I never made it inside, but instead walked around the exterior and toured the Plaza de Oriente on the west side of the palace.
TEMPLO DE DEBOD
By the time you make it through the Palacio Royale, it should be nearing sunset, the perfect time to head over to the Temple of Debod. The temple is an Egyptian temple that was dismantled and reassembled in Madrid in the Parque del Oeste. The site is at a slightly higher elevation, and it overlooks Madrid’s large urban park, Casa de Campo. There is actually a cable car that runs out of the Parque del Oeste to Casa de Campo, but the teleférico isn’t always open, so best to check their website for hours.
After you’ve had your fill of site seeing, feel free to either take a half hour stroll through the city back to your hostel in Tirso de Molina, or walk over to the Ventura Rodríguez stop and ride the 3 metro to Puerta del Sol. Either way, you’ll have to walk through Sol, so might as well take a break along the way in one of the many bars for a caña of Mahou, a refreshing Spanish lager. Go drop your Rastro purchases off, take a shower and put on something fly, yet easy to walk in, for the rest of your night out.
I know, I know. Flamenco is an Andalucía thing. But the dancers at Las Carboneras in Madrid have just as much foot-stomping, chest-beating soul as the Romani gypsies who created flamenco to begin with. Traditionally, this folk music combines singing, dancing, guitar playing and rhythms of hand clapping and finger snapping. It is passionate and fiery, and the dancers and musicians put all they have into their performances.
Flamenco dancers take control of the scene. Whether they dance fast or slow, hard or soft, the guitar player and singer watch for what the dancer is going to do next and strum or sing in that sexy, raspy voice accordingly. The other dancers sit on stools near the musicians on the tablao, clapping their hands rhythmically, occasionally letting out an encouraging cry or yelp. The display is heartfelt and fluid and will leave you entranced and clapping along.
While there are, of course, many flamenco clubs in Madrid, Las Carboneras is my personal favorite and in a perfect location to continue on to your final activity of the night. Make sure to be there by 8:30 for the first performance.
My favorite part about living in Spain was how socially acceptable it is to munch while you drink. More often than not, bars will offer you anything from potato chips to tortilla española to croquetas to go along with your copa de vino tinto, or glass of red wine. (Check out my tips for visiting Madrid for a rundown on the history of tapas.) Sundays are the best days to go out for tapas, an activity that the Spanish have turned into a verb, tapear. I’m not sure why, but it seems like everyone who’s anyone is out and about tapeando in la Latina on a Sunday in Madrid, so dress accordingly.
The main streets to enjoy the tapas culture are Cava Baja and Cava Alta. They are both a short walk from Las Carboneras and run parallel to each other. Young people crowd these two thin, winding streets with terraced buildings, looking unfathomably chic and classy as they duck in and out of bars or stand around high tops taking dainty bites of patatas bravas. There are endless spots to stop for a bite and a beer over here, so don’t miss out on Casa Lucas, for higher end traditional Spanish cuisine, and Cervercería la Sureña for a 5 euro bucket of Mahou and some chicken fingers with other 20-somethings.
If you come to these streets to engage in tapas culture, and you will, make sure to make a stop at El Madroño in the Plaza de Puerta Cerrada before you reach Cava Baja. Have a shot of Madrid’s strawberry liqueur named for their Coat of Arms, “El oso y el madroño,” meaning, “The bear and the strawberry tree.” The shot is served in a chocolate filled waffle cup, a delicious chaser to your sweet chupito.
Below are some of my favorite places to eat tapas outside of Cava Baja and Cava Alta. Keep in mind, you’ll have to pay for some things, but all in all tapeando is cheap and a great experience to share with a few friends.
- Mercado de San Miguel–
This is a tourist trap, but I don’t care. The San Miguel Market is a big, crowded glass market place with over 30 vendors placed in strategic sections, selling everything from cold drafts and select wines to pickled onions and olives to every kind of meat you can think of cooked up Spanish gourmet style. It’s hard to find a table to stand by, not sit at, so somebody should hold one down while the other goes to pick out some delicacies to enjoy. I couldn’t get enough of the fresh croquettes and empanadas. Don’t buy too much here- it’s not cheap, but it is something to see.
- El Diamante–
All walks of life come into this low key bar just off the La Latina metro stop for the fast service and the plates of warm tapas that the bartender places in front of you with every new beer. It’s a great place to relax and watch fútbol and enjoy some salty fried food and cold beer. Make sure you try the calamares!
- Cervecería el Cruz–
This is a classic bar to stop by at any hour, even for a break while you’re at el Rastro because it is right in the middle and a stone’s throw away from el Diamante (in case you can’t find this place on Google. Because you can’t. It will take you to the wrong bar). You may not recognize the Plaza at night without all the stands, but Cervecería el Cruz is a la Latina staple. Enjoy super fresh razor clams and deep fried lamb intestines with a squirt of lemon. Tastes better than it sounds!
- Museo del Jamón–
This chain is dedicated to Spain’s most prized meat- ham. Cured ham legs for sale, Jamón Serrano or Jamón Ibérico, hang from the ceiling, and the walls are covered with photos offering meals like bocadillos de jamón, ham sandwich, and a beer for 1 euro. Get a beer there and wait for your tapa. It’s disgusting and hilarious. It’s a bowl of different types of cubed ham.
I hope you enjoyed your Sunday in Madrid! Please feel free to ask any questions in the comments section if anything is unclear or you’d like some more advice.
by Rebecca Bellan