Day Trip to Alcalá: Literary Roots

In: Beyond Madrid

by Julie Espinosa


Alcalá de Henares, 25 km east of Madrid, is a charming UNESCO world heritage city worth a day trip. Its claim to fame is being the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes, the author of Don Quijote de la Mancha.

1. Museo-Casa Cervantes: Learn here about Cervantes’ life and get a glimpse of life in the 17th century and copies of Don Quijote on display. Free admission.

2. Universidad de Alcalá: Tour the university campus, spread through the city center, which boasts very old buildings and a particularly impressive main façade. You can also see the city’s native stork population roosting overhead.

3. Plaza de Cervantes: Stroll the main plaza of the city, anchored by a statue of its namesake. Nearby is the city tourist office and an art exhibition space in the Capilla de Oidor. Alacalaínos love to congregate here, especially around sunset.

4. Calle Mayor: Explore this pedestrian-only cobblestone street to the north of Plaza de Cervantes, with its shops and cafés.

5. Semana Cervantina: If you can visit for Cervantes’ birthday celebration (October 9), you’ll be in for a week-long medieval festival and other events paying homage to the author.

You can get to Alcalá in about 40 minutes via Cercanías lines C-1, C-2 or C-7, departing from Atocha in Madrid.

See map below for locations mentioned above: Read more »

Speaking Like a True Madrileño!

In: Weird : Quirky : Fun

by Ben Curtis

How would you like to speak Spanish just like the local Madrileños next time you are in town?

Well, over at we’ve been collecting the real Spanish phrases used on a day to day basis by the inhabitants of this fine city, and at last we’ve sifted, ordered, compiled and recorded them so that you too can sound like an honorary Madrileño!

Get the full rundown here:

The Real Spanish Phrase Book and Audio Guide

How to Find a Job in Madrid

In: How To's / Where To's

by Amy Menchhofer

You’ve landed in Madrid, passed through customs, and checked into your temporary digs at one of the city’s hostels. But you’re not looking for a whirlwind tour of the Spanish capital. You’re looking to stay. So, first things first — how can you find a job in Madrid?

There are two major online job search engines that are used throughout Spain: and Both of these sites are extremely user-friendly. You can search the listings (narrowing the search by city, industry, sub-industry and key word) without signing up for the site, but to submit your résumé you’ll have to join. Both sites are entirely in Spanish, but you will find the occasional listing in English. A bit of advice — do some online research to find out the Spanish equivalent to your educational level. Most listings include the minimum required degree level and it’s best to know your way around that terminology. Once you’ve applied to a job you’ll be able to check your “status” on your private menu. As the companies review your résumé, they can change your status to “in process,” “finalist,” or “discarded.” If you see that you’re one of the first two, expect a phone call shortly.

Are you looking to work in the hospitality industry? There are listings for these fields on the above-mentioned sites, but your best bet is to wander the streets of the city center (where the bars, restaurants, and hotels are at their densest) searching for help wanted signs. These pop up most frequently in the early summer months when tourism skyrockets. You’ll do best to dress professionally, wander with CV in hand, and expect frequent rejections. Read more »

The Things You Miss: Expat Goods in Madrid

In: Shopping in Madrid

by Richard Morley

The Things You MissSpanish food is wonderful. Well, except for callos (tripe)! Which is what I think King Juan Carlos was actually complaining about. “¿Por qué no tienen callos?” is what I am sure he was saying as a comment on Señor Chavez’s hospitality. But we can’t all share regal tastes! And sometimes we British don’t always want to eat Spanish.

We may have lived here years, but some memories never leave us. Is it Marmite, Horlicks or HP Sauce you suddenly get the urge to taste again? How about some Branston Pickle? PG Tips? Maynards Wine gums? But you will search the shelves of El Cortes Inglés in vain. There are just some things you miss.

There is a solution. It’s a shop called, wait for it, … The Things You Miss.

Sitting on the corner of Calle Juan de Austria and Calle Raimundo Lulio, not far from the Plaza de Olavide, this tiny shop sells all those wonderful things you haven’t had for ages or pester friends and relatives to pack in their suitcases when they visit. It’s not quite Arkwright’s Emporium, and it’s not open all hours, just normal Madrid times, but its shelves display not just longed for goodies, but also memories from that other life you once led. Golly, they even had Barret’s Sherbert Fountains!

And just to show how wonderful it really is, even the Spanish shop there!

(Ed. note: And if what you’re craving is American products–from Reese’s to brown sugar to cake mixes and even bagels, head to The American Store or Taste of America.)

Metro: Bilbao, Iglesia, Quevedo Address: C/ Juan de Austria, 11 Phone: 91 447 0785 Hours: Monday-Friday 10:00-14:00 and 17:00-20:00; Saturday 10:00-14:00.

See map below for store location: Read more »

Agenda Madrid: Picks for April

In: Culture

by Katie Goldstein

Spring has sprung! Get out and about in Madrid to enjoy the best of it. Here are our tips for the month:

1. Crónicas de retaguardia is an exhibition of 100 previously unpublished images of life in Madrid after the 1937 Civil War offensive at the Escuela de Fotografía y Centro de Imagen (EFTI). The images were culled from an archive containing nearly 900 negatives. Hurry, you’ve only got ’til April 8th.

2. Now that Luca Giordano’s impressive fresco has been restored, it’s time to finally discover the Casón del Buen Retiro, where he is the star of the current exhibit. The building, formerly part of the royal palace housed within Retiro, is an extension of the Prado.

3. Madrid’s summer music festival scene is pretty hot with Summercase and Rock in Rio on the calendar. Best to buy your tickets sooner rather than later: the two-day Summercase tickets are now 95 euros, but will go up after April 15th. Rock in Rio tickets are currently 49 to 69 euros per day.

4. The bicentennial celebration of Madrid’s uprising against Naploeon’s troops is just a month away. Starting on the 15th of this month you can see the Prado’s homage to the anniversary: Goya in Times of War.

5. On the 27th of April, thousands of runners will take to the streets in the annual Maratón de Madrid. The race starts at 9 am; the fastest runners will be heading towards the finish line in Retiro around 11. Check out the map of the course and go animar all those hard-working runners!

See map below for places mentioned above: Read more »

Battle of the Brunches: Part I

In: Eating out & Madrid Restaurants

by Faye Davies

Café Oliver brunchSince the demise of the much-loved Bluefish a couple of years ago, the word ‘brunch’ in Madrid has become synonymous with mounting gloom. Take Café Oliver, for instance. Michelin-starred, and charging 24€ for their offering, it would be natural to expect from them something in the region of culinary delight.

Forget it. I’ve been twice. My first visit inspired only vague disappointment: small portions, stinginess with re-fills, average food, and just-about adequate service. My second visit, more recently, provoked outright fury. After an underestimated (on their part) wait of forty minutes, it took a further ten for them just to take our order.

A bad start to a soul-draining experience. For want of space, I’ll be sparing with the details. Suffice to say I’ve had better hamburgers from street stalls, better pancakes from economy supermarkets, and better service in government buildings. The fruit juice had run out; the waiter brought the dregs of someone else’s honey instead of my maple syrup; the coffee arrived lukewarm… You get the picture.

Hungry, angry and tired, I would have walked out without paying had my companion not had more compassion and class. My only consolation is I do know one wonderful brunch establishment, which I’ll be writing about in the very near future. Watch this space – and feel free to write in with your own recommendations.

Top 5 Seasonal Pastries in Madrid

In: Weird : Quirky : Fun

by Julie Espinosa


Spanish pastries are here to tempt you year-round, with the chocolate napolitanas of La Mallorquina or the chocolate con churros at Chocolatería San Ginés, for example.

But their scale-tipping powers become even harder to resist around holidays. At these times, be prepared to either let out the belt a notch or hit the gym a little harder, for you won’t want to miss at least trying these special pastries, available for a few weeks at most at your local pastelería.

Here are my top five favorite seasonal Spanish pastries:

5. December/January: I really don’t like the round, sometimes cream-filled roscón de reyes, but it is super popular with most people around Christmas and Reyes (Epiphany).

4. November: For Day of the Dead you’ll find marzipan shaped like huesos de santos or saints’ bones with various sweet fillings. Nothing like religious relic-tinged culinary humor.

3. November: Another All Saints’ Day specialty are cream puffs, buñuelos de viento. There’s no linguistic link, but they always remind me of Spanish surreal filmmaker Luis Buñuel.

2. May: Madrid’s got its own special treat for the Fiestas de San Isidro, in honor of the city’s patron saint. Try these anise-flavored donuts or rosquillas de anís.

1. March/April: Described by one Spanish girl I know as a “bomba de calorías,” torrijas, or Spain’s version of French toast, are a cinnamon-sugary fried treat sold around Holy Week.

Andén 0: The Chamberí Metro Museum

In: Culture

by Richard Morley

Line 1 Route This week I was one of the first visitors to Madrid’s latest attraction. In 1966 the Ministry of Public Works, finding that Chamberí Metro station could not be easily modified to take the new six-carriage trains and that the area was already well served with other accesses to the metro system, decided to close the station. For forty-two years only the tracks running through the station have been maintained as it lies on the busy Line 1. Meanwhile, the platforms and access tunnels and stairs slowly crumbled. On the surface a new plaza was built with relaxing benches, raised flower beds and a bandstand surrounded by busy cafés and bars, leaving no clue to what lay beneath.

Two years ago it was decided to resurrect the station as a museum. It opened this Monday. A photograph shows the derelict state of the ticket office that the workmen found. Today it has been restored to its original ceramic-tiled glory as envisioned by the first architect of the metro, Antonio Palacios.

The visitor enters via a spiral staircase, or lift, sited on the corner of Calles Luchana and Santa Engracia. Two spirals down one passes through the vestibule to where a small tiered cinema, cleverly formed from an old stepped passage, shows a twenty-minute film describing the Metro’s history — from its beginnings in 1922 to the present day. There are evocative scenes of the metro tunnels in use as air-raid shelters during the Civil War and sequences of old pre-metro Madrid with its uncluttered tramways. Read more »

Madrid Institutions: The Churrería

In: Weird : Quirky : Fun

by Katie Goldstein


Photo: Antonio finishes a long morning of churro-making.

There are few things more castizo—authentic—in this city than a breakfast of chocolate con churros. Though these fried delights are a staple at neighborhood bars around Madrid, they are rarely made in the bar itself. Instead, bars depend on regular deliveries from the diminishing number of churrerías around the city for their supply.

According to Antonio, one of my neighborhood churreros, the number of these tiny fried dough factories has dropped from 1,600 to less than 200 in the last 15 years. And that’s because the churreros are a dying breed. Of the four churrerías that operate in my barrio, most of the churreros are over 70. Antonio, who is a sprightly 35, is already training one of his delivery guys in the art of churro-making. He himself started 18 years ago. He says it was just like becoming a mechanic or a plumber: a vocation.

His bright little churrería, a relative newbie in the barrio (it’s been around for 10 years) shows no sign of slowing down. But, as Antonio says, it’s “slave” work: the hours are grueling (he opens from 5 to 11 am every day, holidays included). In another miniscule old-timey churrería two blocks from my house, the older woman who runs it with her husband refused to even answer my questions because she was too exhausted and busy. She said she’d been up since 2 am.

It’s clear, though, that the madrileño love for fried dough hasn’t wavered. Even Antonio says he still swears by a desayuno con churros.

What is a “Menú del Día”?

In: Travel tips

by Marina Diez

Menú del DíaIt’s common for Spanish workers to take a lunch break in the middle of their working day. The usual thing is to go out to a restaurant and have a menú del día, menu of the day. This set lunch consists of a starter, a second course, and a dessert, with several options for each, at a fair price — from 9 euros depending on the restaurant. The price also includes bread and a drink — water, soft drinks, wine or beer. You’ll find menus del día in a good portion of Spanish restaurants from Monday to Friday at lunch time — between about 1 pm and 3.30 pm. Check near the door of the restaurant or on a board outside for options for that particular day.

There are several dishes which are likely to be found in a menú del día on a particular day. For example, on Thursday paella is usually one of the options, and in Madrid, Tuesday is the day to have cocido (hearty chickpea and meat stew).

There are several urban legends as to why Thursdays are the official paella day. One is that Franco used to go hunting on Thursdays, and when he did, he liked to eat paella. As his hunting destination was always unknown, every restaurant in the country had to be prepared in case he appeared and demanded his favourite food. Others say that since maids used to have Thursdays off, they would leave the first step of the paella recipe, el sofrito (everything but the rice!), cooked on Wednesday night, ready for the lady of the house to add the rice in time for Thursday lunch.

So, venture out into the city and let us know what your favorite menú is! Here are some of our favorites to get you started.

Pink Sushi Man – Madrid Sushi Scene Improves!

In: Asian Food, Eating out & Madrid Restaurants

by Ben Curtis

I hate Sushi. My wife knows this, so she had to lie to get me here. Well, maybe not lie, but certainly not reveal our exact location until it was way too late to change the arrangements with friends.

I wasn’t happy. Tricked into going to a restaurant where they only eat raw fish and seaweed. That’s low.

Then suddenly I was handed the menu. It had chicken on it! And noodles with vegetables! And more chicken! And looking around, I realised that I was amongst Madrid’s elusive Beautiful People. All, it seemed, was not lost.

So hurray for the weirdly named Pink Sushi Man, where difficult people like me can still walk out feeling satisfied, where the crispy chicken is divine, the noodles are delicious, and the psychedelic decor is as far as you can possibly get from your average Madrid bar.

Highly recommended for a change of scene.

The lunchtime ten Euro menu del dia gets you 5 plates of allegedly very good sushi (or nice cooked food that never saw the ocean floor!) Come very early (by 1.45 for lunch), or risk a long queue.

Metro: Gran Via
Address: Calle del Caballero de Gracia, 10
Phone: 91 360 5608
Hours: lunch 13.30-Midnight, every day.
See map below: Read more »

Out-of-hours Madrid: Part II – Eating

In: Eating out & Madrid Restaurants

by Faye Davies

Madrileños, to an only slightly lesser degree than their compatriots, can display a frustrating tendency to act like sheep in their daily lives. Very few shops open between 14:30 and 17:00; and if you need/want to lunch before 13:30 or after 16:00, you’re pretty much limited to McDonald’s. There are some exceptions, however.

If you can get hold of it, On Madrid, the entertainment supplement that comes with Friday’s El País, has a little section (within its restaurant section) listing late dining options. Beware, though, as some of these turn out to be false. Best to phone ahead.

Here are the places I know to have extended opening times:

Pub “Red” (C/ San Vicente Ferrer, 20, Metro Tribunal) – Fresh, unpretentious food (hamburgers and platos combinados) in a haunt of football fanatics. Open until about 2am.

Hard Rock Café (Pº Castellana, 2, Metro Colón) – Decent, not especially cheap, diner-style food in a haunt of rock ‘n’ roll fanatics. Open all day ”til late’.

Iberia (Glorieta Ruiz Jimenez, Metro San Bernardo) – A favourite with taxi drivers, who stop for sandwiches at all hours of the night. Good for emergencies.

Any more suggestions?

See map below for places mentioned above: Read more »

A Drink with a View: Rooftop Terrazas and Bars

In: Bars and Cafes

by Julie Espinosa

El Viajero Terraza

Madrid is known for its sunny, chattering terrazas—open patios that cafés typically operate April through October.

Even more special are rooftop terrazas. Madrid has no skyline to speak of, but its buildings are still tall enough to hide you from the stares of passers-by and give you a unique view of the city.

Here, then, are my favorite terrazas with day or nighttime views:

1. Gaudeamus Café: Atop the church-turned-UNED building in Lavapiés, this place has a chill atmosphere and is the perfect place to share a drink or light lunch with friends.

2. La Casa Encendida: We’ve mentioned this art space’s rooftop before, and granted, while there’s no food for sale, you could reasonably try to bring a solidarity picnic or at least go to tomar el sol.

3. Casa Granada: Its views rank well above its menu. Marina recommends arriving before sunset to get both the before and after vistas.

Downtown Hotel Urban (La Terraza del Urban), Hotel de las Letras (Ático de Letras), and Hotel Puerta América (Sky Night) all offer swank rooftop bars—think cool jazz and cocktails—but I readily admit I’ve not yet visited any of them. Too high (class) for me. But perhaps you’ll find a special occasion that warrants a visit. Remember, you’re paying for the view.

(Ed. note: The above photo is the view of La Latina from another venerable rooftop in Madrid, El Viajero.)

Do you know of anywhere else to get a view with your drink or meal?

See map below for all locations mentioned above: Read more »

Top Five Tips for Being a Good Intercambio

In: How To's / Where To's

by Amy Menchhofer

So you’ve got an intercambio. Now what? Ideally an intercambio is about fun and learning and perfecting another language. But the first couple times will perhaps feel like something between a job interview and a first date. Keep these tips in mind to make sure things flow smoothly.

1. Pick a good place. Hopping bars, sidewalk terraces, busy parks – places primed for people-watching provide an endless supply of conversation topics to get the ball rolling.

2. Be on time and wear something bright. Meeting in a public place with someone that you’ve never even seen before is mildly nerve-wracking. Make it easier on the other person by wearing algo llamativo (something attention-getting).

3. Don’t be shy. Striking up conversation with a total stranger can be somewhat daunting. Chalk it up to a good experience and jump in with both feet.

4. Don’t talk too much. Hint: Intercambio means interchange.

5. Don’t be too nice. Correcting someone else’s speech doesn’t always come easily (unless you were born with the teacher gene). But if you don’t do it then there’s really not much point to the whole get-together. You’re both there to improve so don’t take offense and don’t keep quiet.

Where to Stay in Madrid, Part I: Hostales

In: Hotels in Madrid, How To's / Where To's

by Katie Goldstein

If you’re not too fussed about staying in a hotel, Madrid’s hostales are often homier and better value. Generally speaking, these are clean and friendly places with basic amenities and the price to match. What could be better than having more of your budget to spend on eating, drinking, and sightseeing in this fantastic city?

We who live in Madrid are, of course, not the experts on places to stay. I’ve taken a place that I know plus other personal recommendations to make this list. I’ll leave the rest up to you in the comments.

  • Hostal Angelines: small and family-run with just six rooms. Very close to Moncloa and the University, putting you in a residential neighborhood that’s close walking distance to the true center of the city. A single or double will set you back only 40 euros or 45 euros a night, respectively.
  • Hostal María Luisa: similar to the one above with the main difference being that it’s in Chueca, i.e. a very happening place to be. Just a little more expensive than Angelines.
  • Hostal Cruz Sol and Hostal Santa Cruz are both recommended by Gary from over at the Notes from Spain forum. They’re in the same building set on a plaza just steps from Plaza Mayor.

I’m going to leave you with a great travel Q&A on the subject from the New York Times that gives several more worthwhile recommendations.

What’s your favorite hostal in Madrid?

See all hostales mentioned above (along with those from the Times) in the map below: Read more »