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6 Local Madrid Experiences Every Tourist Should Try

After you visit Madrid's iconic highlights like the Prado and the Royal Palace, explore the authentic tastes of Madrid at these insider and local favorites.

Tapascourtesy Me Melia hotels

Taste tapas at Plaza Santa Ana

To find authentic Spanish tapas in the heart of the old city, head to this charming cobblestone plaza. The open-air square is filled with chairs and tables that correspond to the bars and tapas spots that line the perimeter, including the refined Ana La Santa. All the small plate eateries here serve solid versions of traditional tastes such as jamon Iberico (the delicious cured Spanish ham), tortilla (an egg and potato pie), croquetas (fritters), and patatas bravas (potatoes in a spicy tomato sauce). And it’s all for a few Euros, unlike the more expensive touristy spots on the Gran Via. Bonus: Spanish cuisine is part of a healthy Mediterranean diet.

Madridcourtesy Me Melia hotels

Marvel at the view at Radio ME Madrid

Rooftops can make for some stunning places to drink, eat, or even sleep—check out these stunning options for sleeping under the stars. Madrid has its share, especially Radio: On one side, you can sip on-trend cocktails, classic “gin tonics” (the city’s warm weather favorite), or a glass of bubbly while grooving to a rotating collection of the city’s coolest DJs. Or grab a table at the chic, al fresco restaurant side of the roof for global tapas prepared on an outdoor coal oven (don’t miss the tataki beef with chimichurri infused potatoes). Either way you’ll have stellar vistas that start with neighboring Teatro Español and extend over the whole sparkling city. If you want to stay in the states, these are the small towns you’d swear were from Europe.

MadridVia Wikimedia-Commons/MANZANITAVERDE

Enjoy crowd-free classic art at Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza

For a big dose of culture without the lines and crowds of the Prado, head to the delightful Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. Here, you’ll find stunning Gothic era oil paintings and sculptures, including The Annunciation by El Greco and classic works by Rubens, Rembrandt, and Caravaggio. In the modern galleries is Picasso’s enchanting Harlequin with a Mirror, and works from other modern masters such as Renoir, Monet, Van Gogh, and Degas. When you’re done with your crowd-free tour, stop at the glass enclosed cafe for perfect people watching and nibbles until 2:00 a.m. Another tip: Make sure to memorize these Spanish phrases everyone should know.

BartenderCourtesy Melissa Klurman

Follow the trendsetters to Malasaña for shopping and cocktails

The twisting streets of these Bohemian neighborhoods hide hip bars, cool vintage shops, fun ice cream and snack spots, and trendy dining destinations. Set off on foot to explore the boutique full of unique clothing and housewares, stopping at 1862 Dry Bar for the tastiest cocktails in the city and Café Commercial for updated classics served in 100-year-old restaurant with a modern makeover.

ArtCourtesy Melissa Klurman

Mix things up with modern art

While you’re in the Malasaña neighborhood, get a whole new view of art in the capital city with a stop at the Museum of Contemporary Art. After the classical works on view across town, the bright colors and modern messages will give you a 21st century jolt of energy. One artist to keep an eye out for: Marina Vargas and her traditional sculptures covered with latex foam. Don’t miss these 8 weird museums you never knew about.

RestaurantCourtesy Melissa Klurman

Lunch with the locals in La Latina and Lavapies

El Imparcial, a renovated mansion that was once the home to a newspaper of the same name, is a magnet in the La Latina area for young Madrileños who love fashion as much as food. Downstairs is a curated shop full of fun finds, upstairs the sun-filled vaulted ceilings and marble floors is where to relax over long lunches and brunches of fresh seafood and salads. Nearby, the immigrant neighborhood of Lavapies offers fascinating food halls that draw locals on weekends, including Mercado San Fernando which offers prepared food to go as well as craft beer, tapas, coffee, and artisanal crafts.

Melissa Klurman
Melissa Klurman is a freelance travel writer and editor with more than 27 years experience who reports on travel trends around the planet for Reader's Digest. Winner of a Lowell Thomas Gold Award for excellence in travel writing, she started her career as an editor at both Frommer’s and Fodor’s travel guides, then went on to write about travel for many publications including Family Traveller, Parents, and Working Mother magazines. More recently she has been a contributing editor at Saveur, Islands, and Caribbean Travel and Life and a senior contributor at Travelocity. A New Jersey native, ice cream addict, and a lifelong Bruce Springsteen fan, Klurman lives in Montclair, New Jersey, with her husband, son, and rescue dog.

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