…eres mi rincón favorito de Madrid.

If I were Spain, what city would I be?

I’d need to be at least big enough for an airport since I love to pack my bags and go. Have an eclectic mix of old and new, as well as domestic and foreign. I’m deathly pale, so beaches won’t really be necessary (Bye, bye Valencia and Barcelona and Málaga). A city in which graffiti is practically patrimonio de la humanidad, but monuments are revered and protected.

I wouldn’t be stuffy Seville, my Spanish pueblo natal, so to speak. I think Madrid – its bustle, its nitty-gritty neighborhoods, its hidden gems – would be my city doppelgänger, although we haven’t always been fans of one another. In fact, I can’t even see myself living in Spain’s capital (and, let’s face it, I would die without 1€ beers).

Madrid lies just two hours southwest of Valladolid, the city I learned castellano and how to sleep a siesta in. During the five-week program, our quirky director Denise (más bien, Denissshhh with her ceceo) took us first to Segovia to take in the devil’s aqueduct, to Salamanca to betake the oldest university in Spain which still retains its college town vibe, to Donostia for snacking on pintxos. I had to wait four weekends before day-trippin’ to Madrid, capital city and hub of Spanish life. Like Shakira’s hit song that summer, una tortura.

Madrid lived humbly in its early days as a shepherd’s village in the geographic belly button of Spain. Since then, a power struggle between two royal families, the Bourbons and the Haspburgs (yes, like in Austria) built the city into a thriving metropolis, home to the Spanish parliament, the largest population in Iberia and plenty of foreigners.

My trip to Madrid was supposed to be full of art at the Prado and Reina Sofía, strolls in the Parque del Retiro and cochinillo. Instead, I got a hurried tour through two important art collections, creepy Teletubbies in the park and a fried squid sandwich. Madrid was not for me.

In the 15 or so subsequent trips I’ve taken to Madrid, the most recent being this last weekend, I’ve come to appreciate its beauty in uniform buildings, wide avenues and attention to every walk of life.

Certainly, I could sit for hours at the Estanque in Retiro and watch couples aimlessly row heavy boats back and forth in their alloted 45-minutes. Reina Sofía would be like window shopping for me, dando un capricho as I pay the steep admission to take in quirky and important pieces of artwork. Sol, the starting point to all major, national highways in Spain would become my ground zero for exploring the central neighborhoods full of immigrants. If I lived in Madrid, I would botellón at Templo del Debod and have churros at San Gines in the early morning hours. I light up when seeing Cibeles atop her lion-driven chariot and can trace the metro stops on the light blue and light green lines.

Mis rincones favoritos de Madrid…Cibeles, Retiro and the Metro

I love stumbling upon cupcake shops and Indian places along the funky Calle Huertas. Adore the wrought iron balconies facing centuries-old facades of governmental palaces. The strange mix of bus, taxi and pedestrian traffic. The noise. That Gran Via is as close as I’ve been to NYC. I love that boutiques abound around Fuencarral, and that the bartender at Kike’s childhood hangout in Malaseña gives me free anchovies with each beer, even if I don’t eat them. And nobody judges me when I dip into a Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts for coffee, nor when I stare at the “lady friends” on C/Montera.

Madrid isn’t a place I see myself living in anytime soon, but, like a moth to a flame, I love visiting. Case in point: Last Thursday, eager for some restaurant recommendations, I asked friends to suggest a good ethnic food place. Not only was the food amazing, but ten of my madriles came to enjoy it with me. Madrid, for as big and boisterous, gritty and glamorous as it is, always welcomes me with open arms, overpriced drinks and an endless agenda of things to do.

Have you visited Madrid? What impressed you – or didn’t – about the city? Any must sees (I’ve done most) or must-try restaurants? Do you feel this way about a place you’ve never lived in, but have traveled to frequently?

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About Cat Gaa

As a beef-loving Chicago girl living amongst pigs, bullfighters, and a whole lotta canis, Cat Gaa writes about expat life in Seville, Spain. When not cavorting with adorable Spanish grandpas or struggling with Spanish prepositions, she works in higher education at an American university in Madrid and freelances with other publications, like Rough Guides and The Spain Scoop.


  1. Weird — the namesake of this post’s title was stuck in my head much of the day.

    Sigh, Madrid. I’m loving living in tranquila Sevilla, but Madrid is amazing. The energy, the diversity, everything. Lately, the thing I’ve been pining for the most is the perfect metro system.

    I may go back to Madrid next weekend (or, if not, two weeks after that), and I’ve been thinking lately that if I want to renew as an auxiliar, I’ll do my second year in Madrid (for a few reasons, even though I adore Sevilla). I have a long time before I have to decide, but we’ll see. I can’t wait to re-experience it soon.

  2. Cat, I love this post!! It’s so great to read.

    Anyway, Kike is Madrileño but also Betico? How does that work? You two are cute.

  3. @kaley- obv kike’s better instincts won out… Who likes real madrid, anyway?

    • Kike was born in Madrid and lived in Malasaña until he was about 4. He then moved to Sevilla, and his childhood home is so close to the Betis stadium, you can clearly hear the commentaries! Kit, my school’s November fieldtrip is to the stadium to participate in a practice and meet the players. Viva Er Beti!

  4. Cat,
    Great post, my family and I have fallen in love with Madrid, my kids are always checking out skyscanner.net for cheap tickets to go back. We are just discovering everything Madrid and Spain has to offer, and we are sure having fun exploring. Thanks for your great posts, yours is one of the first blogs I found when we started researching moving here and I have really enjoyed reading it. Katie

  5. Come back to visit any time!!!

  6. Jessica Alcorn says:

    Hooray! Glad you recognize the good stuff Madrid has to offer. I love Sevilla for its beauty and charm but I think Madrid is the place for me. It has a little something from every corner in Spain and even international stuff like Starbucks which I don’t think is a bad thing. Viva Madrid!

  7. I don’t have a favorite rincón in Madrid so much as a favorite past time – eating foreign foods. The Indian, the Thai, the sushi, the tapas! So very few places offer variety in Andalucía compared with the big M.

  8. I love Madrid, plain and simple. Anytime I take a trip away from La Capital, I don’t feel like I’ve truly come back until I take a paseo down Gran Via.

    Let me know the next time you’re in town, and we can talk travel an over-priced caña.

  9. While not being a very aesthetic city, Madrid’s charm lies mainly in its people, its marcha and a huge leisure offer. It’s a city that never sleeps but, contrary to NYC, I wish Gran Vía had something in common with Times Square! Gran Vía is one of the ugliest avenues Madrid has.

    Anyway, I totally agree with your post: Madrid rocks!

    PS. The tortilla de patata of Juana la Loca and the bocadillo de calamares of El Brillante are awesome. There’s no doubt about it.

  10. I like Madrid! I better. I live here. :) I love wandering and discovering new streets, shops, and cafes. The city continually surprises me! Love that.


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  2. […] and exhibitions, etc.), I fell in to normal school routine. In October, this was punctuated by a work trip to Madrid for a conference, studying for the DELE and endess barbeques. When in Spainlandia, I suppose. […]

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