Spain Snapshots: A Saturday Portrait of Madrid

An eclectic mix of old and new, Madrid is a city that has slowly crept its way into my heart. At first, it was a necessary stop on my way to or from Chicago, but after so many visits, it feels like an old sweater, a city I can navigate just as well as Sevilla, a cosmopolitan exclamation point in my sometimes mundane expat experience.

After all, there is international cuisine in Madrid. And original version movies. And cupcakes.

I must admit that I’m something of a creature of habit in the Spanish capital, often just letting my feet take me down the streets I know and love. There’s the ice cream shop in Plaza Dos de Mayo, the sometimes English-language book carrying book shop off of Plaza Santa Ana, my favorite Thai place on Atocha. As my  trips to Madrid become more frequent, the list of places I love to visit grows longer.

When Kay suggested we meet in another rincón of the city for a midday beer, in Alonso Martínez, we grabbed our umbrellas and set off from T’s house outside of the M-30 ring road. At just one stop from Tribunal – the metro stop closest to the Novio’s childhood home – I was thrilled to find another stretch of street that I didn’t know.

 Calle Fernando VI is a hipster’s dream – barrio fruit shops and tobacco stands are sidled up next to cactus shops, swanky eateries and macaroon shops lie age-old bars. Hayley and I shared a heaping plate of tortilla for breakfast before we sat at the high chairs and shared tables at Lo Siguiente. A Madrid-brewed craft beer is on tap (spoiler: it taste just like madrileño favorite Mahou) and the exposed brick looked like the café could have been in Brooklyn.

Madrid is truly a Saturday city – bars are always spilling customers, and events all around town are full. There are always exhibitions, shows, honking cars, teenagers dressing up to go to discos, traffic, chaos and every other hallmark of my favorite cities.

Later that night, we walked towards Chueca from the Ópera metro, the streets beating with energy and flashing lights. My heart seemed to skip a beat as I bumped shoulders with strangers and breathed in pollution. Madrid always seems to give me a surge of energy and the courage to comerme el mundo.

Maybe it’s being away from Seville and caught up in the frenzy of movement, or just the way the city seems to glisten, even in the rain.

Have you ever been to Madrid? What do you love (or not) about it?

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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. I love how you described Madrid as an old sweater, a place you know how to get around in well even though it’s not “home,” ’cause I feel the same way about the city after a handful of visits there (mainly in transit). I’m not the biggest fan of Madrid by any means–it’s too big, crowded, expensive, and not very “pretty” of a town in my opinion, but as the city has become more familiar to me it’s kind of grown on me a bit, too. I LOVE the world-class museums and can’t wait to visit the renovated archaeological museum after it reopens at the end of the month, and the warm red/orange houses with iron balconies really is rather charming and typical Madrid. (And callos a la madrileña…mmm). Madrid seems like a very alive city, but it’s perhaps too much for this introvert. 😉
    Trevor Huxham recently posted..Thoughts from Aragón, Spain’s Forgotten InteriorMy Profile

    • Haha, you are alone on the callos front! Madrid is great for a cambio de aires…but then again, so is anywhere else (unless it’s Jaén and you’re allergic!).

  2. I am not a huge fan of Madrid, because I think the smaller cities are so much fun to wander and I get overwhelmed otherwise. BUT, I love your description, and I love that you have a routine. Isn’t it great to have a place to keep going back to time and again and enjoy the same things. It makes you feel at home. Great writing!
    Corinne recently posted..Singapore Airport and Why It’s So Awesome!My Profile

    • Honestly, it’s a city that I’ve gotten to like little by little. Maybe because Sevilla is smaller and has less to offer by way of culture and cutting edge, so going to Madrid is a treat. I also like the manner of madrileños and that it’s still got some Edad Dorada touches.

  3. Aw, I love Alonso Martínez! My favorite cafe/bakery is there, and I drag my boyfriend there every chance I get. And seriously, who doesn’t love a store that only sells cacti? Glad you are enjoying more of Madrid these days!
    Cassandra recently posted..Quinta de los Molinos ParkMy Profile

    • I was so glad Kay suggested it. Madrid is so wildly different from Seville, and it’s a nice change of pace for me.

  4. I have similar feelings towards Madrid. The first time I visited – in 2007 and as part of a big Europe trip – I actually left a day early, not really liking what I saw. But I’ve been back about two dozen times since and it’s actually grown on me, sort of inching up in my mental rankings while Barcelona inches down. And it’s the neighbourhoods I think – I did a tapas tour on the non-touristy side of Plaza Mayor and decided that’s where I wanted to live someday. It’s a living, breathing, bustling city and also so quirky – quite rare for such a big city to be :)
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  5. I’ve always felt indifferent about Madrid but appreciate that after many a visit, the metro and different barrios have become familiar! It’s always interesting when a city grows on you!
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  6. Pedro Meca Garcia says:

    i love Madrid, bin there 4 or 5 times and it is getting worse year after year, in fact tourism is decreasing, last year a 10% less, whereas tourism in Barcelona is increasing a lot, ¡¡para rematarlo!!….it is the fault of politicians, above all the Mayoress’ fault because she is an idiot and is banning a lot of things….even street musicians did have to pass a test to show their skills to play, and they were given a permit!

    my favourite place is Bernabeu stadium, no more to say!

  7. Christine says:

    I will always have a soft spot for Madrid. It is where I first fell in love with Spain and allowed me to wander freely in the different barrios and met people from all over the world. For me it’s like New York in terms of life is lived in the neighborhoods not the “tourist” attractions.

  8. Love Madrid so much as you well know, probably my favorite Spanish city but it’s the one I lived in the longest. If I were to live in Barcelona or anywhere else in Spain, I’m sure the city would grow on me too (except Malaga, I lived there for over 3 months and I’m sorry to say while I have great memories of the city, it never really grew on me).
    amelie88 recently posted..Teaching English in Spain: UCETAM FAQMy Profile

  9. Lisa Duque says:

    I stumbled upon your blog and LOVE it! I lived in Madrid in 1989 and it stole my heart way back then! I ended up marrying a madrileno but we live in the States. We return to Madrid every summer and I come alive! I tell my daughter that I feel whole there. I have noticed a huge shift in Madrid over the years and some years are not as pleasant as others. People ask me why Madrid is so special and it is the barrio life, the people, el ambiente!!! It’s the home of my heart!

    • Thanks, Lisa! If you can’t live in Madrid, you can at least get back once a year! My partner is technically madrileño but claims to be sevillano. I love Madrid for weekends, but don’t think I could live there full-time! Estás bienvenida whenever you’d like to stop by!

  10. It’s funny, because the way you feel about Madrid is exactly how I feel about Sevilla :) Although I’ve never called Sevilla “home”, I feel like I could navigate the city with my eyes closed – and I truly thrive on every moment spent there. Being there feels like such a treat when I need to escape city life in Madrid. I guess it’s always nice to have a go-to escape that’s familiar, but always thrills you in new ways!
    Courtney recently posted..BudapestMy Profile


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