How to Spend a Weekend in Madrid: Arabic Baths, Flamenco, Tapas and more
Four years ago I moved to Madrid for work, on a 6-month international assignment to the HQ of the Spanish company I was working for in the UK. I adored living in Madrid – a Spanish city that has retained enough of its original style and atmosphere to maintain its authenticity. The country’s capital receives nowhere near the number of tourists of its rival city Barcelona, and is all the nicer to explore because of it.
I recently had the chance to re-visit Madrid for the first time since 2014, albeit with a different job. I flew out a day early to re-visit my favourite haunts, indulge in my beloved Arabic Baths, and get my fix of Spanish food. I also realised that among the 13 blog posts I wrote about Madrid back in 2014, I never wrote a weekend guide! So here are my top tips of what to see and do in Madrid in a weekend, carefully selected from six months of exploring the city.
The Hammam Al Ándalus – to relax in traditional Arabic Baths
14 Calle de Atocha (south of Puerta de Sol)
When I previously lived in Madrid I visited the Hammam Al Ándalus at least 4 times in just 6 months, proving just how much I love them! They are an absolute must-do and were my first port of call upon arriving in Madrid recently. The Arabic baths in Madrid are comprised of hot, tepid, and cold pools, as well as a Turkish steam room, an aromatic relaxation room and massage rooms, all surrounded by Arabic architecture, gentle fountains, flickering candles, soothing music, gentle incense and peppermint tea – transporting you back to Spain’s Moorish past.
For €35 per person you have 90 minutes to rotate through the different pools and explore the various rooms, during which you can opt for an aromatherapy massage of between 15 and 60 minutes if you like (for an extra fee). I had stepped off the plane feeling tired and lethargic from several weeks of hard work, and just a few hours later I left the baths completely transformed, with my muscles relaxed, my mind clear and refreshed. Also see my blog post from 2014 about the Hammam Al Ándalus in Madrid. If you’re travelling to other regions in Spain as well, then be sure to visit the Hammam Al Ándalus baths in Granada, Córdoba and Málaga as well.
Casa Patas – to watch Flamenco
10 Calle Cañizares (south of Plaza de Santa Ana)
While I didn’t have time during this visit for a Flamenco show, Casa Patas is an excellent choice for watching live flamenco dancing and music in an intimate venue. The Hammam Al Ándalus even offer a combined evening of Hammam, dinner and Flamenco show at Casa Patas for €89 per person.
Alpargatería Casa Hernanz – to buy an original pair of Espadrilles
18 Calle Toledo (south of Plaza Mayor)
Having relaxed my body and mind in the baths, I headed straight for Casa Hernanz to buy a pair of their famous espadrilles – shoes with soles built from twisted rope. I had adored the last pair I bought four years ago, so much so that I wore them until they were completely beyond use. So I bought myself another pair exactly the same as the last: white and blue striped, in preparation for the summer ahead. Casa Hernanz is a family business founded in 1840 and now run by the fourth generation of the family.
Lateral – a tapas restaurant in Plaza de Santa Ana
12 Plaza de Santa Ana (south-east of Puerta del Sol)
Lateral is a small group of 6 restaurants in Madrid that were my absolute go-to for delicious and affordable tapas in a sophisticated setting, and the one in beautiful Plaza Santa Ana became my favourite thanks to its outdoor tables in the square, complete with heaters for the winter and sunshades for the summer.
The Royal Palace and Catedral de la Almudena
Start at the Sabatini Gardens north of the Royal Palace, and walk around to the south of the palace to find the entrance, where you can spend a few hours admiring Spain’s royal heritage inside the Palace and the Armoury. Just south of the Palace is also the city’s Cathedral which is well worth a visit.
Stroll through Plaza de la Villa, Mercado de San Miguel and Plaza Mayor
Heading east from the Cathedral, wander towards Plaza de la Villa (a beautiful square housing the old town hall) and then on towards Mercado de San Miguel (a glass enclosed food-market where you can pick from hundreds of different tapas stalls, and pair them with a wide selection of wines. Continue east to the large, historic Plaza Mayor. If you haven’t yet come across Puerta del Sol, then continue east to this famous semi-circular plaza very centre of Madrid.
La Latina neighbourhood – for tapas and drinks
Another great neighbourhood to explore if you’re after authentic tapas is La Latina, characterised by narrow medieval streets and large squares. I went for dinner with a friend from my time living in Madrid, Diego, and after the obligatory huevos rotos (Madrid’s quintessential dish of fried potatoes, fried eggs and jamón serrano) we headed to a new bar that I can particularly recommend: Sala Equis, an old lofty cinema which has been converted into an amazing cocktail bar, with old films still projected onto a large screen high above the bar.
Best of the rest:
Madrid has plenty more to offer if you can squeeze it into a single weekend. Other places I’d highly recommend is the Sunday flea market, El Rastro, (read my post about it here) and of course Madrid’s three infamous art museums: the Prado, Thyssen-Bornemisza and Reina Sofia museums. Another small art museum I loved was the Sorolla museum. In terms of food, make sure you seek out a churrería for authentic churros in a hot bowl of chocolate sauce.
Where to stay:
For accommodation, I stayed in the 4* Soho Vincci Hotel (18 Calle del Prado, east of Puerta del Sol) in the Barrio de las Letras, the historic literary quarter where famous quotes from the likes of Cervantes and Lope de Vega are printed in gold along the streets, reminding you of the auspicious authors that once lived and crafted their masterpieces in this area of the city. It’s close to the Puerta del Sol, the definitive centre of Madrid, and from there you can visit almost everywhere of interest on foot.
I would have loved to spend more time back in Madrid, as so many wonderful memories came flooding back to me as soon as I stepped foot in the city centre. I loved speaking Spanish again, savouring all my favourite dishes once again and feeling the wonderful European atmosphere I so miss in London. I spent the Monday in Cuatro Torres, a business district in the north of the city, and from the 41st floor of one of the towers I overlooked my old office (the mammoth 10,000-person strong campus of Telefonica) and the snow-capped Sierra beyond it.
The fleeting visit reminded me of how lucky I’ve been to spend extended periods of time living in different cities across Europe, immersing myself in different cultures and languages, not just the odd weekend here and there. For now though, while my new job keeps me in London, I shall have to content myself with weekends visits to my favourite spots in Europe! In this job I’ve been lucky to have work trips to Rome, Brussels and Madrid so far and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for others in future too!
We also headed down to Alicante on the south-east coast of Spain for further meetings, and while waiting for our flight back to the UK we had a brief moment to explore the city and catch a glimpse of the Mediterranean!