Roman aqueducts, a Gothic Catholic cathedral, and suckling pig for days (if you’re into that sort of thing).
When deciding between Toledo and Segovia for our Madrid-based day trip, Segovia won largely because of the aqueduct. I’d never seen a Roman ruin before, and the opportunity to do so was not something I could pass up, especially when they’re only a 30 minutes away via local Renfe train.
I mean, LOOK at this beaut! It was built around AD 50 and is now a UNESCO world heritage site. It still stands in nearly peak condition and is flanked by many a restaurant and tapas bar where you can have a bite to eat and bask in its glory.
Speaking of bites to eat, Segovia is known for its cochinillo asado, or suckling pig. It was usually rather expensive and I’m generally wary of eating baby animals, so we skipped it. If you’re a meat connoisseur, though, it’s supposed to be delicious. (We noticed that a lot of restaurants in Spain advertised serving literal “baby” animals. Like the word “baby” was printed on the menu. In America we try to mask that sh* with words like veal;even serving “lamb” isn’t saying “baby sheep.” Way to go for the transparency, España. I see you with that branding.)
If, like me, the baby pig option isn’t for you, fret not. You can still try a traditional Castilian soup, also famous in Segovia, called judiones de la granja. It features large white beans in a tomato broth and was an excellent appetizer to my local fish lunch.
After eating, we wandered past the aqueduct (bye bb, be back so soon) to the Roman Catholic cathedral. This guy was impressive. It looms over the main square with its intricate Gothic spires and stained glass windows. It was built between 1525-1577 and is entirely worth just staring at for a while.
We wandered through the beautiful, quaint old town to the top of the hill where the Segovia Castle presides over the surrounding area. DEFINITELY buy the entrance ticket for the castle, and it’s worth tacking on the 8 Euros to climb to the top of the highest tower as well. The VIEWS.
After feeling like proper Medieval royalty for a few hours, we wandered down to have a cerveza and quick bite below the aqueduct (See! Promised I’d come back!) before catching the return train to Madrid. Almost as amazing as our proximity to the aqueduct was the fact that this collasal remainder of the Roman Empire was so not a big deal to the locals around us.
We bought our train tickets online the night before after experiencing the horror that was Lisbon train station ticket lines. Madrid’s station didn’t appear to be nearly as bad, but having tickets in advance certainly made for some breezy travel. We gave ourselves seven hours in Segovia, which might have been a bit too long, but we were definitely able to relax and just exist in the town for a few hours, which is never a bad thing. When we arrived back in Madrid we were perfectly full of adventure, culture and papas bravas.
When we arrived home after our night one adventures, Michael and Miguel were finishing entertaining guests on their terrace, because of course, and offered us gin and tonics to chat about life and our trip thus far. Michael is a former New Yorker who moved to Madrid (goals) to live with Miguel, who is originally from Toledo. They recommended Toledo or Segovia for a day trip, and after some research we decided on Segovia because of the STANDING ROMAN AQUEDUCTS. But more on that later!
Day two was Sunday, aka sleepy church day in the Catholic-based city. Since museums are open on Sundays, we decided to make this our art day- the Reina Sofia is free starting at 2 and the Prado is free from 5-7pm on Sundays, and we love free!
We wandered through the uber cool La Latina neighborhood and El Rastro, the Sunday artisanal fair along Madrid’s streets. Admittedly, it was very congested and not really our thing since it resembled NYC’s summer street fairs almost exactly. But if you’re looking for cheap t-shirts and souvenirs, it’s definitely your thing.
Barrio La Latina is beautiful, with colorful, winding streets adorned with flowers galore. We stopped for lunch at Mas Al Sur based on a recommendation from one of Doug’s friends, and ate shrimp in garlic sauce that truly made me think for a moment that we had transcended to heaven. Our only mistake was ordering the small portion along with some other taps. NO. Order the large portion, order two or three of them, and eat ONLY THAT with bread to soak up the rest of the garlic sauce. I have since had multiple dreams about this dish and awoken in tears to realize that I was not, in fact, eating it again.
This brought us to the free Reina Sofia line, which was long but definitely moved once 2pm hit. And guys. You MUST go to the Reina Sofia. The Picasso exhibit, specifically Guernica, makes any line worth it.
After two hours with Queen Sofia and Picasso we took a coffee break at one of the probably overpriced cafes near the Prado. We had time to kill, but not quite enough to fully do the Parque de Retiro, and were in need of a pick me up, so fine, 5 Euro for a cappuccino it is.
After this, we waited in the MUCH LONGER line for the 5pm Prado. I stand by what I said, though: free museums are worth the lines. Especially when they house the masters! Prado is MASSIVE, so unless you have the whole day to really do it, it’s worth giving yourself a game plan. Ours was pretty simple: catch the Big Guys and take in whatever we come across on the way. This took us to Goya, El Greco, and Velasquez’s colossal displays with plenty of other Spanish artists peppered throughout. Another two and a half hours later, we were awe inspired and HUNGRY.
This dinner, we were on a mission. PAELLEA. Michael told us of another favorite haunt of his and Miguel’s called La Barraca on Calle de la Reina. It doesn’t open until 8:30 on Sundays, bless the Spanish and their impossibly late dinners.
La Barraca definitely expects you to have a reservation, so I would recommend making one, though we were seated perfectly comfortably in the basement nearest the bathroom. Hey, a seat is a seat as long as it has some award-winning paella in front of it. And heads up – their paella comes in sharing portions only, a minimum of two people per dish. Don’t go if you’re single! You will feel embarrassed and end up hungry.
We shared a classic paella with shelled shrimp, because I am a bit of a wimp when it comes to seafood and don’t like to see the faces of my fish. If you tell me that eyeballs and tentacles are appealing to you, I will tell you that you’re lying and saying that to look cool. Eating eyeballs is only gross, not cool, sorry.
Doug is very into eating anything local and authentic, so I know he would have gone for the eyeballs and tentacles but agreed to the shelled version to appease me. A true compromiser.
The maitre-d presented our giant skillet of steaming paella to us so that we could approve it and allow it to be served. Basement bathroom table or no, I felt royal as heck with all of that power.
The dish was simple and delicious, red rice with fresh shellfish and secret special paella spices. Admittedly, the portions were huge and filling and defeated us pretty quickly, but this definitely made it feel worth the price.
Paella conquered (sort of), we headed back to Chueca. We tried to get into the elusive rooftop bar The Tartan Roof, which was impossible even on a Sunday. Apparently it’s quite the attraction if you’re willing to wait, which we were presently not. Next time!
Last stop: Casa M&M where we booked train tickets to Segovia for Day 3’s adventure. Check back next week for all things SEGOVIA.
Our last day in Lisbon and first evening in Madrid was mostly a travel day, though the flight between the cities is only a quick hour hop. Shoutout to TAP Portugal airlines for having wildly affordable fares and flights every hour! We grabbed ourselves a 5pm flight, giving us time for a leisurely lunch and walk along the waterfront (with a final nata pit stop on the way back). A 10 Euro taxi took us and our carryons to the airport, and we were off. By magical perfect city, bye Vicente and the slightly-too-hot Air BnB room. Hola Madrid! 💃🏻🕺🏻
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Our Madrid pad was a DREAM. It was beautifully centrally located and came with a lovely outdoor terrace for Spanish evening musings. Our hosts, Michael and Miguel (I’m not kidding) gave us more recommendations than we knew what to do with. With those and our Google Maps starred up, we were READY. Our first stop was a favorite tapas place of M & M’s a block away from the apartment called El Mollete. It was tiny, authentic, and tested my Spanish vocab just enough. I’m almost disappointed when too many people in foreign countries speak English and I can’t work on the language. Anyone else feel this way? Just me?
Regardless, we learned that food in Madrid was a bit pricier than Lisbon, but wine and beer were still cheeeeeaaapppp. So that was A+++. M & M’s place was in the heart of Chueca, neighboring Malasaña. These were for sure the two most fun neighborhoods to go out in at night (we later learned that Chueca is the gay neighborhood – at first we just thought Madrid was even more accepting than NYC! Which it still might be, reagardless, fun on fun on fun around here).
After tapas that first night, we wandered Malasaña (a soon-to-become nightly ritual) and ended up at a gin & tonic bar – the national drink of Spain, it turns out! They offered a gin of the week special, and since we were slightly travel tired we just stayed for one before calling it. Next stop, sleeeeeeep.
We began our first full day in Madrid by checking out the Royal Palace and Temple of Debod which were both SO close to the apartment. The Temple was a gift from the Egyptian government, and definitely didn’t look like anything else we’d seen in the area. I also just love the idea of one country giving a whole other country a gift. Like France, for example, I see you with Lady Liberty. Solid move, guys.
For lunch part 1, we hit up the Mercado San Miguel, which is a open-stall market in a big warehouse a la Time Out Lisbon. We found some little empanadas, and left pretty promptly because it was swamped. Here’s a photo from Spain Attractions since I was too overwhelmed to remember to photograph.
Picture this, but with 1000x the amount of people.
Next, we wandered to Chocolateria San Gines for some churros con chocolate. These churros are actually savory compared to the Mexican churros we’re used to in the States, hence the rich DIPPING CHOCOLATE that you can then DRINK afterwords. HI HEAVEN, FANCY MEETING YOU HERE.
We continued towards a *legit* tapas bar off of one of Madrid’s many pequeño side streets. What makes it so legit, you ask? Well traditionally, tapas are served for ~free~ with the purchase of a vino or cerveza. Apparently the more you drink, the bigger the plates get, which is all kinds of exciting. At El Tigre we each opted for one pint of beer and were given a LARGE plate of bread, Spanish ham, and cheese. If you’re lunching on a budged, these tapas bars are the way to go! Here’s a list of some of the best bars with said deals:
El Tigre (our fav and a local hangout)
Taberna La Tia Cebolla
La Paloma Blanca (beer isn’t cheap, but portions are massive)
El Rincon Abulense
El Respiro (very close to El Tigre, if El Tigre is full pop on here, or make it stop one and two of your afternoon tapas crawl!)
La Pequeña Grana – we didn’t actually make it here, but it’s in Granada so if you’re jonsing for some tapas in the area, check it out!
After our Tapas we strolled to the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum to sample some art from the 13th-late 20th centuries. We spent a solid two hours touring the floors, so make sure you give yourself some buffer room if you visit (which I recommend you do!) We saved the big museums, the Prado and the Reina Sofia, for the next day, and were very glad we didn’t try to cram three giant halls’ worth of art into one day. The brain can only take in so much culture no matter how Spanish and impressive it is, ja feel?
Finally, we took a siesta because, duh, and afterwords began our evening at the Dear Hotel’s gorgeous rooftop terrace bar. (Funny story, when we were waiting to be able to go up to the roof a server asked if we were being helped, and instead of saying we were waiting for the terraza, I said “terreza” which is not a thing but he took it as we were waiting for our amiga Tereza and I was embarrased trying to explain that.)
When we were finally let onto the terraza, we each had orangey-wheaty crisp, delicious beers and watched the sun set over the many old and cobblestoned (again with the cobblestones!) streets. If you’re in Madrid during nice weather, definitely hit up the Dear Hotel for at least one sunset. Plus, you’ll be excellently positioned to explore the Chueca and Malasaña nightlife once you’re done.
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We did just that, popping into one of the only restaurants that could take us sans-reservation on a Saturday night. The more you know: if you’re planning on eating in one of the more popular Madridian neighborhoods on the weekend, make a rez! Restraurants in Chueca were booked for the whole night, but we took note of places we walked past for our later meals.
Finally, we had a nightcap at 1862 Drybar, a Malasaña haunt we’d seen wandering the previous night. I ordered a dragon-themed cocktail to stay on brand that came with a heat warning, and though it sadly didn’t make me breathe fire, it was a taste bud wake up call for SURE. A short jaunt back to casa M&M ended our first full day.