Everything I loved about Madrid

Madrid, Spain by Expat Edna

Spain was never on my radar. Never. Something about it didn’t inspire me; no amount of writing or photography of its food, scenery, culture made my heart skip like it does when I read about Ireland or Iceland or Thailand. So I never planned a visit — I didn’t think we’d get along.

It took four friends, a long weekend, and one very determined city to prove me wrong — but now I’m hooked. Well done, Madrid, you gateway drug of a Spanish city. You are stellar and here is everything I loved about you:

The Chill

Men in the park, Madrid by Expat EdnaGuitarist outside the Prado, Madrid by Expat EdnaFountains, Retiro Park, Madrid by Expat EdnaShrubbery, Retiro Park, Madrid by Expat EdnaMusicians in Retiro Park, Madrid by Expat EdnaLake, Retiro Park, Madrid by Expat Edna

Madrid felt suuuuper chil. Maybe it was the mid-August heat slowing down all motivation, but I enjoyed spending most of our days walking and wandering from park to park.

I spent hours lying on the grass outside the Prado, listening to a guitarist strum away (which gave me far more enjoyment than had I spent that time actually inside the Prado); and I could have spent hours exploring Retiro Park, listening to all the different kinds of buskers and taking in the beautiful foliage — which leads me to…

The Colors

Streets of Madrid by Expat EdnaGraffiti, streets of Madrid by Expat EdnaChurch ceiling, Madrid by Expat EdnaChurch ceiling Madrid by Expat EdnaStreets of Madrid by Expat EdnaStreets of Madrid by Expat EdnaPlaza Mayor, Madrid by Expat EdnaStreets of Madrid by Expat EdnaWindow art, Madrid by Expat EdnaMetro art, Madrid by Expat EdnaOur apartment in Madrid by Expat EdnaDusk in Madrid by Expat Edna

I loved Madrid’s vibrant colors — they worked wonders in pulling me out of a funk I’d picked up gray, drab Paris. It was kind of impossible to stay sad with so many yellows and oranges poking out and smiling at me in friendly ambush from around every corner.

On top of that, I was a huge fan of the architecture. Can’t explain it, but it seemed just the perfect amount of ornate: not too overdone, but still clearly European. I especially loved the view from our apartment — morning till evening, the way the natural light hit our balcony and building was always beautiful.

The Food

In the Mercado, Madrid by Expat EdnaIn the Mercado, Madrid by Expat Edna-2In the Mercado, Madrid by Expat Edna-3Champagne and ham, Madrid by Expat Edna

(trust me, Spanish ham and French champagne are quite a good pairing.)

Street festival, Madrid by Expat Edna

Meat dragon and pail sangria, Madrid by Expat Edna

This needs to be pointed out — this is a DRAGON of meat and a BIN of sangria. I am a fan of any country where these are appropriate measuring tools for quantity of food.

Peppers, Madrid by Expat EdnaBenches, Madrid by Expat EdnaBBQ grills, Madrid by Expat EdnaOlive and anchovy skewers, Madrid by Expat EdnaMeat and man, Madrid by Expat EdnaTapas bar, Madrid by Expat EdnaDrinks of Madrid by Expat EdnaChocolate man, San Gines Chocolateria, Madrid by Expat EdnaSan Gines Chocolateria, Madrid by Expat EdnaChocolateria San Gines Madrid by Expat EdnaSan Gines Chocolateria Madrid by Expat Edna

Spain has good food. A lot of it — and for much, much cheaper than Paris. I’ll dive into details in an upcoming post dedicated to the food — but the moral of the story is that if you travel with your stomach like I do, then Madrid is definitely worth a visit.

(Places shown above: Mercado de San Miguel, two random street festivals we happened upon, Taberna La Concha, and Chocolatería San Ginés)


Assumption street festival, Madrid by Expat EdnaAssumption street festival Madrid by Expat Edna

So here’s what I found possibly most endearing about Madrid: the long weekend of our visit (the one that enabled us to travel in the first place, as it’s also a public holiday in Paris) was Assumption, a festival for the Virgin Mary.

How do the people of Madrid celebrate this holy, religious holiday? By dressing up in period clothing, decorating the streets, holding processionals through said streets…and then, every night of the festival, throwing giant street parties.

Dancers in the street, Madrid by Expat EdnaLadies in waiting, Madrid by Expat EdnaMojitos and sangria on the street, Madrid by Expat Edna

It’s just the best time.

The music is loud and pumping, switching from salsa to pop to techno as soon as you turn another street corner.

The drinks are plentiful, cheap, and so large they take two hands to consume properly.

The Spaniards are friendly, lively, and every single of one of them is a salsa expert. (Seriously, is it born into them?)

Street dancing, Madrid by Expat EdnaSalsa dancing in the street, Madrid by Expat Edna

On the actual day of Assumption, the festivities pause for a moment in the evening to allow the processional celebrating Mary to pass through the streets.

Assumption security, Madrid by Expat EdnaAssumption parade, Madrid by Expat Edna

But then it’s quickly back to it.

We arrived on the first day of the festival, happened to discover a sweet spot where the music was inviting, the drinks were close, and the scene was generally awesome, and for the rest of our trip we would end our evenings there, dancing in the streets of Madrid till four in the morning.

Salsa dancing streets, Madrid by Expat Edna

Madrid, te amo, and I’ll be back.

(As a fun little postscript: this is what that street looked like the day after the festival was over. Could hardly believe it was the same corner that hours earlier held so much raucous festivity! Madrid, you clean up fast.)

Clean streets after Assumption, Madrid by Expat Edna

Anyone else as smitten with Madrid as I am?

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  1. Great post, Edna! I love seeing my (host) city through someone else’s eyes, whether they liked it or not. But I’m glad you did you like it because, despite my occasional bouts of ‘Spain rage’, I think Madrid is pretty awesome. Your photos are fantastic – so full of life that I can almost hear the music and feel the vibe. :)

  2. My story with Madrid is exactly the same! I’ve never been a fan of Spain but when I ended up in the capital back in 2010 I just loved it and I’m still hoping to go back there! You just reminded me why I liked it there so much and why I should start looking for some cheap flights back there :)

  3. I was not in Madrid for crazy street parties, but I also really enjoyed our time there A LOT. Maybe it’s because so many people had told me that Madrid was boring/disappointing so my expectations were low, but I was pleasantly surprised by pretty much everything. The food was fab, the architecture was interesting and pretty, and the parks were gorgeous. It seemed like a fun and enjoyable place to live and it definitely got me excited to see the rest of Spain some day! I would say that on our most recent jaunt to “the continent”, Spain was actually our favorite stop!

  4. Yowza, Madrid DOES clean up fast. And more countries need to adopt dragons as measurements for food.

    Anyway, Spain has been slowly creeping up on my radar over the last couple of years or so. I’ve only ever heard great things about Madrid (mixed about Barcelona), and Seville and Granada sound like my kinda cities, too. Oh, and Bilbao – Basque names are the coolest.

    p.s. send me a bin of sangria?

  5. You’ve captured my favorite city stunningly! It’s been exactly a year since I moved away, and I miss it constantly. Thanks for taking me back there :)

  6. Awesome photos and post Edna…

    I have no real drive to go to Spain, but I learn Spanish so I’ve always thought, “might as well…” But you’ve given me a new reason: for the liveliness.

    Also travellers say that Spain is among the more racist European nations… Any comments on that issue?


    • Kon Tiki says:

      We’ve been living in Spain for about three years and we have seen absolutely no evidence of racism in any shape or form.
      The Spanish have a strong culture of their own, but we have been welcomed without reserve.
      I think the secret is to respect, engage and involve yourself into the culture you’re joining.


  7. Madrid made me love Spain, too. Definitely try to see Basque country at least once—it’s even more chill and colorful and delicious than Madrid!

  8. Me! I’m almost crying with nostalgia…

  9. You just made me oh so excited to move to Madrid in ONE week. I hope this inspires you to see more of Spain. It will keep surprising you. Love it, love it, love it!

  10. Kon Tiki says:

    Well Said Edna, but it’s not just Madrid, it’s all of Spain! We’re Brit ex pats living near Cartagena, and we are constantly amazed at the depth of culture in this amazing land. The Fiestas and Carnivals are great, the streets are always immaculate the morning after. Yes, the Spanish were born to Salsa, but the were also born to Art and Music, Food and Wine, Culture and Dignity. They are friendly and inclusive by nature, easy going and relaxed, but hard working when they need to be.
    On our fourth visit we took the decision to stay, and have not regretted it. We have so much to see, so much to learn about the nation that discovered the world!

  11. Carole Bounden says:

    Great review of Madrid I have visited and probably didn’t get the best of the city. Inspired by your photos and reviews it’s going to be on my list of top cities to visit/revisit in Spain.

  12. Fabulous blog and photos – I’m off to Madrid!

  13. Bethany Hendrikse says:

    Yessssss! I am obsessed with Madrid. My soul city. I go every year & never want to leave :) Glad you loved it

  14. I fell head-over-heels for Madrid when I visited with my mom a few years ago. I was captivated by its colors, architecture and food, as well as its art and history. But despite my rave reviews, I’m having a hard time convincing my husband to go back with me. Like you, Spain just doesn’t hold any interest for him. Though I suspect that might change come February in Latvia!

  15. You captured Madrid’s summertime spirit so well! I’m glad this “gateway drug of a Spanish city” made an impression on you. Hope you get the chance to return again, as well as to explore more of the country!

  16. I feel the same way as you initially did- I’ve just never felt a burning desire to go to Spain. But after this post, that has definitely changed! Madrid looks fabulous!

  17. Love all the photos. You make me want to go to Madrid and despite all my visits there, it’s never been “my city.”
    As for salsa dancing- After 2 years in Spain, I deduced people from Latin America have dancing in their blood but Spaniards are better at drinking, not dancing. haha. Rarely saw Salsa. Interesting!


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