Insider's Tip: On our trip to Barcelona we took a food tour and bike tour; both were so great that we decided to do the same thing in Madrid. We covered about 12 miles on the bike and ate at about seven tapas restaurants. It was a great introduction to the city.
Overall impressions: Madrid feels much more cosmopolitan than Barcelona, and Madrileños tend to dress more formal. It's also less touristy and feels like a real city. But as in Barcelona, people flock to the streets at 11 p.m., and bars were overflowing at all hours.
Favorite moment: Buying cookies from cloistered nuns at the Monastery of Corpus Christi. It wasn't an official part of the food tour, but it was possibly the most interesting stop we made.
You can't stop thinking about: The jamón ibérico de bellota at Taberna Real, voted the best ham in Spain.
Favorite meal(s): The amazing tapas we had at the unassuming little cocktail bar La Martina, specifically the baby eel with ham and the baked brie with pork and caramelized onions.
Favorite restaurants, museums or sightseeing: Lunch at Pinguino in Salamanca; shopping in Chueca, particularly at MOTT and Oak; the Trixi bike tour and the Devour Food Tour; the cocktail bars on Calle Cava Baja.
Where or what to drink: The Yayo, a cocktail of vermouth and gin, with a splash of sparkling water. It's the specialty at Malasaña's Casa Camacho, which opened in 1929.
Neighborhoods to explore: La Latina, Chueca, Malasaña, Salamanca.
Daytrip suggestion(s): Toledo.
Surprising fact or tidbit: At tapas restaurants, diners are encouraged to toss their olive pits and napkins on the floor. Why? Because the more trash on the floor, the better the restaurant is supposed to be.
Brought back/souvenir: A pair of handmade boots from the boutique MOTT and a pair of purple suede heels from Pedro Garcia.
What to pack: Madrileños don't seem to do casual. It's a very see-and-be-seen culture, so bring your best clothes for dining out, especially in Salamanca. It's much hotter in Madrid than in Barcelona, so be prepared for temperatures in the 90's in July and August.
Anything else? If you tend to favor big cities (New York City, Buenos Aires, Mexico City), you may be like me and love Madrid a bit more than Barcelona.
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