Of course, this can make life a little more challenging – and popular tourist restaurants especially are often popular simply because they’re very good – but it can be a whole lot more fun. A recent fortnight in Madrid gave me enough time to uncover some of the places that might have slipped under your radar so far.
Chocolateria San Gines
Churros might not be the Spanish national dish but they’re close and the very best place to eat them is at Chocolateria San Gines. The staff are uniformly grumpy and extraordinarily unhelpful, but as the place is stuffed full of Madrilians eating vast quantities of Chocolate Con Churros you can safely assume that the food is decently authentic.
The churros – which you must queue to order inside the café; a man with a Bassett Hound face will eventually bring them to you, dropping them from a great height onto your table while simultaneously avoiding any eye contact - are nice enough but it is the accompanying cup of hot chocolate that really sets the place above its rivals. Part hot chocolate drink and part thick chocolaty sauce, it clings to the churros and is so wonderfully rich that you will not be able to drink (or is that eat?) it all.
Cost: €8 for two people
La Casa Del Abuelo
Reputed to be Andy Warhol’s favourite restaurant in Madrid, La Casa Del Abuelo is a tiny little place tucked away in the heart of the city.
Famous for its Sweet Tinto , a rich, sweet wine from its own vineyards, the signature menu features a wide range of fantastic prawn dishes as well as the more traditional tapas.
Cost: €60 for two people including wine
Mercado De San Miguel
The Mercado De San Miguel is an undercover market housing dozens of small gourmet food producers. We wiled away a very pleasant afternoon there, sending our two teenage sons off at regular intervals with €10 at a time with the instruction to “bring back something wonderful!”
They came back with paper plates of freshly cooked paella, delicate sushi nibbles, oysters, slivers of cheese, and a dozen different cured meats and sausages. We washed it down with white sangria while they enjoyed huge glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice.
Cost: €50 for two people including a couple of drinks each
The Sierra De Guadarrama National Park
The Sierra De Guadarrama National Park is only an hour from Madrid by train (via frequent, fast, cheap and very clean trains. I know…) and is a genuine wilderness stuffed to the gunnels with wild boar, wolves, wildcats, eagles, bears, snakes, and other apex predators of the sort that we last saw a thousand years ago in the UK.
Comprising 130 square miles, it is beautiful and unspoiled and surprisingly inclement; the mid-regions have more snow in a winter than anywhere in the UK while the upper reaches are a very popular skiing destination and are snow-covered for four months or more every year.
There are dozens of trails for walking, although you do need to watch out for the mountain bikers who are friendly enough but seem to enjoy buzzing pedestrians while travelling at breakneck speed. The park can also get very busy at weekends with city folk escaping the heat of Madrid for the cooler mountain air.
The rickety ‘Nature Train’ travels from Cercedilla (1,160 metres above sea level) to Cotos (1,820m) by way of the mountain town of Puerto de Navacerrada (1,770m) and is a must for anyone who enjoys nature, trains and/or the mountains.
Cost: walks are free but a ticket for the Nature Train (on the RENFE C-9 line) costs €8.70 for a single and €17.40 for a return
Football fans will know exactly what I am talking about but the Bernabéu Tour, a self-guided tour of Real Madrid’s ground, offers plenty of interesting things to see and do for everyone, no matter how meh they might feel about the beautiful game.
Real Madrid is one of the world’s most famous and successful football clubs and the stadium tour brings its rich history and heritage to life in a way that few others I’ve been on do. We spent three very interesting hours wandering around the place, including the players’ changing rooms. Flushed with post-Euro 2016 enthusiasm we were delighted to see the peg that Gareth Bale uses to hang his shirt on. We also smiled at the fact that the Real Madrid players are supplied with Nivea products via a series of wall-mounted dispensers, a luxury the visiting team is denied…
Cost: Tickets for the tour cost €14 for children and €20 for adults
The easiest way to get there is via the Madrid City Tour bus. Route 2 goes past the stadium as part of the Modern Madrid Tour. Tickets start at €9 each for children and seniors, and €19 for adults but the most cost-effective way is to buy a two-day pass for €11.70 and €22.50 respectively.