Madrid is a feast of the senses. After spending the past few days in laid-back Portugal, Kevin and I were ready to hit the ground running in Madrid. Luckily we got our rest in Portugal since the real fun of eating in Spain typically begins around 8:30 PM, when many tapas bars open. And note, we are saying “tapas bars” — not topless bars, which certainly caused some confusion when we told Kevin’s brother!
Going out for tapas (small Spanish dishes, typically served with drinks at a bar) is one of the most popular activities for both locals and visitors alike. If there was one thing that I knew we had to do in Madrid, it was to have an authentic tapas experience.
As any of our readers know, I spend months researching our trips and selecting the right tour for us. We like a sense of adventure, going off the main tourist path and doing small group (or private) experiences. My goal for the tapas tour was to not only learn about Spain’s history and food, but hear what life is like for an actual native Spaniard. And that’s when I came across the perfect combo by Native Spanish Tapas Tours.
Daniel Beers, who launched the company a few years back and served as our guide, is an incredibly friendly and outgoing guy. I was immediately impressed by his quick response over email — even during the afternoon siesta! — and arranged an evening tapas tour for our first night in Madrid. We met Daniel around 7 PM at Plaza Isabel II, conveniently located by the Opera Metro station. The location is right in the heart of Madrid and near many of the top historical sites.
The tour is structured with a mixture of stops that included food, drinks and historic landmarks. I’m not sure about Kevin, but I was already hungry before the tour started (umm, maybe because I didn’t snack at the market earlier!). So I was excited when I heard we’d get to eat some typical croquettes.
Stop #1: Croquettes and Wine
After a short walk, we arrived at our first stop — a place packed with Madrid natives (“Madrilenos”) chowing down and drinking beer and wine. Daniel cleared the way up to the bar where our snacks were already waiting. We sampled a typical croquette — filled with codfish and creamy Béchamel sauce made from a white roux and milk. It is deep fried — meaning, it’s probably just as healthy as it sounds! But you’ll be walking, so no need to worry about the calories. We washed it all down with a delicious Valdepeñas wine from Toledo. It was unlike any wine we’ve had and part of the aging process is done in clay pots, rather than oak or steel barrels. We’ve never heard of this before – you learn something new every day!
Stop #2: Puerta Del Sol
Get ready for sensory overload! Puerta del Sol is the thumping center of Madrid – literally since all mileage in the country is measured from this spot. The public square is one of the busiest spots in the city and sort of like the Times Square of Madrid. New Year’s Eve celebrations are broadcast from here and the clock tower rings out where locals eat 12 grapes with each chime.
Be sure to get your obligatory photo at the “Kilometer 0” plaque where the network of roads are measured from in Spain.
Stop #3: Time to Taste the Jamon
From the day we arrived in Madrid, Kevin and I didn’t stop eating “Jamon & Queso” (otherwise known as ham and cheese). You’d think we would have been sick of it by the end of the trip, but it became as common as ordering bread with our meals!
I was beyond excited to try out the food at Museo del Jamon (and it certainly lived up to all the hype). I researched the most well-known eateries in Madrid and this popular chain was listed among the best in Spain. After one bite of the ham, I agreed it ranked as one of my favorite places. Daniel shared many anecdotes along our journey, but perhaps one of the most interesting was about the ubiquitous legs of ham. He explained the Spanish tradition of hanging pork legs dates back to a time when Jews and Muslims had to prove they had converted to Christianity during the inquisition. Fascinating!
Stop #4: Exploring Central Madrid
After all the good food and drinks, we were ready to get some steps in. This part of the tour consisted of learning more about the city of Madrid — it’s culture of inclusiveness (as Daniel pointed out the same-sex cross walks) and the undeniable connection between the church and Spain.
Another interesting stop — which turned more into a quick dash since we chatted Daniel’s ear off earlier (and had to make up time) — included the Basilica Pontificia de San Miguel. This Roman Catholic Church is known for founding Opus Dei in 1922. Or, in other words if you read Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, the secretive, power-hungry and extreme sect of the Catholic Church. Pick up the pace Kevin! You know what happened at the end of that book!
We really enjoyed this part of the tour, and would recommend doing this early on in your trip. We made many stops including the main palace (learning its the largest in the world by total room count: 3,200 rooms!) and the city’s newest cathedral completed in 1997 (after 100 years of construction). I guess I can’t complain too much about the roadwork on Santa Monica Boulevard taking 2 months (but I will!).
Stop #5 (or #15): We Lost Count! Back to Eating.
A common phrase along the way was “This is the best food yet.” No lie, I think we said it at every stop. But for real, the last stop had the best food. Or maybe we were just getting hungry again as we walked in and smelled all the fresh food. To kick off the meal, we had some Sangria. Throughout the trip we enjoyed Sangria, even taking a cooking course where we made our own. But you know what? We still looked back and thought this was the best Sangria we’ve ever had!
From here, it was a smorgasbord of food. It kept on coming (and we kept on eating, even though it was well after 11 PM). We had bone broth, a Spanish tortilla (which is made with potatoes and egg and not at all like your Mexican tortilla), Chorizo with white wine sauce and of course Paella. I’m feeling full just writing all this!
But if that wasn’t enough, we still had more! As a toast to end the night, we had shots! Or should I say, several shots. Get the party started! It was a trio of gorgeous colors of white (think the original Bailey’s), red (flavored with anise seeds) and yellow (anise seeds with herbs).
The tour flew by — we couldn’t believe how fast it went (and how much we ate!). But you’re on vacation and its time to relax and enjoy some good food. We highly recommend Native Spanish Tapas Tours for your next trip. A tour is really only as good as its guide and Daniel certainly was full of such great information and clearly passionate about food and his country. You won’t regret it!
THE LOW DOWN:
- Native Spanish Tapas Tours runs a variety of options including classic historic walking tours, wine or beer-focused tours and others
- We recommend the classic Madrid Historic Tapas Tour, covering 4+hours of walking, food and drinks. Price: 64.90 Euros per person.
- The tours are a great way to start your trip, covering the major (and not as well known) historic sites along with the food and culture
- Private tours also available.
- To learn more, visit their website at http://www.nativespanishtapas.com/
- For questions reach out at (+34) 637 743 484
- E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org