A necklace I bought from El Rastro Flea Market. They had the most fabulous jewelry pieces made from metals.
San Gines for churros con chocolat. This is not your typical American churro or hot coco. The Spanish churros are thinner, crispier and not doused with cinnamon + sugar (though I like that combo just as much!). When accompanied with sipping chocolate, it's a real treat!
El Rastro Market - Open on Sunday, this market is packed with locals and tourists alike. You can find crafts made by local artisans that are unique to Madrid, as well as antiques, clothing, shoes, cheap thrifted items (I found a pile of clothes that were 2 for 5 euros!)
Palacio Real - Just as Versaille has its Chateau, Madrid has the Palacio Real (Royal Palace), which housed Carlos the III and IV. The interior decor is magnificent, especially the ceiling frescos on your way up the main staircase. Another fun perk is going into the old school Pharmacy, which stores many medicinal herbs placed in apothecary jars, just as you would picture it to be.
Museo del Prado - We didn't know this, but found out while waiting for an hour to get into this museum...Sundays are free for all after 5pm, making it a great deal. After all, what's open on a late Sunday afternoon in Madrid anyway? One of the more famous paintings in here is Las Meninas, by Diego Velazquez...the questionable painting we learned in Spanish class with the artist himself in the background, 2 dwarfs, children, etc. Lots of beautiful paintings are found inside, along with Goya's "classier" paintings.
Next to the museum is a Botanical Garden (separate entry fee) that's filled with different plants, flowers, a greenhouse and mini-gallery showcasing actual watercolor drawings of botany from hundreds of years ago to the present. I wish I could've taken those drawings home with me!
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia - Another "free" museum if you are a student, professor, unemployed, or just free after 7pm. The cool thing about this museum is the old building mixed in with a modern, clear elevator. The MoMa of Madrid, it holds several of Picasso's paintings, including the Guernica. Another personal favorite of mine are Goya's creepy "Black Paintings," which were done later on in his life when he became a bit mad; quite a contrast to his light-hearted paintings found in the Museo del Prado. Salvador Dali and Joan Miro have some mind-boggling pieces as well.
Museo del Jamon - You really can't get any cheaper than this. For 1 euro, you can have a large croissant or bocadillo (small baguette) with prosciutto and cheese or several other choices on their 1 euro menu (think McDee's but better). For breakfast, you can have a freshly squeezed cup of oj AND a choice of espresso/cafe con leche or soda, 2 sunny side up eggs, 2 pieces of bacon ham (they're known for jamon in Madrid, so load up!) and a side of toast w. jelly for 4.50 euros. Beat THAT, Denny's.
Txirimiri - Don't ask me how to pronounce that name, but we had the best tapas there. If you didn't know already, most restaurants in Madrid open at 9pm, due to their siesta time. We were starving at 6pm and the kind bartender wanted to feed the hungry Americans. They had our tapas out in a jiffy. : ) We enjoyed the steak over roasted peppers + toasted bread, drizzled with sauce, fungi risotto and mushrooms stuffed with foie gras and cheese while standing up at the bar with a local beer and a glass of Tempranillo wine.
Mercado San Miguel - Located near La Latina, this indoor market is filled with little vendors selling everything from wine, anchovies, smoothies, desserts, fresh fruits and vegetables, ham, a variety of fish with bruschetta and more. It's a good place to get out of the cold and have a large selection of foods to try without having to commit to one place.
There was another little bar/snack place we stumbled across near the museums, which had a huge menu of bocadillo selections, including smoked salmon with cream cheese for 1.50 euros, wine and beer 1-150 as well. It seemed to be popular with the locals, but I can't remember the name...I'll have to look through my memorabilia and get back to you...
I know it sounds totally cliche-American, but stop by the McDonald's near the Metro exit to the art museums. It looks more like a Starbucks than McDonald's, and their helado con cafe (ice cream with espresso = 1 euro) will make you and your wallet happy.
This was both of our first times in Spain and overall, it was a good experience. The Spaniards are naturally warm and laid-back. Things are relatively cheaper than London and Paris. I could definitely get used to having afternoon siestas. Tapas are delicious and plentiful and for once, I was able to put my broken Spanish into good use. Con: Get used to inhaling second-hand smoke because the Spaniards enjoy smoking up a chimney and it hasn't been banned inside restaurants. Also, we thought we saw some casual hookers while walking around the Moulin Rouge of Madrid. We were only there for a few days, which was plenty of time to see most of Madrid. I'd definitely recommend Madrid as a stopover while visiting Europe. Next time: Barcelona.