I wrote this post when we were planning for a family trip to Spain about a month ago. We wanted to add an extra side trip onto our time in Barcelona to see a little more of the country. We only had 7 days total so it had to be relatively close. We also wanted to go somewhere that would appeal to different age groups since it was not only me and Bogdan but also Bogdan’s parents and his nineteen year old brother Paul along with Paul’s girlfriend.

We narrowed down the search to Madrid for a bit of capital city culture and Callela de Palafrugell for some relaxing beach time. This research helped us make the right choice so we could make the most of our time there. In the end Callela won because it was closer and more relaxing than Madrid.

1. Madrid

Madrid is of course the capital city of Spain. It goes without saying why one would want to visit.

No city on earth is more alive than Madrid, a beguiling place whose sheer energy carries a simple message: this city really knows how to live. Lonely Planet Madrid

To See & Do

Neighbourhoods

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Like Barcelona, Madrid is defined by the diversity and complexity of it’s neighbourhoods, or barrios, each of which has a distinct character and ambiance.

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La Latina

La Latina, or Madrid’s Latin Quarter, is the oldest area of the city so there are a lot of historic buildings, narrow pedestrian streets and squares. It’s known for tapas and drinks. Great for people watching from a good spot on a nice terrace.

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La Latina | Madrid by Neighbourhood

It’s a tradition of young Spaniards to go to La Latina on Sundays.

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La Cava Baja La Latina’s most famous street | Image Source

La Latina is Madrid’s quintessential neighbourhood for beer on tap, tapas, mojitos and terraces, much to the chagrin of some who live nearby. At weekends it’s nearly impossibe to find a spot to squeeze into the jam-packed bars and restaurants to get lunch or dinner, although on workdays it’s a regular, everyday part of the city, with locals shopping at the Mercado de la Cebada and kids playing in any of the numerous squares. Don’t miss having a look at the beautiful churches and basilicas hidden in the narrow streets. Timeout

The market, Mercado de la Cebada, is also one of Madrid’s top shopping attractions.

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La Latina with Mercado de la Cebada in the background. I love this picture because as you’ll notice it’s winter (everyone’s wearing coats) and yet they’re still sitting outside. So very European.

SOL (Puerta del Sol)

SOL is the city-center and home to Madrid’s most popular meeting-point: “the bear statue” or as it’s called in Spanish, “El Oso y el Madroño”. Sol also marks Kilometer Zero, meaning that all of Madrid’s building numbers and highways stem from there. It’s literally the middle-point of the entire Iberian Peninsula. Madrid by Neighbourhood

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Puerta del Sol with bear statue in the background. | Image Source

La Chueca

La Chueca is Madrid’s gay neighbourhood, so naturally it’s also the trendiest and has the best nightlife. The neighbourhood has become a highly rated tourist attraction in it’s own right.

Things to see include Mercado de San Anton, a combined art gallery and 3 story gourmet food market with rooftop tapas bar.

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Malasana

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Malasana is the hipster barrio shedding it’s rough-around-the-edges image for a new, more contemporary identity where graffiti is honoured as the art form it is and shabby-chic cafes with antique seating rule the day. Like anywhere artsy it can be expensive and pretentious.

If it’s in style, you’ll find it in Malasaña. It used to be a district where the grannies and granddads met in the street and gossiped about their neighbours. Then the hipsters showed up, and rents increased, bikes took over and bakeries started charging double for muffins; bars switched from toothpicks and those little serviettes that don’t absorb anything to building in huge windows and owners providing chairs and tables inherited from those grandparents they ran out of the neighbourhood (and now it’s vintage furniture!). Timeout The Best of the Barrios: Malasana

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Lavapies

Probably the most diverse neighbourhood in Madrid. Known for it’s Indian and African influences and eclectic food scene.

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Salamanca

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Madrid’s most upscale neighbourhood. Let’s call it Madrid’s “Upper East Side”. Located just above Retiro Park and to the East of the Castellana, this neighborhood’s two main streets are Serrano and Velázquez (as are the metro stops with the same name). It is much quieter than the other neighbourhoods mentioned on this list. As in most fancy neighborhoods, you will find the high-end shoe stores, top-notch restaurants and prime real estate. Madrid by Neighbourhood

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Paseo del Prado

The gallery and museum district. More on it just below.

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Art & Architecture

Museo del Prado

Madrid’s most famous art gallery is the Museo del Prado, Spain’s national gallery and a world class institution housing some of the most iconic masterpieces of all time by renowned artists like Goya, Fra Angelico, el Greco, Raphael, Rembrandt and Titian.

The Prado Museum is the crown jewel of one of the capital’s most visited tourist itineraries: the Paseo del Arte (Art Walk). Its walls are lined with masterpieces from the Spanish, Italian and Flemish schools, including Velázquez’ Las Meninas and Goya’s Third of May, 1808. Its collection comprises 8,600 paintings and over 700 sculptures, so we recommend you decide what you want to see before stepping into the museum. – esmadrid

The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch

Las Meninas by Diego Velazquez

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Admission is 15 euros but it’s free on Sundays from 5 to 7pm and on Saturdays and Mondays from 5 to 7pm.

Paseo del Arte (Art Walk)

A 1km stroll past galleries, art institutions and architecturally significant buildings including:

Prado Museum
Thyssen-Bornemisza MuseumReina Sofia Museum
National Archaeological Museum
Mapfre Foundation. Recoletos Exhibition Hall
Mapfre Foundation. Bárbara de Braganza Exhibition Hall
Casa de América
CentroCentro Palacio de Cibeles
Naval Museum
National Museum of Decorative Arts
Royal Botanic Gardens
CaixaForum Madrid
Royal Observatory of Madrid
Teatro Circo Price
La Casa Encendida
Biblioteca Nacional

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Parque del Retiro

Parque del Retiro is a large park in the center of Madrid just adjacent to the Paseo del Arte that has a number of gardens, sculptures, fountains and architecturally significant buildings like the glass palaces. It’s the number 2 rated attraction in Madrid out of more than 2300 things to do.

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There’s also a pond with paddle boats for rent.

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It reminds me of Villa Borghese in Rome where we spent two beautiful afternoons during our trip to Rome last year. A relaxing stroll through a park can be a very welcome mental break from the busy-ness of a big city.

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Bogdan paddling us around at Villa Borghese | March 25th 2016

Barrio de Las Letras (The Literary Quarter)

One of the busiest parts of the city at night, the literary quarter is known for the maze of winding streets that make up its pedestrian only zone.

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There’s live music every day of the week in every style from jazz and flamenco to contemporary rock.

True to it’s name, the literary quarter’s pedestrian only main road Calle de las Huertas is known for excerpts from well-known Spanish literature embedded into the cobblestones.

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Frog Market: On the first Saturday of every month, over 200 businesses open shop in El Mercado de las Ranas (Frogs Market), so named for the abundance of frogs that inhabited the area in the 17th century, full of orchards at the time. The market was designed to rival emblematic markets around Europe such as London’s Portobello Road and the Marché aux puces de Paris-Saint-Ouen. Hostel Bookers Barrio de Las Letras

Tours, Shows & Nightlife

Tapas Tour

There are a lot of options for tapas tours in Madrid. Most involve a guided tour of a few different restaurants with the first drink and tapas included. Prices are around 40 euros per person.

Madrid Tapas Night Walking Tour is one of the most highly rated on TripAdvisor scoring 5 out of 5 from over 600 reviews. Cost is $45.

Flamenco Show

There are a lot of options for flamenco in Madrid.

Sara Baras

World famous flamenco dancer and choreographer Sara Baras in performing in Madrid until July 2nd. Tickets start at 25 eur.

Cardamomo Tablao Flamenco

One of Madrid’s most famous and most highly rated flamenco experiences. Four shows per night. The two earlier shows are 30 euro including one drink, the later shows (at 10pm and 11.30pm) are 39 euro including one drink or open bar sangria.

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Live Music

Madrid has a live music association called La Noche en Vivo that hosts live music events across the city.

Events calendar for July 2017

Food

What To Eat: Typical Food of Madrid

Cocido Madrileno

Cocido Madrileño is usually eaten in two or three courses. Once the chickpeas, meats and vegetables have been cooked, the broth is separated and used to make soup. This steaming soup becomes the first course. The rest of the flavorful ingredients are served as the main dish, often in two rounds. The chickpeas and veggies come first, followed by the stewed-to-perfection meat. Madrid Food Tour

Bocadillo de Calamares

Fried squid on fresh bread is a typical Madrid street food.

Callos a la Madrilena

Beef tripe, chorizo and blood sausage stewed and served in a clay dish.

Churros con Chocolate

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Oreja a la Plancha

Pan seared pig ear really popular amongst Spaniards.

Pincho de Tortilla

A Spanish omelette made with eggs, onions and potatoes. Also called tortilla de patatas. It’s very common throughout Spain and especially in Madrid where a wide variety of styles can be found.

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Where To Eat

Restaurant Botin

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Hemingway ate here and it holds the Guinness Book of World Records spot for oldest restaurant in the world.

Dinner at the oldest restaurant in the world.
Dinner at the oldest restaurant in the world.

Getting There

From Barcelona airport a car will get you to Madrid in 5-6 hours. From Barcelona central a train will take 4 hours.

Tourist Traps to Avoid

Mercato San Miguel

Highly rated market that’s actually overpriced and overrated.

Plaza Mayor

Centuries of history -with everything from bullfights to public executions held between its beautifully decorated walls – and now what does it have? People hawking useless toys, mariachi bands and a fat man dressed as Spiderman. thelocal.com

 

2. Callela de Palafrugell (Costa Maresme)

Platja Port Bo, Calella, Spain
Platja Port Bo, Calella de Palafrugell (image source)

Calella is a really picturesque beach resort that’s off the beaten track, tucked between the more popular resort towns of Costa Dorada and Costa Brava, about 150km from Barcelona.

Calella has a 2km long fine sand beach that’s won European beach quality awards. The hilly coastline is  punctuated by rows of white-washed homes with terracotta tiled roofs and traditional arches.

In marked contrast to the Costa’s larger resorts to the south, there are no eyesores, no high-rise hotels or apartments blocks, and few concessions to foreign tastes. The vast majority of holidaymakers are Catalans – many Barcelonans have second homes here – and both resorts have a choice of good Spanish/Catalan restaurants. telegraph.co.uk travel

With beautiful beaches and traditional architecture Calella is a quintessentially Spanish beach resort where you wont forget you’re in Spain.

 To See & Do

The beach is the biggest attraction in Calella but there are also a lot of other things to do if you don’t feel like just sunning yourself or hitting the water.

Sports 

Calella has really highly rated scuba diving and snorkeling. The calm waters and rocky outcroppings around Calella also make it one of only a few perfect spot for sea kayaking in Spain. Kayaking tours can be arranged from some of the hotels in the city.

Calella Kayaking | Paddle In Spain
Calella Kayaking | Paddle In Spain
Cova d'en Gispert | Image Source
Cova d’en Gispert | Image Source

Nature & Hiking

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Jardi Botanic de Cap Roig | Image Source

Calella has a truly magical botanical garden tucked up in the hills, just a short 2.6km from the main beach area.

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The historic Jardi Botanic de Cap Roig is often called one of the most important notanical gardens of the Mediterranean as it showcases some of the regions most characteristic plant species. Besides that, the garden is just beautiful. It has winding walking trails and steps that connect terraced gardens that rise from the sea to the top of the hill.

At the top you’ll find an open-air festival space, a castle, and sweeping views of the coastline and Mediterranean sea. The gardens are both a natural and architectural wonder with very thoughtful architecture with elements of both the Spanish and Mudejar style.

Food

What To Eat

Tapas & seafood. Calella isn’t known for any specific dish but given that it’s on the coast seafood is always a good bet.

Where to Eat

There are rally a lot of highly rated options from fine dining to cheap and casual street eats. Food is much more reasonably priced than in some of the other more touristic destinations in this region of Spain.

The Highest Rated

Calau

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Known for: ambiance, tapas buffet.

The number one rated restaurant in Calella on TripAdvisor. It’s reasonably priced and has a view. It has a buffet of tapas both savoury and sweet. Costs around 10 to 20 euros per person with drinks.

La Blava

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Known for: seafood, recommended by locals.

This restaurant is right on the beach with indoor and outdoor seating and a simple menu.

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Restaurant L’Arc

Known for: Set price tapas menu 14 sweet & savoury tapas for 25 euros pp.

This place is tucked away in a quiet alley and it’s rumoured that the chef used to have a Michelin star. Many reviewers say that the food is very sophisticated for the price. They also have churros, sea urchin “on the half shell”, and fresh baked bread.

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Far Nomo

Known for: views, exceptionally good sushi.

Sushi in Spain doesn’t make sense at first, but when you think about how close the water is and how fresh the fish is, it makes perfect sense.

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Breakfast & Snacks

La Croissanteria de Llafranc

Cheap & casual, breakfast and pastries in Llafranc, just a 10 minute stroll away along a coastal path.

L’enxaneta gelats d’altura

Ice cream and other sweets like waffles and crepes.

Where to Stay

There are a lot of hotels in walking distance of the beach but they book up months in advance during high season and on weekends. It’s best to stay as close to the beach as possible to be right in the action.

 

Getting There

From Barcelona the only way to get there is by driving.

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Author

My name is Cristina. I was born in Constanta, Romania and moved to Toronto with my parents aged five. Growing up I spent every summer at my grandparents homestead in rural Romania, which instilled in me a deep and consuming love for traditional culture. Back in Toronto I made friends from every part of the world, which sparked a longstanding love affair with the complex identities and traditions behind the cultures I encounter. For the last three years I've been getting to know American culture living in Royal Oak, Michigan with my Romanian-Canadian husband Bogdan and our American rescue dog Oliver. Culture and identity has been a defining part of my life and I love sharing my explorations in food and culture here. I also write about managing my multiethnic foodie kitchen, sourcing good ingredients, and travel. If you want to connect the best place to find me is Instagram (I'm always online :P)

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