By Kieran Ford
Madrid. First Impressions
Ever been to Madrid? No, but I’ve been to Barcelona. Same! Until now. Yes, that’s right, I spent the weekend exploring Spain’s larger but seemingly less popular city, the capital, Madrid.
Arriving on a Friday night, I felt that busy metropolitan buzz for the first time in a while and I thrived on it. Especially as it was a whole new city I’d yet to explore. It’s a huge city too, one of the largest in Europe.
Hungry, I walked into a local bustling café right away. It was like an English kebab shop in appearance but completely different in atmosphere. Big burly Spanish chefs bellowed out greetings, jokes, offers and orders from behind the tall counter amongst smoky grills. People manoeuvred through the crowd filling the relatively small space to grab their food and drinks before joining their friends lining the perimeter walls. Each party with trays of fresh off the grill squid, prawns, sausages, bread, olives, paella the lot! Washing it down with half pints of fresh Mahou cerveza or glasses of red, while chatting with their friends about the week they’d had. I thought, wow, ok, I’m in Spain, and every stereotype I’ve heard about it exists here in the first place I’ve hit!
Which brings me nicely onto my next point, being less popular with tourists, Madrid is a much more authentic Spanish experience. I was surprised at how little English they speak in the city. Spanish is king here, and rightly so. I enjoyed this, as I always feel a lot more embedded within the true culture and I love insights into other languages, trying to pick up little bits here and there.
Wandering the City
The tapas theme thrives throughout Spain. I couldn’t believe my luck when the first pub I paid a visit to placed a selection of bread, cured meats and cheese beside my beer and said it was free… Wow, she must fancy me, I thought. Yeah, dream on mate, it’s just Spain. They give you food when you drink alcohol. It’s a welcome addition and it’s better for your health too.
In classic capital city fashion, it has everything. Googled anything I was looking for and there’s a selection of results to choose from – hostels, ramen restaurants, craft beer bars, scenic sunset spots, traditional food, local markets… just a few of my favourite searches when visiting new cities.
Public transport is excellent too. There are tons of Metro stops around, it runs from 6:30am to 1:30am daily and it’s easy to understand, manoeuvre, efficient with timings and relatively clean. I had no problems finding anything or waiting around.
“Upstairs there’s a rooftop bar. It’s a famous spot within Madrid and many from outside of the hostel head there for evening drinks.”
TOP 3 Hostels in Madrid – So TripAdvisor and Booking say!
(♫) It got Rave Reviews, 4 Stars out of 5 (♫)
Having travelled around a fair bit now, I’ve naturally become quite the hostel connoisseur / fussy b@st#rd!
So, after reading through piles of reviews, I headed out to visit the crème de la crème of hostels in Madrid. I spent a night at each.
1) SUNGATE ONE – The social hostel king. Truly feels like a home away from home.
👉 LOCATION – 9/10 – Quite surprisingly, it’s embedded within one of the main shopping streets in Madrid. This actually makes it quite difficult to find because it feels like you’re in the wrong place when you’re surrounded by a huge Zara and other high street stores. It is there though, just look out for the nearby shops and you’ll soon notice a Sungate One sign sticking out of the wall. Then it’s buzzer entry and upstairs. Easy walking distance to all the city’s central sights and Sol Metro station is just 2 minutes away.
👉 BEDS – 9/10 – Separate, spread out twin beds, as opposed to squeezed together bunk beds. Thankfully the rooms are big enough for each bed to have their own space. The extra size of them and the handy bedside cabinet for plenty of storage and the top to use as a shelf, equipped with plug socket and lamp, made for a homely vibe. It feels like your own basic single room just …without the walls. Other guests were respectful of privacy and all in all the beds were top notch. I had a great sleep in mine which was actually tucked around the corner in a 5 bed dorm.
👉 SHOWERS – 10/10 – Separate from the rooms so no waking people up. Each one in its own lockable cubicle with mirror. Plenty of them, clean and powerful.
👉 SOCIAL – 10/10 – Straight away I was greeted by the warmest welcome I’ve ever received at a hostel. All staff seemed to genuinely enjoy being there and it’s like you’ve arrived to stay over at their house. All the top things to do are mentioned and any questions will be answered.
The whole place is just like one long open room. There’s the common area with tables and chairs which are pulled together for nightly drinking games, general chit-chat and free homemade food. The kitchen and bathrooms lie just beyond that down a short corridor, and there’s a tiered sofa hangout corner that’s good for chilling out.
There’s no bar but it doesn’t need one, sangria was provided and you can bring your own drink from nearby shops if need be.
Every night they head out after the food and drinks to explore Madrid’s nightlife. It’s all super friendly and very well organised. It’s an extremely good hostel for meeting other travellers and socialising.
👉 OVERALL – 9.5/10
2) THE HAT – A stylish boutique hostel that’s just as good for a casual drink as it is for a cosy night’s sleep.
👉 LOCATION – 9.5/10 – Very close to the historic Plaza Mayor and easy to spot thanks to its wide modern glass front displaying The Hat logo. Easy walking distance to many top attractions and Sol or Opera Metro stations are just around the corner if you wish to venture further afield.
👉 BEDS – 9.5/10 – Very much a boutique hostel and my 4 bed deluxe room proved that. Really top quality beds! Supremely clean with a fresh feeling duvet and a big comfy pillow. I was impressed by the quality considering it is still a hostel after all. Their hosted within sturdy wooden bunk-bed frames too, so no shaking or squeaking during the night.
To complete the look there’s giant wooden lockers and a shelf with plug socket for charging. All that’s missing is a curtain.
👉 SHOWERS – 10/10 – Seemed to surpass hostel quality yet again. My room had a huge en suite bathroom with a large mirror and a spotlessly clean and spacious shower cubicle. The shower head is oversized and it’s strangely high up too. This made for a rich and powerful shower… as you can tell from my rather elaborate description there, it felt luxury.
👉 SOCIAL – 8/10 – It’s not the most social hostel I’ve ever stayed in. Guests seem to be more chilled and slightly older. I’m not surprised, as it really does seem more like a hotel than a hostel. This makes it a great place to stay if you’re looking for a reliably comfortable evening, away from often hectic hostels.
The huge open and bright common area is great. There’s a well equipped bar alongside reception and there’s plenty of seating options, with high stools looking out onto the street and numerous chairs and tables spread out around.
Upstairs there’s a rooftop bar. It’s a famous spot within Madrid and many from outside of the hostel head there for evening drinks. This can dampen the whole hostel let’s meet new people vibe, but it’s a cool place to grab a drink and maybe mix with some locals before simply heading downstairs to your bed.
They also have ‘The Cave’ in the basement. This lived up to its name, as it’s not much more than a table and chairs that seems solely for close-knit conversation and the pub crawl’s pre-drinking games.
👉 OVERALL – 9/10
3) OK HOSTEL – Slightly better than OK.
👉 LOCATION – 9/10 – A stone’s throw from La Latina Metro station, a neighbourhood well-known for its fresh local tapas and beer served around a selection of bustling bars and restaurants. It’s a big hostel and easy to spot.
👉 BEDS – 6/10 – Pretty compact 4 bed dorm. Comfortable mattress, pillow and duvet but the shaky frames and badly designed sliding door cabinet at the head of the bed, meant there was a lot of knocking and rattling with every movement. Never fun.
👉 SHOWERS – 5/10 – Every room has an en suite. Personally I’m not a fan of this, unless it’s done really well, like at The Hat. If it’s not, then any trip to the bathroom wakes others up. Unfortunately this was a good example of that. It was tiny but they’d managed to squeeze in a toilet and an unnecessary bathtub with an overhanging showerhead, which was nice and powerful to be fair. The thing that really bugged me was that the sink and mirror were outside of the bathroom, just in the room, with the beds. This made for an incredibly awkward dark and silent brushing of the teeth when returning to a room of sleeping fellow guests.
👉 SOCIAL – 6/10 – I feel like the social experience at this hostel is really hit and miss. I was greeted by a guy who seemed adamant to make it clear that he was fed up of his shift behind the front desk. He gave me a map and told me I’d missed the pub crawl. By time I’d been upstairs and back down there was a new member of staff on who was nice as pie, so yeah, it varies.
The common area is nice, there’s a 24 hour 360 degree bar in the centre of the room that’s surrounded by benches and tables. Being a large hostel there are usually people around to chat with, or you can just sit back on the sofas.
There is a nightly bar crawl that’s 15 Euros but it didn’t look great when I checked out the places they went to – those tourist trap, often empty, disco clubs.
It’s a very well equipped place so it feels like if there’s a good crowd around on the night, then you’d be in for a good one.
👉 OVERALL – 7/10
“Always Keep Your Wits About You” [KeyWanders, 03.12.2018]
One downside that’s part and parcel with major cities is crime. I’d been warned to be especially wary of pickpocketers here. Having grown up in London and later living in places like New York, I took note but somewhat shrugged it off.
On the Saturday night walking home late along one of the main wide open city centre shopping streets, I was texting when someone in a hood came up behind me, snatched my phone clean out of my hand and pegged it. I chased him, which I realise is never a good idea! But due to his Bolt-like speed, strategically taken sharp corners and the fact it was raining, I eventually slipped and he lost me.
So yeah, my phone was robbed. But it could have been a lot worse and I don’t want it to put a downer on my portrayal of Madrid. It can happen anywhere in the world and it’s just a lesson to me to be more vigilant with my possessions. Be careful people!
Conclusion – Mad-rid
So, I really loved the madness of Madrid. Like really, I can imagine heading over for a longer stretch of time one day to see what it’s like to live there and improve my Español! It’s a top notch city which has everything.
If you’re a fan of action packed places then it’s well worth a visit. Youngsters will thrive on the buzzing nightlife, more mature and cultured travellers have plenty of beautiful sights and historic monuments to discover, and food connoisseurs are spoilt for choice with the abundance of fresh local produce whipped together using authentic Spanish recipes and all washed down with a rich glass of Rioja!
After this hectic weekend trip, I’m quite surprised it’s not as raved about as its rival Barcelona. Which I may have to check out again for comparison, as it’s been a while now.
Ever been to Madrid? Any questions about my time spent there? Let me know in the comments below and make sure to check out my other articles here.
Thanks for reading / Gracias!