This UNESCO heritage city is bursting with history, very important specially since the 16th century.
Alcala de Henares is an university city and there is also many good places for tapas, in most places for less than 3€ you get a drink with a big tapa of your choice.
You can get there in 40min from Atocha Station in Madrid.
I lived in Madrid for three years and frequently took family and friends to visit Toledo, Segovia and El Escorial. All three are rightly popular but if you want to escape the tourist crowds head to Avila on a week day. A beautiful walled city, with nesting storks and an imposing cathedral. It takes about an hour and half to reach but the views from the train make it a picturesque journey. Once there Avila is replete with cute bars and restaurants serving the delicious local speciality cordero asado (roast lamb, Spanish style). Sip a vino tinto in the Plaza Victoria after seeing the sights - the convent of Santa Teresa and the Romanesque cathedral. You can also walk round part of the city's walls which offer views far beyond the city.
Get the train from Chamartin in Madrid to Avila then jump on a local bus, ten minutes into the centre.
Google map: bit.ly/135ObbZ
A quieter and more peaceful version of the nearby Puerta del Sol. The cafes and restaurants around the square can get busy during the evening with locals popping in and having meals after seeing a play at the Teatro Español which is on the square. However the cafes and restaurants here are much cheaper than in the pricier Plaza Mayor. Just keep your wits about you at night and an eye on your wallet/purse as thieves do operate in this square and the surrounding streets as police do not patrol this area.
Nearest metro station: Sol
Plaza de Santa Ana is a 15 min walk from the Puerta del Sol and is best approached from calle Principe off Carrera de San Jerónimo
Google map: bit.ly/VBwr4A
This is a place that we very much recommend. Not perfect by any means but the prices are fantastic. Bottles of wine can be bought for €8!
The starters are brilliant and very large. The portion of mussels was huge and very good. The desserts are mouth watering.
The main weakness of this place is that some of the meat based mains are not as good as the rest of the menu. The fish based mains are good.
Staff are businesslike rather than friendly - food comes quickly but having said that there is no push to get you out if you are nursing your drinks.
One other note - bread is not free!
Plaza El Ángel 12, 28012 Madrid, Spain
+34 913 691 059
Google map: bit.ly/oODb9o
Madrid isn't necessarily the cheapest city in the world in which to eat out, and if you're on a budget, and fancy hitting the town too but don't know how you can afford to do both, this is the answer: do as the Spanish do and drink and snack all evening in the multitudes of Tapas Bars throughout the city. Placa Santa Ana is one of the liveliest and most celebrated places in which to do this, though prices can be higher than in more up and coming districts such as Chueca or Lavapies - though both these areas have a wide range of trendy places serving quality food and drinks. Avoid the Placa Mayor and its immediate environs as you pay vastly inflated prices which don't equate to value for money. If you're not sure which bar to choose, just check out the menus and prices, ask one of the (usually friendly and helpful) locals or as a rule of thumb head for somewhere that looks busy. Not only are you eating and drinking for far less than a restaurant or cocktail bar, you are getting a real taste of what Madrid life is all about. Enjoy!
Across central Madrid
The hotel Laura in Madrid is a great place for families in the very centre of this wonderful city. Modern and comfortable design, friendly staff and affordable. It's just a B&B so you have to explore the city for food. Go to the Latina district for tapas and avoid the Plaza Mayor for overpriced and badly cooked food.
A great restaurant chain for tapas and larger raciones. They don't do just ham, as the name might suggest, but all sorts of food. Calamares, Tortilla and gambas al ajillo are excellent. Prices are very reasonable. You can eat at the counter or in the salon (waiter service is a little dearer). They have restaurants in Puerta del Sol and on the Gran Via. They also do excellent three-course menu for under 10 Euro.
La Puerta Del Sol
or La Gran Via
This tiny and historic tiled bar in a sidestreet near Sol serves up sensational cod croquettes and battered fish pieces fresh from the fryer, as light and fluffy as deep-fried cloud.
Wash them down with glasses of house wine if you can get to the bar. A Madrid institution.
Calle Tetuán, 12
There are plenty of sidrerias (cider bars) in Madrid, but this one in the gay-friendly Chueca district is a huge stand-out for the quality and, especially, the quantity of the complimentary tapas. 1.50 a 'caña' isn't cheap, but you'll get a steaming pile of piggy, bready delights along with it, and that's every time you take a drink.
Also a great place for vast filled 'bocadillos' (baguette sandwiches), and various other tasty 'raciones'. Just watch out for complimentary paella - myself and others have been laid low by food poisoning for some time after a visit. The fact that I'm still recommending the place tells you just how good it is.
One final thing - get there early if you have any kind of designs on a table.
c/ Infantas, metro Chueca
A traditional tapas bar in a funny old corner shop.They serve good ham and gulas (funny little eels). It's a cool place to visit because it is on the edge of the red light district and run by a very camp couple. They serve drinks, bitch with customers and chase out drunks and undesirables whilst neatly arranging your ham and goats cheese tapas. We felt welcomed and entertained. Check out the wig shop down the road.
Calle Hortaleza, Chueca
Near to the Paseo del Prado there are narrow streets with lots of bars and tapas bars. This one was fab. It is full of groups of young people. The decor is scruffy-glass beads dangling in the window, green splodges on the walls and menus on pretend paint palettes. It says "pulperia" on the window and octopus is definitely the best thing to choose. We also had razor clams and green chillies. The service was really friendly and the wine was cheap and good. It didn't seem super happening at 1 on a Sunday morning, but a great place to chill out.
Calle Jesus, Centro
Wonderful wine and tapas bar that is small enough to get to know the owners well and who may even treat you to a glass of cava gratis! The tapas are amazing and the design of the bar is intimate yet light and airy unlike many tapas bars. Very reasonably priced (for a student!).
Chueca, Calle Pelayo 24
Metro: Chueca. Turn left off Plaza Chueca and Pelayo runs parallel.
James Fraser or Will Leonard will take you on a tour of out-of-the way and non-tourist tapas bars. We had a fantastic Saturday night. Six of us were on the tour. We had Andalusian cider, Sherry, some amazing liquors and great tapas, including several varieties of chorizo, beef tapas and splendid octopus. After James left us (at yet another bar), we finally ended up at Chocolateria San Gines to prevent the hangover. The chocolate and churros is superb. For some it will be expensive, but we 'oldies' would still recommend the experience. And, no, we are not their agents!
www.adventurousappetites.com (James Fraser/Will Leonard) 00 34 639 331073
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