Madrid’s food scene is as vibrant as they come. Like most capital cities, it has a long list of restaurants from fine dining to fast food. But to fully immerse yourself in the culture and cuisine of Madrid, it’s essential to try at least one famed tapas bar.
Tapas are small snacks traditionally served with drinks. The choices available depend on which region of Spain you’re eating in. Madrid’s tapas scene is vast, ranging from spots run by famous chefs to lively markets and old-school establishments. Some bars include tapas in the price of your drink, usually a pre-set assortment, while others let you choose, and pay, a la carte. To get the full experience, hop around to a few different places on a tapas crawl to start your evening, or do as the Madrileños do and spend a Sunday afternoon wandering from bar to bar.
Although it’s not a traditional tapas bar, Mercado San Miguel is not to be missed on any tapas crawl. The historic, glass-walled market is as pleasing to the eyes as it is to the stomach. If you aren’t sure what you’re in the mood for, or you want to dip your toes into the sometimes overwhelming world of tapas, then perusing hundreds of tapas, snacks, and drinks is the perfect way to spend an afternoon. With over 20 stalls, the market has all the essentials: oysters, cheeses, croquetas, seafood, and of course jamón, all available to be paired with a glass of Sangria or an ice-cold beer. The market, just steps from Plaza Mayor, can get very busy, especially on weekends, so be prepared to stand at the bar while savoring your tortilla.
Where: Plaza de San Miguel, S/N, 28005 Madrid, Spain
Popular with young Spaniards and students because of its extremely affordable prices, El Tigre exudes a lively, energetic, and boisterous atmosphere that’s both fun and rowdy. While you won’t find particularly creative tapas here, what you will find are no-frills plates of patatas bravas, croquetas, and the like, all included in the price of your drink. The more drinks you order, the more food will show up at your table and the more you are likely to make friends with your neighbors. El Tigre is a great place to let loose while not blowing through your budget.
Where: Calle de las Infantas, 23, 28004 Madrid, Spain
Another timeless institution, Casa Gonzales is the ultimate Spanish wine bar. Part retail store and part tapas bar, Casa Gonzales is unpretentious and hospitable. The jamón Ibérico and manchego cheese are often served by the owner, whose grandfather founded the place in 1931, along with a variety of conservas (canned meats and seafood). After sipping on just one of the 40 different wines by the glass (all under four euros) you’ll feel right at home.
Where: Calle del León, 12, 28014 Madrid, Spain
Bodega de la Ardosa is a classic. Founded in 1892, the 128-year-old bar transports guests back in time. The vintage interior has walls filled with wine and liquor bottles; historic photographs and handwritten boards displaying the menu; and a cozy, inviting atmosphere. It’s almost always busy. The bar is known for serving perfectly chilled Pilzens (the family was instrumental in importing Czech beer to Spain), gold-medal-winning tortilla de patatas, and salmorejo (a cold tomato soup topped with a hard-boiled egg and ham). Bodega de la Ardosa’s history, charm, and excellent tapas make it a must-visit destination.
Where: Calle de Colón, 13, 28004 Madrid, Spain
5. Vi Cool
For a more creative take on tapas, head to Vi Cool in the Barrio de las Letras neighborhood. Run by Sergi Arola, one of Spain’s most famous chefs, Vi Cool is more affordable than its Michelin-starred sister restaurants but still offers an elevated dining experience. The innovative menu has dishes you won’t find on any other tapas menus in the city, like chicken wings in kimchi sauce and lamb durum, as well as a refreshed take on the classics. Make sure to try the coca pizzas, a Catalonian take on the Italian mainstay. Vi Cool’s modern perspective is a great contrast to some of the more traditional tapas bars in Madrid.
Where: Calle de las Huertas, 12, 28012 Madrid, Spain
The Gourmet Experience at El Corte Ingles is not a traditional tapas bar by any means, but it does have an incredible assortment of international snacks and drinks. Located on the top floor of Spain’s most famous department store, the rooftop terrace has one of the best views in Madrid and is a perfect place to sip Sangria. Part food hall, part gourmet grocery store, this spot has everything you could want, from Mexican dishes to pizza to burgers to a variety of Spanish tapas from around the country. The Gourmet Experience is also a wonderful place to pick up everything you need to make tapas at home.
Where: Centro Comercial El Corte Inglés, Plaza del Callao, 2, 28013 Madrid, Spain