12pm: Shopping at El Rastro
Sundays in Madrid mean one thing: hitting the streets of La Latina for a wander through the sprawling El Rastro, the city’s oldest flea market.
Some people come for a bargain; some just for the buzzing atmosphere. As we arrived, the heart of El Rastro, Calle de la Ribera de Curtidores, was in full-swing. We squeezed ourselves through the jovial crowd and inched between vendors selling barquillos (crispy scrolls of sweet thin wafer) and stalls packed with everything from vinyl records and second-hand clothes to antiques and fake designer handbags.
2pm: discovering Madrid’s counterculture
Next we made our way to La Tabacalera in Lavapiés. Once a tobacco factory, this enormous, now decrepit building – occupying an entire city block – now serves as a community-led canvas for Madrid’s most talented urban artists and a venue for aspiring musicians.
A warren of heavily graffitied corridors linking countless studios and workshops, it has a similar post-apocalyptic ambience to the now-closed Kunsthaus Tacheles arts squat in Berlin (although in reality it is supported by the state), and offers a glimpse into Madrid’s deep-rooted counterculture.
Most people were there to watch the grunge band in the high-ceilinged entrance hall, but we picked up some €1 cans of beer and went to explore further, poking our heads into rooms occupied by the likes of bike mechanics, print artists and a lone practising drummer.
4pm: gorging on tapas at Mercado de San Miguel
Having worked up an appetite we headed to Mercado de San Miguel for a late lunch. Set in a stunning early-twentieth-century structure of glass and wrought iron, the mercado is a stylish, albeit pricey, place to grab a quick bite – although you’ll probably want to linger much longer.
Set among stalls selling fresh juice, vegetables, meat and cheese are bars dishing up an array of tempting morsels that range from paper cones stuffed with wafer-thin slithers of jamón to pinchos, bite-sized sushi and a huge serving of oysters accompanied by champagne.
5pm: a Spanish siesta
Sufficiently satiated, we took a slow stroll back to our apartment on Calle Toledo, passing a number of independent boutiques selling homewares, fashion and vinyls, for another inherently Spanish tradition: a siesta.
Equipped with a few bottles of Spanish wine and already heavy eyes, we settled into the sofa by the balcony and watched locals go about their business on the street below.
9pm: jamón and history, a Madrid food tour
Refreshed, rejuvenated and ready for the long night ahead, it was time to explore Madrid by night. With the sun dipping behind Plaza de la Ópera we head to a rendezvous with local gourmet Kelly Maslow of Madrid Food Tour. Having broken the ice over some revitalizing vermouth at Taberna Real (lesson number 1: Madrileños don’t drink sangria), Kelly tells we're about to sample five of the best tapas bars in town. We make approving noises, our mouths stuffed with premium acorn-fed jamón that retails at €1000 a leg.
Next up were some amazingly fresh anchovies at Bodegas Ricla (lesson number 2: Madrileños adore seafood despite living nowhere near the sea), mushrooms filled with chorizo, parsley and vampire-strength garlic at Méson del Champiñon, followed by sizzling shrimps at the beautifully tiled La Casa del Abuelo. Along the way we're given a primer on everything from the latest royal gossip to the capital's literary history (apparently the skeleton of Don Quixote author Miguel de Cervantes may have just been dug up nearby).
Things came to a calorific climax at Casa Toni, a stripped-down local's joint where we're confronted by a table laden with cañas y orejas "beers and pig's ears" (lesson number 3: go easy on the pig's ears). Stomachs suitably lined we were up for a proper Madrid night out.
12am: a night out in the 90s
Our first port of call was Bodega de la Ardosa, a tiny, dimly-lit bar on Calle Colón with black and white framed photographs and dust-laden bottled beers lining its walls. Despite its size, it was packed out: Sunday night in Madrid was in full swing, fuelled by €2 Rioja.
A few hours, and a few cervezas, later it was time to get our dancing shoes on. On arrival at La Vía Láctea, which translates to “the Milky Way”, 90s Nirvana tunes were blaring from the speakers and a queue of Madrileños was forming at the door. The neon-lit bar stretched to the back of the club, giving way to a pulsating dancefloor where psychedelic space-themed murals decorated the walls. It was here that we danced the night away, learning that the Spanish way of serving gin and tonic involves no measurements – except for the top of the glass.
4am: roadside revelry
Around 4am the time came to leave and we spilled out onto the streets of Madrid. For many it seemed the party was set to continue, despite the sun rising slowly in the sky.
Madrid’s hardest partiers had floored us, and as they moved on to their next port of call, we took the slow amble home. After a stop at Chocolatería San Ginés – a 24-hour institution where Madrileños get their end-of-night churros con chocolate fix – of course.
Explore more of Spain with the Rough Guide to Spain. Compare flights, book hostels and don't forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. The Rough Guides editors were hosted by the Spanish holiday rental specialist Spain-holiday.com (020 3384 7066; www.spain-holiday.com). A three-night stay in their centrally-located apartment in low season costs from £210 total or £105 pp (two sharing – up to four additional guests pay £12 pp per night).