Westin Palace Madrid (Lodging)
Location: The hotel was in a great location, right near Plaza Santa Ana (great square with outdoor restaurants, bars, etc), and walking distance to Puerta del Sol, Plaza Mayor, the Royal Palace, Retiro Park, & the Prado (basically almost all of the main city sights as long as you like to walk). I preferred being here over closer to Puerta del Sol which seems to be a magnet for demonstrators which I didn’t really like. The one time we needed a taxi (to the train station), the doorman got us one out in front of the hotel, and taxi rates in Madrid were overall very reasonable.
Overall: Overall, I found the hotel to be a great choice for exploring the area. It is part of the Starwood Preferred Guest program, so I was able to stay on cash and points. With this, I wasn’t paying much, so it was a great deal, but I don’t think I would have wanted to pay the very high rate the hotel would have been otherwise. It was a very nice hotel with a beautiful lobby and restaurant (breakfast was a small fortune–I believe €40, so we passed on that), but the price seemed awfully high (only my opinion, and the hotel was undergoing upgrades while we were there). We tend not to overspend on hotels when on vacation since we don’t spend much time in the room, but that’s always a traveler’s personal preference.
Hotel Staff: The one negative comment I would have about the staff/hotel would be my experience with check-in. First, it took forever (not waiting in line, I mean once we got to the counter). The woman in charge at the desk seemed flustered, confused, and I saw at least 2 different guests come up irate during our time waiting for her to take care of checking us in. One seemed extremely angry that he had requested a towel 3x now, and they apparently weren’t sending it up to his room (if I was paying the regular rate for this hotel, I could see that angering me, as well). Even after he said he would stand there and wait for it, she told him he would have to go back to his room and wait for housekeeping and seemed to blow him off. Then, someone came and asked about if something had been taking care of (not sure what), and when she said not yet, they stormed off (seemed like this had happened more than once already). Also, she kept disappearing to do other things and not checking us in while we were standing there 1/2 checked in! That was not a good vibe to begin with at the hotel, but we didn’t have any issues ourselves other than this. We asked the concierge for advice on some things and he was very helpful, and check-out was very quick (not with the same person).
Room: Our hotel room was nice, clean and comfortable. It was a decent size and the decor was nicer than most hotel rooms. It did seem like the hotel was in the middle of doing some renovations/updating in the rooms, though (could hear it during the day and our room looked like it had recently been upgraded). The public spaces (including the hallway) were very nice, as well. Our room was apparently an upgrade, though, due to my Starwood Preferred Gold status, so that was not the lowest level room.
El Caldero (Restaurant)
Address and Website: Calle de las Huertas 15, Madrid; www.elcaldero.com
Location: The restaurant is about a block off of Plaza Santa Ana on the corner of Calle del Principe and Calle de las Huertas.
Overall: We got the mariscos paella for 2. It was more than enough for the 2 of us, and we really enjoyed it. The presentation was very nice (they were even careful to plate it nicely). We also ended up ordering a small bottle of the house tinto wine (red) to go with it… and then a second one, and that was good (taste and price wise), as well (each small bottle was about 2 glasses). I would recommend it (at least from our experience there).
Atmosphere: The restaurant had a nice ambiance and decor. It would be nice for a romantic dinner or going out with a group. They brought our paella out in the dish it was cooked in and then plated it nicely for us. Overall, I liked the feel of the place.
Casa Rua (Bar – Tapas & Sandwiches)
Address: Calle de Ciudad Rodrigo 3, Madrid
Location: This little bar is located right off of Plaza Mayor on Calle de Ciudad Rodrigo. It’s practically on the square (a very convenient stop while sightseeing).
Overall: This little place had great €2.50 calamari sandwiches. They also had the option of doing a tapas plate of calamari. We ate here twice, and the second time, we split a sandwich and a tapas plate of it (less bread, more calamari that way). I think the tapas plate was maybe €5, but you got a good amount. They also had the best papas bravas we tried in Spain (potatos with a spicy sauce). The sauce wasn’t overpowering hot-wise which we really appreciated, as well.
Atmosphere: The atmosphere here is what it is. It’s a small bar where you can get a drink and some tapas or a sandwich. It was nothing special, but it was a great little lunch place for a quick, cheap bite.
Address & Website: Calle de León 26, Madrid; lapizzateca.com
Location: About a block from the Anton Martin Metro stop, and 4 blocks from Plaza Santa Ana.
Overall: My husband and I ate here during a recent trip to Madrid and it was seriously the best (and cheapest) thing we ate there. We were starving one night before dinner and grabbed a slice to hold us over, and it was SO good. A half hour later, after running back to our hotel, we were still talking about the pizza. So, we decided we were exhausted anyway from a long day of sightseeing, and why not grab some beers from a convenience store, go back and order a pizza to go, and just relax back at the hotel. We asked if they would do a margarita and add pesto (SO GOOD). For about €7 we had a delicious, filling dinner and relaxed back in our hotel. Also, as a side note, the guy working at the time was very friendly and just seemed like a genuinely nice person.
Atmosphere: It was a basic take-away pizza place. I believe it had a reading theme (books everywhere) which was interesting. There were lots of good slices to choose from, and the staff was so friendly that it definitely made it a place you wanted to go back to.
Chocolatería San Ginés (Churrería) (Dessert)
Address & Website: Pasadizo de San Ginés 11, Madrid; chocolateriasangines.com
Location: About 2 blocks from Plaza Mayor or Puerta del Sol. From Puerta del Sol, head down Calle del Arenal and turn left onto Pasadizo San Ginés. From Plaza Mayor, head down Calle de Felipe III and turn right onto Pasadizo de San Ginés.
Overall: We ended up visiting this churrería (place that serves fresh churros) twice while in Madrid for churros con chocolate (churros with a thick, warm chocolate dipping sauce). The churros were delicious and tasted fresh, and with the chocolate they created the perfect combination. You definitely need to have churros con chocoate at least once on any trip to Madrid. The staff was not very friendly, but we only had to deal with them long enough to pay and get our tasty churros. One order is probably enough for 2 people, but we still each got our own both times. The chocolate is really rich, though, so the second time, we did one order of churros con chocolate and one of just churros and shared the chocolate.
Atmosphere: It reminded me of a mix between an old fashioned soda fountain place and a diner. It was more or less the kind of place you eat your dessert and maybe have a coffee to cap off your day or night. There was some outdoor seating, as well.