The Madrid Nightlife Challenge – How to stay awake after the sightseeing

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“La Latina is a nightlife hotspot”, we read in the guidebook, and “do not miss out on the tapas bars in Huertas”, and then there are a few other places that sound really nice and we make a mental note to go there some evening during our one week stay in Madrid. But on the strength of past experience we know how these evenings on city trips usually end: At 5 or 6 pm, we leave the last museum or church for the day and all we want is some rest and food!! We rarely manage to go out later in the evening for pub-crawling, making our way to the liveliest area in town, because we are plainly exhausted and tired from walking all day long. So instead, we stay in and read in the guidebook where we could have gone. Or where we could go tomorrow evening…

Choose a hotel in an area with a lot of bars

We left for Madrid determined to do better this time. We booked ourselves into two different accommodations that were both conveniently located in central areas with a lot of bars. We promised ourselves that we would see a Flamenco show and would find vegetarian tapas. And we told our friends beforehand how we rarely actually “do the nightlife” although we do in fact like pubs and alcohol, and that we would definitely make it this time.

The first day, we arrived in the evening. Tired after the flight, we only walked a few blocks to have a look at the pubs nearby, which seemed nice enough and quite lively. Having just arrived was a reasonable excuse for not actually entering any of these places, was it not?

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The next two days, a sneezing cold rather increased the feeling of tiredness in the evenings. At 6 pm we had only eaten an apple since breakfast, busy with El Escorial and an Egyptian temple.

The bars are still empty

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But in Madrid the restaurants are empty at 6 pm, and we are hungry now and not in two or three hours. And even after we have finished a lonely dinner in an Indian restaurant, the bars are still deserted. So we just go back to the hotel and call it a day. On the third day we do actually manage to have a glass of Rioja in a taverna. It is after seven and might just so be an acceptable time to have a little food to go with the wine – we are starving again – but the tapas selection is small and nothing is vegetarian. So we just nibble on a few olives and have a sandwich to go later on.

In Toledo, things (and the cold!) get better. We leave the hotel around 9 pm (which we suppose is the right time) but to our surprise we have a hard time finding an open bar at all. The nice little places we spotted during the day have closed once the day tourists have left. Finally we find a local place, where the wine is good and the setting instructive, but clearly we have to head back to Madrid for the nightlife experience.

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Finally – a night out!

As usual, around 7 pm, we have recovered from the day’s sightseeing but get increasingly hungry. We realise that numerous people walking on the street are eating fast food. So this must be the trick! Instantly we have a pizza slice and then we spend some more time in a bookshop. A few minutes after 8 pm we enter one of the traditional bars in Huertas that our guidebook recommends: The place is crowded, everyone is ordering plates of food and eating fast and greedily. Again the vegetarian selection is limited, but we do get some nice tapas. And then we drink up our wine and move to the next bar for more wine. By the time we leave that one – just after ten – almost everyone has finished eating and the place is emptying already. So, could it be that the Spaniards also get hungry earlier but somehow don’t dare to break their ancient custom of not eating before 8 pm (for small dishes) or 9 pm (for proper dinner)? Which is why the bars are so popular: you may eat a little earlier if it’s “just a little something to go with the wine”. And as for the famous nightlife, maybe it swings more in summer nights and on weekends?

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By the way, we even managed to go to a Flamenco show on our last evening!

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