Visiting Madrid? Bring your appetite. Virtually every neighbourhood in the city has its own food market where you can buy fresh produce like fruits and veggies, but also cured meats and all kinds of sweet and savoury treats.
You’ll have no trouble figuring out what to eat in Madrid, as the Spanish capital is bursting with options, from local cafes and farmers markets, to Michelin-starred restaurants. With so many options, the trick is working out where to dine. If you really want to get a taste of everything, make sure you experience some of the best tapas markets and best tapas bars in Madrid.
It’s worth noting that meal times differ in Spain from what’s typical in Australia, with locals eating up to five meals in a day: breakfast, a light lunch around midday, a much larger meal in the late afternoon, a small snack in early evening and then dinner, at night, typically after 9 or 10pm.
Tapas markets offer the best way to experience cuisine from all of Spain region’s in the one location, allowing visitors to enjoy some delicious culinary bites without having to travel too far. These markets also make the perfect social hub for meeting fellow travellers and friends while experiencing a casual, communal dining venue. Fare at the markets is usually incredibly affordable too – great if you’re a budget-conscious traveller.
So where to find the best cheap tapas in Madrid? Start here:
Mercado de San Miguel
A must-dine location, especially for first-time visitors to the Spanish capital. Often referred to as the best in the city, the iconic market is Madrid’s most popular where you can spend all afternoon until the wee hours of the a.m. nibbling on charcuterie, sipping cava and enjoying the lively atmosphere. It’s not far from Plaza Mayor in the city centre and the 19th-century glass and wrought iron building itself is photo-worthy. Always a busy foodie destination, more than 60,000 visitors come to dine here every week.
Deciding what to eat at Mercado de San Miguel might result in serious decision paralysis so it is definitely best to arrive hungry. Take your time wandering between food stalls, grazing as you go. Try a glass of albariño, a local grape variety that makes a refreshing glass of white wine, and pair it with some freshly shucked oysters, caviar, fresh cheeses, salted cod and more.
Mercado de San Antón
Spread out over three levels in the heart of Chueca, this tapas market is a gourmet paradise. Not quite as crowded as San Miguel, you might find this spot a more relaxed location for dining on your papas frites with a local beer.
It’s easy to spend hours here as the first floor is packed with vendors offering local wines, cheeses and cured meats. You’ll also find plenty of fresh seafood. Head up to level two where you can order platefuls of grilled squid, octopus, and fresh mussels, all prepared on the spot and eaten there. Don’t linger too long though, because it’s the rooftop terrace that’s the true gem here. Grab a table and spend your an afternoon working through the menu at La Cocina San Antón. It’s also been known to host visiting Hollywood celebrities from time to time so keep an eye out. Our suggestion? Make a booking for the rooftop and settle in at sunset with a jug of sangria to watch the warm glow reflect from the surrounding buildings.
Mercado de la Paz
A local staple for more than a century since its opening in 1882, Mercado de la Paz is always buzzing with plenty to discover. Plus it just so happens to be one of Madrid’s oldest markets. Located in the swanky Salamanca district, you’ll find this market is just as popular with locals as it is with tourists.
The location is right in the middle of what’s known as Madrid’s Golden Mile, a strip with high-end boutiques from brands such as Gucci, Prada and the like. Luckily, there’s plenty of indulgent bites that are kind on the wallet, especially for seafood lovers.
You’ll get everything from fresh fruit and vegetables as well as roughly 60 stalls of gourmet goods, including some local dishes like buey de mar, a brown crab that’s worth a try, plus percebes, or gooseneck barnacles, similar to a soft-shell crab in taste.
Mercado de Maravillas
This mega-sized tapas market in Tetuán takes over a full city block and is the largest municipal market in Europe. Located about 5 kilometres from the city centre, this market is slightly off the tourist path and is roomier to get around. Foodies, cooks and award-winning chefs come here to source specific delicacies or hard-to-find ingredients.
With more than 250 stalls to browse, it’s not just food to be found here; there’s also vendors selling other goods like homewares, stationary, clothing and more, so you can sort out your souvenir shopping and grab a bite all in one stop.
More like a gourmet food court than a market, Platea Madrid is definitely one to put on your eating out itinerary. To simply call it a food court wouldn’t do it justice. This recently-opened hotspot is the brainchild of three Michelin-starred chefs and was built inside a former cinema at Plaza de Colónin in the upmarket Salamanca district. It’s just a short distance from the Mercado de la Paz and is a gastronomic wonderland. From gourmet grocery food shops to live cooking stations, bars, restaurants and more, Platea spans several levels stacked up around where the cinema screen once stood.
The patio area also offers smaller stalls serving up street food-style bites, including traditional Spanish pintxos. You’ll also find eateries serving up global cuisine, such as a sushi bar and Peruvian restaurant on the top level.
What makes Platea Madrid even more special is that it’s also one of the best places to see a show in Madrid. From live music, cabaret, and dance performances to workshops and classes, the entertainment line up here always has something happening. Check out the website to see what’s on and be sure to book a table to secure a spot, it’s popular for a reason!
Mercado de San Ildefonso
With plenty of hipster appeal, this urban street market is located in one of Madrid’s trendier areas, Calle Fuencarral. A little industrial and definitely mouth-watering, it’s the perfect spot for street eats and late-night fare. Think pizza parlours, taco stands, a fish and chip shop, kebabs, authentic paellas and plenty of cold beer. Visitors can dine at communal tables or grab their grub as takeaway.
Head to the top floor for a bar with views all the way to the ground floor.
And For Something To Drink…
On the topic of bars, if it’s a cocktail or better yet a vermouth you’re after, some of the oldest tapas bars in Madrid are also worth a stop-in
If you’re wondering why they drink vermouth in Spain, during ‘La Hora del Vermut’ (or the vermouth hour), it’s customary to take a break and enjoy a glass of this slightly bitter wine typically before lunch as a means to wake up your appetite. While it went out of fashion for a while, it’s been resurrected with a vengeance in Madrid.
Bars like the historic Bodega la Ardosa in Malasaña has been serving drinks since 1892 and hasn’t changed too much over the century. Grab a spot and try a vermouth or a caña (small draft beer) with some bar snacks and you’ll quickly work out why it’s widely considered to be one of Madrid’s best bars. Weekends are lively and popular so be prepared or go early. You’ll find it at 13 Calle de Colon.
Can’t decide on where to go? You’ll find plenty of tapas tours in Madrid that will whisk you around to a variety of market halls, tapas bars, wine tours all led by locals. Many include dinner and flamenco shows, cooking classes, wine tasting and more.
No matter where you choose to dine, you won’t leave Madrid hungry.
Say hola to Spain when you book flights to Madrid with Webjet. You’ll also be able to find your Madrid hotel (perhaps prioritising a location close to some of the above markets!) or even a holiday package, which combines your airfare and accommodation in the one booking.