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Jul 30, 2008 11:56 AM

Madrid in 3 days with baby and no Spanish: help!

Hi, I've searched this board for Madrid chowhounding tips and am now very excited about my trip there in late November. But I have a few problems: my husband and I will be traveling with a 15 month old baby, and we speak virtually no Spanish. Even reading articles on eating in Madrid, I can't pronounce many of the dishes that I would like to try.
So, I would be grateful if anyone could advise on the following:
(1) Should I definitely try and pick up some rudimentary Spanish before the trip? Will it be a complete nightmare to try and get by without it?
(2) Do Madrid tapas bars frown upon babies? Would an evening tapas crawl be impossible with a baby in tow?
(3) Any suggestions for eating in Madrid with a baby but not getting sucked into tourist trap and sterile family-friendly options?
We are staying in central Madrid, near the 3 big museums and will be spending a lot of time in the museums in the day.

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  1. Hey medgirl,

    We've been to Spain a few years ago, Madrid-Pamplona-San Sebastian-Pyrenees-Madrid. My wife and I, our two friends and their 6 year old daughter. Just my thoughts...

    I'm not comparing a 6 year old with a 15 month old, but I will say having a child along did not cramp our style. We did tapa crawls, bars, etc, and no one even blinked at the young girl.
    I was the only one in the group with basic Spanish. This came in handy in non-tourist situations like getting specific tickets @ train station and such. In places frequently visited by travellers, like the museum, like most restaurants, like taxi drivers, English is at least understood, so it shouldn't be a complete nightmare, maybe just a couple of bad dreams ;-)
    As for tapas bars, most every dish is on display and a simple point & nod will get you what you want. Or point to someone's glass of wine or get the idea. Don't forget, Spain is the second most visited country in the world, so travellers are not uncommon.

    Like I suggest to anyone with similar questions, at least learn some basices; good morning, good afternoon, good evening (standard greetings to anyone), please, thank-you, happy to meet you, how much, do you speak English, etc. It goes a long way.

    As for not getting sucked into a tourist trap, do some research before you go and decide on some of the highlights you would like to visit (perhaps breakfast in Plaza Mayor, dinner at Botin, etc) and let the wind carry you at other times...


    3 Replies
    1. re: porker

      Thanks! Will start learning some basic Spanish to enhance the experience. Glad to hear the 6 year old was well-received generally. I've heard countries like Spain and Italy are quite child-friendly but tapas crawls in the evening sounded like something maybe kids are not really meant to be part of. Thanks again for sharing your experience.

      1. re: medgirl

        Hi medgirl--I have a six year old who has grown up in Madrid. Kids are welcome nearly everywhere at almost any time--but--a kid who isn't used to eating standing up in a big crowd late at night (10-12ish) might not do so great tapas hopping (remember, Spanish kids have had years of training). Luckily in the summer, there are terrazas (outdoor cafes serving food) in plazas all over the city. If your 15 month old is a good stroller-sleeper, you can linger on long into the night and no one will blink an eye. Kids stay up quite late in the summer, because it is so hot during the day. If you are going to be here the second week of August (until the 15th) there are huge street parties (verbenas) in the center of the city that are fun for kids--also puppet shows in the Retiro in the evening (10pm!) on the weekends. If you are going to be here at the end of August most of Madrid will be you won't have to contend with any crowds.

        1. re: butterfly

          Alas, we are going in winter (end-November). But if it turns out to be a great trip, we may return the next summer!

    2. Oops, the title should have read: Madrid for 3 days, not in 3 days.

      1. I've seen plenty of babies out 'til midinight in restaurants in Madrid. Obviously you're not going to go the 3-star megabuck venues, and most other restos in Madrid are family restaurants. As for tapas bars, I don't know if they've banned smoking, but I would think that would be your biggest concern.

        Bocaito is well known to visitors to Madrid for their tapas, but it is still far from being a tourist trap. It has the great virtue of offering sit down tables and menus to order tapas. If you have a baby in tow, you might find one of their booths really much better than trying to elbow your way to the bar and point. Besides, their food is really excellent. Really good.

        My main recommendation to you is that you focus on learning Spanish pronunciation, first and foremost.. I live in Italy most of the time, and sometimes when I listen to English speakers talk in Italian, it is impossible to understand them, even when they know the Italian grammar and the vocabulary. Too often English speakers only learn the words, not how to correctly voice the sounds. It's more important you know how to pronounce tortilla or chorizo than it is to know how to say "I would like to have...."

        5 Replies
        1. re: summerUWS2008

          Thanks for this. I have requested a colleague to teach me some rudimentary Spanish and more importantly, make me practice speaking it with her. Bocaito looks like the sort of place we could do with a baby. The smoking is something I didn't consider: it's banned in all restaurants/bars in the UK and I completely forgot other places in Europe probably still allow it.

          1. re: medgirl

            I forgot about the smoking.
            I'm going back a few years, but landing in the Madrid airport, the cigarette smoke was sooo thick, you could've cut it.
            Stop in the bank, each teller had their own ashtray with a cigarette going.
            Stop in the pharmacy and its the same thing, the woman in the white pharmacist smock is speaking through squinting eyes 'cause of her cigarette smoke.
            Reminded me of home (Canada) in the 70s!

            1. re: porker

              It's just possible that Spain or Madrid in particular has gone the way of the rest of most of Europe on this and bans smoking indoors.

              1. re: summerUWS2008

                Large bars and restaurants, larger than 1000 sq. ft. of public area, may have a smoking area which complies with certain standards for ventilation, etc. Smaller places can either be smoking or non-smoking as the owner chooses and a visible sign will be posted to indicate if smoking is permitted or not. I know that there are some restrictions on taking children into places in which smoking is permitted but I don't know exactly what they are.

                1. re: kathinmadrid

                  The days of bank tellers smoking, smoking on the metro, etc. are over. A law went into effect (two years ago or so) that finally put the kibosh on that and it has been for the most part respected. But restaurants and bars still allow smoking--though as Kath says, those over a certain size are supposed to provide a smoke-free, ventilated alternative--most don't... it's just not being enforced (one spot that actually does is the cafe/video store Diurno in Chueca). If there is a non-smoking section, kids are supposed to be seated there--they are not prohibited from entering any kind of establishment.

        2. By the way, the Thyssen has a good eatery in its basement, and a lovely place for lunch or a coffee break in your area is the cafe in the Circulo de Bellas Artes

          The cafe area is as sophisticated as the rest of the historic space, so you might want to eyeball it or ask if it's OK to bring the baby. But it's a lovely piece of architecture, so you won't regret poking your head in.

          5 Replies
          1. re: summerUWS2008

            A long time has passed since summer UWS posted his/her comment but I hope someone can answer my follow up.

            I went to the web site and located the page with the schematic of the Edifico Circulo Bellas Artes. Looking at the list of rooms/businesses, the only place that might qualify as the cafe mentioned is the Cafeteria Pecera. Is this what you meant?

            If not, what is the name/location of the above cafe or any other good places for lunch after a visit to Thyssen-B?


            1. re: Indy 67

              The website that you found is the correct location of Cafe del Circulo Bellas Artes. It is on c/Alcala, just past the junction of Gran Via. It has a beautiful cafe on the ground floor with a terrace on c/Alcala which is great for people watching. La Pecera is another name for it. It is a good 30 minute walk from the Thyssen.
              There are many good places near the museum, especially on c/Huertas and around Pl. Jesus...Cerveceria Cervantes, Taberna de Dolores, Maceiras, El Temparanillo and branches of Museo de Jamon.

              1. re: PBSF

                El Círculo de Bellas Artes is very close to the Thyssen--just a 5-10 minute walk at the most.... Though it's a cafetería in the Spanish sense (a coffeeshop/bar) more a place for coffee, drinks, a light morning/afternoon snack. A great place to just hang out and linger (you have to pay a euro to get into the Círculo for the privilege). If you are looking for light snacks/tapas with wine, I like these two spots that are right next door to one another on calle León: González (number 12) and Artesanía Ibérica Jamón (10). Neither is a restaurant, per se, the first is a deli with a particularly good cheese and wine selection and tables; the second strictly offers ham (good stuff) with very limited seating.

                1. re: butterfly

                  You are correct that El Circulo Bellas Artes is a short walk from the Thyssen. I mistakenly thought the museum was further down the Paseo del Prado and closer to Atrocha.

              2. re: Indy 67

                The Thyssen restaurant itself offers a decent menu del dia at a reasonable price. I've eaten there several times and like it quite a lot, and it's convenient if you want a break in between spells of viewing the enormous and excellent collection and don't want to go out.

                I agree with all PBSF's recommendations, especially Cerveceria Cervantes: wonderful tostadas and gambas al ajillo. At 9 calle del amor de dios, a little further on but still walking distance, is a good little restaurant whose name alas escapes me- but I'll post it if I can remember it or maybe someone else can help. Cheap, good home cooking, always packed with local people.

                If you are heading to the Reina Sofia, the El Brillante is a good place for a quick snack: good bocadillos.

            2. Bar Museo, very close the the Prado, is a nice small cafe. One half is a stand up tapas bar, the other is table service. All casual and pretty classy. The food was very good. Their bread is much better than most places- very artisanal, more handmade and crusty than the usual white loaves that are served with tapas. We had a great little sandwiches with egg and roasted pepper, toast with tomatoes and olive oil. We also enjoyed excellent tapas with fish at Taberna de Dolores. We followed and liked a lot of Rick Steves recs: