Madrileños are expert picnickers. This is not a place where you just throw whatever’s in the cabinet into a bag and head to the park. Potato chips with toasted almonds and a side of whole red bell pepper and a half-eaten tub of humus washed down with a slowly warming six-pack of beer? Shameful. Don’t even try to bring that to Retiro on a Saturday. You’ll be pity-stared out of the park.
If there was a World Cup of Picnicking, Madrid would win every time. That’s because Madrileños apply the same rules to picnicking as they would to, say, throwing a wedding banquet. Often the only difference between a picnic and, for example, a First Communion luncheon is the absence of tables and chairs. Picnics in Madrid include not only a fully balanced selection of the city’s finest meats, cheeses, cut-at-home organic vegetables and chilled beverages, but also must include a bag of ice, clear glasses made of thick plastic that look identical to their real glass counterparts, a loaf of freshly baked bread, a corkscrew and (occasionally) an acoustic guitar.
This is a city, after all, that lives April through October almost exclusively rooftop, terrace and hidden courtyard bars. And when the weekend arrives and the sun comes out, we nature lovers (read: day drinking sun enthusiasts) flock to the park – blanket and reusable grocery bag in tow – for an expertly crafted picnic.
The first step in concocting the ultimate picnic in Madrid is choosing a park. Each park has its own picnic vibe, from rowdy Retiro to peaceful Parque Quinto de los Molinos to sporty Casa del Campo. But more importantly, the park determines the closest markets, bakeries and wine shops at which you can most conveniently collect your picnic supplies. Looking for a locally sourced artisanal picnic? Casa del Campo. Want a quick one-stop-shop picnic? Retiro. Have a craving for bread and pastries that will change your world? Madrid Rio. So choose a park and let’s picnic!
Parque del Buen Retiro
Vibe: This park may be called the Good Retreat but its past as a place of peaceful seclusion is long gone. This is easily the most popular picnic park in the city, meaning many of the particularly sunny spots such as the grass surrounding the pond are packed with picnickers on Saturdays and Sundays. The plus side is that Retiro bustling with picnic entertainment (spotted so far: a 7-man jazz band, a street magician, fortune-teller, far too many accordion players) and beer replenishers (the green plastic bags those semi-shady people are wandering around with are filled with cans of beer on ice which they’ll sell to you for a euro or two).
Food: About 12 minutes walking from Retiro’s prime picnic spots is the picnic food mecca of Mercado Anton Martin. Grab a couple of slices of empanada along with a scoop or two of olives at the first stall on the first floor then head downstairs to the large charcutería in the back corner for some sliced-on-the-spot jamón, chorizo and salchichón. I always grab some Arzúa cheese (a creamy cheese from Galicia) and membrillo (sliceable quince paste/jam that goes amazingly atop Arzúa) from this stall as well for dessert. Also on the bottom floor is a stellar organic produce stand where you can stock up on cherry tomatoes, grapes and perhaps an orange or two. A loaf of bread from the market’s bakery and you’re set on the picnic food front!
Drinks: The drink of choice in Retiro is tinto de verano (red wine with lemon soda) followed by beer. Just outside the market on the corner of Calle Atocha and Calle Magdalena is a conveniently located Alimentación where you can pick up a cheap bottle of wine (or two), a double liter of lemon Fanta, a bag of ice (vital to the deliciousness of a tinto de verano), plastic cups and forks. You can also get beer here or just wait and buy it at the park when the wine runs out.
Parque Quinta de los Molinos
Vibe: For about two weeks in late March, the average-looking Parque Quinta de los Molinos blooms into the most magnificent park in the city. Tucked in the center of this unassuming urban park is a field of almond trees. Catch them in bloom and you’re in for a picnic most Disney princesses only dreamed of.
Food: Since the park is in the far north of the city (almost at the end of the green metro Line 5 at the Suanzes stop), grab your picnic supplies in Chueca before hopping on the green line. Just off the Chueca plaza is La Vieja Castilla, a gourmet shop from Burgos, a city northeast of Madrid that was the 2013 Gastronomic Capital of Spain. Some of my faves here are the chorizo, jamón and aged cheeses. They’ve also got some fab jars of tuna (don’t judge until you try them!) and roasted red peppers that make for amazing picnic sandwich fixin’s.
For some fresh bread, head to the Viena la Baguette stand in Mercado San Antón, located on the other side of the Chueca plaza. While in the market grab some fresh fruit and veggies to round out the picnic meal.
If you’re looking for the quick and easy option, skip the shopping and go straight to San Wich (Calle Hortaleza, 78). They’ve got rather fantastic sandwiches that can be taken to go. I recommend the smoked salmon which is layered with sprouts, mint and parsley on wheat bread.
Drinks: In honor of the classy duchess, what better beverage for a whimsical picnic than Spanish wine? La Vieja Castilla has some great red options from Castilla and Toro as well as some tasty whites from Galicia and Rueda.
Vibe: This perfectly manicured park runs along the trickle that is the Manzanares River. It is marvelous for running, biking, rollerblading, dog walking, terrace beer-ing and, of course picnicking. The best and grassiest picnic spots are in the areas closest to the Pirámides metro stop. While this park is usually packed with people, the grassy areas just off the paths tend to be sparsely picnicked. It’s easy access to reinforcements from various supermarkets and food/wine/beer shops make ideal for sunset-to-sundown style picnics.
Food: First, go directly to the Riqano bakery (Calle Melilla, 23) and buy everything they have. Or at least a Fournier baguette, mini chocolate palmeras and mini apple pie croissants, all of which are the best I’ve found in Madrid. I also pick up a slice or two of their thin crust pizza to add some umph to the picnic spread.
Next door at El Jamoncito de Arganzuela (Calle Melilla, 21) the smiling slicer-in-chief Santiago will cut you paper-thin slices of any number of sumptuous meats. I go for the lacón (same meat as jamón but cooked instead of cured) which is much cheaper than jamón and (nearly) as tasty. Santiago slices it up in perfect picnic style. I also grab some slices of cheese (they have a great olive oil soaked sheep cheese that is so sharp it’s nearly spicy!).
The final supplies for Madrid Rio’s perfect picnic are around the corner, down the stairs and to the left at Fruotero (Calle Melilla, 31A). About half of the fruits and veggies here are organic (including kale! Which isn’t picnic food but, due to its scarcity in Madrid, still well worth noting). For my picnics I choose a couple tomatoes, untreated oranges, grapes and avocado (which together with the baguette and tomato makes a stellar sandwich).
Drinks: Just outside the Piramides metro stop is a gem of a wine store called Vinoteca La Cristalería. While some of their wines can be quite pricey, they’ve got a spectacularly chosen collection and often let you taste a few before choosing. They’ve also got some great artisanal beers, surprisingly scrumptious morcilla chips and some of the best smoked sardines I’ve ever tasted.
Other Supplies: One block down Paseo de las Acacias towards the river from the Vinoteca there is an alimentación where you can grab your plastic forks, napkins, water, ice and, most importantly, cups!
Casa del Campo
Vibe: The giant Casa del Campo is Madrid’s corner of wilderness. It’s a long distance runner’s playground with dirt paths weaving through the quiet trees for miles on end. And dispersed among the trees are various non-runner activities, from a theme park to my version of a theme park: a producer’s market. The picnic spot options are plentiful, from hilltop picnic tables to sunny patches of grass along the pond to shady secluded corners of the forest.
Food: The first Saturday of every month from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. the Casa del Campo fair space plays host to one of Madrid’s best farmer’s markets, Camera Agraria’s Market Day (Plaza de la Puerta del Ángel, 4 in the Recinto ferial Casa de Campo). Every item sold here is grown, produced, bottled and butchered within the province of Madrid, from wine and cheese to pastries and steaks. They have wine tastings (buy your tickets and glass at the door) and tapas contests. They also have a superb collection of picnic items. I go for the following: one or two types of empanada, some aged cheese, spicy olives, a six-pack of Cibeles craft beer (which I cool by dipping a bag of bottles in the lake), freshly baked bread, a couple tomatoes and oranges (organic if they haven’t sold out yet) and a box of heavenly chocolate dipped mini-croissants.
Drinks: The beverage options are plentiful at Market Day. There are dozens of local wines to choose from and while Madrid wines won’t rock your socks off, they’re quite nice for a picnic. There are a couple different craft beers sold here as well, including those from Madrid’s most popular craft breweries La Virgin and Cibeles. I opt for Cibeles because they sell a convenient six-pack of assorted bottles.
Outside of the market, near the park’s “lake” (read: pond) is a restaurant called Urogallo, the perfect spot for a pre- or post- picnic caña. Urogallo is one of the best spots in the city when it comes to free tapas. Order one small beer and feast on the scrumptious bounty that accompanies it.
What are your go-to picnic foods? Any amazing picnic spots in Madrid that I missed? Let me know in the comments!