First Impressions of Madrid After My First Week

To me, Madrid is a dream.

And now – my dream is my life. I have longed to study in Madrid ever since I first met the city two years ago, and from the day I left, I have been planning my return. I am a student and a writer, an explorer and a dreamer from the United States – specifically Raleigh, North Carolina. Now, I am a student for the next semester at the Universidad Pontificia Comillas.


In my first week here, I have sat on the waters of Parque del Buen Retiro’s lake as the sun sank below the trees, stood in the shadow of Madrid’s imported ancient Egyptian temple: Templo de Debod, felt croquetas melt on my tongue at Mercado San Miguel, swing danced in a bar decorated like an old train with countryside rushing by on screens, wandered through fruterias in awe of both the prices and the quality of the fruits and vegetables – barely able to contain my glee as I carry the brown bags back to my apartment.


I have ambled down the Gran Vía, tempted into store after store, sipped cocktails on the top floor of Mercado de San Ildefonso, trekked through Madrid Río on trails blazing with sunlight and streaks of light from the bikes and rollerblades that fly past, searched for the best Tintos de Verano and Sangrias inside bars buzzing with Spanish-English-French-Italian-German swirling in the air above crowded tables.


Look at a map of Madrid and name a spot; I have tried to visit them all in this first week. Here’s a checklist for a few favorite places and what I did there while meandering over 96 kilometers across this world capital:

  • Plaza Santa Ana: drank a mojito  
  • Plaza Mayor: savored a creamy cup of gelato
  • Malasaña: ate potatoes dressed in flamenco red “salsa brava” in standing room only at the infamous Bar El Tigre
  • Callao: made countless trips to El Corte Inglés
  • Puerta del Sol: took a walk through the plaza’s many characters – both in costume and out
  • Prado: sat on the green and watched the stream of people drizzle by
  • Thyssen: passed dazed afternoons amidst priceless works of art
  • Retiro: listened to the silence of a Cathedral just off the gates
  • Palacio Real: dreamed away sun-drenched days in the royal gardens

For me, Madrid is a city of many faces, of which it will take every second of my four months here – and more likely years – to find and truly get to know.

But I’m ready to give the search everything I’ve got; ready to brave the constantly hovering heat and permanent intensity of light to explore the streets to my heart’s content; ready to venture late into nights resplendent with tapas and vinos and dancing. So if you dream of Madrid, of living here and creating memories in this city of light, I recommend this: wander. Wander the backstreets where air ambles lazily alongside you and locals duck in and out of groceries and fruterias, look up to find the friezes and frescos hidden amidst buildings, stop to read signs, stray towards spots and dots of green – jardines amidst the whites and yellows and browns of the city. My head bursts with the possibilities of every day here.

For this first week and for the next four months, I will adapt the motto of Caesar: I came, I saw, I conquered.

"I came. I saw. I lived. I loved. I learned."

Join me and the Set a Foot team as we step forward to learn, to teach, to explore, to celebrate life, and to welcome you to Madrid.

¡Bienvenido a Madrid!

By Heather Keleher

Writer, world traveler, and entrepreneur: Heather Keleher is a native of Raleigh, North Carolina. Author of the novel, “Waiting for Sunrise,” Heather conveys her passion for travel, fashion, and entrepreneurship in her writing. Visit her at and check her out on the Huffington Post.