The Best Tours In Madrid For Your Inner Foodie

The one and only time Anthony Bourdain visited Madrid for his long-running Travel Channel show "No Reservations," he couldn't get enough jamón Ibérico. According to Eater, the late chef, author, and television host declared "to pass through Spain and not try this most traditional, most loved expression of Spanish history and culture is like letting the great love of one's life slip through one's fingers." Bourdain is not alone in his assessment of the beloved Madrid specialty. Considered one of the finest cured hams in the world (via Madrid Tourist), jamon Ibérico is produced from black Iberian pigs raised on a diet that includes an abundance of acorns and is dried for at least 24 months.

Jamon Ibérico may have turned Bourdain's head, but it was only one of many foods he savored in Madrid. As any fan knows, Bourdain wasn't one to shy away from a culinary challenge. According to Eat Like Bourdain, he also strolled through Mercado de San Miguel where he sampled octopus with egg and wine, and dined at San Mamés Taberna, a Madrid institution known for its tripe. If this sounds like the kind of adventure that makes your inner foodie sit up and take notice, Eat Like Bourdain offers a self-guided tour tracing Bourdain's culinary journey through Madrid.

A tour for every palate

But not all inner foodies are alike. A self-guided tour of tapas bars may be the perfect fit for one person while another would swoon over the idea of a curated tour through the maze of food stalls at Mercado de San Miguel. Sometimes called the culinary capital of Europe (via The Best Chef), Madrid's food culture is one of the city's top draws. It's such a food-forward destination, there's a tour to match just about every palate and personality. Devour Tours began offering food tours around Madrid in 2012. Founded in 2011 as Madrid Tours, the company strives to connect travelers with the city's small, family-run food businesses. Tours range from a four-hour walking history itinerary punctuated with stops at four family-run tapas bars, to a guided shopping excursion through an uber-local neighborhood market followed by a three-course cooking class.

Secret Food Tour: Madrid's most popular itinerary plays out like a meal-by-meal introduction to a day in the life of a Madrileño. The tour begins in a historic pastry shop for a taste of Segovian-style punch cake, a layered sponge cake filled with egg yolk cream and wrapped in marzipan (via Fascinating Spain). Next stop: a 180-year-old deli to sample Iberian ham, manchego cheese, and extra virgin olive oil. Other tastes along the three-and–a-half-hour walking route include a traditional deep-fried squid sandwich, tapas (like deep-fried pork rashers and Padrón peppers), Spanish cider, and Spanish vermouth.

An experience for every personality

Viator, TripAdvisor's online curator of travel tours and activities worldwide, lists a Madrid tapas tour that may be of interest to night owls. The walking tour, billed as an "introduction to Spain's legendary nightlife," includes stops at four off-the-beaten-path tapas bars in the company of a guide who is well-versed in Madrid's culture and history.

Foodies who also happen to be parents, or parents who may be raising a budding foodie, may be interested in Walk and Eat's family food tours. The company creates family-friendly itineraries customized according to age and interest. Stops along the way might include a visit to a fishmonger's stall, a sweet detour to a churro bakery, or a teen-appropriate cooking class.

Another tour on the Viator roster, Madrid Segway Tour with Chocolate and Churros, combines new-world transportation with old-world exploration. The itinerary spans Madrid's historic district taking in key sites like Almudena Cathedral, Royal Palace, and Sabatini Gardens before ending at a local bakery for churros and hot chocolate. On the flip side, with so much going on throughout the city, from neighborhood tapas bars to Michelin-rated restaurants, it's tempting to consider just winging it.

Have it your way

If independent exploration is your vibe, Go City suggests acclimating with a stroll through a traditional market like Mercado de San Miguel. Built in 1916, the covered market building itself is a showpiece. Inside, you'll find a kaleidoscopic array of local specialties. Get a handle on your likes, dislikes, and must-haves, then hit the streets. Go City recommends setting your sights on places known for serving traditional specialties like callos a la madrileño (tripe casserole) or dining in iconic places like Sobrino de Botin; purportedly the oldest restaurant in the world, opened in 1725.

While independent travel can be fun, invigorating, and can lead to unexpected discoveries, there's something to be said about a well-curated tour, too. Savored Journeys says the benefits of putting your journey in the hands of a knowledgeable local can lead to a more in-depth experience, including gaining entry to little-known gems tucked away on hidden side streets and experiencing the city's food scene in the context of its history.

Food and Road offers a few tips on what to expect — and what to ask — when booking a food tour. Price and duration, of course, will play a large part in the selection process, but it's also important to know where a tour begins and ends, if it's accessible for people with mobility issues, the maximum number of participants, and what language the guide will be speaking.