Madrid has such an amazing energy. The food, the Cava, the people; the city is always bustling. What’s interesting about Madrid is that although it is bustling, it is very laid back. Being inland, it almost has a coastal feel based on the vibe and flavor of your surroundings. The best part of Madrid is that there is much to do, and most activities are cost effective or even free. You just have to know how to play it right.
Landing in Madrid is simple, the airport is easy to navigate and very straightforward. The metro system works well and takes you pretty much everywhere you need to go. It’s as easy as dropping off your bags and hitting the street. Just remember to refer to your itinerary so you head in the correct direction on the metro. When staying in Madrid, we opted for a hotel since our flight arrived early in the morning and we wanted to be able to store our luggage. The hotel was lovely and let us check in early. It was amazing to take a hot shower, and we even received a complimentary bottle of wine upon arrival.
We were in Madrid for 2 days, then took a train to another location. We planned to be back in Madrid for 1 day at the end of our trip. We decided to stay in 1 location the first leg of the trip and another location the last leg of the trip to get a better feel of the city. Our first hotel, we stayed right off Grand Via near the Plaza de España. This was an economical choice, close to everything via metro and walking, so I recommend this area as an option. Here’s how our first day off the plane went.
After leaving the hotel, we ventured out to find a place to get a late breakfast. Food for thought here, when in any part of Spain, be sure to order your drink AND meal at the same time. If you only order your drink, the server will bring you the bill right after your drink is served. It took us a few times to get it. A few days into our trip, we were ordering like pros! In researching the days traveling in Madrid, we coincidentally were able to take advantage of free entries to some museums. Our first stop was the Palacio de Cibeles.
There’s an observation deck at the top that boasts fantastic views of the city. Inside the building, there is a cultural center called CentroCentro, where you purchase tickets to the observation deck. You will need to pre-book a time slot for entry. Tickets cost €2 for Adults, but entrance is free if you visit the first Wednesday of the month, as well as on 2, 15 May and 12 October. If you have an hour or so to spare waiting for your reservation, hit the restaurant terrace for a snack and some delicious Cava. There’s still a nice view from this lower vantage point and well worth the visit. We sat and relaxed on the terrace, as we drank our Cava. At that moment, things couldn’t be more perfect. Then we arrived for our reservation to the observation deck. The views were incredible. And I thought it couldn’t get better than that.
After information overload of beautiful views, we walked nearby to the Parque de El Retiro. This 19th century park is tranquil, beautiful and full of life. There’s an awesome lake where locals and tourists can rent paddle boats or wade by the water’s edge. Definitely try to walk through the entire park to see the rose gardens, fountains and the Palacio de Cristal. It’s nice to be able to rest along the Paseo de Cuba and people watch. We did, and met a ton of wonderful people from all over the world. If you’re up to it, stop by a local grocery beforehand and stock up on meats, cheeses and wine, then have a little picnic in the park. You’ll see a lot of people doing this and it makes for a relaxing pastime. If you are like us and basically keep going until you drop, take in a bit of the arts at the Museo Nacional del Prado. It’s an extensive art museum that you won’t want to miss. The best part is that if you can stand to wait in line for a bit, there is no entrance fee after 6pm. It’s best to show up around 5pm to get a good spot in line. Once the line starts moving, it doesn’t take too long to get in.
After this point we were starving and exhausted. We opted for a very low key pinchos restaurant. If was very local and very casual. We never had pinchos before and decided to give it a try, big fan! Pinchos is like tapas, except smaller bites. It is inexpensive and tastes great. Look for the more local, basic looking places to get a more authentic dining experience. Any restaurant that displays photos of the food IS NOT a local hang out. These places cater mostly to tourists that may be unfamiliar with the food culture.
The next day we got up early, grabbed some pastry and coffee on the go and headed to the Royal Palace. Built in the 1700’s, this was the home to kings such as Charles III and Alfonso XIII. Tickets cost €11, but entrance is free Monday through Friday from 4pm-6pm (October through March) and 6pm-8pm (April through September). Entrance is also free for EU citizens. Since we had a packed day, we were not able to take advantage of the free entrance. Since we had free entries the day before, it wasn’t a big deal. Give yourself several hours to walk through the palace because it is quite extensive. You’ll love the armor exhibit!
Next to the Royal Palace are the crypts in the Catedral de la Almudena. The cathedral is beautiful, but the crypts are a must see. After the cathedral, we wandered around the neighborhood and happened upon a lovely street near the Parque de Roma. After a late lunch, we went shopping. It seems on most of our trips, we never go shopping because we are too involved with seeing all there is to see. We took time for a little leisure time and enjoyed buying some local souvenirs. Be sure to always take an afternoon and just do some shopping, not only will you be able to decompress and reflect from your busy day, you’ll be more relaxed and refreshed to start the crazy all over again the next day.
Upon our return to Madrid we opted to stay near the Plaza Mayor. This is one of the main plazas in Madrid and close to many attractions. Lucky for us, our room was ready for early check in once again. Each room was themed based on popular attractions in Madrid. In our room, there was a really cool mural on the wall of the Temple of Debod, which was an ancient Egyptian temple built in 200 BC and dedicated to the goddess Isis. It was moved from Aswan, Egypt and gifted to Spain in 1968. We decided to check it out since it was a short walk from the hotel. It was beautiful. I was most amazed how the entire temple was over 2200 years old, dismantled in Egypt, then reassembled in Spain. We spent about an hour there walking around the grounds and taking in the massive beauty. Then something caught my attention. There was a group of teenagers hassling a security officer, and they started an insulting match. The security officer had enough and gave the teens the “Italian Salute!” If you don’t know what that is, Google it. You’ll laugh as hard as I did.
After composing myself we spent the rest of the afternoon back on the Royal Palace grounds. We grabbed some items from a nearby grocery and made a picnic. It was the perfect end to a perfect trip through Spain.