Date travelled: Weekend, January 2019
We went to Madrid 2 weekends after going to Barcelona, if you’ve read my Barcelona blog you will know that I loved Barcelona! So, my expectations were high for Madrid.
Don’t get me wrong I liked Madrid and there are plenty of things to see and do here, but for me, it did not live up to Barcelona. Out of the two, I much prefer the vibrancy, charm and atmosphere that the various environments in Barcelona offered. However, Madrid was still a great place to visit and below are some of the places we enjoyed the most.
This is a lovely place to chill and have a drink or bite to eat. There are various restaurants and bars around the square with places to sit outside and in. Despite being here in January, we were still able to catch some rays in this beautiful cobbled square. It acts as a sun trap, shielding any wind and is a great place to people watch and see the world pass by.
The small streets within and around the Plaza Mayor have interesting architecture, detailed tiled paintings and tiny Juliette balconies. The first buildings in the Plaza Major were built in 1580–1619 so the history of the area stretches back. I wondered what was behind each of the lined windows and what would have been behind each window 300 and 400 years ago.
The long, straight, alley-like streets reminded me very much of the streets seen in my Cuban adventure last year. I could see where much of the Spanish influence had come from within Cuba by exploring the streets of Madrid.
Around these areas, there are plenty of small boutique style shops and patisseries, these kinds of cake shops always catch my eye, such a sugar fiend!
Plaza De La Villa
Here are some of the oldest and best-preserved buildings in Madrid, some of which date back to the 15th Century. It was generally quiet around this area as we wandered through it, which was a great photo opportunity.
The Viaduct and Arab Walls
The Segovia Viaduct can be found in the Latina neighbourhood of Madrid. It’s pretty impressive, also on the day we went, we caught some teenagers trying out some parkour. Not far from the Viaduct are the 9th-century remains of the Muslim Walls of Madrid. As you can imagine these are very old and crumbling, they date back to the Iberian peninsula which was controlled by Muslims.
Cathedral de la Almudena
Madrid is full of fabulous buildings but the Almudena Cathedral is quite beautiful outside and in, I’m not religious but it was worth popping my head in and taking a look inside especially at the great glass windows.
The Royal Palace of Madrid is the official home of the Spanish royal family, although the family actually live in the Palace of Zarzuela and the Royal Palace is now used for state ceremonies. I’m going to hold my hands up and be completely honest now guys… I didn’t know there was a Spanish Royal Family… I’m sorry OK, Spanish culture and history is not my forte. But, by going here I learnt that there is a Spanish Royal ‘famalam’ and the current king is King Felipe VI. It is also a pretty magnificent building to go check out and has some lovely gardens to explore.
Plaza de Espana
This large square is at the Western starting point of the Gran Via shopping district. It holds two of Madrid’s skyscrapers and has a lovely water fountain in the middle. What was crazy about this area was, it was full of birds. There was even a woman who stood like a scarecrow with birds all over her.
A walk down Gran Via will ensure you see Madrid’s theatres and main shopping stores, the street name Gran Via literally means a Great Way and it really is a great way down to the end of the street. It was rather busy around this area.
Museo Reina Sofía
There are a whole host of Art Museums in Madrid, one of the most famous being the Museo Prado. Unfortunately, on the day we wanted to go, there was a free event night taking place which meant the queue to get into the museum stretched all the way around the building! This can only show how good the museum must be though right? We didn’t have time to queue for this museum as we only spent a weekend here, but maybe in the future, this will be one we shall visit! Below is a photo of the queue around the Prado building. Instead, we went to the Museo Reina Sofia which hosts an array of 20th-century art. It also includes some of Picasso’s work.
Palacio de Cibeles Centro
This was one of my favourite places to visit. We were able to explore the building inside but also take the lifts up to the observation tower at the top all for just €3! It overlooks one of the main roundabouts in the city, but you can walk all the way around and see the city from various viewpoints. It’s always great to go see a city from high up, gaining more of a bird’s eye view, whatever city we are in we always try to find somewhere high to observe the city below.
El Retiro Park
This park is close to many of the cities museums and is a nice space to take a wonder, you can also hire small rowing boats along the water. There were quite a few people having picnics as we strolled by.
Templo de Debod
This ancient Egyptian temple can be found in the Parque del Oeste and has a really interesting story. It was actually erected in upper Egypt near Aswan and began being built in the early 2nd century BC! There was then a threat posed to the structure from the reservoir that was close to it. UNESCO decided that the temple would have to be moved to be safe. The Egyptian state donated the Templo de Debod to Spain for Spain’s help in saving Egypt’s Abu Simbel temples. So, the Templo de Debod was dismantled and reassembled in Madrid during the late 1960s.
Parque del Oeste
There are some great views of the city from Park del Oeste. It is also a nice space to chill and have a picnic as we did! There were some performers playing music and singing, there were even some people dancing to the music, it was rather a nice atmosphere.
Things to be aware of
Spain is a great place to go as an English speaking tourist. People in the main cities speak English very well, even though they will tell you they only speak a little, they are modest and will make you feel like you really should be learning another language!
I’ve also always found that Spanish people are usually quite understanding of us practising a little of their language if you feel like it. I lived in Paris as an Au Pair in 2011 and found that if I tried speaking any French I was often spoken back to in English and this isn’t always helpful when learning phrases of a language. Even though I, quite unfortunately, only speak English, I think it’s important to have a go at some phrases when travelling and in Madrid people were definitely helpful with continuing this learning conversation.
Small shops and restaurants
I think it’s important to remember that smaller shops generally have long lunchtime closures, so sometimes they will not be open between 1-3 pm. This is not the case for bigger ‘high-street’ styles clothes shops in shopping districts like the Gran Via but with smaller shops, this can be the case.
Also, Spaniards eat late, they generally have their dinner after 8pm and usually around 9pm, it’s great to keep this in mind when thinking about eating at restaurants that might not yet be open at 5pm. Or, conversely, to book tables in restaurants that are open at 5-6pm, if you want an individual restaurant experience and to beat the crowds!
I’ve been to Spain 5 times in my life and 4 of the 5 of those times there have been either taxi drivers or coach/bus drivers on strike. This time we went to Madrid, taxi drivers were striking against Uber drivers in the city. This meant when we arrived at the airport on Friday night there were no taxi drivers and the 14-minute car journey it should have taken to the hotel, actually took almost 2 hrs by bus. It’s something to keep in mind when you have booked a visit to Spain. It’s also relatively cheap to hire a car, so this could also be a viable option if you are planning on visiting when strike action is taking place.