I just got back from a few days in Madrid and now that everything is still fresh in my mind I shall share some thoughts on it with all of you!
My sister and I went to Madrid from Thursday to Sunday, arriving in our hotel on Thursday at about 18h00 and leaving the hotel again on Sunday 9h30, so actually 2 full days and a few extra hours.
We flew to from Brussels to Madrid, and back, with Brussels Airlines. Nothing special to report here: no delays, no complaints, just a basic 2 hour flight as it should be!
One thing to note though… We took the train from Ghent to Brussels Airport and learned that you should not throw away your train ticket until you have arrived at the airport’s departures hall! You actually have to scan it on your way out from the train station to be able to enter the airport itself. I didn’t have to do this last time (about 15 months ago) and I could’ve easily figured “We have arrived, our ticket has been checked on the train, let’s bin this” but please don’t… It probably has to do with that crazy expensive Diabolo supplement when travelling from and to Brussels airport.
Upon arrival at Barajas airport we took the metro to our hotel, in Madrid’s city centre. There are several ways to make this journey, but we weren’t keen on spending too much money on this little trip, so we took the cheapest (okay, walking the whole way would’ve been the absolute cheapest, but we’re not crazy) option. When you arrive at the Metro station of the airport you will see a line going to a ticket office. Don’t start queueing here unless you want one of those special tourist passes for several days etc. Just go down the escalators where you will find the actual Metro station filled with machines where you buy the regular single ride tickets and more. We paid just under €5,00 each for our one way ride to the centre. The weather was gorgeous so we didn’t think we would benefit from a ticket for several days as we prefer walking and wandering around.
The Madrid Metro system is quite straightforward and easy to use. We spotted quite a few stations while walking through the city so you can probably see all the major sights this way. But it’s more fun to walk around!
After all the travelling it was time to check in! We stayed at Iberostar Las Letras Gran Vía, a gorgeous corner building on one of Madrid’s busiest streets. Of course this has its pros and cons: you are smack dab in the centre and can do loads on foot, it’s very lively and there are shops and restaurants nearby, but it can get quite noisy.
We got one of those awesome corner rooms which meant it was big, it had a very cool view and offered lots of light, but we did get some noisy nights, especially the first one. If this is a concern, you should probably request a room at the other side of the hotel.
It has a literature theme going on so you’ll find poems and quotes on the walls, it’s a lovely place to stay in!
Breakfast was a real winner. A buffet with savoury and sweet options (that lemon cake!), fresh fruit, fresh (!) orange juice that will surely satisfy everyone.
Now onto the sights and things to do in Spain’s capital! One of the main things to do in a city like this is just wander around and see where it takes you.
The area around the Royal Palace has parks (Jardines de Sabatini, Casa de Campo), the Almudena Cathedral and on your way from there to Puerta del Sol you will see, among many other things, Plaza Mayor (letdown…) and Mercado San Miguel. It’s a very touristy market and I can’t imagine locals shopping here. It’s cool, but very busy and hours are limited.
A little more to the north you can go shopping at Principe Pío, a converted train station, look at an Egyptian temple (Templo de Debod) in Parque del Oeste and visit San Antonio de la Florida, adorned with Goya frescoes. It’s also Goya’s burial-place.
At the opposite side from our hotel is Parque de El Retiro (take a look at Palacio de Cristal) and the museum area. I’ll tell you more about the museums later. If you go south from here, you can see the beautiful Atocha train station and make your way to the Lavapiés area where many cultures live together.
North of the Retiro you can find Plaza de Colón (busy busy busy) where you can see the huge library. It’s beautiful from the outside, but don’t bother visiting the inside. Yes, it’s for free, but what a hassle… First you have to get a visitor’s pass, then you have to get your passport checked and go through security (airport style). Then you think you’re in, but no, you have to leave your bag in the cloak room and you are told, in Spanish, you can only visit 2 rooms. Don’t bother unless you’re a huge book lover, and even then… Fortunately we understand and speak a bit of Spanish, enough for these situations, but if you don’t this could be a very confusing situation.
A little further north you can find Mercado de la Paz, less for tourists and more for locals, I think. I really liked this area!
Returning to the city centre from here (heading west and back down south) you can wander around little streets and see some amazing houses (Palace of Longoria). When you’re almost back at Gran Vía you will find Mercado San Antón. This is like the best of 2 worlds. It’s very modern without being “fake”. This market is also open from 10h00 to midnight on weekdays and to 1h30 from Friday to Sunday which makes a visit very easy! It has a rooftop area and considering this is a very trendy area, I can imagine it can get very hipster chic here.
Those are the highlights of our walks around the city. Now let’s take a closer look at the places we wanted to visit in more detail.
As I said, we didn’t want to spend a lot of money here, so we were happy to find out that some of the big sights are accessible for free during certain hours!
On our first night we made our way to Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, close to Atocha, the place to be for modern art. The pièce de résistance here is Picasso’s Guernica, but you can also find some Dalí, Broodthaers, Miró,…
On Monday and Wednesday to Saturday you can get in for free from 19h00 to 21h00. On Sunday it’s from 13h30 to 19h00. We didn’t have to queue at all, just got our tickets free of charge and that was it!
The next night (Friday) we wanted to go to the Royal Palace. Tickets are €10 here, but we weren’t that interested, and since my guide-book said it was for free from 18h00 to 20h00 for European citizens we made our way there only to see that it was from Monday to Thursday. Bummer! It had probably changed since my book was printed, so do check the conditions for these free tickets online before you go! We didn’t end up paying for it since it wasn’t on our “must see”-list anyway.
The third freebie was Museo del Prado, probably the most famous of Madrid’s museums. It’s the place to be for classic paintings and sculptures by Velázquez, Titian, Rubens etc.
A ticket costs €14,00. If this is your thing and you want to have a relaxing time here you should probably just pay the €14,00.
If you’re willing to queue for a bit, deal with big crowds and have a more limited time here you can do what we did: go between 18h00 and 20h00 from Monday to Saturday or 17h00 and 19h00 on Sunday.
The experience was the exact opposite from the one at Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía where we just walked in and were handed our ticket. We arrived at the Prado just before 18h00 and saw there was a queue, a loooooooong queue. I have no idea if there were simply more people interested in the Prado or if the fact that it was Saturday had something to do with it, but damn that was a long line of people wanting to get in for free. We started walking toward the end (or beginning?) of the queue and decided it was too long for us. We simply went to Starbucks, had a refreshing drink (and some WiFi, thank you, Starbucks) and by the time we got back at about 18h45 the queue was minimal and moved along swiftly. I don’t know when that initial queue had started to form (must have been a while…) but I would say if you are very interested and committed you should just pay for your ticket so you can have all the time you want and less crowds. If you just want to see some of the highlights you shouldn’t be queueing for hours, there’s much more to do in Madrid instead! Just wait until that first big queue is gone and be satisfied with a short, snappy and crowded visit for free!
By the way, these evening hours are also perfect to make you adjust to the Spanish lifestyle. First a siesta, than a free museum visit and then Spanish style late night dinner!
I only have one great food recommendation (the others were okay, but nothing special): Quilombo. This place offers a variety of Spanish specialties with a modern twist and it was just across the street from our hotel!
If you’re wondering if a Madrid haul is coming up… I did go to Kiko, Sephora and El Corte Inglés but I didn’t buy anything, believe it or not!
We had a lovely time in Madrid, it’s a beautiful city. Is it a must? Probably not if you haven’t been to Paris, Rome, London and the likes yet, but definitely worth it if you’re looking for a little getaway that has some culture, some nature and some shopping at a more relaxed pace.
Have you ever been to Madrid or is it on your bucket list?
I’ll add some more random pictures here for those who are interested and check out my Instagram (@evabblogt) for some food and hotel/room pics from this trip!