I recently posted the introduction to our summer in Spain. If you haven’t read it, you might want to start there. Madrid was the first stop on our Spain adventure. We flew from San Diego through Dallas and landed pretty early in the morning. I like arriving in Europe in the morning when possible. It really helps to get on the new timezone and assists with jetlag.
The first day we powered through some sightseeing to maximize our three days in the city. But then we all crashed in the afternoon and took a nap. As with all travel there will be snags. My first snafu was transportation from the airport to the Airbnb. I pre-booked a car service for us to take us into Madrid city central. In hindsight it was kind of a disaster. We couldn’t get a hold of the driver and everyone was tired and grouchy. Just take a taxi! Having a rental car in Madrid in the city is not necessary (we booked ours for when we were leaving).
Madrid in July is HOT. Like really hot. I think we were there during a particularly warm week but it was over 100 degrees every day. We made the most of it, but there was a lot of sweating and looking for shade during our three days in Madrid. The kids were troopers, but lots of ice cream and cold Fantas were essential. Doing Madrid just in a few days with kids is doable, but you can’t see everything, obviously. During the planning process I polled the kids on things they wanted to do and see. We decided on: 1) just ONE museum (there are many to choose from but three main ones (The Prado, The Reina Sophia and Thyssen-Bornemisza), 2) A tour of the Royal Palace, and 3) The Parque de Retireo. As a food lover I also made sure we stopped and ate at two of the city’s famous Mercado food markets.
In terms of where we stayed — I was very happy with our AirBnB location. I found a spot right in the Centro section of the city. We just walked everywhere. It was great (although it was a six floor walk-up which was not air-conditioned and it definitely was a calorie burner hefting suitcases up and down)! It was also bare-bones – but we were barely there. The fact that it was clean and air-conditioned checked the boxes for us.
Highlights of Madrid:
- Walking from historical site to site — One thing we loved about staying right in the center of Madrid is that we could walk everywhere. We were able to easily take in historical sights such as the Plaza Mayor, a major public plaza space in the heart of Madrid. It was once the center of Old Madrid and first built (1580–1619). We also walked by the Puerta del Sol plaza several times (which was SO hot — no trees). Spanish for “Gate of the Sun”) The Puerta del Sol is a public square – cool fact its the center (Km 0) of the radial network of Spanish roads.
- Reina Sofia Museum – Even though Madrid is most famous for the Prado Museum we (ok, I) decided on the Reina Sofia as our museum stop. I really enjoy modern art (see my posts here, here and here on other favorite contemporary art museums) so it was my top choice. The museum houses Pablo Picasso’s most famous and awe-inspiring work Guernica (fills an entire wall – no photos allowed) and I really wanted to see it in person. The kids did so well. I talked to them a lot about thinking about how the piece of art makes them feel. They really embraced that and would spend a lot of time looking at paintings, sculptures and talking about the feelings they experienced. The museum is also a good size – not too big but plenty for several hours of walking around.
- Circulo De Bellas Artes – I read about this place in a lot of blogs that talked about the great city views. The city of Madrid is rather flat, there are not a lot of high rise buildings so views are kind of hard to come by. The Circulo De Bellas Artes is an arts and cultural center, but you can pay a few Euros to go up to the top of the building for a cool drink and some music. It was definitely more of an adult, hip scene, but our kids had soda so they didn’t care – and they loved the city views. They also had mist-er’s (spelling?) to beat the heat so that was fun. It was our first night, so seeing Madrid city in all its evening glory was a great way to start the trip.
- El Retiro Parque and Real Jardin Botanico – El Retiro is so beautiful. One thing I love within urban spaces are beautiful parks and Europe does that so magnificently (thinking of London, Paris, Munich etc). Madrid is no exception. El Retiro is beautiful – its hemmed in by its famous Museums (Prado etc.) and at its center is a lake where you can rent boats. It also has some little cafes for snacks, drinks or Ice cream. Also, for a fee you can go into the Real Jardin Botanico. I am a complete sucker for a botanical garden. I see the sign and I’m like “where is the entrance?” (cue groans from my family who have been dragged to the Rose Garden in Portland, the Botanical Gardens of Oxford and more…Its just my thing). It was really beautiful — unfortunately we were there in the heat of the day which had surpassed 100 degrees and while we were loving the view the kids had their limit. I’ll never forget Nevan laying face down on a bench just done.
- Royal Palace of Madrid – Before we left on the trip we talked to the kids about what they were most excited to see and “Castles” was at the top of the list. While not a “Castle” per se, the Royal Palace is beautiful and chock full of history. We booked tickets in advance (advised!) and did the full audio tour. It was so much fun to see the kids excitement in the Armory where all the medieval swords and armor are held. Nevan was so thrilled. I think the fact that each kid got their own audio device that they could listen to, made it fun for them and they loved the history.
- Mercado San Miquel and Mercado Anton Martin – This is the one place I needed my good friend Helen with me instead of my family (sorry, not sorry, fam). The Mercado’s of Madrid are a foodie heaven complete with legs of Iberico Jamon cured hanging from ceilings just waiting to be delicately sliced, fresh fish, incredible fruits, vegetables, nuts and of course vast amounts of cheese — manchego, Calabres, Majon…Ice creams, you get the idea. Little vendors have their wares on ice (or ready for a quick cook), and you can wander around and eat to your heart’s content. My family does not like to do the “wander and look” they prefer the quick pick, buy and eat. No, this is not the place for that – The Mercado is the place to wander, smell, taste and maybe buy a few things, but the glory of it is the feast for the eyes
Other thoughts on Madrid. One thing I really loved was how the people were so stylish, women wore beautiful dresses, and men looked dapper. People of all ages walked everywhere, even in the heat. I would definitely like to visit Madrid again, perhaps without kids so that I could soak up the museums and Mercados and the shopping! The clothing and shoes are amazing. Unfortunately, my people had no patience for a shopping mama so I just longingly looked at shop windows as we passed by.
Next stop: Toledo