Why I went here? To put it simply, I have never been and it is my goal to go to as many new places as possible. Madrid seemed like a suitable option. American Airlines flies directly to Madrid, Spanish cuisine suits my taste buds and the language isn’t that foreign to me (lots of Filipino words are Spanish).
Best time to visit? Spring or fall is the best time to visit here; May to early June or September to early October. The summer months can be terribly hot and humid and most of the local shops close for their own summer holidays.
Best way to get there? Both American Airlines and British Airways offer direct flights to Madrid Barajas (MAD) from DFW. Other major carriers also have flights, but it typically stops at a major airport on the east coast before flying across the Atlantic. From Barajas, you can hop on the Metro and it will take you the center of Madrid. The trip takes about 35-45 minutes and cost around 8-10 euros.
What to see/do? There are plenty of sights to see and visit in Madrid. It has world class museums, palaces and architecturally diverse buildings. The Prado is the city’s artistic gem. It houses the best collection of paintings by Spanish greats whose mini monuments surround the place. A short walk from the Prado is the Reina Sofia, Madrid’s “modern” art museum. Picasso’s Guernica, painted in 1937, can be seen here and it has become a symbolic masterpiece of the dreadful consequences of war. In a city as large and as densely populate as Madrid, it’s comforting to have an oasis within. New York has Central Park, Munich has the English Garden, London has Hyde Park and in Madrid, you have Retiro Park. This urban solace is full of interesting remnants, from christened garden paths to grand monuments. In the midst of the old city stands Plaza Mayor, the oldest square in Madrid that used to be the main juncture of government. Nowadays, it is a charming place to take a break and watch people pass by. Not far from Plaza Mayor is Puerta del Sol, where you can find Tio Pepe’s enormous billboard sign and the statue of a bear picking strawberries from a tree. The statue is the symbol of Madrid called “Oso y Madrono” and can be found everywhere in city. Sol, as the locals call it, is the center of Madrid. It is where “kilometro cero” is located which basically means that distances in Madrid begins at that point. Finally, a visit to one of Europe’s grand capitals will not be complete without a visit to a royal palace. The Palacio Real or Palacio de Oriente is the largest palace in Europe and just trails Versailles in terms of grandeur. A tour here will provide you with a better understanding of the enormous wealth and power of the once mighty Spanish empire.
Food and drinks: When in Madrid, one must eat tapas. It has some of the best tapas bars in all of Spain and because of its central location within the country, all regional cuisines are represented here. Spain is also known for paellas, and even though its origin is further north in Valencia, there are plenty of restaurants to order authentic versions of it. Another food not to miss is the Spanish version of chocolate and churros. Pay a visit to Chocolateria San Gines, the oldest café for these Spanish delicacies, where locals and tourists alike converge after hours of serious partying. Most visitors to Spain are keen to order sangria. It is however, frowned upon in Madrid and considered to be a touristy drink so to drink like a local, order a “tinto de verrano” instead. This refreshing wine concoction is made up of table red wine with mild flavoured lemon spritzer and often garnished with a slice of lemon.
Where to sleep? Madrid is a very large city and finding a place to sleep here can be strenuous. When I went, I stayed in a couple of hostels in the area commonly known as Sol. It is minutes away on foot from Plaza Mayor and Puerta Del Sol, therefore if convenience is your priority, look for places to stay here. In addition to hostels and cheaper hotels, Madrid is also known to offer bookings of apartments on a nightly basis. Here are some of the listings. This area also has plenty of shops, restaurants, and historical buildings. It is within the “old city” after all. If what you seek is more of the cultural part of Madrid, stay in the Barrio de las Letras. This is the Montmartre of Madrid, where artists, poets, and writers stayed; where you can sit at a café at midday and be prompted to work on your next creative endeavor. It is also near some of Madrid’s best attractions including The Prado and Retiro Park. It costs a bit more to stay here, but some will argue that it’s worth the extra dough, because you’re arguably staying at one of the most beautiful areas in Madrid.
Daytrips: Approximately 30 miles northwest of the city is the UNESCO World Heritage site of El Escorial. Like most buildings in Madrid, this too, is grand in scale and packed with historical significance. It was once the official residence of the Spanish monarchy, most notably, its builder, Phillip II. Nowadays, it serves mostly as a monastery, a museum and a college. Toledo is another city that can be easily reached and explored for a day. El Greco’s hometown was once the capital of Spain before the court of Phillip II transferred it to Madrid. This too, is a UNESCO site because of the historical significance of this old capital. It has well preserved buildings heavily influenced by those who ruled this city including Moors, Romans, and Visigoths. Avila and Segovia are also two cities worth visiting. The former is a walled city, fortified in as early as the late 11th century. The latter, is another UNESCO city, famous for its Alcázar and its towering aqueduct.
Why I would go back? Madrid is a vibrant city and surprisingly, it’s cheaper than most capitals in Europe. It is also one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been. The building facades put me in awe and the people here too; I don’t recall seeing an unattractive person the whole time I was there! Men, women, and even children dress elegantly which, for a tourist like me, made for some very fascinating people watching experiences. The locals are also very helpful, accommodating and most of all, open about sharing their culture with you. Finally, my experience in Madrid was, quite simply, fun.