Admittedly, I had pretty low expectations of Madrid. I particularly enjoy small, walkable cities, and only added Madrid to my itinerary because, well…how can you tour Spain and not go to Madrid? As the capital city of Spain, it was sort of a must-see! I didn’t spend much time in the city – only three nights couchsurfing in an expat’s apartment – but I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Madrid.
The city is huge, of course, but still retains that fascinating Spanish flair I was so attracted by in Seville and Granada. Flamenco dancing, bullfighting, tapas, Spanish wine, chocolate and churros, and ornate architecture are all very present in Madrid. It’s a big city, but it still has personality!
For a day and a half, my kind host and her precious four-year-old daughter guided me around the city and took me to several free sights. On my last day in Madrid, I explored on my own, visiting such standout attractions as the Prado Museum (free from 6-8 p.m.!), the Almudena Cathedral and the Plaza del Toro, as well as just wandering the city streets and sampling local dishes. The fresh, hot churros with a cup of thick dipping chocolate were a particular delight…and really a departure from my typical diet back home in Phoenix!
It is worth noting that I spent money only on little indulgences like coffee and the aforementioned churros and chocolate. All the sights I visited were free, and there were definitely enough to fill my time.
I was eager to move on from the capital city to explore Barcelona, so three nights in Madrid was just enough time for me. However, I can say that I really enjoyed my visit and may even return one day. The city is lovely. Here are a few highlights from my weekend in Madrid.
In front of the Alcala Gate, reportedly one of Madrid’s best-known symbols.
Morning coffee and free wifi at “Gourmet Experience,” a shop/gourmet food court located on the 9th floor of the Spanish department store El Corte Ingles. My host recommended the great view of the city, and I was not disappointed!
The Almudena Cathedral has beautiful ceilings painted with bright-colored designs.
Mercado de San Miguel is a really fun food experience. The glass building is filled with fancy mini restaurants and vendors featuring tapas, wine, seafood, sweets and more. I toured the stalls with my host and then when back on my own for a sandwich, olives and sangria.
Touring the beautiful Retiro Park, a huge and well-maintained park in Madrid. When we visited, performers were playing live music throughout the park, families were strolling alongside the ponds and couples were making out on the park benches. Everyone loves a good park!
An example of the lovely architecture visible throughout the city.
This stunning Gothic palace is called the Palacio de Comunicaciones (Palace of Communications). It was constructed in 1904 to house the telegraph, telephone and post offices and now houses Madrid’s City Hall. However, when I heard the name, I imagined it was a palace where all its inhabitants communicated perfectly. It made me smile.
Visiting the magnificent Prado Museum was really an experience. As I mentioned above, the museum is free from 6-8 p.m. There was a long line to get in at 6 p.m., but it moved quickly. I saw a Picasso exhibit as well as a fascinating collection of Spanish, Italian and French paintings from the 1500s-1800s as well as beautiful sculptures. It was well worth the visit.
The Plaza De Toro was very interesting – and a little sad – to see. I came by in the early evening when there was a bullfight going on, so I was not able to tour the inside. The grounds include several monuments to famous bullfighters and the “sport” in general. In Spain all of the bulls are killed at the end of the fights. Protests against this practice are frequent in Madrid.
A beautiful late-evening sky on my last day in the city.
Muchas gracias for a wonderful visit, Madrid! Adios!