Enjoy these amazing Travel Tips for Madrid
by Flitter-Flutter’s Spanish Dad GUEST BLOGGER
Last September, I went to Madrid with my son who had just turned 11-years-old. I had done the same thing with my daughter the year before for her birthday. Given I was born and raised in Madrid, it is my favorite city to write about.
First, let’s talk about what there is to see in Madrid for children this age.
On Saturday, we went to the must-see Bernabéu Stadium and watched a fantastic Real Madrid game against Levante FC, which started at noon as it was being transmitted in real time in Asia, these matches are so popular. The stadium features a Real Madrid museum and several restaurants, including one of my favorites, Zen Market, which serves delicious Chinese food.
On Sunday morning, we went sightseeing to make up what should be a guide for a first-time visitor. We rented bicycles on the corner of the Retiro Park, at the entrance of the Puerta de Alcalá. In the park, there is a large pond where you can rent rowboats. There are also stands that sell delicious Spanish horchata. From the Retiro, we headed toward the oldest street in Madrid, where we bought very old novels from century-old establishments that sell used books. Then, on Plaza de Atocha, which has the oldest and most beautiful train station in Madrid, we ate some churros, Spanish donuts that are especially delicious when accompanied by hot chocolate. Afterward, we biked over to the Museo del Prado nearby.
The Museo del Prado is a another must-see in Madrid. Its extensive collection includes world-class masterpieces, such as Velázquez’s paintings of Las Meninas and his portraits of King Philip IV and his family, and stunning works by Goya. The Dutch and Italian Renaissance Masters are also well represented. You must not miss this unique museum.
Within walking distance from the Museo del Prado is the Queen Sofia Art Museum (Reina Sofia), which is a marvelous piece of architecture that combines a former hospital with a new wing designed by renown architect Jean Nouvel. It displays beautiful works by Picasso (including his famous Guernica painting) and by many other important contemporary Spanish and international artists.
Lastly, don’t forget to visit the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, which has one of the best family collections in Europe! The museum has almost 1,000 paintings by artists like Dürer, Rubens, Monet and Van Gogh.
Afterward, we visited the Puerta de Toledo which, together with the Puerta de Alcalá, were Madrid’s oldest gates.
Other sites worth seeing are the Royal Palace (Palacio Real) on the Plaza de Oriente, which is also where the Teatro Real (home of Madrid’s opera) is located. Make time to sit and enjoy a coffee or a meal on the terrace of the Café de Oriente, with its views of the Palacio Real and the former Visigoth kings of Spain.
A little outside the city center, you’ll find an impressive zoo, built on the largest public park in Europe, the Casa de Campo. The zoo itself is a reference in terms of the sheer size of its animal enclosures. In Casa de Campo, there is a Parque de Atracciones, an amusement park, which is nice for kids on a sunny day.
If you have a week to spare in Madrid, you will not be bored. It is worth planning day trips to visit UNESCO heritage sites like Toledo (about 1 hour outside Madrid), the former imperial capital of Spain, which was carefully conserved. The same applies to nearby towns like Segovia or Avila (both about 1.5 hours outside Madrid), or to the palaces of El Escorial or La Granja de San Ildefonso. These destinations make for ideal day trips with their fantastic monuments, art, food and gardens.
If you are traveling with kids who do not want to sit down for long lunches and dinners, the famous tapas scene is the solution.
There are two unique gastronomical tapas places where you can find everything. One is the old Mercado de San Miguel next to Plaza Mayor, a beautiful 1916 food market that has been transformed into a paradise for tapas. The second, which follows a similar concept, is Platea on Plaza Colón, a former cinema, converted into a great tapas space with live music and something for everybody. You can choose from a variety of tapas and international offerings, right at the center of Madrid, next to its best shopping area.
Madrid also boasts old-fashioned tapas places, like the Cervecería Santa Barbara on Alonso Martinez Square, which offers the traditional aperitivo at noon.
If you just want to go to a single street and choose a great restaurant and be certain you will find it, you can do so on Calle Jorge Juan, where you will have a choice of northern Spanish, Asturian cuisine (try La Maquina or El Paraguas for its excellent fish) or casual market cuisine (try Quintin or, for something trendier, Amazonico, which serves Latin American food). For international restaurants, you can try the unique experience offered at Kabuki Wellington (in the Hotel Wellington), a Japanese restaurant with Spanish influences and ingredients. It is by far the most interesting Japanese restaurant in the country and you can eat sushi with a flamenco twist.
If you want to show your kids the Royal Palace and the old town hall head over to the old part of town, where you’ll find very traditional and memorable Spanish restaurants. One of the oldest and finest Spanish restaurants, located close to the palace, is El Landó, which has photos of famous guests all over its walls. Also in the oldest part of town is the Plaza Mayor and, next to it, on Cava Baja Street, are the city’s oldest restaurants: Botín and Posada de la Villa; both have been around for centuries and serve the capital’s best lamb and suckling pig cooked in ancient clay ovens.
The Madrid hotel scene is changing, with fully renovated luxury hotels like the Four Seasons and the Ritz. There are other wonderful hotels, such as five-star Santo Mauro, a palace converted into a unique boutique hotel, or the solid Hotel Villa Magna and next to it the Gran Meliá Fénix. For those looking for smaller boutique hotels, try the quiet Relais & Châteaux Hotel Orfila, Hotel Adler on Calle Velazquez, or the Only You Hotel in Chueca. There are also three Spanish chains: NH Hotels, Petit Palace and AC Hotels, that have a great selection of hotels in good locations and at competitive prices.
Madrid has one of the biggest airports in Europe, so you will probably be able to find a direct flight from your closest airport and you will certainly enjoy your weekend. If possible, try to visit in the spring or early fall, since the summer can get very hot.