A chance to visit a new city without the kids. Would you take the opportunity?
We did! Being in Europe for Christmas, we settled on a city break to Madrid, Spain. For the first time I didn’t do any research for our trip. I left that to hubby as I was too busy trying to organise our last minute trip to Ireland. What we did agree on though was to pop our cherry and book our accommodation via Air BnB. We haven’t stayed in one before (shock, I know!) and hotel accommodation at this time of year in Madrid is ridiculously expensive.
With research under his belt, hubby decided on an apartment in the La Latina area. I viewed the reviews and photos and said ‘Go book’. Upon arriving, we were met by the owner who had no problem with us arriving earlier than expected. The apartment was small, as are most apartments in the centre of Madrid, but clean and perfect for the two of us – we really only used it to sleep as we were out for most of the time.
La Latina is a bustling area full of cafes, bars and restaurants yet I was pleasantly surprised that we heard no noise at night-time from our apartment. The busiest day by far was Sunday – I was stunned at the amount of people who came into the area from about 11am to eat and drink their day away!
What I liked about Madrid
- The politeness of the Spanish people
- The countless lane-ways and streets to walk including the funky and stylish suburbs such as Salamanca and Goya
- The abundance of cafes, restaurants and bars to choose from
- Food, oh the food! I felt like I was eating my way through Madrid with the amazing choice of tantalizing dishes, though I slowly craved something more than bread and baguettes after a while.
What I didn’t like
- The amount of people who smoke especially in outdoor cafes – my lungs need a smoke detox. Even walking the streets was a case of dodging the smoke in front of you. Maybe I’m too used to no smoking being allowed in outdoor cafes in Australia that I’ve become used to eating outdoors without coughing
- The hawkers that approach you to sell their wares while you’re sitting down for a drink or a bite to eat at the cafes and restaurants (common throughout European cities)
- We generally do the ‘Hop on / Hop off’ (the red bus) when in new cities to get a general overview of the city, and then walk back to areas we really want to explore. Due to the number of visitors, traffic and road construction in Madrid, the red bus failed us this time. There were many more people than red buses available meaning the queues were ridiculously long and, in some instances, it took 30 minutes to get from one stop to another. We decided to abandon the bus and just walk which worked out better. Later that afternoon, and well away from the centre, we hopped back on and got a ride back to the city centre.
What surprised me
- That a lot of Spanish people speak less English than I expected
- The amount of bread, baguettes and croissants that the locals eat (carb overload)
- The thousands of people who seemed to be in Madrid at the same time as us (it did get slightly frustrating at times trying to walk through the crowds).
Grab yourself a map and walk. At one stage I did think the streets might start blending into each other but then we’d turn a corner and experience something new.
Find a sunny spot in a local cafe, park yourself there and watch the people go by. We found it best to do this away from the centre of the city as it seems to be where the locals go and the food and coffee was fab.
Parque del Buen Retiro. Not far from the centre of Madrid, this park was a fabulous find. During our visit there was so much street entertainment and music for kids, families and adults alike (unsure if this is a regular occurrence). But even so there’s a lake were you can hire boats and row around to your hearts content! Try and find the massive fish that pop their heads up. Countless walking paths and lawns also adorn the park or why not stop for a coffee break and listen to the street music. The one downside, for me anyway, was the hawkers. As with any European city, they are there trying to sell their wares and I wish I could pack up as quickly as they do when they see the police who patrol the park approach! All in all though, this park was a great find. Allow time to walk around and take it all in.
Visit the royal palace and its surroundings. You can do a guided or self-guided tour and also view the gardens as part of the entry fee. We didn’t go into the palace due to the length of the queues but there was enough to see and take in around this area including entertainers, an old style carousel and amazing architectural buildings.
Plaza Mayor is a big square that most tours start from, hosts market stalls and has tourist shops and cafes around the edge of the square. At the time we were there, the stalls were all selling Christmas paraphernalia and old school noisy paper bangers (I hated them as a kid, and I still hate them!).
While not Madrid, I thoroughly recommend a trip to Toledo which is just under an hour away. We did a 1.5 hour guided tour that gave some great insight into its history and then had some time to walk around the city ourselves. A fun fact from the local guide is that Toledians can be lazy when it comes to fixing anything to do with buildings #whoknew
FOOD AND DRINK
Mercado de San Fernando is a food market preferred by locals and is in the La Latina area.
Mercado de San Miguel is a food explosion but is also full of tourists. I highly recommend a visit, even just to see the food available, but expect crowds.
La Potente in La Latina does THE BEST brie and caramelised onion baguette from breakfast.
100 Montaditos seems to be a chain of cafes and we loved it for the cheap beer and tasty tapas. Lots of locals eat here.
For the most delicious tapas and the friendliest service, visit Meson del Boqueron. We had the most amazing chorizo and piping hot garlic prawns.
The main shopping street is Grand Via and off this are countless lane-ways with more shops, sometimes the same ones that are on Grand Via. I didn’t go nuts shopping but all the high street shops are there as well as some local Spanish shops.
We came across The Cat Market which is a pop-up market that occurs during December and other times during the year depending on the event. Previously a military building, it’s a place for local designers to come and sell their items. I bought a unique and one-off dress from Dando un paseo – so many beautiful items to decide from.
The high end shops (think Mui Mui, Cartier, Prada and others) are in the Salamanca area which is about a 25 minute walk from the centre of Madrid.