There is so much I could say about Madrid. I was trying to figure out how to summarize it all in one post. The issue is that there were so many different facets to our time in Madrid. This post will mostly be about our experience. In the future, I will probably post some articles on things to do in Madrid or where to eat, but I wanted to share my experiences before I forget them.
Arriving in Madrid
We arrived in Madrid around 9am on a Sunday. We withdraw some euro from an ATM in the airport using our Fidelity Cash Management Account. This account has no foreign transaction fees and also reimburses you for any ATM surcharges. It’s the ideal checking account to use for travelling.
Taxis from the airport to central Madrid (and vice versa) are a flat fee of 30 euros. This was particularly convenient since we ended up spending quite a bit of time sitting in traffic, which would have racked up quite the taxi bill. We also used the metro to get around central Madrid. It was pretty easy to navigate and only cost 2-3 euros.
We stayed at The Principal Madrid for 5 nights (you can read more about our stay in my hotel review).
We are always trying to use our PTO/vacation time wisely. Therefore, we decided to take a trip to Madrid during Thanksgiving week. Unfortunately, Spain doesn’t necessarily have the best weather from October – February. During our week in Madrid, it was mostly cloudy in the low 40 degrees and rained for two out of the six days. However, we are used to the rain (we’re from Seattle) so we made the best of it. If you do forget an umbrella, there are tons of people on the street selling cheap umbrellas for under 8 euros.
One of my favorite things about Madrid is how central it is to many beautiful Spanish towns. We were able to take two easy day trips from Madrid. I would highly suggest taking at least one of these day trips if you’re in Madrid for more than 4 nights. You can read more about these trips in these blog posts: Toledo and Segovia.
There are a few different free walking tours throughout Madrid (tipping the tour guide is encouraged). Madrid is a very walk-able city. Most of the free tours meet in Plaza Mayor. We signed up for a tour through Sandemans New Europe, which was wonderful. Our tour guide was knowledgeable and entertaining. It was a great way to get a short history lesson about the city of Madrid.
Museums and History
There are several museums throughout Madrid, but I will primarily highlight the four that we visited: Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Reina Sofía Museum, Prado Museum, and Royal Palace of Madrid. If you’re a student (under 25), you can get into the first three museums I listed for free.
My personal favorites were the Prado Museum and the Royal Palace of Madrid. The Prado had several amazing works of art. Every room had some new masterpiece and I enjoyed the way the museum was laid out. The Royal Palace of Madrid is breathtaking. The tour allows you to wander through the armory, dining rooms, royal chambers, and much more. You definitely want to grab the self-guided audio tour as well since most of the signs are written in Spanish.
Food and Drinks
One of the things that Madrid is best known for is their tapas and wine. It definitely lived up to my high expectations. I loved all the small plates that allowed you to try multiple different dishes. One of the things that was difficult to get used to was their meal times. Breakfast wasn’t really a thing and lunch was served from 12-2pm. However, dinner wasn’t typically served until 7-9pm. My wife and I are used to eating around 5pm so eating at 7:30pm took some time to get used to. We actually went to a couple restaurants at 6pm and were pretty much the only people there.
Madrid also has small sandwich shops some of which are open 24 hours. The two sandwiches that you have to try are: bocadillo de jamon iberico (ham sandwich) and bocadillo de calamares (calamari sandwich). These sandwiches typically cost 1-3 euros each. They were great for a nice little snack! For breakfast or a sweet treat, you’ll definitely want to try the chocolate con churros.
The other thing we noted was that wine and beer were typically cheaper than soda (which isn’t all that popular in Spain). I definitely had my fill of Spanish beers. They were light and delicious. Not too hoppy, which I enjoyed. The food itself was reasonably priced and your dollar definitely goes a long way.
Parks and Architecture
There was some amazing architecture along Gran Via. It was also all lit up and decorated for Christmas, which was nice. We also visited the Temple of Debod, which was an Egyptian temple given to Madrid. It is one of the few Egyptian temples that can be seen outside of Egypt. This temple is free to visit. We arrived about 20 minutes before they shut the gates. There was a line of about 15 people in front of us. Luckily we were one of the last people they let in for the day.
Madrid, like many Spanish cities, has several plazas, which are basically big open spaces. These sometimes contain gardens, markets, statues, restaurants, and other activities. They also provide an excellent venue for people watching.
We also really enjoyed walking through El Retiro Park, which lies on the eastern part of the city near the museum quarter. Retiro Park is to Madrid what Central Park is to New York. My initial plan was to rent a row boat to cruise around the lake in the center of the park. However, the weather quickly changed those plans. It was raining slightly when we visited, but we were able to take shelter in the Crystal Palace. I would highly suggest taking some time to stroll through Retiro Park. There are some beautiful walking paths.
Yo No Hablo Español (I don’t speak Spanish)
My wife took Spanish in high school and most of the Spanish I knew came from hearing it around Southern California when I was young. However, we found most restaurants, museums, and hotels to be accommodating to our lack of Spanish vocabulary. Many restaurants had English menus. The museums had English signs and/or audio tours.
We were kind of nervous about the language barrier, but found that most of the locals spoke some English. It made me realize how most Americans don’t know a second language, but almost everyone we ran into was at least somewhat bilingual. Either way, you should definitely learn some basic Spanish phrases before visiting Madrid (i.e. gracias, adios, uno mas, etc.)
Go Visit Madrid!
I am constantly seeing flight deals for under $500 RT from the U.S. to Madrid. It typically costs around $950 RT to fly U.S. to Europe. We really enjoyed our time in Madrid! It is a beautiful city mixed with history and a vibrant culture. The food is cheap and delicious. There is plenty to do and see without spending a fortune. My advice… go visit Madrid, Spain!