Madrid, the epitome of Spanish grandeur , the capital of Spain and my first glimpse into Spanish life and the Iberian Peninsula. With a multitude of historical relevance, Palaces and Cathedrals, Art up the yin yang, absolutely fabulous food, and parties that start at 1 am and go on until the late morning, Madrid has it all.
There is so much I can say about Madrid, It’s history alone would take me days on end to explain, and there is always so much to see and do that one never has enough time to experience it all as a tourist.
I first decided to visit Madrid on a very rare whim. I was at work one day in January 2013, and I was looking up flights all over the world trying to think to myself, where to go this year for hiatus. Just for funzies I entered Madrid in the search engine on Kayak , just to see .. Madrid had always been on my mind as I remembered the stories of my childhood of Don Quijote, and from one of my dear friends back in Minneapolis, Maria, who said there is no place in Spain like Madrid. So out of curiosity I searched for flights. And just to make it sweeter, I looked for first class , just to get a laugh at the exorbitant prices. Prior to this , I knew I wanted to maybe , visit Europe since it had been 2 years since my last quick European adventure. I looked at Amsterdam, France, Germany, Greece, Sweden, and Norway, and they all came up with super high prices just for coach. So the last search was Madrid, and as previously mentioned, I decided to get a quick laugh to see what first class was like. Well I thought something was wrong, because I found a first class/ Business class flight on Delta for $2300. Coach was around $1600 , so I thought this must be a mistake. I searched again, and again, and one more time, and the price kept coming up. Excited and astonished, I was telling all my co-workers about what I just found. Everyone was in disbelief. My friend at work flew to Paris the year before in First on Air France for $5600 round trip. Everyone was telling me to buy it ASAP. I said, I don’t have my credit card with me, to which everyone was offering me theirs. I said , no, I’ll buy it when I get home. If the price is still there , then it was meant to be. I got home, fired up Kayak again, and found the price to be the same. So I went onto Delta’s website and found the same flight, and it was the same. OMG I couldn’t believe it. I bought my ticket which had me flying on Delta’s A333 flat bed from Honolulu to Atlanta with an 11 hour lay over ( I got to visit Atlanta ) then on their newly configured 767-400 Flat Bed from Atlanta to Madrid. Return was to NYC with a 13 hour layover ( I got to visit my friends, see Kinky Boots on Broadway during Toni’s weekend to which they cleaned swept, and partied) Initially I waited to see if it was a glitch in the system and that I would eventually have to pay a difference. A week went by and everything stayed the same. So now , I’m booked for a month long trip to Spain, staring in Madrid.
OMG I need to learn everything possible about visiting Spain. 4 Travel books later I was in depth reading away on what to do and where to go. In the End , I decided to do 8 nights and 9 days in Madrid, 5 days and 4 nights in Seville, 5 days and 4 nights in San Sebastian, 13 days and 12 nights Barcelona, and one night in Madrid for my return flight.
Now to figure out my accommodations. Up until this point, I had no idea where to stay. The Hotels in Madrid seemed a bit expensive at the time, as the Euro was still stronger than the dollar by a lot. So I thought, why not try this craze called Airbnb. The places seemed to be way more affordable, and I would be immersed around local culture instead of the touristy sections. After reading Rick Steve’s Spain ( I highly recommend all his books for Europe they are AMAZING) I chose the area close to Tirso De Molina . Close to the city center, but not so close. I was staying in a first floor walk up with a nice sized living room, kitchen, and quaint bedroom. Perfect for me. More on all of this as we traverse through my experience with my first time to Madrid.
I thought of things to do , as I followed Rick Steve’s advice closely, and jotted down on my iPhone Notes a daily activity log I could be doing. Rick Steve is amazing at putting you in places or areas where you can tour and see many sights all at once. I also decided to take a day trip to Toledo ( an hour ride by train) to see this fabled feudal town and former capital of Spain where the stories of Don Quijote bleeds out from its core.
Now with everything booked and a skeletal plan of daily activities researched and created, I was ready to go… About a month and a half before I was to leave, I was approached by a very dear friend of mine , Ida, who wanted to give the gift of travel to her newly wed spouse and my very, very dear friend Linda. I was so excited and couldn’t wait for her to join me. So we met up and I went over our accommodations and activities that we could do, and now my trip was totally set.
Our flight over was amazing. Linda met up with me in Atlanta , and we utilized the Lounge services at Delta to freshen up , take a nice hot shower, and prepare for a lovely lie flat sleeping over night transatlantic flight to Madrid.
We arrived in the morning at Adolfo Suarez Madrid Barajas Airport around 9 in the morning. The flight over Madrid was spectacular, and I didn’t realize how flat the area really was. Passport control and customs was a breeze, and in no time, we were out into the arrivals hall.
I researched like crazy on the best way to get to our Airbnb. From all the posts on Trip Advisor and per the advice of my Airbnb Host, we decided to take the Metro into the city and to our apartment.
Taking the Metro at MAD Airport to Madrid City:
Taking the metro into the city is a breeze. Unless you are traveling with a lot of luggage, then take a taxi.
- When you exit your terminal, just follow the signs that lead to the Metro.
- When you arrive at the Metro Station, take the escalators down to the Metro
- There are ATM’s everywhere and you can withdraw your cash to buy your metro tickets there, or exchange at an exchange counter in the arrivals hall.
- Purchase a 10 ticket metro pass and add 1 airport supplement when prompted to your ticket ( or in my case I added 2 supplements.) You can share your ticket with anyone in your party. Ie. buy 10 ticket journey and each time you pass through the turnstiles, you can pass the ticket to the next person in your group. It’s really awesome.
- Look up at the monitors which will tell you when and where the next train is departing
- Take Linea 8 ( Line 8) to Nuevo Miniestro and transfer to the appropriate line here. This is a major transfer point, and you will notice a great deal of people doing just that. For us we transferred to Line 1 Tribunal and got off at Tirso De Molina Stop
We arrived at Tirso De Molina and exited the station via a bunch of God Forsaken Stairs . The area was teaming with activity. There is a small children’s play ground top side, and wonderful looking turn of the century buildings surrounding us. This is a newer part ( 150 years) part of town. Our Apartment was very close by. 3 minute dragging of our luggage, and we stopped at the Chinese store to get the key for our apartment. The nice Chinese lady let us in and showed us around the apartment. We were finally here and ready to conquer Spain like a true Conquistadora…
The apartment was very lovely and quaint and very clean. The kitchen was just so charming and had everything we needed including a washer/Dryer combo. The bathroom was beautiful, and the bedroom was perfect and dark. Our bay windows opened up to the street below and we could here the occasional singing , car horn, children laughing and all of this in Spanish. There was a small opera / ballet theater right across the street from us, and we really was curious about catching a show. About 15 minutes into settling in and putting our clothes away, the owner of the apartment showed up, and gave us some really excellent advice as to what to see in the area, and how to get to other places, and of course where and what to eat. You can read my review and see the ad for the apartment by clicking : Madrid Center with Balcony Apartment
Madrid Day 1:
Since it was our arrival day , and I’ve been traveling for 2 days straight to get here, we decided not to get down to the nitty gritty but instead, just go and familiarize ourself with our area, and the city as much as we can. So we decided to instead follow Rick Steve’s quick tour of areas within our vicinity. We followed our easy map we got from the TI ( Travel Information) at the airport as well as Rick’s step by step advice, and in no time we were in Plaza Mayor.
Plaza Mayor: The origins of the Plaza go back to 1577 when Philip II asked Juan de Herrera, a renowned Classical architect, to discuss a plan to remodel the busy and chaotic area of the old Plaza del Arrabal. Juan de Herrera was the artist who designed the first project in 1560 to remodel the old Plaza del Arrabal but construction did not start until 1617, during Philip III‘s reign. The king asked Juan Gómez de Mora to continue with the project, and he finished the porticoes in 1619. Nevertheless, the Plaza Mayor as we know it today is the work of the architect Juan de Villanuevawho was given the glorious, albeit difficult task of its reconstruction in 1790 after a series of enormous fires. Giambologna‘s equestrian statue of Philip III dates to 1616, but it was not placed in the centre of the square until 1848. Courtesy of Wikipedia
Within the square there were bull fights, open markets, witch burnings , trials, and hangings. How lovely. The plaza is definitely beautiful, but you can tell it is a tourist trap. Never-the-less, It is really a sight to be hold. We would be back again, and I would be back a few more times when I returned in 2015.
Next stop was the really cool albeit touristy Mercado San Miguel .
Built in the 19th Century and made out of cool Cast iron and looks like a train station. This market is just amazing. There is everything you could think of there. You can go to one booth and pick up a glass of wine or champagne and head to another for some paella, cheese, meats, olives, you name it they got it. You sit and enjoy your food and go refill your glasses. There are tons of people here, and we were in such awe that we just sat, ate, drank, and enjoyed the people watching.
After a nice relaxing mini lunch and drink, we made our way down some alleys, and somehow came across the Royal Palace of Madrid. Our Jaws dropped and the pure Grandeur of it all and as Linda would say ” Oh how ornate” 🙂 We decided that the Palace would be done tomorrow as it would take a few hours for me to truly enjoy it, and right now we were more interested in becoming familiar with Madrid. Instead and on the same property, we visited the Royal Cathedral.
Catedral de Santa Maria La Real De La Almudena: is the Principal church for the diocese of Madrid. It was built for the royal family and although it seems ancient, only started being built in 1883 and wasn’t completed until 1993 because the main cathedral was located in Toledo ( amazing by the way) and they were reluctant to relinquish the title to Madrid. The Cathedral is beautiful as can be expected as the Spanish are very elaborate with their designs of their churches.
The rest of the day was spent walking around until we found the nearest metro stop to tack back to our apartment to rest.
After a nice lengthy rest, we decided to do as the madreliños do, and eat around 9:30 pm ( still considered early) We wanted to try out a tapas crawl, and there is no better place to do it than in Calle Cava Baja. Cava Baja is a street in La Latina ( close to us) where you hop from one tapas bar/ restaurants to taste their tapa specialty. Some specialize in drinks like Vermouth on Tap, others have Bull Tail ( toro) Jamon and lots of other delights.
- First off know this, when you order a drink in Madrid and most of Spain, your drink comes with a tapa ( small dish) most of the times its just chips or chicharron , but its something. So when you order your glass of Red Wine ( Vino Tinto) or a beer ( Cerveza) make sure you get a tapa with it, and if you don’t just say “Tapa?”
- In some establishments, the tapas are laid out on the bar and you simply just grab one. Don’t worry, the bar keeps are notoriously smart and will remember EVERYTHING you grabbed . When you are done they will tally it up
- Look on the menu to see what they have for the evening and order that way.
- When in Cava Baja, do make sure you jump around and try all the different tapa establishments. So one drink and one tapa each is enough ( you can share different tapas)
Day 2: Our rest was lovely. And although there was a lot of action going on in our neighborhood till the wee hours, we managed to score a solid 8 hour sleep. Today we picked up our Rick Steve’s Bible and mapped out our course for the day.We will start off at a nunnery where you secretly buy Dulces ( sweets) from a Nun hidden behind a curtain. It’s quite the experience. But first we needed sustenance and cafe con leche. Next to our Apartment is a little bar. I read that locals have their breakfasts in bars, who serve coffee, pastries, and some savory food. So we went in, ordered our cafe con leche , a tortilla espanola ( egg pastry with meat and potato) and a pastry desert. Fabulous and for 4 Euros total, was just perfect.
There is a famous legend in Madrid that you can get sacred cookies by a cloistered nun , but you’ll have to go through cloak and daggers to get it. It all starts by finding this secret street that is close to the Botin: The oldest restaurant in Spain ( 1700’s) there you follow the road till you see #3 and the Monastery of Corpus Christi. From there you ring a bell by a Wooden door. The speaker comes on ” si?” there you say the secret password ” Dulces” Bzzzzzzz the door opens and you make your way following the signs in the convent to a turnstile . You tell them what type of dulces you want put the money on the tray, and it then disappears behind a curtain. Within a few seconds it spins back around and viola you have your sweets. So funny , yet so cool. The sweets, not my cup of Sweet *_* but i guess good enough.
We then headed towards the Palace, bought are ticket with audio guide ( an absolute must) and enjoyed our 2 hour tour leisurely of the palace. Now keep in mind, photography is strictly prohibited once you’re in the palace. Fortunately Im a royal so it didn’t pertain to me *_*
Palacio Real de Madrid: Is still the Official Royal residence of the Royal family, although they do live elsewhere, they do conduct formal events, and affairs in the Palace. It is absolutely stunning. When you first enter, you are in the grand courtyard of the Palace with sweeping views of the forest and city below. The view of the sky is just stunning as well as it seem so close you could touch the clouds. When you get close to the actual entrance of the palace household, you will notice two important statues, one of the Aztec Ruler Moctezuma and the other of the Inca Ruler Atahualpa and in my opinion is an insult as it clearly shows domination and a reminder of Spain’s bloody past. The Opulence of the Palace reminds you of how much gold was such an important part of Spain, and it is evidenced throughout the palace.
Across from the Palace is the Plaza de Orient. A lovely sculpture garden next to the Royal Opera house and a few beautiful outdoor restaurants. Although we did not enjoy a lovely lunch there, we did come back one day to indulge.
We made our way down the street to Plaza España a cute little park with a lovely fountain, and great local artisan shopping. Ok more touristy, but there were a few leather artists selling their really cool bags.
From Plaza España starts the entrance to the very Grand avenue of Gran Via. I know its grand. hahahaha. On this tourist mecca avenue are a plethora of International designer stores and shops like H&M, Lacoste, and the Flag ship Zara store. OMG I love Zara. There are also musical theaters, street performers, and thousands of tourists. Think Times Square but smaller. I stopped to get my shoe shined and rest since by this point we have walked a good 10 miles around and around touring.
Next up is Puerto Del Sol with its million people standing and gawking at the street performers. We are now in the heart of Tourist Madrid.
We did a lot of shopping, and Linda was on a hunt for Spanish combs to which she scored and emptied out the stores of them. She was so excited to be here and wanted everyone to benefit from it, so she bought a lot of gifts. She’s very thoughtful.
Shopping in Madrid and Spain? Be sure to request Vat Refund Paper :
When you shop at a store or establishment and spend over $60 Euro you are entitled to ask for Vat Refund. Vat ( Value Added Tax) Refund is a wonderful bonus for shoppers in the European Union. When you shop at the store and spend the minimum , you fill out a form right then and there with the merchant, with proper ID, and in the end you can get back money via cash, check or back on your credit card, once you depart from your final European Destination. Here’s a great link that explains it more in Detail and helped me out a ton : Tax Advantages for Tourists to Spain: VAT Refund
We returned home and rested up again. Wow were we exhausted. A few hours later, and we were starving so we returned to Cava Baja to enjoy A LOT of wine and tapas.
Day 3: We started our day again with breakfast at our local Bar. And the hostess was surprised to see us again.
Today is Museum day, and First up is the Reina Sofia Museum. Boy were we lucky because museums main exhibit just happened to be on Salvadore Dali. OMG Dali. My main reason though for visiting this museum is because it houses the eery yet fantastic work of art by Pablo Picasso : Guernica . I studied the Guernica in college and its significance with the bombings by the German’s for practice on this little town . The painting while absolutely gigantic is very humbly and horrific .. I loved it. The Dali exhibit was out of this world. And we really enjoyed all the fanciful attributes that Dali has and portrays in his artwork. The museum itself is absolutely stunning and a must see.
After our visit to the Reina Sofia, we thought we’d try our luck with the Prado Museum. The Prado , which is the main museum ( think La Louvre) houses many works of art by legendary artist, Goya. We walked around and enjoyed the beautiful facade of the Prado and the Caixa Museum. Prado Passeige is really a beautiful avenue with 3 museums lovely foliage, and art everywhere. You can score yourself your own piece of artwork from the people pinging on the streets. It’s fantastic.
We really only enjoyed the very bottom floor of the Prado as it is so expansive that it would take weeks to see everything. So after lunch, we walked above the Prado and found this most beautiful church where we sat in reverence and prayed.
As previously mentioned, this area surrounding the Prado is just drop dead gorgeous . Speaking of Gorgeous, The Ritz was right around the corner and I was determined to visit it. So we walked in passing beautifuly dressed guests and made our way to the very lush and plush couches in the Tea room. Someone came immediately to us and I asked politely for some tea and cookies. Por Favor 🙂 Oh we were just too fabulous. But of course out of place the minute we started to take pictures of everything. Oh well , we are paying customers and that’s all that matters. The Hotels lobby and tea room is just too grand and so beautiful. I wonder what the rooms are like.
Day 4: Today is Saturday, and the city is still in full swing. As usual, we stopped again at our local Bar for Breakfast and was greeted with huge smiles.
We decided to just catch the subway and get off at random stops to see the city. We were going to be a bit more leisurely today so we could get some shopping done, and have enough rest for our night out. Yes we decided that tonight we would party. We also needed to stop by the Room Mate Oscar Hotel where I will be staying for my last night in Spain upon my return from Barcelona, to get a room for Linda who will spend a night here on her way back home while i continue my journey to San Sebastian.
It was a lovely day and the first stop took us to Atocha Railway Station. A drop dead gorgeous 19th century rail station . I needed to figure out how we were going to get to Toledo come Monday, so I wanted to familiarize myself with the station, and purchase our tickets.
We then headed towards puerto de Alcala with its fabulous Arch snapped some photos and made our way towards Paseo del Prado and eventually back towards Grand Via to make our way to Chueca and to the Room mate Oscar Hotel.
Barrio Chueca: is such a colorful district. The official Gay district of the city, it has so many super cool stores, luxury local designers, fabulous bars, and is right next to mega shopping street of Calle Huertas. Chueca is a small but lively barrio (neighbourhood) squeezed between Paseo de Recoletos to the east and Calle de Fuencarral to the west. Plaza de Chueca is the center of barrio activity. Cafes around the square set up tables when the weather is nice, it’s the see and be seen of Gay Madrid. Taberna Angel Sierra is a classic in the square, keepping the flavour of a traditional tavern. This barrio is full of restaurants, any type of cuisine, of style, different budgets, -and with surprisingly affordable options-. It’s among the most lively and cosmopolitan areas downtown. Taste the forward-thinking, fusion cuisine of New York-style cafes along calles Libertad and San Marcos. Chueca shines during Gay Pride every June with an extragavant parade and debaucherous street partying. Calle Fuencarral is a cool area for shopping , with the hippest shops and calle Augusto Figueroa for top brands ocassion shoes. In the calles Almirante and Prim, one can find some of Madrid’s most chic fashion and shoe shops. All the district is peppered with lots of bars and clubs, both for gay and non gay night life.
We arrived at Room Mate Oscar Hotel which is located on a plaza with out door cafes and beautiful buildings. The hotel is very hip , modern, and ultra cool and we were able to secure a room for Linda at a fabulous price. The hotel also has a Roof Top bar which wasn’t open at the time we were there. We stopped at an outdoor cafe adjacent to the hotel for a quick quench. We had an amazing drink of Cerveza ( beer ) and Ron ( Rum) with a twist of a lemon. It was heavenly.
After we had this marvelous drink with a small tapa of chips, we knew that soon it will be time to devour some food. We decided to return to Plaza De Orient across from the Palace to try out one of the lovely outside restaurants. Along the way we came across a lot of very happy people, live performers, and ancient street book fair ( ok not ancient but very old) and found our way right next to the Opera house where we sat and have an absolutely stunning lunch with a bottle of wine of course. The server quickly came rushing back to us to scold us for leaving our phones and cameras on the table. He said in a blink of an eye, a gypsie will swipe your belonging so please put things away. Ok … And you know what he was right, within seconds begging gypsies came right up to our table with their hands in our faces. Normally I would be happy to give money, but was schooled early on that they are not to be given a cent as it is their job to beg. Ok Lesson learned , and Lunch really enjoyed.
This evening we got ready, had dinner at the local tavern by our apartment and took a cab to Chueca to go and watch a drag show. Evidently the “girls” work double while doing the show. They quickly find a mate, leave for a few minutes, come back hand some money to the bar, hop on stage, do a number, and leave again. I was wondering why all the guys kept staring at us like we were fresh meat. Underwhelmed with the show, we decided to walk around for a bit. It was already after midnight and people were spilling into and out of clubs. So we bar and club hopped . The first club was super cute with everyone dancing and there was a bachelorette party going on. After about an half hour of dancing, we continued off to the next. That is when we came across Studio 54. I told Linda, well we couldn’t make it to the original in NYC , so why not in Madrid. It was festive. Full of people of all walks of life. We danced and drank and had a blast. Unfortunately we are still a bit exhausted from our outing that day so we decided to walk around a bit and head home. As we walked around for a bit, we found this cute little hot dog stand called Cafeteria Hawaii . We were screaming because we are from Hawaii!!!!
Day 5: You guessed it, Breakfast at our local bar. Today is Sunday and is also the perfect day for antique shopping down the famous El Rastro. The street is located about 10 minute walk from our house. You can’t believe the amount of people there. Hundreds upon hundreds of bargain shoppers. It is also a pick pockets haven. There are shops and booths selling antiques, used clothing , books, current products, electronics, clothing, so many different interesting and delightful items just begging to be purchased. At one point I lost Linda, and I freaked out. There are so many people here, and I was so worried that I’ll loose here in the big city. About a half hour later, we found each other and decided it was time to munch.
After the market, we took the metro to Retiro Park.
Retiro Park: I can’t begin to explain to you how wonderful beautiful this park is. It is huge and reminds me of a lovelier Central park. When you arrive by metro, you enter from its North Western Gate. There were performers everywhere and entire families came out to enjoy the beautiful day in the park. From beatufuil Lake motes where you can rent a boat and row around, to artists rendering your image either on classic photography or on a canvas, a beautiful Crystal Palace, Cut mazed hedges hiding behind it a village of Peacocks, Fantastic Rose Garden, and a very alluring work out section where the best of the best come to show off their rock hard abs and muscles. It was a very lovely day in the park.
Day 6: TOLEDO: Please read my blog on Toledo Holy Toledo…. A visit to the Fortified Former Capital of Spain
Day 7: Our last full day and night in Madrid. It’s been a wild ride so far . We spent the day , AFTER OUR DAILY BREAKFAST OF COURSE , walking around Madrid and getting lost. It was a great day filled with adventure, fantastic Graffiti, and marvelous Food.
Day 8: Today was our last day together in Madrid as we are on our way this morning via first class Train Tickets on Renfe ( PLEASE SEE Spain , A Tapas of Beautiful People and Landscapes for more information on Renfe) We are sad to Leave Madrid, a place we’ve become accustomed to, but are so excited for our journey to Seville.
Day 29: I returned to Madrid today from Barcelona, via a 3 hour train ride and arriving at a new train station , Charmartin, which is a bit out of the city. I took taxi to Room Mate Oscar hotel and checked in. This is my last day in Spain, and I’m very sad to leave . My flight leaves at a blistering early flight at 6 am, which means I have to be at the airport by 4 am , which means I must leave by 3:30 am at the very latest. ugh….. After checking in I decided to walk back down to museum row to see the Thyssen Museum who was showcasing Pissarro . It was a lovely tour of Pissarro’s art work. Afterwards I broke for lunch at their fabulous stepped out door cafe. I enjoyed my lunch while reminiscing of my time here in Spain.
After a scrumptious lunch I made my way to another museum that I was dying to see. The Cerrablo Museum is a museum which houses beautiful works of art as well as the belongings of its former owner. It is really beautiful, quiet, and quaint. I found myself fantasizing as if this was my house and what it must’ve been like in its hay day.
A las, my time here is nearing its end. I spent the rest of the day getting my nails done and hair blown out by my favorite little rock star in Chueca, Christina. I had a lovely Last Supper at an outdoor cafe by my hotel, and followed up with drinks past sunset and into the early night at the roof top bar of my hotel.
Day 30: Time to say goodbye. I left my Hotel at 3:30 in the morning with a pre arranged taxi. As I left, I cried a bit, not because I was super sad, but because I was so happy. I had such a wonderful journey , one I will never forget.
When I arrived at the airport, I immediately went to the VAT counter to turn in all my VAT receipts I collected throughout my journey in Spain. Fortunately the lady at the counter didn’t ask to see my things, as they were all over the place. and some used. She stamped everything and I then proceeded to go to Check in and drop my bags off.
Check in was a breeze , as was and after passport control I headed to the Global Blue stand to request my VAT refund. I showed them my inspected and stamped papers and received almost 200 Euro back. That was fantastic!
I hung out at the very boring lounge and before you know it , was boarding my flight back to the USA. First Stop JFK….
I really loved my trip to Spain, and especially fell in love with Madrid. I came back to Madrid 2 years later, to which I will follow up with an even better report since I know had a good knowledge of the city.
To read more of my adventures and visit to Spain please click here: Spain: A tapas of beautiful people and landscapes
Thank you so much once again for entertaining me by reading my humble blog and Travel Report.