Whilst randomly searching flights online with mum one afternoon, it soon became apparent that we could fly to the Spanish capital after work on a Friday afternoon and get home in the early hours of Monday, giving me just enough time to catch up on sleep before returning to work.
So, with money left on our Ryanair voucher to spend up, it ended up costing us less to fly to Madrid that a train ticket to London, so it was a no brainer and as neither of us had been before, we had a full itinerary soon planned out.
We had an apartment booked, and a free taxi curtesy of Booking.Com that took us right through the heart of the city on our way to the accommodation. Seeing the incredible buildings, tree lined streets and vibrant nightlife bursting from the streets, gave us a taste of what was to come. But we had had a long day, travelling almost straight from work and with my 75 year old mother, meant once we had arrived in our apartment and kicked off our shoes, it was almost 11pm, so we decided to call it a night, and would hit the ground running in the morning.
When I say ‘hit the ground running’, I actually meant grab a shower and walk 5 mins round the corner to Chocolateria 192 to grab breakfast and when I say breakfast, I mean Churros.
As well as its convenient location and excellent reviews, another selling point of Chocolateria 192 which won out over its local rivals for me, was the fact they offered a dairy free chocolate to dunk your churros into and it was delicious.
Boosted by caffeine and chocolate, it was only a short walk to the Royal Palace, via a statue by Salvador Fernández Oliva, which we spotted just off the Calle Mayor, it was of a man with a shiny bottom, so of course I felt obliged to give him a friendly pat.
The Royal Palace is an impressive 18th century Baroque building, built on the site of a Moorish castle, it’s no longer used as a permanent residence for the Spanish royals, meaning a lot of the rooms are now open for the public to explore.
Its a very popular tourist spot, and although it opens at 10am the queues form much earlier, so mum got in line, and I went off to take some photos whilst it was relatively crowd free.
At over 3000 rooms, it’s the largest palace in Western Europe, and although you only get to see a small portion of it, the rooms on display are the most interesting and ornate ones. No photos allowed beyond the entrance hall, but from memory the Throne Room, the Gala Dining room and Charles III’s bedroom were all as elaborate as you would imagine.
Facing the palace is the Almudena Cathedral, I really loved this building, and to save mums legs we took the lift up to the top of the dome. It’s well worth making it to the top as the views across the city are spectacular, but even more so is the inside of the dome, which is a beautiful square cupola painted dark blue and gold.
When you get back down to the main part of the cathedral, make sure you look up at the nave ceiling, it has an incredible multicoloured geometric pattern, I hadn’t seen one like that before. The apse at the front of the cathedral is hard to miss though, with more colourful paintings and modern stain glass windows and with the sun streaming in, it cast an incredible rainbow light across the walls, it was heavenly.
What should have been a short walk to the Metro station, turned into quite a long walk down and round the back of the palace to Ermita De San Antonio De La Florida. Not that we got lost, but there was quite a lot of construction work happening and the direct route to the church was blocked off. Had we known how long it would take us, we probably would have turned around, but happy to build up an appetite we powered through and made it to the small church with the Spanish painter Franciso Goya’s famous painted fresco’s. No photo’s allowed, but I managed a quick sneaky blurred one before we left, as pay off for the long walk to get there, apologies for that.
We finally made it to the metro station and bought our tourist card and loaded it with 10 single trips, you can share it between people, so basically it was 5 trips each for me and mum for €14.70. The metro is easy to use, safe, inexpensive and has stops all across the city, close to pretty much all the sights you would want to see, so we ended up topping up our card during out stay as we found it so convenient to use.
With the Spaniards taking their main meal of the day in the early afternoon, we decided to follow suit and went to the vegan restaurant B13 Bar for a big lunch, before grabbing a coffee to go at Celicioso and then headed back down to the metro onward to the south of the city.
I love Atlas Obscura and always take a peak at the website before a trip to see if there is anything I fancy adding to my hit list. The Rocker Grandma is a statue in the south of the city, a short walk from the Nueva Numancia metro station, and was erected in tribute to la abuela rockera, who discovered rock music in her 70’s. After starting to attend rock shows she became a famous figure within the Spanish rock scene and as I’m a bit partial to some loud music myself, I had to go and pay my respects.
We then hopped back on the metro and alighted at Estacion del Arte, not surprisingly because we had planned a visit to one of the famous art galleries. Museo Reina Sofía is Spain’s national 20th century art museum and is part of Madrid’s Golden Triangle of Art, along with Museo del Prado and Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum. We chose Reina Sofia because of the large number of Picasso, Dali and Miro available to view, and mum especially wanted to see Picasso’s Guernica, his famous black and grey anti war painting. No photos were allowed of this particular piece, but there was so much more to see, and although we only managed to visit a portion of the gallery, we still managed to cram a lot in.
By the time we left it had gotten dark, so we wandered up the world heritage Paseo del Prado, to see if we could explore the light show inside the Botanical Gardens. We weren’t so lucky though, the queue was huge and sold out for the evening, so we joined others peeking through the gates, then made our way back down the tree lined Paseo del Prado, soaking up the Saturday evening atmosphere before jumping back on the metro.
Our final stop of the evening was to grab some food at the San Miguel market a 100 year old food market, selling everything from local fish, Iberian hams, fresh fruits, desserts and of course wine. There are over 20 stalls from which to sit down, sample and buy tapas and drinks from, although if you are vegan like me, you could struggle to find something, other than a fruit cup.
Luckily, I found an empanada place called Las Muns just outside, and got myself a hot pastry to go with my salad from the market, and we headed back to our apartment to rest our feet and prepare for the next day.
On a Sunday morning in Madrid, the place to be everyone told me, was to head to El Rastro. A large flea market spread along a beautiful tree lined street, jam packed with stalls selling both new and old, such as hand made cute tote bags, antique watches, colourful socks and leather bags. As it approaches lunch time, local tapas bars open up for those wanting a break from all the haggling, but we were still full from another breakfast plate of churro’s, so we did a full circuit of the stalls before heading onward.
One place I knew I wanted to see was the restaurant, said to be the oldest in the world, Sobrino de Botín. `It’s been serving local dishes, such as roast suckling pig and poached egg continuously since 1725, not that I was interested in actually sampling the food, being plant based, but I wanted to grab a quick picture outside, because one of my friends dad’s used to work there, and I wanted to send her a surprise text.
On our way back to our apartment, we passed through Plaza Mayor, the original main square and heart of old Madrid. Although it was still waking up, people were wrapped up warm and starting to find spots to sit outside the many bars and cafe’s that line the edges of the square, drinking coffee and eating brunch. As well as a large Christmas tree in the centre, there were quite a few antique stalls selling stamps and coins, surrounded by Spanish pensioners all comparing their collections, giving it a real authentic, less touristy feel.
We popped back to our apartment to check out and store our luggage in the reception for the remainder of the day, then it was a short walk to the Sol metro station to take us over to newly Unesco certified El Retiro park.
This huge park is right in the heart of the city, close to all the main art galleries and the Paseo del Prado with them both sharing a newly awarded World Heritage status in 2021. We entered via the gate opposite the Retiro metro station, picked one of the beautiful tree lined paths and joined the many other tourists and locals enjoying a nice Sunday afternoon stroll. There are plenty of statues, fountains, a boating lake, a rose garden, cafes, a glass pavilion, 15,000 trees, including a 400 year old Mexican conifer as well as spaces for exercise, bike rental, a puppet theatre and library!
Highlights for me included the beautiful shimmering boating late, the famous ‘fallen angel‘ fountain (which is the only statue in the world known to be dedicated to the devil), we loved watching the children take rollerblading lessons and seeing the many dogs getting just as much enjoyment out of the park as the humans did.
We managed to walk pretty much in a full circle and exited the park the way we came in, so we could get back on the metro at Retiro and take Line 2 up to Ventas.
Neither myself or mum are supporters of bull fighting in any way shape or form, but had read that even if you aren’t a fan of the bloodsport, the building itself is worth a visit. The building is directly outside the metro station, making it really easy to quickly squeeze in a visit. You can take a proper tour of the stadium, to learn not only about the building but also about the history of Spain’s controversial sporting event that takes place here, but at almost €15.00 a ticket, its probably not worth it, unless you have a keen interest.
We did a lap around the ornate 4 storey, red brick bull ring complete with colourful tiles and a statue at the front depicting a matador and bull in mid-fight. Inside there is seating for over 23,000 people, there’s a museum, a chapel and a state of the art operating theatre, eeek, this is purely for the matador though, if the bull isn’t killed by the end of the match, then it’s taken out back and killed there instead.
Then it was back on the metro, and back to Sol to grab a late lunch/early dinner at Freedom Cakes, which doesn’t sound like it would serve full meals, but it does, and they’re all vegan and the portions are huge!
We then took a last stroll up the busiest and most popular street in the capital, the Gran Via for some window shopping and to take in some of the incredible architecture, before finishing up with a coffee and ice cream at the delicious and super friendly Mistura Coffee.
Once we retrieved our bags, we took the metro across to Atocha which is the central station, and here we boarded the train to the airport, taking about 30 minutes, terminating at terminal 4 and we reluctantly headed home. Madrid was truly surprising, friendly, easy to navigate and I’d definitely return, maybe using it as a base to visit some neighbouring towns next time as well as have another plate of churros of course!