For some inexplicable reason, I had never been to Spain. Real Spain I mean, not the Majorca tourist version I visited as a child. So himself and myself sought to end all that, and booked ourselves a flight to Madrid on Good Friday. Despite my fears that lots of places would be closed for Easter, Madrid was certainly open for business! We stayed at La Posada del Dragón, a gorgeous boutique hotel in La Latina district. Our room was compact, but with great design features such as a waterfall sink and twin head shower. The modern bathroom and toilet were somewhat open-plan with glass doors and walls (partially clouded where necessary). Now I know such a thing normally instils panic in your average female, but fret not, with a bit a strategic planning, and a reliable set of headphones for your fellow traveller, any unwanted displays or sound effects can be kept private. Breakfast was served in the hotel’s restaurant, La Antonita, and offered an excellent selection of high-quality local and home-made products. And, big plus for moi, freshly squeezed orange juice made to order! Having read previous reviews, we made sure to get a room not facing out onto the street, which is advisable as the hotel is located on a busy street filled with lots of restaurants and bars, but that makes it all the more desirable.
There are so many things to see and do in Madrid, it’s impossible to squeeze it all in on a short trip, especially with so much eating and post-eating recovery to be done. With any city, I always recommend doing a open-top bus tour first. It may be über-touristy, but it’s the best way to get a feel for the lay of the land, and identify spots to be re-visited later. I tend to do the complete route in one go – none of that hop-on, hop-off malarkey, thanks!
The museum for which Madrid is most famous, is undoubtedly the Prado. Considered to be one of the world’s greatest art museums, it houses around 7,600 paintings, 1,000 sculptures, 4,800 prints, and 8,200 drawings, so don’t expect to do a lap in 30 minutes! Admission is 14 yo-yos, but as with other attractions in Madrid, it is highly recommended to buy tickets online beforehand, as queues can be Amazonian in nature. Alternatively, go between 6 and 8pm, on Monday-Saturday and it’s free! If you want to go into arty overload, Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, and the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, are all within close walking distance and feature works from the art world’s headline acts.
If you fancy a bit of grandeur, and who doesn’t, make sure to visit the Palacio Real. Although rarely used by the royal family anymore, many of its rooms are open to wander around and gawk at its soaring ceilings, tapestries, frescoes, and countless gold chandeliers. We’re talking serious lighting fixtures here! In addition to the palace, the Royal Armoury situated in the palace courtyard hosts an impressive collection of ceremonial armour. I realise that description is unlikely to elicit a “must make a note of that” response, but trust me, it’s really worth a visit, and, unsurprisingly, himself absolutely loved it. Entrance to the palace is a very worthwhile 11 euros.
PARKS & RECREATION (ok, just parks)
I love a nice park, so I do. And Madrid has more than fulfilled the brief on this one. Little factoid for you: Madrid is the European city with the highest number of trees and green surface per inhabitant. Not bad, eh? The two main parks of interest are Real Jardín Botánico de Madrid, an 8 hectare botanical garden situated next to the Prado, and Madrid’s largest park, Parque del Retiro, practically down the road. This stunning park is an absolute must-see, filled with a myriad of sculptures, monuments, and a beautiful rowing lake. But best of all, is to soak up the atmosphere. This park is very much alive and bustling with locals and tourists alike, taking advantage of the beautiful and relaxed surroundings in the heart of the city.
I won’t lie, one of our top priorities on this holiday, actually any holiday, is the consumption of vast quantities of fabulous food. And in Madrid, ’tis fair to say, the mission was accomplished! The list of eating possibilities in Madrid is endless. A particular highlight though, is the Mercado de San Miguel, a 100 year old iron-pillared indoor food market, restored and reopened 7 years ago. Situated beside the central Plaza Mayor, the Mercado is a veritable gourmet tapas market, with over 30 different vendors offering a mouthwatering selection of hams, seafood, olives, cheese, and cakes. Oh, and Sangria, lots of lovely Sangria! (As I write, I’m actually salivating as I recollect the creamy burrata from the Mozzarella stand, and the crispy fried octopus, and…). The market is open until midnight Sun-Wed, and until 2am Thurs-Sat, so time is not a constraint on the amount of face-stuffing to be enjoyed. Other worthy mentions for calorie consumption are the Mercado San Antón, El Tempranillo, and Casa Lucio. The latter being a well-known Madrid institution which has hosted the likes of Bill Clinton, Penelope Cruz, Kofi Annan, and of course, my humble self!
So if you have a long weekend to spare, book yourself a cheap flight, and explore this beautiful and wonderfully vibrant city. Your weighing scales might not thank you for it, but your bucket list certainly will!