We arrived in Madrid about 1PM, after catching the high speed AVE train from Barcelona. By the way, I’d highly recommend the train service over flying. For some weird reason, the day of our trip, it was only 5 euros more to go in the Premiere cabin as opposed to tourist class. We ended up with lots more room, a quiet cabin (with the exception of one strange yappy dog) and free wine. Score!
The train brings you right into the centre of Madrid, to Atocha station. This is a beautiful station. The old concourse is now full of greenery – over 7000 plants – complete with turtles! We got a cab to our hotel – the Intercontinental – where we had booked a Club room, and were very well looked after. There was even a delicious packet of local violet candies in our room. After a short break, we wandered straight out into the city to take a look around.
Before the visit, I didn’t know that Madrid was actually the capital city – and much bigger than Barcelona. While it doesn’t seem to have a landmark feature of architecture like the Sagrada Familia, the city itself was very pleasant for exploring on foot. We wandered straight down the Paseo de la Castellana towards the Plaza de Colon (passing the very random Frog of Fortune). On our way to the Parque de El Retiro, we passed the beautiful Cibeles Palace. Originally designed and built by Antonio Palacios and Joaquín Otamendi as the headquarters of the Spanish Post Office, it was inaugurated in 1909 and since 2007 it has housed the offices of the Madrid City Council.
Our next stop was the Parque del Retiro. Despite being the middle of winter, the sun was shining and I was able to wander around in my short sleeves! The park occupies 120 hectares of land in the very centre of Madrid, and was originally a royal area of relaxation. It is now famous for the large lake in the middle of the park, complete with rowboats that visitors can rent out by the hour. We spent an hour or so walking through the gardens, stumbling across the Palacio de Cristal, and exiting down Cuesta de Moyano – home to Madrid’s permanent outdoor book sellers.
We then decided to head to the city centre of Madrid. While the centre lacks the multitudes of back alleys that we found in Barcelona, we still found lots of places to explore. Being a Sunday morning, the city was very busy, with throngs of people relaxing around Plaza Mayor. A lovely open space in the centre of the city, Plaza Mayor has, apparently, been host to all that is controversial about Spain. From bullfights to autos-da-fé (the condemnations of heretics during the Spanish Inquisition), the square seems to have experienced it all. Now home to the city’s tourism office, it is hosts Christmas markets in December and various events during the year.
After quickly ducking in – and out again – of the overcrowded San Miguel Mercado, we followed the crowds to the Royal Palace of Madrid. The current Royal Palace, was built on the site of the old Alcázar which was destroyed by fire on Christmas Eve 1734. While we didn’t actually go in, you can’t miss this mini-Versailles, facing the Catedral de la Almudena. As the Royal Palace is not the official residence of the King of Spain (but rather where state ceremonies, banquets and state functions) are held, you are able to enter the interior. It is not particularly big, and can be visited in less than two hours.
Utilising the effective metro system, we made our way back to the hotel, where we enjoyed a random selection of club lounge foods – score! The next day, we visited Toledo – which I will describe in a separate post – before returning to Madrid on Tuesday.
We had lunch with a friend at a local cafe, where she (thankfully!) ordered everything for us – no English was spoken! After this, we walked back to the city centre via the Matadero Madrid – a large open air arts area – and the Madrid Rio Park. Our afternoon was spent visiting the Naval Museum of Madrid. The Naval museum is in the building of the old Spanish Armada’s Naval Headquarters. While this small but jam-packed museum didn’t really feature as much on the Spanish Armada as I had hoped, it certainly had a lot of models!
Stay: Hotel Intercontinental Madrid, Paseo de la Castellana, 49, 28046 Madrid, Spain. From 685AED per night.
See: Parque del Retiro, Plaza de la Independencia, 7, 28001 Madrid, Spain. Free. San Miguel Mercado, Plaza de San Miguel, s/n, 28005 Madrid, Spain. Opens 10AM – 12AM. Royal Palace of Madrid, Calle de Bailén, s/n, 28071 Madrid, Spain. Open 10AM – 8PM daily. 10 euros. Naval Museum, Paseo del Prado, 5, 28014, Madrid, Spain. 3 euros.