Our Day in Madrid
We spent our first afternoon / evening feeling very, very jet lagged after our long haul 22 hour flight from Australia to Madrid. Because I am such a stickler for keeping to your body clock rather than the hours of the city you are in, we had a bit of a wander around our neighbourhood, the Salamanca district. It is family friendly, easy to navigate, small enough to walk to most places of interest, has great public transport, affordable food and amazing shopping.
The Spanish are renowned for their love of family, and children are a very high priority for most families, so it is therefore very easy to find plenty to do with the children in tow. We had the best night’s sleep in our luxurious apartment and headed off with no real plans. Visiting a city as large as Madrid with so much on offer can be a little overwhelming when deciding what to see. We had a couple of must sees on our agenda but apart from that we decided to just wing it. We didn’t bother with bus or metro passes, which was a good thing because we ended up mostly walking. There was however a bus stop virtually on our door step, so the day started with a quick, easy busy trip into the city centre, the Puerta del Sol.
Puerta del Sol (Spanish for “Gate of the Sun”)
This is one of the best known and busiest places in Madrid. It was bustling and the crowds were a little overwhelming. The kids were in awe. We did the obligatory photos in front of the famous landmarks.
The photo at the top is the family in front of “El Oso y El Madroño” (the Bear and the Strawberry Tree). It is the quintessential symbol of Madrid and a popular meeting place for tourists.
The Plaza Mayor
It is an easy stroll from the Puerta del Sol to the famous Plaza Mayor. The Plaza Mayor is a grand arcaded square and is a major tourist attraction. The walk to the Plaza Mayor is lined with souvenir shops so we went a bit crazy buying all things touristy and tacky. The Plaza Mayor is a great spot for the kids because of all the street performers. We thought they were pretty lame but the kids couldn’t get enough. Beware though, some of these so-called performers can be very pushy when asking for money. Our middle child felt sorry for everyone and wanted to give our money away to all and sundry. There are many traditional shops and cafes under the porticoes and so was a good place to stop for a coffee and people watch.It is an easy stroll from the Puerta del Sol to the famous Plaza Mayor. The Plaza Mayor is a grand arcaded square and is a major tourist attraction. The walk to the Plaza Mayor is lined with souvenir shops so we went a bit crazy buying all things touristy and tacky. The Plaza Mayor is a great spot for the kids because of all the street performers. We thought they were pretty lame but the kids couldn’t get enough. Beware though, some of these so-called performers can be very pushy when asking for money. Our middle child felt sorry for everyone and wanted to give our money away to all and sundry. There are many traditional shops and cafes under the porticoes and so was a good place to stop for a coffee and people watch.
The Streets and Sights of Madrid
Madrid is a truly magnificent city to wander and just take in the sights. Having a husband who is a history teacher is a bonus when travelling – it is like having our very own travel guide. The kids loved hearing his stories as we wandered the streets. And I have a passion for art and architecture so we stopped often to take in the beautiful buildings in this city. If you are an architecture buff you will fall in love with Madrid. The architecture includes Baroque, Neo-Classicism, Modernism and my favourite Art Deco. We did a loop around the Gran Via (the main and busiest street of Madrid) and then followed the Calle de Alcala. We stopped for lunch at a too expensive cafe (yes we were in tourist central) but it was good and traditional especially served with a cold cerveza (beer).
We followed the Calle de Alcala all the way to the Puerta de Alcala – the gateway to the city. This monument is directly in front of the Retiro Park. If you get the chance, visit this monument at night to see it beautifully lit. Anyway after all that walking we finished the day in this beautiful park.
The Retiro Park
The Parque del Buen Retiro, means “Park of the Pleasant Retreat” or as the locals call it El Retiro. This amazingly large park (approx. 350 acres) is a dream for children and families and is right in the centre of the city. There are many playgrounds, so of course our kids were in heaven. It is very popular with the local Madrileno families. It’s amazing how children makes friends despite the language barrier. The universal language of play comes into its own and each playground we visited the kids found new friends. We spent the rest of our afternoon in Madrid exploring this wonderful park and taking in the scenery. It is filled with beautiful monuments, galleries, a man-made lake and the stunning Crystal Palace. If you time your visit right you might catch one of the regular events that occur throughout the year.
The Salamanca Barrio
It was then an easy walk home to our apartment in the Salamanca district. This is such a great part of the city to stay. It is very close to everything, fabulous shopping and eateries and of course walking distance to Parque del Retiro.
It is also a very upmarket neighbourhood where you will find very cool restaurants, fashionable bars and expensive shopping. We wandered through some of the tucked away smaller streets and found the world’s smallest grocery shop. As a family of five we literally couldn’t all fit it. Jud stayed outside with the kids while I grabbed what we needed. I kept our receipt as a souvenir of how much $20 AUD can buy you in a major Spanish city. We got a bottle of wine, a six pack of beer, ham, cheese, beautiful vine ripened tomatoes, good crunchy bread, juice, olives and nibblies. We couldn’t believe it!
More of what Madrid has to offer
If you are lucky enough to get the chance to stay in this fabulous, children friendly, family oriented city for longer, here are some other great things you can do with the kids:If you are lucky enough to get the chance to stay in this fabulous, children friendly, family oriented city for longer, here are some other great things you can do with the kids:More of what Madrid has to offer
The Prado Museum – considered to be one of the world’s best art museums. It has the biggest collection of Spanish art including the largest collection of Francisco de Goya. You could easily spend a day here and my advise would be to do just that. There is enough of interest here for the kids and there are many special exhibitions held throughout the year.
Casa de Campo – this is an enormous park on the outskirts of Madrid. Again this is another place your could spend an entire day and there is so much here for the children. There is a lake and it is a popular spot for Madrileno families on weekends for picnics. It is also home to an amusement park, the Parque de Atracciones de Madrid and the Madrid Zoo.
El Rastro markets – if you can swing your visit to coincide with a Sunday or a public holiday then you will hit the jackpot. These markets are a treasure trove of the best bargains money can buy. Wander through the side streets for some of the best finds. My husband bought me the most beautiful vintage ring from these markets a couple of years ago and every time I wear it I get compliments.
The Royal Palace – the Palacio Real de Madrid (the Royal Palace of Madrid) is the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family. The royal family don’t reside there and it is only used for state ceremonies and therefore open to the public. I haven’t visited this palace but my husband took a group of school students a couple of years ago. In his opinion it is up there with Versailles in terms of its lavish interiors and impressive artwork and well worth a day visit.
Catedral de la Almudena – and if you’re visiting the Royal Palace then a quick visit to the beautiful Madrid Cathedral would be worthwhile.
Local festivals – check the local papers and websites to find out what local festivals might be happening during your stay in Madrid. Nobody does a festival quite like the Spanish and they seem to have a celebration for just about everything.
Madrid pass – my final piece of advice. If you are planning a longer stay in Madrid I highly recommend getting the Madrid pass. These city passes are great. We always get them if we are planning to spend at least three days in a city, so you get good value for money. It includes things like entry to the museums and galleries (with the added bonus of avoiding the queues), tour buses, sight seeing groups, discounts for restaurants and shows and of course children are at a cheaper price.
Here is a link to the official Madrid tourism website. Lots of great information here, especially for families.
And this link to GoMadrid is another great resource.
We would love to get back to this wonderful city one day before our kids get too much older. I would have to say Madrid is one of my favourite cities in the world for travelling with kids.
Have you been to Madrid? What are your favourite things to do?