I’d visited almost all the capitals of Europe, but for some reason had never made it to Madrid, the capital of Spain.
I knew something of the city’s fascinating history. I also knew that it is the highest capital in Europe and that it is situated at almost the exact centre of Spain.
Maybe I had been put off visiting by stories of searing heat in the summer and freezing cold in the winter. If so, then planning a trip for November might avoid these two extremes.
And that proved to be the case. During my four days in Madrid I hardly saw a cloud in the sky. The temperature never went much above 11 degrees C, but in the sun it felt pleasantly warm.
Although Madrid is the third largest city in the EU after London and Berlin, its centre is relatively compact and flat and so can be easily toured by foot. However, for the less nimble, the Metro provides an efficient and inexpensive means of getting around.
I wouldn’t include Madrid as one of my Top Ten Cities of the world, in part because it lacks the extra dimension of an attractive river or sea frontage. However it provides much for the Senior Traveller in that there are fine historic buildings, art galleries of international standing and large parks. There are many good quality hotels and restaurants in the central area that are relatively inexpensive compared to, say, London or Paris.
Overall, I most enjoyed just wandering around – ignoring the map – from tree-lined boulevard, to ancient winding backstreet, and from tightly-packed market stalls, to top brand shopping plazas. And of course taking in the odd drink and tapas along the way.
I was disappointed at the lack of information anywhere about Madrid’s role in the Spanish Civil War – something I find of particular interest. This has been commented on by David Mathieson, a Civil War expert who organises trips to important Civil War sites in the city. Next time I visit Madrid, I will definitely arrange to join one of his trips.
My Ten Highlights of Madrid
These are given in the order that I visited them as I strolled around the central area of Madrid.
♦ El Rastro. I visited Madrid’s flea market area on a Sunday morning, the busiest day of the week. The market dates back over 400 years and almost everything imaginable is on sale at the hundreds of stalls arranged along the narrow sloping streets.
♦ Restaurante Sobrino de Botin. In a side street as you walk from El Rastro to the Plaza Maya, you will find the Botin, the oldest restaurant in the world (according to the Guinness World Records), dating back to 1725. The suckling pig, a favourite of Hemingway at this restaurant, is excellent, but expect to pay a 50% premium for the privilege of eating at this ancient venue.
A sister travel site gives more information on Historic Eateries in Central Spain.
♦ Plaza Mayor. As you pass through one of the granite archways which enclose this famous central square, you suddenly find yourself in a wide open space, surrounded by buildings all of the same fine architectural design. I enjoyed drinks and a plate of fine hams at Museo del Jamón, sitting outside in the afternoon sun.
♦ Palacio Real de Madrid. This magnificent palace was inspired by the Louvre in Paris. Although the exterior is architecturally stunning, it is the interior that makes this the top attraction in Madrid. Of particular note are the sweeping main staircase, the Hall of Columns and the Gala Dining Room. I was also impressed with the art treasures in the side rooms, including the Stradivarius collection of violins, viola and violoncello. Seniors 65+ get a 45% reduction on the entry charge.
♦ Puerta del Sol. The square, or more correctly half-circle, is in the bustling heart of Madrid. I enjoyed watching the many street performers, although I must admit that I’ve now seen rather too many of the pretend statues!
♦ Art galleries near the Paseo del Prado. Within just a short walk along the Paseo del Prado boulevard there are three great art galleries. The Museo del Prado, a fine building in its own right, houses a vast range of masterpieces including several by Goya (50% admission discount for Seniors 65+). The Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza covers international art from the 14th to 20th Century. The Centro de Arte Reina Sofia has a superb collection of modern art including worked by Dali, Miró and Picasso. I needed much more time to view the exhibits and so this added to my list of what to include on my next, longer trip to Madrid.
♦ Real Jardin Botanico. I always make a point of visiting botanic gardens, as often they are relaxing oases of tranquillity in the middle of busy cities; see my Top Ten Gardens. Sadly, these gardens had a rather dilapidated feel to them, even taking into account the time of year. However, I include the Real Jardin Botanico in my highlights because of the glasshouses which contained many unusual plants, including a fine orchid display.
♦ Atocha Station. The old station proved too small for the high speed trains, so the beautiful wrought iron building was converted into a tropical garden. Enjoy a relaxing drink under the palms and tree ferns.
♦ Retiro Park. This 350 acre park was once a royal preserve, but is now one of Madrid’s premier attractions, with monuments, sculptures, landscaped gardens and lakes. I was particularly impressed with the magnificent Crystal Palace, inspired by its long lost British namesake.
♦ Paseo Boulevards. And finally as the sun was setting, I strolled back to my hotel along the tree-lined Paseo del Prado, Paseo de Recoletos and Paseo de la Castellana boulevards, passing several beautiful plazas and the iconic Ritz Hotel and Cibeles Fountain.
How to Get There
Several budget airlines fly from the UK to Madrid, including Easyjet, Flybe and Ryanair. I flew mid-week (see my article: Fly on a Tuesday!) from Liverpool for about £90 return by Easyjet; all seats are now pre-allocated, a definite plus for Senior Travellers.
I purchased a 10 journey Metrobus ticket for €12 to travel by the Metro from the airport to my hotel. This could be used by both of us and sufficed for our four-day stay in Madrid.
A supplement of €3 per person is payable when going from or to the airport – purchased either with the Metrobus ticket or separately.
Of the many good quality hotels in central Madrid, I chose to stay at the Intercontinental Hotel on a Senior discount rate (see: Hotel Deals for Seniors). This proved to be an excellent hotel, but I would recommend upgrading to a Club Room to enjoy the complimentary breakfast and evening drinks and tapas. And of course I collected my IHG Reward Club points.
Central Spain Touring Holiday
Following my short break in Madrid, I extended my holiday by a few days to tour around the surrounding area. See: Central Spain: Segovia and Toledo – Touring Holiday.