We had the choice between Turin and Madrid. Both flights were affordable, both return flights at decent hours and both cities intriguing enough for us to want to go there. In the end, it was my friend who decided, telling us she had never been to Spain. We couldn’t keep her from that beautiful country, could we?
At the end of August, in the middle of a thunderstorm, our plane touched down in Madrid. Hard. I left with a giant bump at the top of my head. I had spent the flight stretched out on an empty row of three seats, recovering from my shift the previous night, when the turbulences had started. Needless to say that the armrest had been stronger than my head.
Friday is a blur to me. So tired I could barely walk, I somehow made it to our apartment where I instantly fell asleep. But the next two days were amazing and in case you’re planning on travelling to Madrid in the near future, I want to tell you all about it. So here’s a couple of things you absolutely need to do when you go there:
Explore the Palacio Real
It didn’t look that huge. Okay, maybe it did look large but not as much as it turned out to be. We arrived here first thing in the morning, five minutes after it had opened, and managed to avoid all the queues. My advise would be to get an audio guide so you get the most of your visit. The interior is stunning. Every room is different and some have decorations I have never seen before. And believe me, I have been to a lot of European castles over the past years.
Climb to the top of the Catedral de Nuestra Senora de la Almudena and then explore its crypt
You should go into the Cathedral, too. It’s got an interesting decor unlike anything I’ve seen in a church before. But the real highlight is the view from the top and the many columns down in the crypt. Try to avoid stepping on the graves down there and you will look like you’re doing a crazy dance. Don’t miss one of the oldest paintings in Madrid. The lady at the entrance will give you a flyer with instructions on where to find it.
Have lunch at the Mercado de San Miguel
The tapas here are ridiculously expensive but the market is quite an experience. I loved it! We didn’t get a seat inside and I think a miracle has to happen for an empty seat to pop up in front of you but we bought our food and sat down just outside the building. It was delicious.
Figure out why gravity doesn’t exist in Madrid
I don’t know how they did it.
Relax in the Parque del Retiro
The park is huge and it is just the right place if you need a break from the city. We were exhausted by the time we got here and spent some time sitting on a bench, pretending to take a very long time to write a postcard home so we didn’t have to get up and moving again. But when we did, what we saw was amazing. If you have the time, hire a boat on the lake. Or walk up to the Palacio de Cristal and search for turtles in the pond behind it.
Head to the Prado for free
In Paris it’s the Louvre, in Madrid it’s the Prado. You can’t come here without going inside. Check out Goya’s disturbingly ugly paintings and run around, trying to find some of the paintings highlighted in the brochures you can get near the entrance. We spent a great amount of time staring at Goya’s paintings and wondering what his obsession with ridiculously curly hair was (maybe it was a coincidence but in a lot of the paintings we looked at, the women had very curly hair). Try to find the tiny portrait he drew of himself which explains a lot about the painter. And don’t miss all the other important and famous painters. If you think the museum is too expensive, arrive here shortly before six because that’s when entry is free. Make sure you’re a bit early or the queue will be endless and you won’t have much time left to look at the paintings.
Watch the sun set behind an Egyptian temple
The Prado closed at eight. Sunset was supposed to be at around quarter to nine. Plenty of time to get to the perfect viewing place for the sunset, right? No problem if it’s at the other end of the city, right?
We almost ran. The sun got lower and lower. By the time we finally arrived, we were exhausted and our feet hurt. And then a couple of clouds pushed in front of the sun and we didn’t even have a view! But the temple was beautiful. I don’t know who moved it to Madrid or why but even if the sky didn’t turn red, this was the perfect place to spend the evening.
Have dinner in the world’s oldest restaurant
El Botin has been a restaurant since 1725. It is supposed to be the oldest restaurant in the world and what’s really cool about it, the cellar is supposed to be even older. Book ahead and ask for a table down there. The food was excellent although some vegetables would have been nice with the huge amount of meat I got. But who cares? It was the world’s oldest restaurant.
Have a real Spanish breakfast
We went out and had Chocolate con Churros for breakfast. Both places we went to were amazing and the second one, the Chocolateria San Gines, seemed to be famous because there was a long line and photographs of all kind of famous people who had already been there.
Go wild on market day
El Rastro is Madrid’s famous Sunday market. I bought two t-shirts which I really like and which are a nice souvenir. The market is not as chaotic as other markets around the world but it is fun and worth the experience. Plus, for me, it came along with plenty of childhood memories of holidays spent in Spain and markets in tiny towns near Barcelona.