City break: Madrid

A good friend of mine moved to Madrid, Spain, in November last year. We only ever met occasionally whilst she lived in London, but when we met it was genuine, heartfelt and wonderful – soul sisters meeting. So when she told me she will move to Madrid is was very clear, that as soon as she has unpacked and settled I would come and visit. Flights were booked in January, if you book far enough in advance you can get direct flights that are reasonably priced.

I spent 2.5 days in Madrid. Arriving at the airport and the transfer to the city centre was easy and without major delays. Hailing an airport taxi is very easy, the taxi ride into town costs 30 Euros (flat rate). No haggling, no wondering if you are getting the ‘tourist price’.

I loved the architecture, balconies and window shutters everywhere.  And not to mention the food, tapas and my favourite tortilla. There is lots of greenery, trees and parks scattered around town, wide streets and pavements will provide a sense of space. So what are my sightseeing favourites? Certainly make a list, research pre-booking sites to jump the queues at tourist attractions, it also helps to structure your days if you want to squeeze in a lot.

1. The Royal Palace

My number 1 and definitely a must-do. Don’t go too late. I booked my slot at 11am (costs 10 Euros), it will get busy from about 1pm. The palace is still the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family, but now only used for state ceremonies. However, you can visit a wide range of rooms, some of them you may recall from news reports. You don’t necessarily need a guide, I rented an audio guide (costs 3 Euros) and was able to go at my own pace. The audio guide also tells interesting stories and is – I believe – all you need. The tour takes about 60-80 minutes, depending on how quickly you walk through. I should say that you won’t be allowed to take photographs or to video inside any of the rooms (you may do so in the hallways and galleries) – the palace staff is very quick to remind you to put your cameras away.

2. Almudena Cathedral

That’s one to add right after visiting the Royal Palace, because it is located right opposite. It is a beautiful cathedral, very well maintained. Amazing stained glass window and fantastic ceiling paintings – not only in the traditional way of biblical scenes but mosaic-like paintings of geometric shapes and forms in the most vibrant colours. Grand columns (they say about 400 of them) and arches, hidden corners and spaces to sit in silence and to gather your thoughts. You don’t have to pay an entrance fee but you will be asked to donate whatever you can spare – and it is true: every little helps. 😉 It is a working cathedral with ongoing services and ceremonies, so please be mindful when entering to not disturb any worshippers.

3. Mercado de San Miguel

I think this is the grandest of markets in the city. Most markets are indoors, housing a variety of food stalls offering everything you may desire: seafood, fruits and vegetables, jamón (of course), wine and cheese, pickles and olives, bread and other bakery goods. My heart jumped in joy, it is truly magnificent and your mouth will be watering. Do yourself the favour and give in, pick your favourite 3 and a wine and enjoy a break from the sightseeing.

4. Plaza Mayor

This main square is only a 15 minutes walk away from Mercado de San Miguel. It is a classic market square, which was used for witch burnings in medieval times and still plays an important role for major events, e.g. the Christmas market and other more pleasant occasions. The square is surrounded by many good restaurants, cafes and bakeries.

5. Museo del Jamón

You cannot, I say cannot (!), leave Madrid or Spain without trying jamón, the traditional Spanish ham. Admittedly, it is expensive, but my goodness – it is worth it. It melts in your mouth. Add a good glass of vino and you’ll be in food heaven. At the Museo you can buy ham of all price categories, from 100g to a whole leg to carve at home. Of course, if you don’t manage to stop at a Museo del Jamón, you can buy it at every well stocked supermarket (although prices will not differ much).

6. Essential Flamenco

Lastly, you have to go and see a flamenco show. I personally prefer the smaller venues, with a more intimate feel to it. If that is your cup of tea, try Essential Flamenco close to Sol underground station. It has approximately 60 seats, the first row as close to the stage as it can get. The band is amazing and I had goosebumps listening to the fantastic musicians. The stars of the show, who represent the ‘old style’ flamenco, are the dancers – both very skilled professionals. Everyone on stage shows their passion for the art, it is truly breathtaking to watch. Be prepared for goosebumps and a permanent smile and look of amazement!

Else: The underground is easy to navigate, I would recommend to buy a travel card and load it with 10 trips (12.50 Euros), then you just tap-in to enter the station. You’ll have late nights, no one goes out for dinner before 9pm, the normal time is about 10.30pm which for Northern European souls needs getting used to. Ha ha! And pick a Taverna over a fancy restaurant, you will not be disappointed and experience the local setting.

Whatever you do, make sure you allow for time to rest, look around and enjoy the vibe of the city. It is relaxed and welcoming.

I will certainly go back, to visit my dear friend and to see the city basking in the sunshine. Hasta luego¡

Links: Royal Palace tickets, Almudena Cathedral, Plaza MayorEssential Flamenco

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