Admittedly I love small towns more than large ones so I wasn’t sure Madrid was going to be my thing. We arrived by train from Seville, taking in all the gorgeous landscape Spain has to offer. It was pouring rain as we got out of the taxi and of course we had thirty minutes to spare before we met our Airbnb host. We found we were in an amazing location right in the heart of the city with Plazas and restaurants a plenty.
As we began to explore Madrid we immediately found it was so fun and easy to walk around, check out the amazing little pubs, restaurants and shops. They were all unique and full of the Spanish character we were falling in love with. Despite its size we were finding out Madrid still maintains that small community feel, with families out in the Plazas, people walking everywhere and enjoying the good life of great food, wine and beer. Quickly Madrid was changing my mind about what a big city can be.
Our first day was spent exploring the streets of Madrid, making our way to the beautiful garden, Buen Retiro Park. The first thing I saw were the absolutely incredible evergreen trees which grow in the most beautiful sculptured shapes. I couldn’t get enough of how unique and gorgeous they were. They stand as a welcome to park, greeting you with grace and beautiful contrast to the busy city streets that surround you outside. This park also holds the Cristal Palace, beautiful rose gardens, a pond with people rowing each other around the beautiful architecture and the happiest human being I have ever met. He is a painter who comes to the park everyday to sell his art and make enough money to treat his wife to a nice dinner. We are now the proud owners of a piece of his work, the only souvenir we have bought for ourselves. It is definitely worth the visit to this park, with 350 acres and a 500 year old history it is easy to spend hours here getting lost in the natural beauty of Madrid.
We spent a little time on Gran Via, an incredibly busy shopping street. It was full of huge shops and large restaurants, which for me lacked personality and uniqueness. At the end of Gran Via stands the Metropolis building. Its glorious winged angel standing in the most beautiful contrast to the gorgeous Spanish sky.
Madrid has many different barrios and one of my favorite is the Latin Quarter. The shops and restaurants here are quirky and fun or antique/vintage. It is an eclectic neighborhood which is also home to a HUGE flea/antique market on Sunday, El Rastro. To say the streets are packed full of people is an understatement. They are literally clogged with people looking for great buys on antiques, vintage items, souvenirs, and flea market goodies. Before we could conquer even half of this market I was completely over stimulated and had to throw in the towel. (For veggies and vegans there is a great little vegan place where even J. the meat lover found some pretty fantastic nachos.) It was great fun to dig through the vintage clothing, antique oddities, and treasures at El Rastro.
The next day we set out for the Prado museum. We waited in a short line and anticipated a 2 hour tour through the museum. Five hours later we exited the Prado feeling completely overwhelmed with the incredible treasures inside. Yep, five hours and we skipped ALOT of stuff. There are so many famous pieces of art, beautiful statues and incredible bronzes we couldn’t help but spend our day here, getting lost in the immense treasures of our world. It is a very common conversation for us to have debating what would happen if we had to abandon this planet for another. How would we decide what was important enough to take with us? It is also absolutely incredible to stand in front of a bronze head created over 2000 years ago and not marvel at the skill of the Roman & Etruscan people who came before us. The Prado is definitely worth the visit, just be prepared for spending a day there and definitely pick and choose what is important to you. When we were there they had an incredible exhibit on Spanish & Spanish territory collection from a gentleman in New York who started a museum there to honor the cultures. There were the most amazing maps of what the world looked like during the discovery of the Americas. The most incredible thing I saw the entire day though was a book written during the 1400’s from the King to his son with advice on being a King. It was so beautiful and compelling. If only my Spanish were better…
The Almudena Cathedral and the Palace were also great spots to visit. While the cathedral is very beautiful the crypts below were absolutely incredible. The paintings, the stained glass and the statues were so breathtaking. We really enjoyed it more than the church. The palace is also very interesting across the plaza. There are some really incredible treasures there including the King’s crown. I would recommend buying your tickets ahead of time though to avoid the line, and be patient, it is pretty crowded. Along one of the side corridors is a fantastic Armory display. The details on the horses armor, and the displays of the soldiers armor were incredibly fascinating. They were truly works of art in their own right, so make sure to tour this area.
We felt so comfortable in Madrid, strolling the streets, sitting in the Plazas and watching the Grandpas walking around with their little grandchildren. The whole city felt like one big warm neighborhood us. Of course the Spanish people are so warm and fun we couldn’t get enough of the small bars and restaurants where you could find interesting conversation and beautiful pieces of history. It was easier to find food for me, the vegetarian, in Madrid. There are more options than the traditional Tapas so that was a big relief! When walking through Madrid take the time to check out all of the incredible architecture of the city, it is really quite special.