If you like cities, you will likely like Madrid. It is big, bustling, full of life and populated with classical and modern buildings as well as leafy parks and vibrant unique plazas.
We did a lot of walking, since our hotel was located in the downtown area of the city. Thankfully we were 5 stories up, so it was pretty quiet except when other residents made noise. Across the street was the Plaza Espanha with a statue of Cervantes as well his characters Don Quixote along with his companion and donkey. I think his girlfriend even makes an appearance.
A little further into the city is the Plaza Major, one of the main meeting places in Madrid and an historic site flanked on all sides by 4 story buildings. Everything from concerts, bullfights and the inquisition have taken place here, but today it is a space full of cafes and performance artists and a fun place to people watch. Nearby is one of the old markets, now mostly full of tapas bars, and interesting olde worlde shops. We found a cookie store and had some amazing lemon-cinnamon butter cookies. They also sell chocolate olives – candies almonds made to look just like the olives served at most meals.
Another major hub a short walk away, is the Puerta del Sol, from which all distances in Spain are measured. Located on the plaza is a statue of a bear and a strawberry tree, which is the mascot for Madrid.
Although Madrid is very urban, there are number of parks so you aren’t too far away from a cool shady stroll if you want one. You might even get a nice vista of the Royal Palace,
What we really wanted to see in Madrid were some of the art museums, of which Madrid has almost an embarrassment of riches. We confined ourselves over two days to the two largest and most important. The Museo del Prado, which features classical art, especially the Spanish masters such as Velasquez and Goya and the Reina Sofia, which is dedicated to art of the last hundred years or so and has lots of Picasso, Dali, and Miro as well as a good display of photographs presented thematically,such as the Spanish Civil War.
In gratitude to to the Spanish people for their help with building the Aswan dam, the Eqyptian government gave them the Temple de Debod, which was be seen in one of Madrid’s park. Kind of reminds me of going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, except that its outside!
Another place we visited was the Atocha rail station, across from the Reina Sofia and Prado, which looks like a typical Victorian era station from the outside, but inside it has a tropical garden with a turtle pool.
It is here that the AVE high speed trains arrive and depart.
The Palacio de Crystal and Palacio de Velasquez are buildings associated with the Reina Sofia, but located in the Parque del Retiro and housing free art exhibits. Elsewhere in the part is a monument to Alfonso XII and a boating lake that used to be used for naval spectacles. The park was the private realm of the royalty until the 1800s when appropriately dressed citizens were allowed in.
The Museo Arquelogico Nacional is undergoing renovations, but they allow you in for free right now and have their greatest treasures on display in the open gallery. They have some amazing artifacts from the different eras of Spanish history. Perhaps my favorite items were life-size ceramic models of Spanish noble ladies from more than 2,000 years old. They were incredibly detailed and looked almost like Spanish Dona’s from less than a century ago.
Our last stop was the Plaza de Cibeles and the Palacio de Cibeles which we peeked into shortly before they closed. It has a number of fun art exhibits that highlight the art in the different Madrid museums. It would be a fun place for a quick stop with kids and is also a good place to get an overview of some of the best art pieces to be seen in the city. We recognized most of them from the museums we had visited.
We found a nice restaurant and on our last night in Spain, had a very nice meal. The prices were surprisingly reasonable and I had to ask if these were small plates (like you get in Tapas bars) or full portions – it was the latter and the food was very tasty. Nice way to end our journey!