Oh no she MADRID(idn’t)!- 3 days in the Spanish capital
If you ever considered travelling to Europe- travel to Spain. If you ever travel to Spain- travel to Madrid. All the Spanish cities we visited were beautiful and vibrant in their own right- but I would be lying if I didn’t say that Madrid takes the cake. I already felt the difference upon arriving to Madrid, the history and the grandness of this city swallows you completely. As I was sitting in the cab on the way to the Airbnb, I tried to compare this city to anywhere else I have been, and I simply couldn’t. Here are a few things you should know before going to Madrid:
Summer weather: We toured Madrid in mid-June and it was HOT. Although hot, there was no humidity which was definitely a plus for us! Madrid was hotter than Barcelona but by no means was it unbearable. I mentioned this in my Barcelona post but the sun starts to set around 9 pm. I know, CRAZY. The upside of this is that you really have quite a few hours to tour the city and to see a lot of places in a short amount of time.
Language: Let me just preface this by saying that I took three years of Spanish in high school. How much I thought I retained: about 5%. How much did I realize I retained after travelling Spain for 8 days: A LOT. Turns out that when you’re basically forced to speak a language in order to communicate- it comes right back to you. I got lucky and I know that this would definitely not be the case for everyone. BUT, I would 100% say that you can get around Spain without knowing Spanish. English guides, pamphlets and menus are at every tourist site, museum or restaurant you will go to. I would say overall that most people can communicate with you in English to some degree. Another obvious thing to mention is that Spanish is quite similar to English, therefore if you can read English- you can read Spanish. With all that being said, it never hurts to skim through a quick Spanish language guide or watch a YouTube video teaching you the basics- you can even do it on the 10+ hour plane ride. Special shout-out to my high school Spanish teacher Mrs. Sherman, who I had thought only gave me a good grade because I chose my Spanish name to be Pepita Manuela (she seriously let me choose this name), guess I actually learned a thing or two in Espanol!
Spending only a few days in Madrid- We had originally planned to spend 4 days in Barcelona and 4 days in Madrid. Once my friend and I realized how close Toledo is and how much we both wanted to go, Madrid got cut to 3 days. As a result, I was asked a million times (okay, maybe like ten) “Why would you go if it’s for such a short amount of time? What can you possibly see in three days?”. So to answer those questions, the following is my personal philosophy on short (er) trips and trips in general: YOU WILL NEVER EXPERIENCE EVERYTHING YOU CAN POSSIBLY EXPERIENCE ON ANY TRIP SO IT DOES NOT MATTER HOW LONG YOU GO FOR. I always say- do your research in advance, see what attracts you to a city, and make sure you know that you will never be able to hit all the spots available, so make the best of it! It’s better to go and experience a new country or city (which may even seem like a whole different world) for a few days then to not visit at all. That being said, there are certain countries I personally would not visit for a few days- simply because I know I would want to visit more than one city (for example, Thailand). Everyone has different travel budgets and available vacation time- but if you can make it work, and if you feel that it is worth it for you to see a new place (even for a few days) I say do it! Planning ahead and researching places that are must-sees for you will help you see how much you can fit in (even in a limited amount of days).
Bullfighting– corrida de toros (literally the “running of the bulls”) is still practiced in Spain. I have to say that my friend and I had been a little ignorant when it came to this cultural event. We had only heard about bullfighting in passing and thought it was just a cute little show. WE WERE WRONG. We had no idea the bull is slaughtered in front of the crowd and we left the arena very upset and feeling a little stupid that we did not really look into what goes on during the show. If you are really interested in experiencing a Spanish bullfighting show I REALLY RECOMMEND that you look into what goes into it beforehand and decide if it’s something you want to experience. It wasn’t for us, but I could see how someone who had knowledge of the culture could enjoy it. You can learn more about it here.
Couples: One thing I noticed, especially in Madrid, is how EVERYONE is coupled up. It’s kind of funny how you notice these things while abroad. At first my friend thought I was being paranoid, but then she realized I was right. PDA is everywhere, so don’t freak out if you see some cuddling on the train or lip-locking in the cafes.
Siesta: If the Spaniards did anything right it must have been this. Siesta is a mid-day (typically after lunch) snooze that used to be super popular in Spain. Places of business would close mid-day and resume after siesta. Today the siesta is not as common, BUT, some places will be closed after lunch time, and if so then this is probably the reason why.
Getting Around:We used a taxi twice throughout our whole stay in Madrid- to get from the train station and to get to the airport. Lugging suitcases around is not ideal and taxis in Spain are largely inexpensive but while exploring the city there is absolutely no need for them. The public transportation system in Spain rivals that of large cities like New York. Metros and busses are super clean, on time and get you from point A to point B with little confusion. The Metro card also works for busses- you can purchase a certain amount of tickets or simply put money on the metro card and use it until it runs out.
Madrid Card: Similar to Barcelona we decided to purchase the Madrid pass/card. Although it did not include transportation, the Madrid card did include more popular tourist attractions that we knew we wanted to go to anyway. In my opinion the pass was probably more beneficial to purchase in Madrid simply because there were more attractions included. The only downside was that it did not include transportation like the Barcelona Pass did.
Accommodations: Airbnb in Madrid was a no-brainer. Considering it was the beginning of high season in Spain, most of the hotels were quite pricey. Our Airbnb was a few metro stops away from the center of the city and in walking distance to Plaza Toro where the bull-riding show took place. We rented a cute double floor apartment that came with any amenities we needed and was around the corner from a supermarket. I really recommend considering Airbnb in Madrid, most of the apartments we looked at were nicely located and quite spacious for a reasonable price.
Zara: I think Zara deserves a special mention because the stores in Madrid really blew me away. It just so happens to be that Zara originated in Spain, and you can tell that they took a great deal of thought in the construction of a few of the stores in Madrid (especially the one on Gran Via). The Zara in Spain is among some of the nicest stores I have ever seen, with many of them having up to 5 floors, beautiful staircases and marble floors. But with these beautiful sprawling staircases came some not so beautiful sprawling lines. It just happened to be during the early summer sale and the lines were ridiculously long, but the deals were good and the clothing was beautiful so we didn’t mind too much. It should also be noted that the selection and even the styles were way more interesting than the clothing they bring to the States.
Medicine abroad: Day two of Madrid was spent in a lot of pain. I had slept with too many pillows and my neck became so stiff I could barely move my head. I did not know what to do and hoped that the pain would just disappear on it’s own… well, it didn’t. Luckily, Google came to the rescue and after some research I was able to go to a pharmacy and pick up something that could relax my neck muscles so I could turn my head. I won’t lie and will say that I was a little nervous- I was in a foreign country, not feeling good, upset that I wasn’t feeling good and couldn’t enjoy the trip and even felt guilty that my friend had to spend time dealing with my problem. If a situation like this ever comes up- do some research and figure out the equivalent of whatever medicine you need in the country you are in. It’s best not to freak out and try to take care of it as quickly as possible so that it doesn’t get worse and cause you to miss out on having fun! Of course, if anything serious were to come up you should go to a hospital and have it checked out. For that reason I would recommend buying travel insurance which covers you in a variety of circumstances. Prior to the trip I had purchased insurance from World Nomads which you can check out here.
A few Highlights and attractions you should NOT miss:
- A Flamenco show! Flamenco shows can be found all over Madrid and if you purchase a Madrid card you receive a discount on the show.
- Santiago Bernabéu Stadium Tour: Are you a soccer fan? Get a chance to walk on Real Madrid’s field! The stadium also has a small museum with the history of the team, film of memorable wins, trophies, jerseys etc. And if you only go to see where Ronaldo gets dressed before the game- don’t worry, no one will judge.
- Royal Palace of Madrid:A beautiful palace that you can tour through (included in the Madrid card). The rooms are decked out and extremely ornate.
- Shopping along Gran Via- an upscale side of town where some of the major fashion shops (Zara, Mango, H&M, Primark) have huge stores as well as smaller boutiques.
- Plaza Mayor: a beautiful and large plaza in the center of town. Many street performers, restaurants and shops
- Mercado de San Miguel: close to Plaza Mayor- an indoor market with different vendors that serve all kinds of goodies.
- Buen Retiro Park: one of the largest and most beautiful parks I have ever been too. The park is open to the public and has fountains, sculptures and beautiful gardens.Grab some lunch and enjoy!
- Museuo Nacional Del Prado: the main national Spanish art museum, a very large collection of art.