Traveling to a new city opens up a wealth of unknown experiences. Yet while you’re overcome with excitement, intrigue and maybe a little apprehension (let’s be real, a whole lotta apprehension), it’s easy to get overwhelmed when trying to ensure you see every nook and cranny. After spending a couple weeks exploring Spain’s major cities, I’ve compiled a schedule to make sure you can see it all while still having enough money left over to bring home some churros. First up, Madrid! A thriving and exotic city made up of eccentric young professionals and awe-inspiring landmarks. My brother, who’s been living in Spain for the past year (the travel bug is genetic, I tell ya), is my knowledgeable resource in guaranteeing that this itinerary is not only top notch, but also feasible in a 24 hour time span. Grab your walking shoes and your appetite, it’s time to roll!
Spain is known for its late mornings. Given that many people are often out partying until 4am, it’s understandable that most people don’t reach for their croissant until after 10am. But since we have a full day of activities, get an early start and stroll your way down to Plaza Mayor. This centrally located plaza is filled with restaurants and activity, even in the early mornings (people just trudging home from a night of clubbing is not unheard of). Most folks strongly encourage a sweet start to the day so you’re likely to see most people indulging in pastries and tarts for breakfast. Forewarning, the standard coffee is an espresso/milk blend, so your caffeine switch will be a bit creamier than normal. After finishing breakfast, it’s time to head on down to the Royal Palace.
The Palacio Real de Madrid, translated to the Royal Palace of Madrid, is as breathtaking from the outside as it is from the inside, so be sure to head behind the gates. Although it is the official residence of the Spanish family, tours are held daily. For a few Euros (even cheaper if you bring your student ID!), you can visit the various elaborate parlors and ornate rooms. When finished with your tour, be sure to pause and take in the view of the cathedral across the street as well as the scenery of a more rural Madrid on the rear side.
Move on to the Templo de Debod, an ancient Egyptian temple that was moved to Madrid. Located in Parque del Oeste, another busy park, you may have to wait in a brief line to enter the temple and observe the artwork and architecture. This is also a great time to grab second breakfast, such as a baked treat, which is very necessary for early rising tourists to keep their energy up.
Next, walk down Calle Mayor to get to Puerto del Sol, one of the most bustling regions of the city. Take time to absorb the culture, street artists and performers surround the area.
It is likely you’ll be rather famished at this point. Good thing, considering lunch is typically Spain’s largest meal of the day! Look for a restaurant that is attracting crowds and has outdoor seating. This way you can still observe and take in your surroundings, though you might have to put up with a few peddlers passing through. Paella is the most popular option as well as heavy meat and seafood dishes. Always ask for a recommendation from the wait staff, now’s the time to try new things! (Though, honestly, I’m still not entirely sure about the baby squid I ate).
After your leisurely lunch, make your way towards Retiro Park. Since it’s now the daily siesta, a period in the afternoon when most Spaniards close up shop to relax, you’ll find some areas might be closed. Don’t be afraid to take part in a light nap. After all, you have a rambunctious night ahead of you! Once you’ve rested up and made your way to one of the largest parks in the region, explore the huge area full of sculptures, fountains, boating lake, and phenomenal people watching. Take advantage of the activities available, such as riding bikes or paddle-boating out on the water. You can also visit the Prado Museum, the Crystal Palace or stay around for one of the free concerts held throughout the summer.
After a long afternoon as wandering and museum visiting, you’ll notice that most people don’t sit down for dinner until after 10pm (though you will see tourists being seated around 7). Head back over to Plaza Mayor to experience the nightlife where you will now find it lit up with restaurants and city dwellers meandering around to find a place for sangria and tapas. We stopped at La Alhambra on C/ Victoria, a lovely and authentic restaurant with a variety of tapas to share among the seven of us traveling through. Make sure you get the fried goat cheese drizzled in a sweet blueberry sauce and a seafood paella to share! The evening meal is all about the company, the experience and, of course, the drinks. Take your time to enjoy the setting.
The only way to round out your dining experience is moving onto Chocolatería San Ginés for churros, a delightfully fried treat made for being dipped into chocolate. When you’re stuffed to the brim, prepare for your last stop of the day!
To be sure you get a seat, order tickets for Los Tablas’ flamenco dancing ahead of time and get ready for a fantastic show! Pop some olives, split a pitcher of sangria and take in a staple of Spanish culture. Male and female dancers alike will amaze you with their elaborate costumes and fast paced dance steps.
No matter what your interests are, Madrid is full of history, uniqueness, and adventure. From the manicured parks to the historic plazas, you’re sure to enjoy a trip that is rich in experience, but little in cost.
Have you ever been to Spain? Which city would you like to see most?
Although my heart might always belong to Barcelona’s laid back vibe, I loved the busyness in Madrid and the vibrancy of the city and those who inhabit it!