Welcome back to our winter vacation special series, last week I spoke about Barcelona and this week we dive into Madrid.
So after a good 4 days in Barcelona, our next stop was Madrid. Did I tell you that my tonsils acted up again during the trip and that if you have kids the Barcelona City Aquarium is a must do! My daughter absolutely loved it since her dream job at the moment is to become an Octonaut.
Since the time we moved to Switzerland, I have been longing for a long vacation, while we travelled quite a bit (within country) – all our trips were a maximum of 2 days! And, for my husband vacations shouldn’t last longer than 4 days, cuz he firmly believes that a lingering feeling at the end of a trip is what makes it great. While he was facing his usual “let’s-go-back-home-now” syndrome, our trip was only half done.
Madrid is a total hotspot during the festive season (which is in between christmas and new years), it almost felt as though half of the world had travelled to be there for new years eve.
Madrid and Barcelona are connected with the fast train (Refe) which takes only about 2 and a half hours to get you to your destination. The train ride is comfortable, and extremely convenient. I highly recommend the train journey if you are connecting between Barcelona and Madrid. The train offers snacks and beverages in exchange of money (Haha! Not for free), a movie (in Spanish) is played en route and the seating is as comfortable as it can get.
What to expect?
The temperatures in Madrid are not the same, it dips further down(in comparison to Barcelona) and at this time of the year (the festive time), the weather can get quite chilly and the sun is just an accessory. Hence, make sure you carry warm clothing and are well wrapped.
Expect to be amazed at the crowds, be it Puerta del Sol or the Plaza Royal, Madrid at this point in time is jam packed. I am bit uncomfortable when I see herds of people all around me, that’s the reason I shop on weekdays. An interesting observation- “As the sun set every evening, the street performers started to warm up and people lined up to see these guys in action. And what is extraordinary is not the performance but the energy and enthusiasm in the audience.”
To sum it up – Madrid as a city is one big party!
The public transport system and the taxi service – both are great. However, in Madrid it is favourable to use the public transport system to avoid the traffic congestion.
In the area that we were staying in (Arenal street), this pedestal street is where most of the action was – so we did not feel the need to hitch rides or board buses and metros. We were quite comfortable walking around our hotel, we obviously did the Madrid bus tour to see the iconic sights and sounds of the city. But other than that, we used the services only between the train station and the hotel.
For shorter visits, I highly recommend staying in the heart of the city and experiencing all the madness that there is.
Where to Stay?
Well we stayed in this hotel called “Francisco I” and our experience here was average. Here’s why:
- The hotel check in was at 2 pm and we arrived quite after 2 pm. But we were still told that our room wasn’t quite ready and that we can leave our luggage at the reception and go out for a stroll of about 2 hours. Now, this is wrong at many levels – why is the room not ready despite commitment and why did he decide how long our outing should be?” (There are many more deeper levels and layers that make me want to punch that guy, but then as writers we need to be suave, we need to underplay it!)
- The breakfast was pathetic, we tried it on one unfortunate morning and knew that this was no “K+K”.
- The staff was quite indifferent, and they had this “don’t care” attitude.
- While the look and feel of the hotel was quite modern, one could feel that the modernisation was superficial. For instance, the rooms had hair dryers that didn’t work, they had no coffee pots, the furniture was old wood.
- The room service was quite prompt. (which was good, of course!)
- The room was not well lit, due to which it seemed quite depressing.
- The best part, despite the above was that it was really in the heart of the city – Puerta Del Sol, the main street, Plaxa de Opera and the main square were all in very close proximity
My recommendation would still be to stay in this area, maybe not the same hotel.
What to do?
Well there is a lot to do in Madrid, even much more than Barcelona. One of the good features of purchasing the madrid city tour tickets is the free walking tour that you get with it. As luck would have it, the walking tour guide was not standing where she should have been, so very ironically (during our disappointing walk of saying we can never get anything for free – oh how I love these talks) we bumped into her and went on a solo tour. (since no one else found her)
The thing about these “free” tours is this – you need to pay a reasonable tip to the guide(if you find them good) and you can stop/leave the tour anytime you want.
Our tour guide Barbara Jones was absolutely wonderful and extremely warm. She was quite passionate about her job and she took us to all the main cultural sites while narrating interesting tales of the land. We walked through the old town and saw the Puerta del Sol, Royal Opera house, Plaza de Puerta Cerrada, Royal palace, Plaza mayor and many other tourist attractions.
While our day 2 was filled with visiting the old town and doing the hop off hop on bus tour our last day was more relaxed. Another thing that we absolutely love doing on our trips as a family (no, not shopping) is the cable car as we really enjoy the aerial views of cities. So we purchased tickets for Telerferico Madrid – and made this into a picture day!
The ride is quite reasonable, the pictures they do for you are a nice keep sake and it’s a must do if you are in Madrid for a longer duration. Just like Barcelona, Madrid offers a variety of day trip options – but we didn’t have the time or energy to go for those. The one which is most recommended is the one to Toledo.
Where to eat?
Again, if you read my previous post you know that I love Spanish food – tapas, paella and the chocolate churros are what we were into at Madrid as well. However, since this trip was turning out to be quite a gastronomic journey, we broke the monotony by having a meal at Mc Donalds on our final night (also we were almost out of cash). Don’t forget to read our article on the top foods to try in Spain with some great recommendations.
Did you like this review? Do you have recommendations, we would love to hear them in the comments section.