I have travelled to Spain many times, probably more so than any other country, the reason being that my family have a home in Andalusia. I have driven to Andalusia from the UK many times, either passing through or around Madrid, but I have never yet had the chance to stop in Madrid and discover what the Spanish capital has to offer. I thought it was time to change that and book a luxury Madrid city break.
I had my mother over for dinner one evening, just over a month ago. We were having a chat about holidays and Madrid came into conversation and as neither of us had been we decided to book a Madrid city break. We found a great deal for the beginning of June, so we thought why not! I don’t like wasting time when I travel, so I booked the first flight out of Gatwick on the Saturday morning, so that we would have almost three full days in Madrid.
Lux Madrid City Break
We had booked to stay at the Prado Suites, an apart-hotel in the centre of the city, just a few minutes’ walk Plaza Mayor, Madrid’s main square. We grabbed a taxi from the airport, which charged a standard 30€ to the city centre. When we arrived at the Prado Suites our room was not quite ready, so we decided to leave our luggage at reception and have a walk around to get our bearings, and grab a bite for lunch.
Accommodation on my Madrid City Break
Within minutes of leaving the hotel we arrived at Plaza de las Cortes. We arrived exactly at midday to the sound of a clock chiming. We noticed that crowds of people were all gazing up, so we turned around and saw something quite unique. There in front of us was a huge clock, with its bells ringing. Underneath the clock was a balcony with traditionally clothed, life-size figurines which had come out while the bells were ringing; if anyone has seen the Astronomical Clock in Prague chime on the hour, it was a similar spectacle to that. We tried to find somewhere here for lunch, but there just seemed to be a few chain type cafés and snack bars, so we walked a little further and came across a small square called Plaza de Platerias de Martinez. Here we found several cafés and restaurants, all of which were quite busy with people sitting in the sun eating tapas. The food looked very appetising so we found a table outside a little place called La Platerias.
All the dishes here were very reasonably priced, between 2-3€. We both had a beer and we ordered 3 plates to share, Spanish omelette, chorizo and tomato on rustic toast, and cheese and smoked salmon on toast. The food was all stunning and our lunch cost less than 15€, you can’t argue with that. We returned to out hotel to freshen up, and walked out to explore further.
We headed for Plaza Mayor, one of Madrid’s main squares, and it is only about 5 minutes from the hotel. The square has one continuous building which runs completely around the edge, with archways and tunnels to access it from the outside. The central focus on the square is a fountain and the edges are lined with restaurants and cafés, their tables extending far into the square. In the centre of the square sat artists and street entertainers drawing in large audiences of tourists and locals, it seems to be quite a focal point to the city.
Plaza de la Puerta del Sol, another of Madrid’s main squares, is just a short walk from Plaza Mayor. This square is more commercialised, lined with shops and department stores. This seems to be Madrid’s main shopping area, as many pedestrian shopping streets lead off from this square. We took one of the streets and a walked towards the third of Madrid’s main squares, Plaza D’oriente. This was much quieter than the other two, and it was more like a park with the opera house on one side, and Spain’s Royal Palace and gardens on the other. The Royal Palace was a huge, magnificent building, and you can have a tour of the palace. On this day the queue seemed quite long, and with the beautiful weather we had, we didn’t want to spend too much of our time indoors, so we gave this a miss, but it would definitely be on the to-do list for a future visit. After we left Plaza D’oriente, we walked through the gardens to the side of the Royal Palace on our way to Parque del Oeste, where the Templo de Debod is located. The Templo de Debod was located near Aswan in southern Egypt, but when the construction started for the Great Dam of Aswan, UNESCO tried to find a new home for this monument; the Egyptians donated the temple to Madrid in 1968 as a sign of gratitude for the Spanish help in saving the temples of Abu Simbel. The temple has been rebuilt here in the park, and surrounded by water, and is open to the public to visit for free.
From here we decided to take a walk along the Gran Vía. The Gran Vía runs from Plaza de España, which is close to the Royal Palace, all the way to Plaza De Cibeles, the site of Cibeles Palace. Cibeles Palace was previously the home to the Postal and Telegraphic Museum, but is now Madrid City Hall. Gran Vía is known as the Spanish Broadway, the street that never sleeps! Lined with shops, restaurants, cafes hotels, and theatres. The architecture along Gran Vía is more modern because It was only completely finished in 1929, although the idea for its construction was approved 25 years earlier. Definitely worth the walk.
Dinner on my Madrid City Break
After having a rest at the hotel, we decided to find somewhere local for dinner. Earlier in the day we had passed a small traditional tapas bar very close to the hotel called La Frehua de Vulcano, just off Plaza de Santa Ana, quite a popular place I think as it always seemed to be busy, so we thought we would try it for dinner. The building was very old, with traditional tiled walls and old wooden tables and seats. We were lucky to get the last available table, and as we sat down we were presented with a small bowl of chicken wings in a garlic sauce which we ate while we looked at the menu. We thought we would share a few dishes, a plate of Jabon Iberico, Spanish Omelette and the house Paella. All the food was beautiful, and we really couldn’t decide which we liked best, but the best surprise of all was La cuenta (the bill!), being only 25€ for us both, including the beers, and the chicken wings were on the house!
The next morning we decided we were going to visit Madrid’s famous Rastos Mercado (Flea Market), this was about a 20 minute walk from our hotel, located along Calle de la Ribera de Curtidores and Plaza Cascorro. Every Sunday, and public holiday, the road is closed to traffic and opened up to 3,500 market stalls selling almost anything you could ever want, including; clothes, jewellery, leather goods, antiques, religious artefacts, candles and incense, as well as car-boot style bric-a-brac. We didn’t buy anything, but just soaked up the atmosphere. Be warned though, it will be busy, I think half of the population of Madrid were there when we visited.
Once we had seen the Rastos Mercado we made our way toward the somewhat smaller, but more upmarket Mercado San Miguel, just off Plaza Mayor, but not before stopping for some brunch. We found a table on the side of the road outside a restaurant called Cantalejo, along Calle de Toledo. We ordered what we thought would be 4 small dishes to share, however with the size of the plates that arrived we could have fed four people, Patatas Bravas, Pimientos de Padron, Chistorra and Ensalada Thon con Tomate. Another beautiful Spanish meal at a great price, what more could you ask for.
Even though we had a great lunch, when we arrived at Mercado San Miguel we wished we had waited a bit longer, because inside was an array of food stalls with meats, sweets, cakes, and pastries, as well as a bar and many food vendors offering some delicious-looking food, I was so tempted to have some, but after such a big lunch I just didn’t have the room for any more! I really wished I had waited.
A few minutes’ walk from the market we arrived at Catedral de la Almudena, providing there isn’t a service on you can have a look around inside. Entry is free, however a small donation is appreciated. We were lucky as we arrived just after the service had finished so there was hardly anyone inside. I must say it was absolutely stunning inside, the ceiling in particular was just so beautiful. From here we decided to head back to the hotel for a rest and a glass of Rioja, making a dinner reservation at the world’s oldest restaurant, Botin, on our way. The only time they could fit us in was their last sitting at 23:15, so I booked it. If you love food as much as I do you just can’t go on a Madrid city break and not eat at Botin, it would be criminal.
Back at the hotel I opened a bottle of Rioja Blanco, this trip was the first time I had tried it and I was pleasantly surprised, as I normally prefer a glass of Red, but I could get used to this. I wonder where I can get some back home?
A glass or two later we decided to explore in the other direction from the hotel, so we headed for La Plaza de Cibeles, where you can find the Cibeles Fountain, Cibeles Palace, and also the start of Gran Vía. We carried on walking to Puerta de Alcana which is one of the old city gates into Madrid. Here you have a spectacular view down to Cibeles Fountain and on to Gran Vía. The perfect photo opportunity. By now we were quite close to one of my favourite places, the Hard Rock Cafe. I don’t what it is, but I always try to visit one while I’m away. It’s something that started when I was a child, and some habits are hard to break. More often than not just for a cocktail… and a T-shirt, yes, I collect them! I now have more than 30 of them, and plan to do some kind of wall display. I just need a wall big enough. So we had to visit, and of course had a cocktail, or two. We didn’t eat as we had our reservation that evening in Botin and we were very much looking forward to that.
We decided we would walk back to the hotel via Parc de Madrid, the entrance to the park was at Puerta de Alcana, so not far away. When we entered the park it was early evening, about 18:30 and we saw something which I haven’t seen in ages, families having picnics, work colleagues relaxing after work, and a group of students sat in a circle playing instruments and singing. It really did make me think that we do rush about far too much back in the UK and we should just take more time out to enjoy the simple things in life. When we reached the other end of the park, and that did take a while, we saw Madrid’s Botanical Gardens, as we still had some time, and as the entry was only 3€ we decided we would have a look around before going back to the hotel. It is not the biggest botanic gardens I have visited, nothing quite the size of Singapore’s, Adelaide’s, or even Kew gardens in London, but still they were beautifully laid out, with some gorgeous plants, but my favourite part of them was their extensive display of Bonsai trees.
Botin – Madrid City Break
Later that evening we headed out to Botin for our late dinner. Botin is located just off Plaza Mayor, so only a short walk away. Botin is the world’s oldest restaurant, and it’s age shows in the rustic wooden beams on the ceilings, and traditional tiled walls. They had quite an extensive menu, however we had to go with their specialities. We both had the garlic soup with an egg to start, followed by the Suckling Pig and the Roast Lamb, washed down with a delicious red. The atmosphere in there was warm and inviting, and they had a live group of traditional Spanish musicians who played for us while we ate which really added to the experience. I had read some reviews of Botin before we visited, and most of the reviews indicated that it was very touristy and also quite pricey. I will agree slightly with the fact that there were more tourists in there than locals, but regarding the prices, I don’t think that at approximately £35 a head for the two courses, wine, and the service charge, that this was badly priced at all. I would easily pay this at home for a good meal with wine, so why not in Madrid, in the world’s oldest restaurant?
On our last day I decided I wanted to do something that I had, to my shame, never done on any of my many trips to Spain in the past – have Chocolate con Churros for breakfast. We had spotted a place the day before, funnily enough called Chocolate con Churros, near to Mercado San Miguel, so we headed there. All I can say is that I now know what all my previous trips have been missing. The Churro is like a crispy long doughnut, dipped in a cup of thick hot chocolate, it’s just bliss.
It was our last morning on our Madrid City Break, so we decided on a cultural visit to the Prado Museum, it was close to the hotel, and convenient as we didn’t have too much time before we had to go to the airport. The entrance fee is 14€, and most of the museum contains religious paintings, a similar kind of artwork to that I had seen last year on my trip to the Vatican City. My personal preference is modern art, however I can still appreciate these works of art, in particular the detail in some of them, and the vivid colours used. There is a small area in the basement of the museum which has a few artefacts such as glassware and ceramics, definitely worth a look. After we had seen the entire museum we decided to have an ice cream from a vendor outside and just chill in the sun for a few minutes before heading back to the hotel.
We arrived back to the hotel with about 45 minutes to spare before the taxi was due so we decided to go to the tapas bar a few doors down from the hotel, called Viva Madrid, for a drink and a snack before we left. This place was still packed the night before when we walked past so we though it must be good, and it was, I just wish we could have stayed longer.
A few lovely days on my Madrid city break, and we managed to see and do so much, but as always I leave with regrets of not having done this, and not having seeing that. Next time I must see authentic flamenco dancing. The silver-lining to regrets is that they are an incentive to revisit this vibrant city.