15 things to do on a long weekend in Spain’s phenomenal capital
The sun gets warm early in Madrid, so take time in the cool of the morning to stroll through the meandering paths of the Parque del Oeste. Before the sun is too hot, wait in line to see the Templo de Debod, an ancient Egyptian temple in the heart of Madrid. It’s free to enter but only thirty people at a time are allowed in for thirty minutes at a time. There’s no shade for your wait, so an early morning entrance is best. Originally constructed south of Aswan in Egypt in the 2nd century BC, the temple was donated to Spain in the late 1960s. It’s now a UNESCO world heritage site. This temple is one of the few ancient Egyptian constructions that can be seen outside Egypt and the only one of it’s kind in Spain.
After you wander through the Templo de Debod, stroll through the park to the Rosaleda gardens. These rose gardens, created between 1956 and 1957, boast over 20,000 rose plants in over 650 varieties.
When you’re done there, take a short walk to one station of the Teleferico de Madrid. Here you’ll board a sky gondola for a trip through the sky (and an aerial view of the gardens you were just in). A round-trip ticket will cost you €6 and the 11 minute journey will transport you across the Madrid skyline from the Parque del Oste to the Casa de Campo park and gardens. Once your gondola docks, you can stroll through the paths, have a picnic lunch or snack if you’ve brought one, or just take a moment to enjoy the sights. There is a restaurant/bar at the other end, but at the moment it’s closed for refurbishment.
When you’ve completed your round trip journey on the teleferico, head a few blocks over to grab some lunch. If it’s warm, and a nice cool sandwich sounds good to you, Crumb is the place to go. I had a delicious chicken sandwich with fresh guacamole and aioli. Tim’s pastrami with homemade slaw was very flavorful and of course the fresh guacamole and chips satisfied all
Next, it’s time to head over to the Royal Palace of Madrid, one of the top ten largest palaces in the world.
If you have time, on your walk to the Palace, stop by the Museo de ABC, a small, free-to-enter, graphic design and art museum. It won’t take you much time to stroll through the floors of designs, but it’s interesting and cool and there’s a clean bathroom if you need it.
When you arrive at the palace, the entrance ticket will cost you €13 and you will need to book a time slot for your self guided tour. We didn’t get a chance to go into the palace since the website told us they were closed while we were there. But I look forward to going in on our next visit to Madrid.
If you’re not keen on paying to enter the Palace or are short on time, walk instead into the Palace Gardens. Located adjacent to, and with beautiful views of the palace, the gardens are free to enter and are perfect for a late afternoon stroll. There is a gelato place across the street from the entrance if you’d prefer a cool snack on your garden walk.
Once you’ve finished in the palace, you’ve undoubtedly worked up quite the appetite. It’s time for a tapas crawl! Walk about fifteen minutes through the city to Calle de la Cava Baja, a wonderful little street lined with tapas bars. Start at one end and work your way though, drinking tinto de verano and eating delicious tapas. My favorite were the patatas bravas (potatoes in spicy sauce) and the Croquetas de Jamon (a bite-sized breadcrumbed fried roll filled with ham). When you’re ready for a food break, head over to La Osita, my favorite bar on Calle de la Cava Baja. Owned by two Brits (of course I’d find it!), this bar has great craft beers (not common in Spain) and even brews two of their own. They also have a great selection of gins and Fever Tree tonic, which is important (and rare) in Madrid.
Spaniards don’t eat dinner until about 8 or 9 pm, so it’s likely you’ll have plenty of company at the bars and restaurants until the wee hours of the morning should you wish. But don’t stay out too late, as tomorrow’s itinerary starts early with lots of art!
Get up early and take the metro (if necessary), to the Estacion del Arte. Just a short walk from tis station are both the Museo National de Prado and the Reina Sofia, two large art museums. The Prado is a massive art museum that houses paintings by such great artists as Velasquez, El Greco, Goya, and more. It focuses on art of centuries past, whereas the Reina Sofia focuses on more contemporary pieces. We chose the Prado first since I love history.
The museum opens at 10 am and if you get there promptly, you’ll miss some of the insane crowds at Madrid’s largest museum. Entrance with cost you €15 unless you’re over 65 or under 18. They also offer a two visit option for €22 which would be useful if you have more than three days in Madrid. I was absolutely in awe of all the art in this museum. Their collection is on par with the Uffizi in Florence. Unfortunately I can’t share any with you because photography isn’t allowed in the museum, even without flash.
If you have enough energy for another art museum, head to the Reina Sofia next. Entry to the Reina Sofia is €10 at the box office and they are open until 9 pm. We didn’t have a chance to head into the Reina Sofia since the Prado took up the entirety of our morning, but we plan to head there to see some Dali on our next visit.
After you’ve had your fill of art, take the 1 Metro line from Estacion del Arte to the Sol station located in the heart of the Puerta del Sol. Upon emerging from the metro, you’ll see a statue of El Orso y el Madrono, or the Bear and the Strawberry tree, the symbol of Madrid. Once you’ve taken your necessary snap in front of the bear, head over to the Mercado de San Miguel for lunch. The Mercado is a permanent market with tiny restaurant-like stalls versus uncooked food market stalls. They have almost anything you could think from from sea food to mozzarella tapas, flavored olives to empanadas and tons of sweets!
After you’ve stuffed yourself with lunch, head over to the Plaza Mayor to grab a glass of tinto de verano and people watch. The large plaza in the heart of Madrid has several entrances and is surrounded on all sides by apartments and shops. Similar to St Mark’s Square in Venice, ritzy cafes line the edges of the plaza. Grab a seat under an umbrella at one of these cafes and drink and people watch.
As your afternoon wanes into evening, it’s time to catch a flamenco show. There are several flamenco theaters to choose from in Madrid and you may want to choose one that is close to where you’re staying. After a bit of research the night before, we chose Teatro Flamenco Madrid. The tickets were only €30 and we received a free drink upon arrival. The show left me speechless and moved almost to tears. The dancers, singers and guitarist were all amazingly talented. A flamenco show is a must-do in Madrid!
Once the show is over, it’s dinner time and there are plenty of restaurants near the theater that you can choose from. Depending on what you feel like, you can choose Spanish food, American food, Italian food, or even Chinese food. It’s all there in this vast city.
If you’re tired of your hotel’s mediocre breakfast, or just want a second breakfast, head to get a bite to eat at at La Rollerie just outside the Plaza Mayor. I had a pricey piece of avocado toast. But it was truly scrumptious. I wish there had been more!
Having had our fill of museums, we wanted to try something new on this vacation. We scheduled the first slot (11:50am) at the escape room, Five Mon-keys, located in the Plaza Mayor. If you like puzzles and mind bending tests, try your brain at this escape room. The clues were in both English and Spanish so that wasn’t a problem for us. Though Sylvia, the lovely lady who ran the room advised Zoe to do escape rooms in Spanish to up her fluency. I’ve never escaped with just three people before, but with over a decade of marriage and friendship, our communication skills were on point and we got out with EIGHT seconds remaining! If you think you can best Doctor Bloom, give it a try!
After you’ve escaped… or not… it’s time to grab some more tinto de verano in the Plaza Mayor. (Do you see a theme here… I love tinto). There’s always something different to see in the plaza and it is a great time to relax and regroup. To either celebrate your escape or to wallow in defeat. You can also grab a bite for lunch here at one of the cafes, but we decided to forego a savory lunch and head over to the Chocolateria St Gines instead.
Chocolateria St Gines is a world renowned chocolateria that serves the most amazing churros (skinny) or porras (fat churros). Unlike the churros you’re likely familiar with in the states, Spanish churros and porras don’t have any sugar on them. But that’s okay! Because they are served with piping hot, thick, melted chocolate. The melted chocolate is thick enough to dip, but thin enough to drink or eat with a spoon when you run out of churro (very similar to really well made Italian hot chocolate). So delicious!!! It’s safe to say, I love a lot of Spanish food!
After your lunch and dessert, take the afternoon to shop for souvenirs. I prefer to buy clothes or useful items on holiday so that when I get home I think of the holiday when I use it. In Spain I bought a lovely pair of espadrilles because, apparently, they are THE shoe of Spain. I needed some cute little wedges for my wide leg linen pants from Greece anyway, so it worked out well. I also bought a lovely linen dress to prepare for my trip to Italy with Zoe this July and a t-shirt to represent La Osita back here in England.
We were pretty burnt out from traipsing all over the city for the past three days, and you may be too. So this would be a great time to take a slow evening and just enjoy the company of your travel partner. I was craving more croquettes for dinner so we headed to a tiny little shop called Croqueta y Presumida that offered about 15 different varieties. We chose a box of 20 and split it between the three of us. It was a decent amount of food, but I probably could’ve eaten more. They are so delicious and addicting. I liked that you could chose as many different flavors as you wanted but the chorizo, jamon and veggie ones were my favorite. They have tiny one-bite croquettes too that come in a cone and would be a delicious walk-around treat.
To end our last night in Madrid, we decided to keep it fairly low key and to just head back to Calle de Cava Baja for drinks and tapas through the evening. Located only a couple blocks from the croquet place, it was a short walk and we were back in La Osita, our pub away from home.
I felt so at home in Madrid, and was pleasantly surprised at how clean and laid back it was. I look forward to returning to the capital city to see more of it’s beautiful secrets, eat more of it’s delicious food and drink a ton more tinto de verano. Do you have ideas for what we should see in Madrid next time we head there? Share them in the comments below!