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The city guide to Madrid

Madrid, you beautiful, loud, sunny city. During some very sunny fall days back in October, I was a lucky guest of C&A to attend their SS17 event in Madrid, and they offered to prolong the stay – an opportunity I was more than happy to accept. I visited Madrid a few years back, but was really a different kind of ‘traveler’ back then so I looked forward to exploring a lot more of what this city had to offer. And boy, it turned out to be the perfect long weekend (P.S. in the mean time, I’ve been back for another trip but I’ll tell you more about that later).

This trip was also the first time I’ve traveled solo – C&A event not included, of course. When the rest of the party left on Friday (we arrived on Thursday), I was left to my own devices until Sunday night. I was a just bit nervous about that, but mostly excited and curious about how I would feel. I can honestly say it was a great experience and I’m so happy I decided to go for it. It’s quite liberating to explore a city by yourself – something I’d highly recommend to everyone.

Back to business: three days in Madrid. Again, I was a lucky girl since the sun was shining bright and there was not one cloud in sight during my entire stay. It’s a true pleasure to have such beautiful weather whenever you’re traveling, so that was a major bonus to begin with. Plus, the feeling of a little summer weather during fall never hurts my good mood either. If you’re not sure what to expect from Spain’s capital, let me sum it up for you in a nutshell – Madrid is a really loud, really busy city with absolutely gorgeous buildings, musea and parks. For me, it felt like a combination of Lisbon, Paris and a little bit of New York. It’s also really clean and hardly anyone speaks English (not kidding). Hand gestures, Google translate and a pocino Spanish will get you a long way. As always, the more “touristy” the area, the “better” the English, though (but communicating with my Spanish-only speaking Airbnb host was a totally different matter). Three days in Madrid are quite okay for seeing most of the major things, and having some extra time to chill. I should note that I’m quite the “happy explorer” though, and I tend to go in overdrive when I’m traveling. So maybe my schedule is a bit much for you, but you can always leave some things out and take it more slow if you please.

First day: tourist mode on.

Been there, saw that: La Real Basilica de San Francisco el Grande – Catedral de la Almudena – Palacio Real – Jardines de Sabatini – Temple de Debod – Masalena neighborhood –shopping around Plaza del Callao, Gran Via and Puerta del Sol – sunset view at El Corte Ingles mall

Since I was already in Madrid on Thursday because of the event, I was fully rested and ready to start my day before noon. My plan? Playing tourist and seeing most of the major sights, along with getting a first good “feel” of the city. Starting point: La Real Basilica de San Francisco el Grande. Quite pretty from the outside, but you have to pay to get in (which I didn’t feel like doing). From here I walked to the Catedral de la Almudena, which is free, beautiful and impressive. Go in and admire the stunning ceilings. Your next point of interest isn’t far away, since the Palacio Real is right next to the cathedral, standing there in all its glory. Admiring it from the outside is fun, going inside will cost you 10 Euros. I did this on my second day, and it certainly is impressive! The only thing that annoyed me is that you’re not supposed to take photos – what’s up with that ancient rule? If you’re already tired from your walk, you can take a little break in the Jardines de Sabatini (right next to the Palacio). And if not, at least take a moment to stop and admire the maze-like hedges. Time to walk a little further up Calle de Bailén to the Temple of Debod, an Egyptian temple that’s free to admire in a lovely park where you can also enjoy some beautiful views over Madrid.

By this time, I really needed food and a drink, so I walked over to the hip Masalena neighborhood (not far away) and had lunch at the lovely Cafe Federal. They have nice coffee, burgers, salads and all kind of sweet treats – aka, the perfect spot to relax and refuel for the rest of your day.

After (late) lunch, I was done playing tourist and treated myself to some shopping and casually strolling around. I hopped in and out of some stores like Stradivarius, Topshop and Bershka at Gran Via, Plaza del Callao and Puerta del Sol (warning: you’ll always have to face the crowds doing so, it’s always SO busy here). Since the sun was setting, I headed all the way up to the “Gourmet Experience” at El Corte Ingles mall. From their food court, you have an amazing view over the city and it’s a great place to watch the sunset. Good to know is there is glass all around (also on the terrace), so there will be a bit of a glare if you want to take pictures. For dinner, I picked up some sushi at hipster spot Mercado de San Anton and pretty much crashed in bed.

Favorites of the day? Catedral de la Almuneda and watching the sunset from El Corte Ingles mall.

Second day: going green.

Been there, saw that: Plaza de Toros de las Ventas – Puerta de Alcala – Church of San Manuel y San Benito – El Retiro – Palacio Cristal – La rosaledo del retiro – Atocha Railway station – Caixa Forum (“living” wall) – Pasarela de la Arganzuele – Puente de Toledo – visit to the Palacio Real – Gran Via – Fuente de Cibeles by night

Saturday was mainly spent around the “green” hotspots of Madrid, along with a lotttt of walking (spoiler alert: I was pretty dead at the end of the day). I started my day at Plaza del Toros, without actually knowing this was something to see. Apparently the area where I was staying is known for the bull fights, so when I walked to the metro stop Venta I was surprised to see a huge arena that is actually really beautiful and impressive. I’m not saying I’m a big fan of what goes on inside, but seeing this ginormous building is still something extraordinary to see and was a nice surprise to start my day off just right. Afterwards, I headed over to El Retiro, a park that doesn’t need much introduction. If you’re going here, you can tick off seeing the Puerta de Alcala and the Church of San Manuel y San Benito easily too, since they’re located very close to it (depending on which entrance you use – but thanks to my tip you can be strategic about that). You can easily spend quite some time at El Retiro and enjoy the beautiful green surroundings, but be sure not to miss the Palacio Cristal – it’s a beauty to behold. Afterwards, take a stroll in the rose garden (La rosaleda del retiro) and spend some time soaking up the sun like I did.

Next up: more green! From El Retiro, I walked to Atocha railway station where the terrorist attacks in 2004 took place. Visiting the station is worthwhile because of the fact that there’s a huge urban jungle on the inside, but also to take a moment to reflect on what happened here. From here on out, you can go to the next green hot spot – the Caixa Forum with its “living” wall. Depending on your interest, you can visit the museum or take a little lunch break in the neighborhood, and head over to the Pasarela de la Arganzuele afterwards – it will give all kinds of futuristic feelings. I’ll admit, my energy level was quite low at this point after all that walking so I took it easy and rested a bit on one of the benches of Puente de Toledo (which also is a nice viewpoint for the pasarela). You can hang in the park below, too. Since the “happy explorer” in me wasn’t ready to give up yet, I headed over to the Palacio Real to see it from the inside this time. After touring around for an hour or so, I headed over to Gran Via again (it was a convenient spot to take the subway home for me) for some more shopping and dinner for one at El 26 de Libertad. Tip: if you head to the area around the Mercado de San Anton (really not far from Gran Via), there are a lot of super nice places to eat or drink that aren’t your typical tourist spot. After dinner, the only thing on my mind was sleep but I managed to see one more thing before hopping on the subway: Plaza de Cibeles by night. (Oh, and word on the web is you should make the effort to go inside and check it out – apparently they have a (pricey) rooftop bar with a really nice view).

Favorites of the day? Plaza del Toros, El Retiro, Palacio Cristal, Plaza de Cibeles

Third day: the day of rest (and crowds).

Been there, saw that: Parc El Capricho – El Rastro – Mercado de la Cebada – Plaza Major – Mercado de San Miguel – Latina neighborhood – Iglesia de San Andrés – Torres Blancas

Ah, Sunday – the supposed day of rest. I may have taken it a little bit slower on my last day, but still wanted to enjoy it to the fullest so I got up quite early to get a head start (luckily, I also gained an hour because of Daylight Saving Time). I stumbled upon Parc El Capricho the night before when I was doing some research, and it looked so lovely that I promptly added it to my itinerary. So off I went early in the morning to have a stroll through this beautiful park, which is a bit out of the center but well worth the “effort” getting there. It has the cutest cottage which looks like it came straight out of Hansel & Gretel, a bunker from the Spanish Civil War, fountains, a labyrinth and touches of Italian and English culture in the landscape. Entrance is free, but the park is only open during the weekend. After slowly waking up here and enjoying the surrounding nature, I headed back to the center of Madrid – and it quickly became clear that Sunday is not the day of rest here. Admittedly, I did pick the most touristic area to roam that day, also known as the Latina neighborhood. El Rastro is a huge (flea slash vintage slash everything) market that happens every Sunday, and it seems like every single person in Madrid comes here to do some shopping and strolling around. You’ll also spot the colorful Mercado de la Cebada, which is covered in street art. I couldn’t quite handle the crowd around here to be honest, and quickly headed over to Plaza Mayor (also majorly touristic of course, but with more of an open air feel). Since this is the main square of the city, you need to at least pop by for a quick visit. For lunch, I wanted to pick something up at the nearby food market Mercado de San Miguel but that didn’t turn out to be my best idea either (read: more crowds). Basically, I ended up in a cute spot close by where things were more quiet and I could chill out a bit. Added bonus: you get to admire a pretty pink church (Iglesia de San Andrés) when you want to digest lunch on the Plaza de los Carros nearby. Before heading back to the airport, I made one last stop to see the Torres Blancas, a piece of special architecture in my neighborhood.

Favorites of the day? Parc El Capricho.

For this trip, I carried the Nikon 1 J5 all over Madrid. It’s a light, compact system camera that easily fits in my purse and still delivers quality images (these are all without filter). I’m not always motivated to carry my heavier DSLR with me, so this is a great blogger alternative!




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