A First-Time Visit to Madrid
Jason Daniel Shaw
Madrid is such a beautiful city with a lot to offer travelers that is too often overlooked for Spain’s Second City, Barcelona. I just visited Madrid for the first time and was amazed by the abundance of beautiful architecture, incredible food and the friendliness of the people. I spent two full days exploring the city and walking over 50,000 steps – this is what I found.
GETTING AROUND MADRID
I love taking public transportation as much as possible when I am in a foreign country, especially Europe. It is usually much better than the public transportation that we have in the USA, definitely better than here at home in Los Angeles. From the airport in Madrid, it was easy enough to take the train to my hotel in Pirámides using the multi-day metro pass. The airport transfer alone offsets the cost of the pass and you still get to use it to explore the city. Couple the metro with safe, walkable streets and Madrid is now one of my favorite cities to spend time in.
WHERE TO STAY IN MADRID
The center area of the city, to the east of the Royal Palace, is probably the most ideal place to stay. It is right in the middle of all of the action but I opted to save a little on my hotel by staying at the Holiday Inn Madrid – Pirámides. One of the nicest things about the hotel is that it literally has a metro stop right outside of the front door – within just a few stops you can be anywhere in the city center that you want to be. I hadn’t done as much research for Madrid as I normally do on places to see when visiting someplace new but I was still able to explore a lot of the city in just two days.
THE ROYAL PALACE – MADRID
The Royal Palace was the obvious first stop so that is where I started my day. Knowing that I only had a short time to see the city, I made the decision to not go inside the Palace. The line was really long to get in so I would suggest arriving early if you do plan on going in. I hung out for a bit in the plaza between the Palace and the Cathedral, taking photos and enjoying watching the tourists taking selfies. I came across a puddle that hadn’t drained and was able to get some nice reflection shots of the Royal Palace. Some tourists saw me and that sparked a nonstop flood of people coming to take a similar shot – it was time to move on.
CATEDRAL DE SANTA MARIA – MADRID
I walked next door and to my surprise, the Cathedral wasn’t that busy so I took a walk around the inside. One of my favorite photos inside any church is from the back, straight down the aisle, looking toward the altar. I just love the symmetry. I setup my tripod and snapped quite a few photos, waiting for the right moment with as few people as possible. I was happy that the workers didn’t discourage the use of my tripod. It was Saturday and Mass was getting ready to start so I continued outside to capture the architecture of the building. I noticed the crypt around the corner so I made my way there to marvel at all columns that filled the giant room. The weather was beautiful so I decided to find some outdoor spaces to explore.
PUERTO DEL SOL – PLAZA MAYOR
Madrid is full of outdoor places to explore, from the narrow streets that are full of shopping and eating to the beautiful plazas that provide a place to relax and people-watch, there is something for everyone. I tried to walk through as many of streets as I could because each one was beautiful and unique, each neighborhood offering new sights, sounds and smells. As for smells – don’t forget to have lunch and try one or many of the outdoor cafes.
PLAZA DE TOROS – MADRID
One of the things that Spain is known for is its bull fighting and Plaza De Toros is a great place to learn more all about it. It is the biggest bull fighting ring in all of Spain. I was hoping to see a bull fight while in town but I was there a month too early. However, there are public tours of the Plaza De Toros that teach you about the history of bull fighting and what it means to the Spanish culture. You can even try out your moves as a matador while you are there.
PARQUE DE EL RETIRO
Similar to New York’s Central Park, Parque de El Retiro is a beautiful place for a stroll through the tree-lined paths or a paddle around the lake. It also backs up to botanical gardens and the famous Prado Museum. Take some time and explore the park and you may even come across the Crystal Palace.
One of my favorite views of Madrid is looking out across the colorful Spanish tile rooftops. Luckily, there are a lot of rooftops that are open and accessible to the public. I spent an afternoon exploring some of them and would even recommend making a pub crawl out of it. It was a bit of game for me to see which ones gave me the best views. Some of my favorites were El Viajero, Sabatini Garden Apartments, Dear Madrid Hotel and the Gourmet Experience atop El Corte Inglés. Each one is a little bit different but a great start to seeing Madrid from above. Below is a full map of all of the rooftops that I explored.
As you can imagine with all of the rooftops, there are plenty of spots to watch the Madrid sunsets. However, one of my favorite spots was at Jardín de la Vistillas which provides view of the cathedral to the north as well as the Manzanares and the rest of Madrid to the west. No matter where you are in Madrid, you can’t go wrong.
CALLE GRAN VIA IN MADRID
After sunset, you will undoubtedly be hungry and ready for dinner so I suggest venturing over to Calle Gran Via which is a shopping and restaurant mecca. This main street through Madrid comes alive at night with locals and tourists alike out enjoying the theaters, food and doing a little shopping at the world-class venues that line both sides. No trip to Madrid is complete without a visit to Calle Gran Via.