Travel: Madrid, Spain

Photos, Travel

Over the past several months, I’ve been fortunate to travel to some of the world’s most notable cities, so in continuing my journey, I visited Madrid, Spain in late April. Ironically, like my London and Paris trips, this was my second time visiting Madrid. However, this time around, I was able to see and experience much more of the city.

The map above may be a little deceiving because central Madrid, where most of the famous sights and landmarks are located, is compact and very walkable. Additionally, the Metro is fast and has plenty of stops, including two airport stations, so navigating the city is easy.

Before leaving the States, I ordered 3-day Metro passes and was able to pick them up for my friend and I at one of the airport stations, which was very convenient. After a comfortable subway ride and short walk, we arrived at our hotel, the AC Hotel Recoletos.

As a hospitality and travel writer, I tend to be critical about my lodging experiences, but I have nothing but praise to share about my stay at the AC Hotel Recoletos. The public areas and guestrooms were modern and stylish, but also very comfortable. The staff was great, were very helpful in bridging the Spanish to English language gap and did small things that made the experience memorable. When traveling, I generally gravitate toward independent hotels because they tend to have more personality and great rates. However, after finding a good deal on AAA.com and experiencing a great stay, I’ve definitely become a fan of AC Hotels.

Another excellent benefit of this hotel was its location. Within two blocks were the Church of San Manuel y San BenitoPuerta de Alcalá and Plaza de Cibeles. Seeing these eye-catching landmarks during my morning coffee walks got me off to a great start each day.

Since central Madrid is compact, sightseeing can be done at a casual pace. From the Plaza de Cibeles, you can continue down Madrid’s famous Grand Via. You’ll find a little bit of everything along this busy road: shops, restaurants, hotels and historic buildings, including the Metropolis Building. Unfortunately, its facade was covered but its ornate, angel-topped dome was visible above the scaffolding.

Located at the western end of Grand Via is Plaza de España. From there, it’s a short walk to the beautiful Palacio Real de Madrid.

Unlike my last visit to Madrid, I had my bearings this time around, so we entered the royal grounds from the garden on the north side of the palace. The manicured landscaping and detailed sculptures alone are worth the visit, but they pale in comparison to the strikingly gorgeous palace.

From here, we walked around to the front of the palace, which is bordered by Plaza de Oriente. Catedral de la Almudena is located on the southern end of the palace and provides the perfect architectural complement to the magnificent royal structure.

The food in Madrid was as noteworthy as its landmarks. Most restaurants don’t open for dinner until 8 or 9 pm, but we found a great early-evening meal at a bar named La Mayor. After finishing tasty paella and drinks, we strolled down Calle Mayor to the lively Puerta del Sol. Madrid awakens at night, so we wanted to hang out and soak up the festive atmosphere, but after a long day of traveling and sightseeing, fatigue took over so we had to bid the city, “buenas noches.”

While in Madrid, my friend ran the EDP Rock ‘n’ Roll 1/2 Marathon with a co-worker. In no way, shape or form am I about that long distance running life, but I was more than happy to lend moral support. So in preparation for the race, we spent most of the following day at the race expo at the Pabellón de Cristal.

After the expo, we continued our sightseeing around the city. Spanish architecture is incredibly attractive and gives Madrid a distinct look. The splashes of warm colors and intricate wrought iron balconies give the most nondescript buildings a touch of personality.

Even more impressive were the handsomely designed and decorated doors found throughout Madrid. Admittedly, I became a bit obsessive with taking photos of doors. It was to the point where I began yelling out, “That’s the one!,” every time I spotted a door that was seemingly better than the last.

Sigh. I realize I have a problem. I’m working on it…

With the day winding down, we strolled over to the Museo del Prado to take in some of Spain’s most treasured art. As our luck had it, the museum was closing in less than an hour, so we were given free entry passes. I’m not sure if that happens regularly, but we definitely appreciated the gesture.

After the quick visit, we meandered around the courtyard for a bit to get a nice view of San Jerónimo el Real, which sits on a hill adjacent to the museum, do some people watching and figure out where to go for dinner.

Based on a recommendation and some excellent Yelp reviews, we tried to dine at La Barraca. But since we wouldn’t be seated until 10:45 pm (and I would have been throwing a stage 5 hunger tantrum by that point), we had to come up with a Plan B. Luckily, Mercado de la Reina was right across the street, so that became our destination.

My friend’s co-worker / running partner and her mother also joined us for dinner.  And like the previous night, the food was great! They served an awesome, six-course Anniversary Menu, which included glasses of red or white wine, for only 33 Euros. With the amount of food that you receive, I have no clue how they make a profit but God bless them for it!

After dinner, I promptly passed out from eating entirely too much food! Since I didn’t have to run a half marathon or anything crazy the next morning, I had zero worries. But my friend and her co-worker on the other hand…

The race day scene was insane! 40,000 runners, plus spectators like me, were jammed into the streets surrounding the Plaza de Cibeles. But as chaotic as everything seemed, all three races, the marathon, 1/2 marathon and 10K, kicked off smoothly.

While the race was going on, I did more sightseeing. Unfortunately, the sky decided to open up again, so I got soaked in the process, but I wasn’t going to let a little lot of rain slow me down.

My first stop was the iconic home of soccer club Real Madrid, Estadio Santiago Bernabéu. I was hoping to squeeze in a tour and walk the neighborhood, but it took me longer than expected to get there, so I just took a few photos and headed back to the race finish line.

The race ended in the middle of Madrid’s beautiful Parque del Buen Retiro. I didn’t know exactly where the finish line was located, so I just walked in the direction the finished runners and other spectators were coming from, all while hoping I didn’t mistakenly walk past my friend. I had my phone on, but there was 30 minute delay in receiving texts, so it would have been a mess if we missed each other.

Soaked from the rain and travel fatigue kicking in, I felt like I’d never make it through the massive park. However, I eventually made it to the runners’ waiting area, found and congratulated my soaked and exhausted friend and then trekked back to the hotel.

Since it was our last night in Madrid, we tried to get a table at La Barraca once more. And again, we were denied, so we went back to Mercado de la Reina. I’m pretty sure I was still full from the night before because I struggled to get through this round of the Anniversary Menu. But not being one to back down from a challenge, I (mostly) made it!

The next morning, after an easy check-out, but slightly confusing Metro ride because the map inside our subway car was mislabeled so we thought we were on the wrong train (we weren’t), we made it to the airport and caught a relaxing flight back home.

Adiós, Madrid.

Quick Madrid Travel Tips

  • If you plan to travel around Madrid by subway, pre-purchasing Metro passes and picking them up at the airport is highly recommended. It’s one less thing to think about after a long flight.
  • I found great hotel rates on both AAA.com and HotelTonight. Remember, central Madrid is compact, so staying a little further from the city center will get you better rates, but shouldn’t hinder your travel experience. If you use HotelTonight, use my personal promo code LRANKIN9 for $25 off your booking.
  • Compared to the U.S., dining is enjoyed at a slower pace in Madrid. Even during my morning coffee walks, I noticed lots of people sitting down to enjoy their breakfast rather than “grabbing and going.”
  •  On Sundays, in the area surrounding the AC Hotel Recoletos and Plaza de Cibeles, you will be hard pressed to find a small market or convenience store that is open for business. If you will need bottles of water or snacks, be sure to buy them before Sunday.
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