First visit to Spain.
This was our first visit to Spain. We spent an evening and one full day in Madrid before flying off to Lisbon for a few days. Then back to Madrid for three full days. Our original intention had been to spend two of those days on day trips to Toledo and either Segovia or Avilla, but when we returned to Madrid, I got really ill and while I refused to stay in bed, it took me all my time to look at Madrid never mind go anywhere else. Oh well, such is life. This gave us the opportunity to see more of Madrid and do our favourite bits again in a more relaxed manner.
We started our holiday by staying in a hotel in Barajas and travelling in to the city. Although the journey in took a while, it was worth it for the relative peace and quiet at night. For the second part of our trip, we stayed in a hotel in Alsacia which also proved to be nice and quiet, plus it was on the red metro line number two which is the most useful line for sightseeing.
Among the things we enjoyed in Madrid I would highly rate the beautiful cathedral which can be seen from so many parts of the city. I loved Retriro Park. We had a greatpicnic in the rose garden there and even in December there were still some beautiful roses. It must be stunning in summer. I loved the views especially watching the sunset from Parque de la Montana (Mountain Park) and I loved the Cervantes sculptures in Plaza de Espana. Plus there was always just such a lot of street life and activity going on with crowds of locals, revellers, tourists thronging the streets, street entertainers and people in fancy dress everywhere. Madrid certainly had atmosphere.
Puerta del Sol.
The first place we visited was the Puerta del Sol in the evening. We returned a couple of times during our stay. This square is always crowded and has plenty going on. People in costumes pose for photos, there are buskers, celebrating students, excited children and just generally lots of activity. We had a look at the famous bear and strawberry tree statue which is the symbol of Madrid. On New Year's Eve apparently crowds stand around the clock tower on the Real Casa de Correos and eat a grape on each chime of midnight for good luck in the coming year. There are streets thronged with shops, cafes, restaurants, bars leading off this square in every direction. Metro station Sol.
The Plaza Mayor.
The Plaza Mayor is Madrid's main square. It is lined with expensive restaurants. On our visit there was a Christmas market in the centre and lots of Christmas lights.
The Royal Palace.
We got to the Royal Palace by taking the metro to Opera Station. The palace is apparently the largest in Western Europe and occupies the site of the old Alcazar or Moorish castle which was burnt to the ground in 1734. In front of the palace is the very pleasant Plaza de Oriente with its statue lined gardens. Nearby are the Royal Theatre, the Cafe de Oriente and the cathedral. We did not visit the inside of the palace, but I found the following information about palace visits. Opening hours: October to March: Monday to Saturday from 9.30am to 5pm, Sundays and holidays, 9am to 2pm
April to September: Monday to Saturday from 9am to 6pm, Sundays and holidays, 9am to 3pm Closed 1st & 6th January, 1st & 15th May, 12th October, 9th November and 25th December. Entry to the Royal Palace depends on which part you'd like to visit, with prices ranging from 2€ to 11€. Free on Wednesdays.
Madrid's Cathedral is right next to the Royal Palace. It is a wonderful building and it is possible to take an excellent photo of it from so many different parts of Madrid. Entry is by optional donation for the upkeep of the building. The suggested amount is one euro. Inside the church had some wonderful frescoes and beautiful stained glass windows. Despite the many visitors to the cathedral, the building was very peaceful inside. Some chapels had been set aside for silent prayer and taking photographs was not allowed in these areas, though it was fine in the rest of the building. Outside the cathedral was a statue of Pope John Paul the second commemorating his visit to Spain.
The Basilica of Saint Francis.
The Basilica of Saint Francis is just a couple of minutes walk away from the cathedral across the viaduct bridge. Work on this beautiful church started in 1760 and was finalised by Francesco Sabatini in 1784. The building was restored in 1880. The church is situated on the site of a Franciscan convent which is supposed to have been founded by Saint Francis of Assisi himself in 1217. Entry is 3 Euros. There are views from outside the church.
Campo de Moro Gardens.
These were once the palace gardens and there is an excellent view of the palace from here. To enter the gardens from the palace you have to walk through the Sabatini Gardens, then down the road past Príncipe Pío Station and the Gate of the Virgen del Puerto. It will take about 10 minutes. It was really cold during our visit. There is an ornate fountain and several statues in the park. There were some nice plants even including some roses still going strong in the middle of winter. Worth a look for the views of the palace. This park had a free and clean toilet something rather hard to find in Madrid. Opening times: Oct to Mar, Mon to Sat 9am - 6pm, Sun 9am - 6pm; Apr to Sept 10am - 8pm, Sun 9am - 8pm. Nearest metro: Príncipe Pío. Admission free.
The Plaza de Espana.
I loved the monument to Cervantes located here. As well as a statue of Cervantes himself it consisted of statues of his main characters such as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. We were lucky to find the statue as during our visit it was obscured by a Christmas craft market. Metro: Plaza de Espana.
Temple of Debod in the Parque de la Montana : Mountain Park.
Located just a short walk from the Plaza de Espana this beautiful park contains the Egyptian Temple of Depod. This temple was given to the people of Spain when they helped save it from being flooded by the building of the Aswan dam. There were fantastic views from behind the temple. This turned out to be a great place to watch the sunset.
It was not bullfighting season and to be honest I would not want to see a bullfight even if it was, but we did go to look at the bullfighting ring as I had heard there were some interesting statues there. There were three bull fighter statues and a wall sculpture of bulls being led to the ring. The bull fighting arena was a beautiful building with lovely tiles. It was possible to go inside the arena on a tour but we did not do this. There was also a bullfighting museum up the back. Metro: Ventas. Interesting even if you are not into bull fighting.
I loved this park. We visited twice bringing a picnic with us on our second visit. We got here from Retiro metro station, though you could also visit from Atocha. We first walked past the lake with its spectacular colonnade containing a monument of King Alfonso XII on horseback. Around this area were buskers, a guy dressed as Edward Scissorhands, stalls and a puppet show. The kids loved the puppet show. What can be cuter than little kids sitting rapt in front of a show? We visited the lovely Crystal Palace and the beautiful Palace of Velazquez. Both are now owned by the Reina Sofia Museum. There was an exhibition of the work of Dutch artist Rene Daniels on in the Palace of Velazquez during our visit. We had our picnic lunch in the Rosadela Rose Garden which still contained a surprising number of blooms. The Prada Museum and Reina Sofia Museums are near this park. There is a clean public toilet near the Retiro metro station. Whatever you do don't even think about using the portaloos in this park I've only just recovered from the shock of looking inside! The park had some fabulous fountains; when you look closely at their details, they are really very beautiful and imaginative.
This museum is world famous and we intended to visit until we saw the length of the queues outside!!! I was not waiting in that not even for Goya and Velasquez. The area round about is well worth visiting. I liked the statues around the museum.
The Church Of Saint Jerome.
This lovely church is just behind the Prado. It was tranquil inside despite the many visitors and had lovely stain glass windows. I loved its nativity scene. One of the pleasures of visiting Spain at Christmas for me is the beautiful nativity scenes.
The Neptune Fountain: Fuente de Neptuno.
The area the fountain is in is great, but the fountain itself is inaccessible and surrounded by traffic. I had to use my powerful zoom on my super duper new camera to get a good shot of it.
Near Neptune Fountain.
There were some great sculptures above the door of a souvenir shop near Neptune's Fountain. These were great to take photos of very, very photogenic. There were also some interesting souvenir stalls.
Again this fountain was surrounded by roaring traffic and I needed my zoom for a good shot of it. There were some lovely buildings round about including the Palace of Communications and the Bank of Spain. Address: Where Alcala street crosses Paseo del Prado.
I think we missed the interesting part of this station with the hothouses and the monument to the victims of the horrific terrorist attack that took place here, but we did find the night and day baby heads statues.
The Puerta de Alcala.
This gate was near Retiro Park metro station. I do not really know much about it other than it is rather large and rather ornate and that it looks quite attractive in a picture. It is worth having a look at if you happen to be in this area at any point.
The Casa de Campo.
The Casa de Campo is the biggest park in Madrid. It has a lake, rowing, tennis courts, a zoo, an aquarium, restaurants. The cable car departs from here.
We took the metro to Santiago Bernabeu Station. Real Madrid's stadium is right next to the stop. You can tour the stadium for 16 Euros. We just walked round the outside of the stadium, took some photos and visited the club shop. There were a couple of restaurants, bars in the stadium, too.
We had a pleasant stroll along the river between the gardens of Moro and the Casa de Campo. To get here take the Metro to Principe de Pio. There were very good views of the palace and cathedral from here.
OK, it is not really off the beaten track. This sculpture is across the road from the Velasquez statue outside the Prada Museum. I liked it and wondered what it was. Anyone know? If you do please let me know I cannot track it down.
This fountain was near our hotel beside Alsacia metro station. It is not one of Madrid's famous fountains but I found it interesting and quite beautiful. We passed it every day as we went to the metro station or to the large Carrefour supermarket located nearby.
We loved these beautiful tile motifs and decorations on the bars and restaurants on a side street off the Carrera de San Jeronimo near Puerta del Sol. Very very pretty!
The Museo del Jamon: A cheap but fascinating place to eat and drink.
We saw two of these Museo del Jamons near Puerta del Sol. They were always packed because they were doing a promotion where you could get a draft beer for a Euro and a filled roll for a Euro. The walls of this restaurant/shop were lined with hams. Address: Gran Via, 72; Alcalá, 155; Atocha.
Bars in Madrid: Great Place For A Drink.
This bar (we don't know the name) was located between the cathedral and the Plaza de la Villa. It specialised in beers of the world and sold lots of little tapas. We really loved the way it was decorated.
Passes on the metro.
You can get a day pass, 2 day pass, 3 day pass, 4 day pass etc. We purchased a three day pass for 13 Euros and found it great value as we could hop on and off the metro as often as we liked. Individual metro journeys are 1 Euro 50 cents. to the airport it is 2 Euros 50 cents. Tickets and passes can be bought from the machines in the metro station. Instructions can be found in English on the machines. Machines take notes and coins.