My time in Madrid was short, too short. I arrived on a Friday evening at 1030 pm and left Sunday afternoon at 2 pm. Work gets in the way of travel sometimes, but I sure don’t let it stop me. It was so worth it to visit my friend, Dani, who is living there doing her masters. Dani and I attended middle school and high school together in Houston. I think we had six years of Spanish class together during this time. I was always envious of Dani since she is Colombian and thus a native speaker, but more than envious, I was so happy to have her. After high school graduation, Dani moved to Colombia with her family where she did her undergrad, so time with Dani was far too limited the past six years. The opportunity to visit her in Madrid was too good.

I cannot express how nice it was traveling to visit a friend versus traveling to visit a city. When I arrived, Dani met me at the airport and had a fabulous eggplant and plantain lasagna made and we spent hours catching up on lost time. She had our whole weekend planned and I would not have wanted it any other way. So many times you arrive in a city with no idea where to go, what to do, or how to go about doing it. With such a short weekend, it was so nice to just follow the locals, relax, and enjoy.

On Saturday morning, Dani’s friend Borja met us for a walking tour of the city. Borja was such a sport – he had partied like the Spaniard he is until 9 o’clock in the morning and met us at 11 to walk me all over the city and tell me about life in Spain. Borja was so friendly, open, and honest. He talked about the financial crisis and the concerns it instills in students all over the country. We talked about American stereotypes, which is one of my favorite pastimes with foreigners, and about the drama among the Spanish royal family.

Madrid is a super large city (6.5 million residents in the metro area) made accessible by public transportation, but even better, the main city attractions were all within walking distance of each other. In the span of about four hours, the three of us:

Plaza de Cibeles – we began our tour  from Plaza de Colón and walked all the way down the gorgeous and busy Paseo de Recoletos to the famous Plaza de Cibeles where one of the most iconic buildings in Madrid, the Palacio de Cibeles, in stands. Here in this plaza, Real Madrid and Spain soccer team victories are celebrated by huge crowds and even the team comes to join the party!

Palacio de Cibeles – Pay 2 Euro and take elevators to the top of this building for a gorgeous 360 degree view of Madrid.

We stopped for a bite at one of Dani’s favorite bakeries, [H]arina. I tried a special Spanish savory cookie type treat made from olive oil and herbs.

El Retiro – the main city park in Madrid, it is a gorgeous place for people of all sorts to spend a sunny day. There are joggers all around, row boats for rent, knock-off vendors, tasty treats, and more. It is a beautiful city escape in the heart of Madrid.

Gran Via – a busy, gorgeous street in Madrid

Puerta del Sol – a popular meeting place filled with people, street performers, and more. It is known for its New Year’s Eve celebration where the clock tower bell rings 12 times and people eat 12 grapes as tradition at the beginning of the New Year.

Plaza Mayor – filled with souvenir shops, cafes, and restaurants with outdoor seating, it is surrounded by colorful buildings and always bustling with people

Mercado de San Miguel – the most famous market in Spain and my favorite stop on the walking tour

Plaza de la Villa – once upon a time the main square in the middle ages, it now lacks the hustle and bustle of the others but maintains a serene charm

Almudena Cathedral – next to the Royal Palace, this massive church is best known by Spaniards today as where Prince Felipe married Letizia

Palacio Real (Royal Palace) – no longer home to the royal family, this humungous palace is a gorgeous ode to Spains history and is now a museum open for visit. It is free on Wednesdays.

Plaza de España – surrounded by the two tallest buildings in museum, it has a beautiful fountain and statue of Cervantes

Temple of Debod – a temple that was gifted to Spain from Egypt, it is in the center of a gorgeous park high on a hill

With nonstop walking, this tour takes less than two hours. However, I suggest definitely popping into Mercado de San Miguel and going to the top of the Palacio de Cibeles. I would have certainly gone in the Palacio Real, too, had there been time. The popular tourist attractions not included here are the Prado Museum and the Real Madrid stadium.

View Larger Map

Plaza de Colón

Plaza de Cibeles

Palacio de Cibeles

Plaza de Cibeles & Fountain of Cibeles

Looking down Gran Via

[H]arina Bakery

Plaza de la Independencia

El Retiro Park

El Retiro with Alfonso XII statue in the background

Gran Via

Puerta del Sol


Plaza Mayor

Plaza Mayor

Mercado de San Miguel

Plaza de la Villa

Almudena Cathedral

Palacio Real (Royal Palace of Madrid)

Real Jardin Botanico (Royal Botanical Garden)

Temple of Debod

Madrid is beautiful and cosmopolitan. The streets were clean, the buildings ornate, the people friendly, the weather generous, and the food delicious. Dani and I will be reunited again in Houston come May, when we will both be bridesmaids in our best friend, Stephanie’s wedding. I can’t even wait!

Have you ever visited a friend living in a foreign country?

  • Katrin

    I always wanted to visit Madrid! Love all your pictures! Thank you so much for sharing! And please let me know when you find out how these guys fly in the air! I would love to know!

    • ifs ands & butts

      I seriously stared at him forever and count not figure it out!

  • dancingwithashley

    A short, but AMAZING trip!! Loving all your pictures. I wish one of my friends would move somewhere cool like this so I could go visit :-)

    • ifs ands & butts

      Ya never know! But then again it would mean one of your friends moving away. It was such a special treat though!

  • Svenja Schoening

    Hi Alex, this sounds amazing!! I love your list of attractions and the fact that the tour only took a couple of hours! So good if one only has limited time to see everything! And imagine if you were even able to have half of the Friday / or Sunday as well — that you could have even squueze the Prado in!!

    Loved, that you included a map of your walk!! Fabulous for people who plan to travel the city!

    I visited friends in England and Denmark, Holland and Spain, and it was always more than fabulous since locals just know everything a bit better, know where the atmosphere is magical and places where it is a bit more non-touristy, more local. I also hosted a lot of my friends from abroad, and I try to serve them in the way I liked it best: Plan the best things, arrange things for going out, but leave time in between so that the person has some time to go and explore the place for himself..



    • ifs ands & butts

      Thanks so much Svenja! That’s so great you had friends to visit in all those places! I love hosting, although a lot of times people don’t want to come to Karlsruhe so I have to meet them somewhere else. It’s still so fun to share all your favorite little things about a place!

  • Cat of Sunshine and Siestas

    Madrid was a city I disliked in Spain until I began to make friends who lived there. Visiting the city this way makes it loads more enjoyable, though you’ll have to go back for my favorite neighborhood – Malasana! It’s quirky, full fo crumbling buildings and cool boutiques, interesting bars and pubs, and the house where my boyfriend grew up!

    • ifs ands & butts

      I definitely would’ve had no idea what to do without my friend there. Seeing how much someone loves a place really makes you love it! I’m not sure I made it to Malasana… next time :)

  • decoybetty

    Oh wow! It looks absolutely incredible.

    I visited my friend who lives in Germany twice. It was so much fun to have a personal tour guide of the city!

    • ifs ands & butts

      Where in Germany??

  • bevchen

    Wow! That’s a lot of walking. Love the photos though.

    “Work gets in the way of travel sometimes, but I sure don’t let it stop me.” -> I know exactly you feel! unfortunately, work is also necessary to pay for all this travel 😉

    I stayed with friends when I visited Delft and Luxembourg. Definitely a great way to see cities.It’s great having someone who knows all the best places to go and the quickest/nicest ways to get somewhere!

    • ifs ands & butts

      Travel is certainly the reward for working!

  • Dena @ It’s About the Journey

    Great pictures and perfect timing. We are planning a trip and will so keep this post in mind!

  • haileyhiggs

    ahhh this post got me so excited for my trip to Madrid this summer! Looks like an awesome city- can’t wait to explore it!

    • ifs ands & butts

      Oh there was just a ton to do – you will love it!!

  • Sara Louise

    I never tire of looking at photos of Madrid, I love that city!

  • Pingback: madrid self-walking tour. «Europe Awaits. Europe Awaits.()

  • Steven

    Awesome pics, Alex. It looks like you had a great time.

    Regarding hover-dude, I’ve seen people doing that in two other cities, and I’ve given a great deal of thought to how they do it. In all three cases, the two I’ve seen and the one you photographed, the right arm is attached to the vertical piece and the “carpet” underneath is rectangular and large. I think that if you were to lift the carpet and robe, you would find a large metal or wood plate fused to the vertical piece, and from there, I think you would find a support beam extending to a small suspended chair. The weight of the person in the chair piece should be taken by the base piece underneath the carpet.

    That being said, I’m just guessing. It’s entirely possible that they’re really levitating. Doubt it though. :)

    Btw, technical blogging question- how did you make the cool little walking route map you posted? Cos that’s awesome.

    • ifs ands & butts

      Your explanation sounds pretty damn good. Although, I’m a bit upset there aren’t people that actually levitate. Then again, if there were, I should’ve definitely left some change.

      Anyway, on the map thing,
      – go to signed into your Google account
      – click my places
      – create map
      – from there, you can use the tools over the map to add all sorts of markers and lines
      – additionally, if you search a place or directions, you can click the route/marker and select save to map and select the map you want to save it to
      – you can always find your maps again in my places. it’s been a fun way for me to track travel, too. You can add text and even photos and videos to the markers, too.


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  • Julika of Sateless Suitcase

    Visiting friends who live in great cities is my favorite way of traveling! :) Looks like you had a fabulous (sunny!!) time in Madrid! And you definitely saw quite a lot considering you only were there for less than two days!

  • Helene in Between

    this is beautiful!! ahh i’m excited. that is freaking awesome that your friend was there so you could just follow her lead. love that. i don’t understand how they party that late. i just don’t get it. i would be dead. literally.

  • ifs ands & butts

    Oh the joy I experienced when I realized I needed my sunglasses made the whole trip worth it, the rest was just icing on the cake :)

  • Ashley of Ashley Abroad

    What a great tour! This is seriously making me miss Spain- and how great you got to stay with your friend who’s a local. That’s really interesting you enjoy talking about American stereotypes- I find it just depresses me. Sometimes it seems like Europeans think we are literally every bad thing in the world: fat, stupid, bossy, loud, ignorant, etc.

  • ifs ands & butts

    No seriously, I don’t get their party skills. I’m way too proud of myself if I make it til 5. Better start prepping! My friend even told me that the club entries are usually free until 2 am because no one shows up before then.

  • ifs ands & butts

    I guess I should say I enjoy talking about the stereotypes with people on a friendship level, not that I randomly meet somewhere. It is true a lot of times they associate such bad things with the US, but I can laugh it off because at the same time they are so often FASCINATED by the US and love the idea of it.