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.
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Plaza de Colón
Plaza de Cibeles
Palacio de Cibeles
Plaza de Cibeles & Fountain of Cibeles
Looking down Gran Via
Plaza de la Independencia
El Retiro Park
El Retiro with Alfonso XII statue in the background
Puerta del Sol
Plaza de la Villa
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?