Top tips for first-time travelers to Madrid
¡Bienvenido a Madrid! (Welcome to Madrid!)
To enjoy all of the above mentioned, the first step would be getting to Madrid. The easiest way to do it is, of course, picking your dates and booking a direct flight. But there is also a tempting alternative that lets you see much more of Spain than just 15 minutes by bus from the airport to the city centre, and this is the route we took – via Barcelona, to enjoy a 3 hour train ride from the Barcelona Sants station and in the end, at the railway station in Madrid (Estación de Madrid Atocha), encounter something entirely unexpected... You'd think – what could attract attention at a regular railway station?
It turns out "could" is not the right word for it. In your first minutes there you'll think you're at the wrong destination – maybe an exotic island... As you will be greeted by a tropical garden and 7000 varieties of plants, several bodies of water, 22 species of fish and heaps of turtles!
By the way, among the designers of this station at the end of the 19th century was the legendary Gustave Eiffel. That's right, the author of the main symbol of Paris.
This is real... "Real Madrid"
When you walk around the centre of Madrid, you'll think that's where most of the city life is concentrated. That is true, but only up to the moment when you find yourself at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium. This place, without a doubt, can be called the greatest pride of Madrid. The first thing football fans do as soon as they reach Madrid is hurry to the stadium ticket offices to grab tickets for the famous Real Madrid museum or, if they haven't been planning ahead or are just feeling lucky, for the next game. And only then do they head into town to take in the architecture and the sights. Now we know why.
Once you step into the club museum, they've done everything for you to want to instantly become a supporter – even if you're not a football fan and haven't even seen a single game.
Interactive games, historical footage on huge TV screens, shelves with an infinite number of cups won, a chance to go through the whole stadium building from A to Z – including a peek inside the Real Madrid dressing room (where you instantly get all the scenarios running through your head how the football players prepare for an important match), as well as the team tunnel into the stadium, where emotions reach the peak... Going through all these steps, you feel proud to be at a place where history was written!
And, of course, at the end of the tour you can choose from plenty of team souvenirs to take home with you.
Magic of gastronomy
Even if you are not hungry, you'll certainly appreciate the atmosphere of Mercado de San Miguel. It can hardly be called a "market" in the literal meaning. A market in Madrid, and in Spain on the whole, is not just a place to buy or sell things – it's more like a separate kingdom where you can always encounter a certain magic... Not the Harry Potter kind, but a magic of flavours and places. We decided to enjoy a lunch break here – the atmosphere was just so tempting that it was impossible to not take a bite. Besides, the hall has long common tables where people of all nationalities are all having a meal and will gladly strike up a conversation with you.
This place reminds of streets packed with all kinds of restaurants and bars, but at the same time you have the feeling that it's all one big hall – with a choice of food to make any gourmand's eyes try to focus on multiple things at the same time. Freshly baked breads, the famous tortilla, seafood, the true Spanish olives (thoroughly impressive with their sizes and fillings), hams, cheeses, sausages, fruit, wine, beer, tapas-pintxos of all shapes and sizes – it's tough to describe... Come and try it! On average, trying 4-5 tapas and dishes cost about 20€ per person. Trust us, when you leave this place you'll be happy and fed, regardless what amount you spend!
An outdoor museum
You don't even have to spend time on history museums, because Retiro, the central park of Madrid is a museum by itself, all out in the open! According to the chart at the park entrance, this location was initially used as an amusement park for the royal family, and only from 1869 also the rest of inhabitants of the country were allowed entrance. The park is abundant in royal splendour – from historical sculptures to rare species of plants.
Monday. A working day. But the park is swarming with people – locals, not tourists. Some are getting ready for the beach season and circling around in tracksuits, others are reading books on the steps of the monument of Alfonso XII (king of Spain, known for bringing peace to his kingdom at the end of the 19th century), while someone is enjoying a boat ride in the central lake. Back in the day this place would host shows on water – like marine battles – and the king himself, accompanied by his court, would gladly partake in boat outings on a sunny day. We were lucky enough to catch one such day and enjoy some seriously royal recreation!
And don't rush to leave the park when you're done with the walks along the alleys and boating in the lake, because at the very centre of it hides a true gem...
Crystal palace? Maybe only in a fairy tale... that you just found yourself in! In the very heart of Retiro park hides a crystal clear palace – Palacio de Cristal. The palace is literally a hidden gem – we spent about 15 minutes looking for it, before accidentally bumping into a sign bearing the name we were so interested in, and pointing in the direction too. Palacio de Cristal is one of the most interesting sights to see in Madrid. What's so peculiar about it is that the building is made (almost) entirely out of glass. According to the architects of the 19th century, this is what every building in the Spain of the future should look like. Would be pretty great, wouldn't it?
This is a highly beloved spot for photo shoots among both local and visiting bloggers. At the time of our visit the palace was full of iPhones raised above people's heads and camera flashes. Come here, and your Instagram will be oozing glamour and flooded with questions of “What is this place?” At Palacio de Cristal you can be a true Instagram king!
An evening “in the hat”
The Hat – that is the name of a fairly new hostel, always brimming with the spirit of youth in the daytime and a romantic atmosphere in the evenings. To enjoy the romantic side of the place we went straight to the top floor – the cosy bar with magnificent city views. The first thing to catch your eye here is all the detail. You'll want to explore every nook and cranny and stay here as long as possible - they've done a good job to ensure that.
We dropped in here to catch the sunset and have a delicious coffee and cheesecake. And we haven't found a better place – so far. Maybe you will? If you do, let us know!
When you're done walking the city, time to head to your hotel room for a rest. Checking our options, we knew there would be no better place than Dear Hotel Madrid – a true home away from home. The name of the hotel says it all – as soon as you find yourself under their wing, you'll be taken care of.
Every single detail in your room will touch your heart. On the table – a little bag of treats for you to snack on (we're keeping the exact name of the treat a secret). In the bathroom – top-notch hair and body care products that could belong in a high-end salon, so that you can revive yourself hair after those long walks. And the bed... you'll find common ground soon enough – dreaming will sure be a pleasure.
By the way, the locals frequent this place for the gorgeous panorama views from the rooftop terrace and the swimming pool with views of the city. The possibilities and offers at this hotel will surpass your expectations. We can still hardly believe we've seen something like this with our own eyes – so we took a picture.
And, yes... a morning breakfast for any taste is available there as well– in a restaurant under a roof!
All pictures were captured by Natalia Golubova.
Written specially for airBalticBlog by Eugenia Krupenkina.