After I discovered photography as a main hobby a few years ago, I quickly realized that it is not something you can share with everybody. Some people don’t care about it at all, some can’t be asked to look at your pictures and most just want to have them delivered right on their Facebook wall, but please not too many at once. The same principal is true for traveling with people. Some don’t mind you stopping at every corner (and often enough in between) to take a shot, some even don’t mind hanging out with you while you re-adjust your tripod a few times to take several long exposures of the same building. Some keep walking on while you do your thing.
But there’s only a few that give you creative freedom and don’t mind you getting into the ‘zone’. I think the zone is different for most and you (in this case I) can’t really describe it too well, but you notice when you find the angles, the unusual perspectives and little odds and ends while walking in the streets of a place you’ve never been to, getting lost on purpose and never looking on the map, simply because you enjoy yourself and manage to put the excitement on film or SD card.
So good people are hard to find in many aspects of life and therefore I’ve made it a habit to travel alone at least once a year, but it often turns out into more than one trip. Yes, you’ll have the phases when you get bored and get tired of talking to yourself, but it is also way easier than you think to just strike a conversation with somebody, even if it is only the barista in a little café (Pro-Tip: Don’t go to the big chains for it), or a corner bar to stop for a beer. Ok, rant and explaining myself over, let’s get to the Madrid story.
Most people will fly and so did I. The airport is a little bit outside of the city, but the metro is quite easy and comfortable. I followed the tips in my guide book and got a tourist card for 5 days, but you can scale down to even one day. It is important to get this card if you’re planing on using the metro, as well as getting back to the airport, as it covers the extra charge from and to Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas Airport, that you’d have to pay before leaving the metro area. One more pro-tip. While most of the tourists immediately run down the escalators to get into a slow moving line in front of the desk and ticket machines, check the office on the top level just to the left of the escalators, there was only one person in front of me and I had my ticket, metro- and Madrid maps as well as a nice smile from a cute lady in no time.
Everybody is different and everybody has a different opinion on what kind and quality of hotel you’ll need. What is important to me is location. I rather pay a little bit extra to be right where I want to be, but it enables me to walk everywhere I want (in most places) and also gives me the option to make a pitstop whenever I want. As I picked a very hot time of the year to travel (August), it was great to have that option, air condition and a place to fill up my water bottle, without a 20 minute metro ride to save a few bucks. In case you’re interested, I stayed at the B&B Hotel Puerta del Sol and was really happy with the combination of location, comfort and price!
After arriving in the early afternoon, I started walking around the downtown area. First stop was the Plaza Mayor, the central point of the area. From there you have several options of where to go and what to do. I decided to walk around the little streets and find my bearings, took a stroll through the latin quarters and circled around back to the Puerta del Sol. As I arrived on Maria Celestial day (Assumption day in English), the latin quarter had a big party going on. Bars had tables outside, food stands where placed all over the place and loud music got the people in a party mood.
My evening activity was one that I had planned on right away when I thought about traveling to Madrid. I saw a few pics of the Temblo De Debod while I was looking for spots to photograph in Madrid, found a few very interesting spots between the Puerta del Sol and the Prado Museum and thought I just find the other ones on the run.
On my first evening, I was still full of energy and actually walked all the way to the Egyptian Temple, which is located about 10-15 min north of the royal palace. While I was getting close, the sun was already going down. It turned out to be the exact right time to enjoy the sunset and also find a good spot, as the temple area got quite crowded with tourists, photographers and tripods. You really have to wait for a good spot to open up when you want to move with your gear, as there’s almost a line of people waiting.
The Templo de Debod is really old. Built in the 2nd century BC in upper Egypt, it had to be removed in 1960 to give space for a dam, but was given to Spain as a gift and rebuilt there in 1972. It is in the wrong order nowadays and I don’t think it is known why they made the mistake!
I am not a big fan of selfies in general, but when you have only a few minutes of blue hour left and see a few of the girls take selfie after selfie after selfie after selfie after selfie in the exact same pose, duck mouth and all, even my endless patience comes to an end.
One building I was fascinated with while doing the research, was the Metropolis building. The lights, traffic, passing cars and darkish atmosphere, gave me a feeling of a Batman movie. You can find it at the corner of the Calle de Alcalá and Gran Vía.
If you turn around and walk for around 400 meters, you’ll see one of the great fountains of Madrid. The Fuente de La Diosa Cibeles, or Cibeles Fountain is one of the icons in Madrid. It shows Cybele, the Greek goddess of fertility and nature holding a sceptre and a key while being pulled by two lions on a chariot. The pull of the wild lions symbolize the power of nature or of the goddess. Designed by Ventura Rodriguez and sculpted in 1782, it originally stood outside the Prado Museum facing the fountain of Neptune.
The Cybele palace behind is nowadays the home of the city council. At the time, a big ‘Refugees welcome’ banner was hanging from a window. There are a few theories why they have placed it there, a few touching the Brexit.
Turning right will get you to the Plaza Cánovas del Castillo and the Neptune Fountain. Not as popular as the other corners of Madrid, it still is a beautiful sight at night. While you were also fighting tripods, selfie hunters and others at the Plaza de Cibele, it was quiet and peaceful over there. I did have to retouch some ugly barrier tape out of the picture, maybe they wanted to stop people from jumping in, as it was still quite hot at almost midnight.
Tours, food and dance
The ultimate tip to learn a lot about a city and its history, seeing the central downtown area, getting a few free recommendations for bars and restaurants and meet some fellow travelers is always the free walking tour. The biggest company is certainly Sandemans and you can find it in a lot of cities in Europe, but you can find this kind of tour anywhere in the world. It starts from the Plaza Major and you can check out the times on their website.
In Madrid, they also offer other tours for food, pub crawl or what they call a Spanish Experience. We had quite some fun on the Experience tour, even though it was a mix out of Spanish and English speakers. After a few Tapas in two different places, you get to see a flamenco show and get a free drink and tapas with it. The dancers and singers were really good, but be careful about sweat hitting you from the dancefloor!
One of my favorite tours in every city I get to, is a food tour with local guides. They are usually not cheap (45-70 Euros), but usually absolutely worth it. I booked well in advance to join one in Madrid as well. The Tapas and Wine Tour took us through a few restaurants and we had plenty of tapas to go with great wine. Our guide Paula was very funny and a great host. If you get there, you should do this!
The picture actually shows one of the dishes we had, garlic shrimps with some tasty bread. Yummy!
We also had a great international group and ended up going to a bar with a few of the people. The Baton Rouge Cocktail Bar was phenomenal and is also a high recommendation for an evening drink. The guys behind the bar were funny, talkative and we ended up staying for a couple of drinks longer.
Prado Museum and Park de Retiro
Ok, so this might be a bit of a controversy. A trip to the Prado Museum is a must if you’re traveling to Madrid. My concierge actually told me, I should spend two full days in there to experience it in a way it is meant to be. The museum shows art from the 12th to 20th century. Founded as a museum of paintings and sculpture in 1819, it also contains important collections of other types of works. El Prado is one of the most visited sites in the world, and it is considered one of the greatest art museums in the world.
So much for the description. You have to book tickets online and in advance, or you will have a hard time standing in line. Even with a ticket in hand and showing up 15 minutes before opening hours, I had to stand in a line of maybe 30 meters. It is really busy there. Now to the controversial part. I didn’t like it. Not a bit. Art is more than old paintings for me and and while I enjoy them as well, they just don’t give me the same feelings as modern art, sculptures and photography. I did spend around 2.5 hours in there, taking regular breaks to rest my beat up feet, but I was quite happy to get back out.
Not too far from the museum, you’ll find the Buen Retiro Park. The Park is a large and popular 1.4 km2 (350 acres) park at the edge of the city centre, filled with beautiful sculptures and monuments, galleries, a peaceful lake and the beautiful Crystal Palace.
It was great to walk, enjoy, take a break on a bench in the shade, listen to birds and be close to nature, especially after spending the prior days in a busy city.
The Palace was built in 1887 and was meant to exhibit flora and fauna from the Philippines. It is constructed in the shape of a Greek cross, is made almost entirely of glass set in an iron framework on a brick base, which is decorated with ceramics. You wouldn’t think it is too big, but at 22 meters height, it is quite a sight.
One thing I just found out when looking up the details: The Crystal Palace recently garnered public attention when it was discovered that Christopher Columbus once defecated in the lower lavatory. Well, there you go.
You can spend endless days strolling around the city, enjoying architecture, churches, food, squares and a (most likely wrong) sense of easy life. I wouldn’t be able to put all of this in words and think I’ll just leave you with a few impressions.
Madrid, like many other places, isn’t a city you can tackle with one visit and a couple of days time. I very much like to go back there and take more in, especially looking past the first pages on everybody’s travel guidebook.
Just enjoying food, taking more time to have a glass of red wine here and there and watch life go by. All these things can easily be done in Madrid and will definitely give you a very good experience without ruining your feet while chasing sights and photos.
All Madrid pictures can be found on my website, or directly in this gallery. You can also reach me through Instagram. Check out the rest of my blog and sign up to receive a notification about my next post. Thanks for reading and leave a comment to tell me about your Madrid experience or next travel plans. If you have any questions, I’ll be happy to answer them.