DON'T whatever you do decide to walk from the coach station or the train station up into Toledo. From the train station there is an easily found bus stop; from the bus station there isn't. When you get off the bus or the train find the taxi rank asap. Ask the driver for Plaza Zocodover. At the station the rank is directly outside; at the bus station it is up the moving stairs, left though glass door, immediately right and keep straight on to the edge of the building. There are not all that many taxis. I say this because the walk up the hill to the city, especially in summer, is awful and when you get to the top is the time to start exploring. You can always walk back down! Cost of taxi 6€ - well worth it! (2013)
This museum is probably one of the smallest you will see as it has only one room containing 17th century paintings of Madrid and two large wooden models showing how Madrid would have looked in the 17th century (you will have to use your imagination and geographical knowledge to recognise buildings such as the royal palace and the cathedral as they are not indicated on the models). A video screen taking you on imaginary walks through 17th century Madrid is interesting as it shows you which buildings of 17th century Madrid still exist today and which ones have disappeared over the centuries as Madrid has got ever bigger. Entry is free .
calle Fuencarral, 78
Nearest metro station: Tribunal
Google map: bit.ly/UCsTlX
The Spanish have their own version of the tooth fairy albeit in mouse form and he is known to Spanish children as Ratóncito Pérez. Hidden away in a tiny shopping centre in central Madrid is a cute tiny golden statue of this famous Ratóncito Pérez. Upstairs on the first floor of the shopping centre is a small museum dedicated to the history behind this mouse.
This park is in my opinion better than the
El Retiro park in central Madrid. It is more geared towards children and families. Children will love it as there is lots to discover such as ... I am not going to tell you. Go to the park, ignore the plan of the park, lose yourself and discover the many buildings within it for yourself.
I assure you that around every corner you will discover something new. It will feel like you are nowhere near Madrid at all (El Capricho park is in fact right on the very edge of the Madrid) as it is small and showy with colourful roses and sunflowers all year round. The sun brings out the autumnal colours. Take food and drink with you though as unlike El Retiro park there are no food or drink shops within the park itself. Although there is a free tap providing free drinking water within the grounds near El Capricho palace. My favourite spot to stop and sit was on the seat by the artificial lake opposite the waterfall on the manmade island in the middle of the lake. Sadly this park which was previously unknown to many tourists and Madrileños has been discovered and is now very popular and can be busy which is why they have a daily limit of 1,000 people in the park at any one time. This has spoiled the serenity of the park somewhat but there are still some secluded spots left within the park to escape the crowds which is good. If you are lucky like I was you will be treated to some free dancing and acting outside the dance hall in the park (usually between 12.00am and 13.00pm). Entry is free but the park is only open Saturday and Sundays from 9.00am to 21.00pm.
Calle de la Galera, 0, 28042 Madrid, Spain
+34 917 42 97 87
Nearest metro station: El Capricho
The long 45 - 60 min metro journey from central Madrid is worth it I promise you!
Exit El Capricho metro station (there is only one exit) and follow the brown signs which say Parque El Capricho which will lead you across scrubland and past some flats to the park entrance on the opposite side of the zebra crossing.
Google map: bit.ly/TpdqoR
If money is tight and you cannot afford to eat out than Lidl on the Plaza Tirso de Molina is cheap and not much different to Lidl in the UK or anywhere else in Europe as the produce offered is cheap, similar to what you get at a Lidl in the UK and you know what you are getting for your euros. If you have a rucksack ensure that you have a one euro coin with you so you can put your rucksack in the lockers beside the store entrance. But the security guards did not stop me for having a small backpack on my back when I went in on three separate occasions but it is better not to take the chance.
Plaza Tirso de Molina 16, Madrid
Google map: bit.ly/UsEQFh
Everybody notices the statue of Felipe III on his horse in the centre of the Plaza Mayor. But take a closer look at the horse and you will notice that it's mouth has been soldered closed. There is a sad story behind the reason for this. In 1931 a bomb was thrown into the horse's mouth thus busting open its belly. To surprise of everybody tiny bird bones filled the air. Before this happened nobody realised that sparrows had flown into the horses mouth and down its neck in search of food or shelter. Because their wings are too big to enable them to fly back up out of the statue they panicked and were unable to fly out of the horse; and so it was that they became trapped inside it and they slowly died inside the statue. To avoid any more birds being trapped inside the statue and facing a slow and painful death the horse's mouth was soldered shut shortly after this discovery. Another story of the hidden Madrid which tourists do not see.
Nearest metro station: Sol
Madrid's main cathedral built to honour Madrid's patroness - the Almudena Virgin.
Please respect those in the cathedral who are praying in this glorious building by keeping as quiet as you can. Look up and marvel at the beautifully coloured ceilings (the dome is particularly beautiful). Entry is free but a donation of one to two euros is suggested
Monday afternoon between noon and 2pm is the best time to sit in the shade by the mermaid sat on her fish by the lake in El Retiro park. The monument to Alfonso XII provides a suitable backdrop to watch people messing about on boats in the lake next to the monument. It is funny to watch them trying to row their boats as there are the occasional crashes between boats. Don't forget to smack the mermaid's bottom for good luck before you reluctantly leave the lakeside!
The most famous cycling race in Spain which easily rivals the more famous Tour de France. The 9th September is usually when the race finishes in Madrid. It is free to stand behind the barriers by the road and cheer the cyclists on as they race past you at an alarming pace (be quick to rein in your camera after taking your photo otherwise it will be shot out of your hand and broken by passing cyclists). I managed to get some brilliant photos of the riders and of the prize giving ceremony after the race. Don't be discouraged if the police move you on from some of the barriers by the finish line as they actually did me a favour as I got to be right next to the barrier and could practically touch the cylists. It was one of the best experiences of my life as it was exciting to actually be there in Madrid instead of watching it on the TV. Top tip - find a barrier on the right side of the track (where you will get the best photos) at 12.00pm and keep your spot. Arrive later than 12.00pm and you will loose your spot!
The atmopshere is fantastic and exhilirating. It is not intimidating at all even for children so it is perfect for families. There are police everywhere to protect spectators and cyclists so don't worry about safety but do as I did and keep your rucksack on your front and NOT on your back to avoid things being stolen from it without you noticing. There will be lots of people around you but unlike the Tour de France you wont be jostled about and knocked all over the place - everybody looks after each other (even if your not supporting the same rider!)
The Vuelta de España follows this route into Madrid city centre: c/Princesa,
Plaza de España, Gran Vía, c/Alcalá,
Plaza de Cibeles, then passing the Thyssen museum, Fuente de Neptuno, Paseo de Prado, Gta de Emperador Carlos V and back up to Plaza de Cibeles then down again to
Gta de Emperador Carlos V (10 times) before the cyclists cross the finishing line
(la meta) for the final time near Plaza de Cibeles. The exact route is usually announced on the website of the
Vuelta de España and in the local and national newspapers every year
Google map: bit.ly/Ph2plP
The CaixaForum Madrid by architects Herzog and de Meuron, opened in 2008 and is located near the Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen-Bornemisza museums.
The converted former power station presents itself like a walk-in sculpture, with several exhibitions and events hosted concurrently. The building looks over the Paseo del Prado with a daringly beautiful planted wall and contrasting Cor-ten steel and brick facade.
My family and I went there after a visit to the botanical garden for a 'quick look' - we stayed three hours and hadn't even exhausted the impressive Richard Rogers architects exhibition (until 18 Oct 2009) with dozens of models. Even the younger kids were happy!
A cool cafe and bookshop rounds of this 'must visit' gem.
Paseo del Prado, 36
Tel.: 91 330 73 00
Atocha, línea 1
I can rightly claim the "hombre más baratas en Madrid" crown after surviving a weekend on €38.
The Madrid Metro – the Orient Express compared to the London Underground – runs from the airport to city for a paltry €2. Visit the Parque del Retiro and explore the Crystal Palace art installations, monuments including the beautiful but sinister El Angel Caído, go boating by Alfonso XII's grandiose statue, then watch free street performers and puppeteers. Sip your sangria and toast the Madrid teleférico's 40th anniversary at the terminal bar: the skyline's not as exciting as Barcelona but it's relaxing and cheap.
Window-shop the Gran Via and continue to Plaza de España, Teatro Real, Palacio Real and Plaza Mayor for some classic Spanish architecture. Don't miss the El Rastro fleamarket on Sundays: calling it a flea market is a disservice to the sprawling city of stalls filled with delicious food and exotic crafts. It covers several blocks and gets very crowded so mind your valuables.
Madrid's gloriously rowdy tapas bars were out of my budget so I made do with the supermercado for flavoursome food. Ubiquitous Carrefour City and Express stores stock tasty Iberico ham, chorizo and other Spanish treats at unbeatable prices.
From horrific realisation to splendid sunny weekend of exploration, Madrid is perfect for a Spanish holiday on the cheap.
Metro - €2 one way from airport to central city, daypass tickets available. www.metromadrid.es/en/viaja_en_metro/tarifas/billetes/contenido07.html
Teleférico - €5.10 round trip, Paseo del Pintor Rosales, nearest metro Arguelles. www.teleferico.com/tarifas
El Rastro - start at Puerta de Toledo metro from 10am on Sundays. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Rastro
Parque del Retiro (and other locations) - madridspain.ca/attractions/retiropark.html
Carrefour store finder (use Google translate) - www.carrefour.es/
Another great gay hostel in Madrid - this cool modernist building is in the Chueca area - great for gay nightlife and parties.
The staff are extremely welcoming and will give out any advice on things to see, gay/lesbian advice, free vouchers for clubs, saunas etc...
The rooms have ensuite and have great facilities - tvs, free internet, safety deposit boxes, linen and towels.
Calle Pizarro 14 -1,Madrid, Spain, 28004
This is a great gay hostel with really friendly staff - who are always willing to offer you advice on where to go and what to see - they even hand out free club passes!
The rooms are more like a hotel than a hostel, with TVs, comfortable beds and balconies overlooking Puerta del Sol square. There's also free internet and a free breakfast of freshly baked buns.
The location is excellent, you are right in the center of town, so we could walk everywhere.
Puerta del Sol Square, Madrid
Great food at a great price. No main was more than €10! Wine was about €8-€9 a bottle.
We don't normally go to the same restaurant twice when we are on holiday, but we came here three times when we were here in Madrid in summer 08.
There were queues into the place on some evenings.
Plaza El Ángel 12
28012 Madrid, Spain
+34 913 691 059
Slap bang in the centre of Madrid near to many of the major attractions, the old town, main shopping areas and a block from the Plaza Mayor is 100 Montaditos. It's your best bet for cheap lunch on the run in the city. Take a ticket and wait for your turn to order from the extensive menu of bocadillos (small Spanish sandwiches), starting from just a Euro, there's something for all tastes.
Calle Mayor 22, 5 mins from the Sol metro station
If you're looking for gifts or souvenirs which are uniquely spanish but not tacky or generic you must visit El Arco Artesano on the Plaza Mayor. A whole range of prices and everything beautiful, handmade and local. I got myself a gift of some earrings and a beautiful scarf; a perfect reminder of this place with out having to have "Spain" or "toro" written all over it. Lots of accessories, homewares, decorative items etc. Fantastic.
El Arco Artesano
Plaza Mayor 9 (in the corner tucked in beside Ben and Jerry's icecream)
Madrid isn't necessarily the cheapest city in the world in which to eat out, and if you're on a budget, and fancy hitting the town too but don't know how you can afford to do both, this is the answer: do as the Spanish do and drink and snack all evening in the multitudes of Tapas Bars throughout the city. Placa Santa Ana is one of the liveliest and most celebrated places in which to do this, though prices can be higher than in more up and coming districts such as Chueca or Lavapies - though both these areas have a wide range of trendy places serving quality food and drinks. Avoid the Placa Mayor and its immediate environs as you pay vastly inflated prices which don't equate to value for money. If you're not sure which bar to choose, just check out the menus and prices, ask one of the (usually friendly and helpful) locals or as a rule of thumb head for somewhere that looks busy. Not only are you eating and drinking for far less than a restaurant or cocktail bar, you are getting a real taste of what Madrid life is all about. Enjoy!
Across central Madrid
A state-run arthouse cinema showing a range of different films. All films are shown in original version, with Spanish subtitles if required. Screenings are eclectic - I've seen some gems I'd never have watched otherwise, some bona fide classics and some "I'll go because it's in English and cheap" bilge. Listings can be found in Guia del Ocio, or with film notes at the cinema itself.
Tickets on my last visit cost just under 3€.
The main screen is a fabulous old salon, complete with balcony and boxes. The whole cinema is housed in a fin de siecle building which has starred in at least one Almodovar film.
As with any Spanish museum, morgue or meeting place there is a cafeteria serving coffee and snacks on site.
A great restaurant chain for tapas and larger raciones. They don't do just ham, as the name might suggest, but all sorts of food. Calamares, Tortilla and gambas al ajillo are excellent. Prices are very reasonable. You can eat at the counter or in the salon (waiter service is a little dearer). They have restaurants in Puerta del Sol and on the Gran Via. They also do excellent three-course menu for under 10 Euro.
La Puerta Del Sol
or La Gran Via
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