Calle Mayor is the main street of Alcalá. Take a stroll up and down it between wooden timbered buildings and take shade in the colonades behind the columns. There are a few good shops on here too selling food, books, souvenirs and everything else you could possibly need. Don't forget to look up to catch sight of flowers in the balconies of the houses above the colonades. They really do brighten up the street.
Google map: bit.ly/SiwspO
Bar Avesta is one of the few Zoroastrian themed bars you'll find the world. It's got a great medieval, cozy type feel to it, with its low wooden beamed ceiling and rustic wooden benches. It is located in a converted wine cellar and as well as serving some of the most delicious tapas in Barcelona, it also serves some of the cheapest shots. The bar also serves the famous drink, leche de pantera, a kind of pink alcoholic milk that is pretty delicious.
It is these small little known museums which really make Madrid a great city to visit. It is off the tourist trail but is still really worth seeing especially as it is one of the musuems in Madrid which has free entry all of the time. The friendly and enthusiastic staff will happily give a guided tour (in Spanish) of this museum which is set in the abandoned station of Chamberí which is in exactly the same state as it was left in when the station closed forever in 1966. A video explains
(in Spanish only) the entire history of Madrid's metro network. The only thing which reminds you that this time capsule is set in modern Madrid are the modern metro trains which thunder through the abandoned station (a safety barrier along one of the platforms prevents you falling from onto the tracks as you admire the untouched 1920s posters adorning the walls).
This abandoned station is so worth seeing so visit it!
Nearest metro station - Bilbao
Open Friday, Saturday and Sunday only
Google map: bit.ly/Rf7Sfg
This museum lies witihn the golden triangle of must see museums in Madrid - Prado, Thyssen & Reina Sofia so it is easily missed out because it isn't as prominent as the others. However this museum is worth a visit even if you are not that interested in ships and all things naval as it contains some fabulous paintings of famous explorers such as Christopher Columbus and Hernan Cortés, Spanish kings and queens, dictators and important politicians thus providing a focused and contextualised view of Spanish history. But do not ignore the other naval exhibits such as the first known European map to show North America, armour, compasses and plenty of early navigational instruments. The entry fee is four euros.
The royal palace is the main reason why Aranjuez draws in the crowds. Don't (as I did) get caught out by the fact that entry is only free on Wednesday for EU citizens only between the times of 5pm and 8pm.
I took my British passport with me in the morning and expected free entry as the palace website informed me that the entry was free for EU citizens all day. But the man on the ticket desk soon put me right and I had to fork out nine euros for a ticket. Only having free entry to the palace as late as 5pm does make it rather difficult to fit in the palace and gardens before the last buses leave for Madrid. For my nine euros I did get to see all of the royal rooms which Isabel II used including the highlight of the palace - the smoking (or Arab) room built in the style of the Alhambra in Granada and the porcelain room. The rooms have not been altered at all since royalty left the palace. Both the smoking/Arab room and porcelain room are not to be missed. The only thing I did not like at all were the over eager security guards constantly following me all the time ensuring that I did not take photos with my camera (photography is absolutely forbidden anywhere in the palace and signs everywhere and a security guard always behind you remind you of this at every turn). I did find their constant presence to be rather annoying and it spoiled my visit somewhat. The information given in English and Spanish about each room is rather scant and is not always helpful.
+34 918 91 07 40
Google map: bit.ly/Uj75sz
These are the most useful metro stops to tourists in Madrid. The name of the metro station and the nearest site(s) of interest it serves are all listed below:
Puerta del Sol, Plaza Mayor, c/Mayor,
Plaza de la Villa, Casa de la Villa, Monasterio Descalzas Reales
GRAN VÍA -
Palacio Real, Catedral de la Almudena, Teatro Real, Jardines Campo del Moro
Plaza de Colón, Biblioteca Nacional,
PLAZA DE ESPAÑA -
Edificio España, Torre de Madrid,
Monumento a Cervantes, Templo de Debod, Palacio del Senado, museo Cerralbo
BANCO DE ESPAÑA -
Museo del Prado, Paseo del Prado, museo Thyssen, museo naval, iglesia San Jerónimos, Congreso de los Diputados, Fuente de Neptuno, Fuente de Cibeles, Palacio de Cibeles (the main post office is located in this building), Ayuntamiento
Puerta de Alcalá, Monumento a Alfonso XII, Palacio de Velázquez, Palacio de Cristal, Estatua del Ángel Caído
ATOCHA RENFE - Monumento victimas 11-M
Atocha train station, Reina Sofia art museum, Gta Emperador Carlos V, Caixaforum
PUERTA DE TOLEDO -
Puerta de Toledo, San Francisco el grande
LA LATINA - El Rastro market
SANTIAGO BERNABÉU -
Santiago Bernabéu football stadium
PLAZA DE CASTILLA -
Plaza de Castilla, Edificio Europa
BILBAO/IGLESIA - Anden 0
TRIBUNAL - Museo de Historia de Madrid
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!
An Egyptian temple built 2,200 years ago taken apart brick by brick in Egypt and shipped over to Spain and then finally put back together in Madrid. The whole story of the moving of the temple from Egypt to Spain and its history is covered in great detail in the museum's displays and videos. An interesting and unusual thing to find plonked tastefully in Madrid's western suburbs. Behind the temple there are very good views of Madrid's western suburbs, the Casa de Campo park and the mountains to the west of the city. The park is a lovely setting for family picnics too.
Entry is free.
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
Thanks to an earlier posting on this website, we discovered bilbaogreeters.com, an organisation that provides, free of charge, an English-speaking guide to Bilbao. The Guggenheim may be the initial draw for tourists, but there is much more to this fascinating city.
My top tip? Meet up with a guide as early as possible in your stay. Ours told us: where to eat outstanding seafood; how best to use the excellent public transport system;and what is worth seeing, apart from the "Guggy".
Luxury mountiain biking holiday with Jenny and Tim in their eco farmhouse. Beautiful surroundings, great food, fantastic accommodation. The mountain biking is awesome from the climbs to the single track with a backdrop of amazing scenery.
Travel as a group, couple or solo. Its perfect for enthusiastic beginners and the more experienced. Great hosts. All round fab holiday
Casa del Limonero is a spacious, comfortable house in the centre of a traditional agricultural village. It's very reasonably priced but fully equipped. It makes self-catering a luxury. The village has shops, banks, bars and restaurants yet is surrounded by fabulous walking country taking in everything from flat meadows to mountains, rivers to lakes and wild flowers to chestnut and oak forests.
Casa del Limonero, Almoharín, 10132 Cáceres, Extremadura. Nearest bus or train station: Cáceres or Mérida. Almoharín is on bus routes to both cities.
San Martín is a small, ancient and historic village in the Sierra de Gata, Extremadura. It's only 15km from the Portuguese border and it lies in a remote valley backed by peaks rising to 1485m. The walking is fabulous: lush valleys with rivers that never run dry, natural swimming pools, mountain paths, extensive chestnut and oak forests, wildlife, birds, castles, friendly people and yummy food.
North of Coria and Moreleja in Cáceres Province or look for it in 'Walking in Extremadura' published by Santana Books.
An organic and vegetarian restaurant in Seville. Yes, you have read correctly. A meat-free menu! It offers a wide range of fresh, mainly local produce. Salads (from €8-€12.50), cheeses, gazpachos and full meals. There are also set menus for €9.95 Monday to Friday with a starter, main meal and dessert. Wednesdays are curry day - the 'mixed plate' didn't leave much room for the dessert!
In addition to the restaurant, Gaia has an alternative studies centre (massage, Chinese medicine, etc) and a shop selling organic produce.
Staff are incredibly friendly!
Calle de Luis de Vargas, 4 41001 Seville, Spain
+34 (0)954 21 19 34
Google map: bit.ly/O0ODl9
* BecomingSevillana is our Been there local for Seville. You can read her profile here: www.ivebeenthere.co.uk/articles/seville-local-kim.jsp and follow her tips here: www.ivebeenthere.co.uk/travellers/BecomingSevillana.jsp
She also has her own blog: becomingsevillana.blogspot.com/
A nice little town on the drive to/from Andorra in northern Catalunya. Walk round the old quarter and go into the cloisters of the romanesque cathedral - calm and cool, amusing capitals - then walk round the back and get a great view of the nearby sierra.
Carrer Major, 25700 Seu d'Urgell, Spain
Google map: bit.ly/MQ26PB
It's a 'formategeria' (cheese restaurant) but although it has a lovely fondue on the menu, its menu isn't especially cheesey. It's a lovely place, great service, attentive and passionate chef who talked us through the Catalan menu. The town itself is nice but provincial and this restaurant is not what you'd expect there.
I really loved this hostel. It is not in the old town but is less than 30 minutes walk to the old town and the main sites. The place is well run, friendly and good value. They gave me a double bed instead of a single.
Try the gardens at Cap Roig (Jardi Botanic Cap Roig),a series of beautiful and unusual themed gardens laid out on terraces around a modern castle leading to the sea. My favourite was the cactus garden which affords spectacular views of the coast below. Time your visit to coincide with the open-air music festival that the garden hosts in the summer. When we were there three years ago, Leonard Cohen was performing under the stars!
Hiding in the foothills of the Pyrenees, and often overlooked by foreign tourists, this protected valley is sprinkled with Unesco-listed churches from the 12th century. It is also a gateway to the dramatic Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park where a week won't be long enough to fit in all the hiking, cycling, adventuring and bird-watching on offer.
Avoid the familiar, round up the family and go there in the summer.
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