Magical Madrid! What to see and do.

Madrid! Capital of Spain, world famous for art and home to the Prado, Real and Atletico Madrid, and the birthplace of Penelope Cruz and Enrique Iglesias.  It’s a very trendy City with a lot of history, interestingly it was the Moors who initially turned Madrid into a flourishing City before King Phillip II made it the administrative center.
It’s also one of the largest Cities in Europe, in Sobrino de Botin they have the oldest restaurant in the world, and we soon learnt that rioja wine is synonymous with the City and it was always accompanied by small tapas! Here is how we enjoyed our time in Madrid!





Arts and Museum District

First off, breakfast! Head to Plenti in the Art and Museum district for amazing tasty food and brilliant coffee.

Then wander down past the art galleries and museums, we’ll visit these later when it’s free. Nearby is Retiro Park, a huge 350 acre green space in the middle of the City.

There’s some really interesting things to see here too, such as the only statue of the devil in the world! It’s got a really eerie vibe but it’s brilliant in it’s design.


Head towards the crystal palace for amazing instagrammable moments, this 1887 structure is made almost exclusively from glass and is in the shape of a Greek cross.


When we visited there was an art installation inside which made it even more memorable! Nearby is a small art gallery that’s free to enter so definitely worth a look. Once you’ve done the cultural side it’s time to have fun on the lake, rent a rowing boat and enjoy the huge statues nearby from the water, and enjoy the sunshine, Madrid gets around 250 days of it a year!


Now you’re done with nature, walk up to the North East of the park and check out the triumphal arch Puerta de Alcala in the Plaza de la Independencia and the cute Parroquia San Manuel church.



Head along the street to Plaza de Cibeles to enjoy the gothic Madrid City Hall! That’s a lot of working so take a break at the nearby rooftop bar Azotea del Circulo and grab a glass of wine or cocktail while enjoying the incredible views. We also ordered some tapas to go with. Spot all the cool statues that sit on rooftops from here.



Now it’s time for some culture, wander back down to the museums and galleries and take your pick! Check out the Prado in the evening as it’s free between 6 and 8pm monday to saturday!

There are some massively famous paintings here but we actually found it a little too religious and classical for our taste. After this we found Tinto y Tapas, an adorable little bar nearby where we could sit back and relax with a wine after a full on day.


South and East Madrid

Breakfast today was at Pum Pum cafe, this place had a great brunch style menu and the decor inside was very hipster chic. Delicious!


Our plan from here was to check out Madrid Rio, a run down area that used to be part of Madrid’s inner ring road but has been transformed into a 6km long green space. It incudes an urban beach, relaxing walks, beautiful views and interesting architectural bridges. Check out some of the cool street art on the opposite bank to the city center.

The weather was so beautiful so it was great to leisurely wander down. At the end we passed by the old Atletico Madrid stadium and a lot of construction as they transform this area even more. It’s a bit of a walk but the weather was so good we didn’t want to use the excellent metro underground system, but we made it to the Santa Maria Cathedral and Almudena Cathedral and quickly checked out the old arabic walls nearby. 

The church was beautiful inside and out with it’s baroque architecture, make sure you check out both levels. It took 110 years to be completed and it’s believed to be built over the ruins of a mosque.


Next up and opposite the church is the Madrid Royal Palace, it’s the official residence of the Spanish royal family but is now only used for state ceremonies. The palace was also built over an old muslim era fortress and was first occupied in 1764.



It’s a little annoying as you can’t take a bag in but the rules were a bit unclear as some people got through while others didn’t. The palace itself is opulence turned up to a hundred! The main staircase was a great introduction to how grand it would be. Photos aren’t allowed in most of the rooms but we did manage to sneak a few now and again.




Behind the palace is a lovely little park to have a breather and relax and nearby is a bigger area called Montana Park which has a reconstructed egyptian temple usually there’s water around it to get some great reflection photos but unfortunately it was dry this time.


Plaza de Espana is a short walk from here and is an impressive square surrounded by interesting buildings and sculptures, including one of Cervantes who wrote ‘Don Quixote’. It was definitely time for lunch and we wanted to try one of the food markets and opted for San Anton. Located on Calle de Augusto Figueroa it’s and amazing place for the senses. Filled with small restaurants and food markets it’s a great place to try a few things. We had a huge plate of padron peppers, greek salad, hummus and pita and obviously olives, all washed down with a beer.


The rest of the afternoon and evening was spent sipping amazing rioja sat outside of various bars and cafes heading towards our hotel. Then we relaxed a little before heading over to a vegetarian restaurant where the wine was good but the food was a bit of a let down and I can’t find it now so I guess it’s gone out of business.


The Rest of Madrid

Plaza Mayor is a famous square in the heart of the City with impressive buildings surrounding it and filled with restaurants where you can sit outside. It’s cute but maybe a little too touristy, we did however leave a lock there with our initials for Valentine’s Day.
You have to check out the statue of Oso, the bear and the strawberry tree, the symbol of Madrid and found on the coat of arms. This is also near the Puerta del Sol another major landmark in Madrid. Find yourself a sweet treat in the form of Churros, and for some of the oldest and tastiest can be found at Chocolateria San Gines. This place seems like it’s always busy but we managed to bag a table outside and it was worth every Euro, it was delicious!


The area around Calle de la Cava Bajo is filled with bars and restaurants and the nightlife is meant to be good here. We sat out on the Plaza de San Andres for a wine and snacks and it’s a stunning square with lovely little churches dotted around it.


Then just wander, stop for wine and tapas, watch the world go by. It feels like a city that’s really designed to do this.

Gay Madrid

Madrid is super LGBTQ+ friendly and has a multitude of gay bars and gay friendly hotels. Nearly all of the bars etc can be found in the Chueca district right in the heart of the City. Madrid hosts a huge Pride festival running from the end of June to beginning of July.

A Trip to Toledo.

Toledo is a City in Spain about a 45minute train journey South of the countries capital, Madrid. One of it’s earliest mentions is from 193BC by a Roman general, so it’s pretty old! It’s also a UNESCO world heritage site and has cultural influences from Christians, Jews, and Muslims as well as Roman and Visigoth.

Although Madrid is a cool City, we wanted a bit of medieval history and I thought Toledo looked like a great place to take a day trip to. So after having Breakfast at Plenti, a cute little place not far from our hotel.

We walked over to the train station and got our tickets. It was a little pricey as we were taking the tourist train. I’ve since heard you can get the tickets for much cheaper, especially if you plan ahead. Make sure you check out the lovely tropical garden in the oldest part of the station.

The train journey was pleasant as we passed through the dry Spanish countryside, and as soon as we arrived I knew we were going to love it in Toledo! The station opened in 1920 and was designed to imitate the architecture of the City, it was gorgeous and the tiling inside was so pretty.

The walk up to the walled City isn’t too taxing, and the first sight you get is magnificent, Toledo has a river running alongside it, so you see the bridge over to this walled Citadel and a huge palace sat at the top.

After taking a few pictures we ran up to the bridge and crossed, passing underneath a gatehouse. It’s a little bit of a steep walk up but you can stop and take a look back from a huge terrace halfway up.

We carried on and after passing a statue of a very dapper looking gent, we found ourselves on Zocodover plaza, we picked one of the many streets ahead of us and started our exploration.

The shops are filled with medieval antiques, classic spanish food and wine and a lot of souvenirs. Our favourite street was Calle Comercio because of the view down to the cathedral.

Along the way we even found a shop that had roman ruins in it’s basement that you could look at for free beneath a glass floor! The walled area of Toledo isn’t too big so it’s easy to wander without fear of getting lost, which is exactly what we did.

We soon found ourselves at the Monastery of Santo Domingo Real, built and run by Nuns since 1364. It’s a beautiful building with the interior to match.

Our only problem so far was that every church or monastery wanted to charge a pretty large fee to enter, we wanted to climb up the belltower of one church but it was over 10E, I don’t mind donations but charging to enter a church is a bit much.

After reaching the Puerta del Sol or ‘South Gate’ we turned back to stay inside the City walls, following a street along to more panoramic views of the countryside and the river.

Turning into the City we decided to head towards the huge tower that is Toledo Cathedral. Work on the cathedral began in 1226 and it wasn’t completed until 1493! It’s a huge building and very grand with it’s gothic architecture.

It’s so big you almost can’t get it all in to one picture it’s said to be this size to cover the sacred space that the old mosque held before it. It was nice to sit and gawk at it in the square at the front, with it’s majestic stained glass windows and 146ft height! It was early afternoon at this point and we were hungry.

So we found a cute little restaurant off the main streets in a small plaza. We shared a beautiful vegetable paella, olives and a a couple of glasses of Spanish Rioja, the sun was shining and it was a perfect lunch. Obviously we had to finish it off with some churros, the famous spanish elongated donuts with choc sauce.

Once we were finished it was time to check out the Alcazar of Toledo, built up on the highest part of Toledo you can see it from miles around. There was originally a Roman fortification built here in the 3rd century but much of the Alcazar was destroyed in the Spanish Civil war and had to be rebuilt between 1939 and 1957.

The Alcazar is impressive, but we loved the little park just beneath it, where you can stand on the turrets and look out across the valley to the military academy on the opposite hill.

Honestly the views are incredible and it was sad to say goodbye to them, but we didn’t want to get back into Madrid too late as we were checking out one of the art galleries it’s famous for.

On our way back down we noticed a cute little marzipan shop and decided to have a look inside. The lady that worked there was wonderful and let us try a few things, they were so delicious we had to buy some sweets and marzipan ice cream, yum! Once we reached the other side of the river we realised we still had 40 minutes or so till our train, so we took a little stroll along the river bank.

It was nice to get another angle of the City, and there was a cool abandoned building on bank which looked like an old mill house. We slowly wandered back under the bridge and down to the station, on our way we found a fun Toledo sign to take a pic of.

I’m sure there are a few things we missed out on seeing in Toledo, but half the fun is exploring without using a guide or map and seeing what you discover.

It’s so old, Craig loved it as there aren’t any buildings like those in Australia. The train back was nice and relaxing after a full day of walking and we both ended up having a little power nap before arriving back in Madrid.

Out of the mountains, into Barcelona. 

Today was my last day of a great solo trip, and it was good to know I could bear my own company for a week.

I was heading out of Andorra into Spain, purely for economical reasons, as flights from Girona to Manchester are really cheap.

Unfortunately it wasn’t till after I booked that I realised the only way to get to Girona was through Barcelona. This turned into a nice little bonus, even though I’d only have a few hours there. I had booked a hotel right next to Girona airport as my flight was at 7am. I decided to treat myself by booking a hotel with a pool and spa.

I travelled from Andorra La Vella bus station straight through to Barcelona, taking about 3 hours and arriving at the Central bus/train station. The descent down from the mountains was ace with golden fields laid out in front if us when arriving in Spain.

The underground in Barca is so good, especially on a hot day with the air con. As I only had limited time I went straight to the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece, there are still cranes towering above this cathedral but it doesn’t deter hordes of tourists taking pictures.

This is the second time I’ve visited and for some reason I still haven’t gone inside! It’s a must do really so it’s still on the list. I saw a lot of Barca last time I came so I tried to visit somewhere I hadn’t been before. Checking on the map I realised there was a whole park called Parc de la ciutadella we had missed when I came with my friends. So I walked down towards their version of an arc de triomf, built in 1888, in the sweltering midday heat.

Walking through the arch and down a long wide boulevard I made it to the breezy park. Here I could slowly meander and check out the sights including a huge water feature which may have been partly created by an unknown Gaudi, a random wooly mammoth, and the castells dels tres dragons, a building designed to look like a castle. The park also houses a zoo and the parliament of Catalonia.

I was getting hungry now so walked towards the bus station that would take me to Girona airport, enjoying the beautiful streets as I went. I ate in the station, some lovely Spanish pastries and a donut. I took the bus out to Girona airport where my hotel was a 5 minute walk away along a main road. Here i relaxed in the spa pool and jacuzzi, after a week of walking non stop, traveling between cities and countries it was an amazing way to end it.

I’ve enjoyed travelling solo, I definitely prefer to travel with someone though. The parts of the holiday where I longed for someone to experience the moment with, such as the riverside in Toulouse, or the top of the mountains in Andorra were also the most enjoyable. It just would have been better with someone for those jaw dropping moments.

I also wish I had pushed myself to go to bars or restaurants on my own. When I did it was enjoyable and didn’t feel weird but it was also easier to grab takeout and also cheaper!

It was simple flying back home and I had the knowledge that I would be flying out again soon with my ‘festival crew’ to NOS Alive in Lisbon.