Saturday, August 2, 2014

Spain - Highlights of Madrid

This post was long overdue because of courses and group project deadline that I had to meet before graduation (yeah yeah I know, I keep making excuses).

I had a wonderful trip to Madrid, Spain, at the beginning of June. As I explained in my earlier post about foods to try in Madrid, my sole purpose to go there is to try as much local food as I could. But of course, sightseeing is part of the itinerary, especially when I discovered that there is always something interesting to see at every corner of the streets in Madrid.

The Hop-On-Hop-Off bus is normally my favourite way to explore a new city, but I decided that since most places can be reached by the Metro or on foot, it would be quite pointless to ride the hop-on-hop-off bus. 

The best word to describe the overall feeling I get from Madrid is "friendly". Although my friend warned me of pickpockets and people who would steal cameras from tourists if you asked them to take pictures. Luckily, I didn't have any of such encounters throughout my visit.

These girls were asking me if Spanish guys are hot, and then asked me to take a picture of them using my camera

Well, let's start with tapas bars. When you go to Madrid, you definitely have to visit at least one tapas bar for some wine or tapas (appetizer-like dishes). If you have dietary restrictions like no alcohol or no pork, it's probably a little bit hard to enjoy the gastronomical side of Madrid, but it's not that hard to find halal food. Unless you add seafood into dietary restriction.

The most famous street filled with tapas bars is called Cava Baja. It's pretty close to Plaza Major, just to the south of it.

Tapas bar in Cava Baja

Plaza Major

Another thing that catches attention is the cute city mascot:

If you want to take a picture of the bear statue, go to Puerta del Sol.

Statue of Charles III at Puerta del Sol

When I went to Puerta del Sol, I saw some kind of football gimmick. Maybe it's because the World Cup was coming! :)

Football gimmick: penalty shoots game

Madrid is heavily decorated with churches, cathedrals and monasteries of different architectures.

Iglesia de Los Jerónimos (near Museuo Nacional del Prado)

Iglesia de Los Jerónimos, interior

Monasterio Descalzas Reales

Santa Iglesia Colegiata de San Isidro

San Francisco El Grande

San Francisco El Grande, interior

Santa Cruz

But if there is one church that I strongly recommend going, it would be the Catedral de la Almudena, which is located next to Palacio Real (the Royal Palace).

Catedral de la Almudena

Catedral de la Almudena, side view

Not only it has wonderful interiors, but also you can climb the tower and see the whole Madrid from above.

Catedral de la Almudena, interior

Catedral de la Almudena, tower

That being said, the Royal Palace seems to be a worthy place to visit, but you have to start waiting in the queue before it opens. The line to enter the Royal Palace is always long - in the morning or in the afternoon. In the end, I did not manage to get inside, but the exterior can satisfy you enough if you don't have time to wait in the line. Just behind the Royal palace is Jardines del Campo del Moro.

Palacio Real (Royal Palace), side view

Palacio Real (Royal Palace), from behind

Palacio Real 

Jardines del Campo del Moro

As an addition, there is a beautiful viaduct just next to Catedral de la Almudena. Not literally next to it, but you'll find it if you walk a little bit to the south of the cathedral.

Plaza de la Villa is also quite beautiful. There is not much to do here, but it's a nice spot for pictures.

Another place I highly recommend visiting is Palacio de Cibeles (formerly Palacio de Comunicaciones or the Palace of Communication). There is a tourist information centre there, it has gorgeous interiors and various eye-opening art displays, and most importantly, it is FREE. And for someone who thinks that 25 degrees C is a little too hot for a full-day walk (like me), the air conditioner in this building is like an oasis in the dessert.

Palacio de Cibeles entrance

Palacio de Cibeles interior

I'm not a fanatic art enthusiast and sometimes I cannot appreciate abstract paintings or any other artworks, but I really enjoyed most of the displays.

One of the art displays in Palacio de Cibeles

That being said, I did not enter Museo Nacional del Prado. Almost everyone I knew recommended me to visit that museum, but I was more interested in discovering the city.

Caja Madrid Obelisk is not too far from Prado Museum, but unfortunately, you cannot enter the surrounding garden. You can still take pictures from afar, though :)

Now, about shopping. The city centre is lively with shops, department stores and restaurants. Since the weather is really nice around summer, it's also really nice to sit outside for lunch or dinner.


Terrace seats

Shopping streets (C. Preciados, between Callao and Puerta del Sol)

There's also a cute Angry Bird shop on C. C. Parquesur (street name).

Angry Birds merchandises

Not too far from Callao is the Teatro Real (Royal Theatre).

For food, try Plaza de San Miguel market or read my other post about food in Madrid for more info

Plaza de San Miguel market

Interior of Plaza de San Miguel market

And last but not least, visit Puerta de Alcala and Parque de El Retiro. Puerta de Alcala is located on the northwest side of Parque de El Retiro, so if you have the chance to visit the park, do visit Puerta de Alcala as well!

Puerta de Alcala

Parque del El Retiro entrance

The park is rather large, so if you have limited time, make sure to see the Alfonso XII monument in front of the lake as well as the rose garden on the south-most part of the park. I'm not sure if there are going to be any roses in winter, but at least it is beautiful in summer.

Monumento Alfonso XII

Rose Garden

Madrid is an awesome city to explore. You can also go to Toledo, a medieval city not too far from Madrid. A day trip is possible. I will cover Toledo in my next post :)


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