Length of stay: 2 days
Visited: August 2022
Madrid is the capital of Spain. It is one of the greenest and sunniest cities in all of Europe. It is also known for its modern architecture, thriving art scene, tasty tapas, trendy neighbourhoods and bustling nightlife.
Day 1: The Prado
After spending the past ten days in Italy, it was time for us to head to Spain. We flew from Venice to Madrid and landed in the mid-afternoon. Today was actually a holiday in Europe for the Assumption of Mary, and most shops and restaurants were closed. Thank goodness we packed some snacks.
But the nice thing about it being a holiday was that the Prado Museum was free to visit from 5-7pm. We headed over 15 minutes prior to 5pm to wait in line. The Prado contains the most comprehensive collection of Spanish paintings in the world and boasts of having one of the finest collections of European art from the 12th to 20th century. Once we had our free tickets in hand, we got down to business as we only had two hours to race through the museum, which displays about 1,300 pieces of art, including paintings, prints, drawings and sculptures. Unfortunately the Prado does not allow photography.
Once the museum closed, we meandered around in search of a restaurant that was open. Options were limited because it was a holiday and also because dinner in Spain is usually around 9pm. And just when we were about to give up and return to our hotel to eat more snacks, we found a restaurant that was just opening up that had a decent menu with decent prices. It would do.
Day 2: The Rest of Madrid
We booked tickets in advance to visit the Royal Palace of Madrid for when it opened. From our hotel, it was about a 30 minute walk. We planned to make a few detours at a couple of points of interest along the way, starting with the Puerta del Sol, one of the most popular squares in Madrid. Except the square was under construction when we visited, so we didn’t really see much. After grabbing some breakfast, we walked to Plaza Mayor, another major square that was once the centre of Old Madrid.
We made our way towards the Royal Palace of Madrid, the official residence of the Spanish royal family. Nowadays it serves as a museum and is typically only used for state events. Since we had booked our tickets in advance, we got to skip to the front of the queue. Even though there were a lot of people in the courtyard, entrance times were staggered to prevent overcrowding.
Starting at the Grand Staircase, our visit involved a self-guided tour through some of the various rooms and apartments in the palace. There were signs (in Spanish and English) to explain the significance and purpose of each room. Many of the rooms were adorned with matching fabric wallpaper, drapes and furniture, each with a different colour palette. It was all very opulent and fancy.
Afterwards we went to the Almudena Cathedral, located across from the Royal Palace. While entrance into the cathedral is free, we paid extra to visit the small museum and to climb to the top of the dome. The museum was rather uneventful and contained a few religious relics, but the climb up to the dome provided a nice view of the ceiling from inside the cathedral. It also provided access to the rooftop terrace. There were three viewing platforms that provided sweeping views of the surrounding area.
Once we made it back to the main floor, we checked out the cathedral to admire the beautifully coloured ceiling and stained glass windows.
We then walked to the Temple of Debod, an ancient Egyptian temple that was dismantled and rebuilt in Madrid. It was donated by the Egyptian government in thanks to all the support Spain provided to help save the Abu Simbel temples during the construction of the Aswan Dam. While you can go inside the temple, the line was long and wasn’t moving very quickly. Instead we walked around to admire the exterior.
We meandered back to our hotel, stopping to pick up some food for lunch. We headed back out later in the afternoon to visit the Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum, an art museum that contains an extensive collection of European paintings from the Middle Ages to the late 20th century, as well as some American art. There was also a special temporary exhibit on Alex Katz.
At this point we were getting hungry, so we went out for dinner. And this time we did some research in advance to find a restaurant that was open at our typical dinner time. Naturally we ate too much, so afterwards we went for a stroll through El Retiro Park, one of the largest parks located in the heart of Madrid. The park contains more than 15,000 trees, plenty of walking paths and various points of interest, including monuments, fountains, gardens, an artificial pond, and the Crystal Palace (a glass pavilion).
The sun was starting to set, so we walked back to our accommodations. The next morning we planned to take the train to Barcelona.