After travelling for 6 months we needed to find the perfect European city to settle down in mid-long term and earn some money. After lots of research, Madrid seemed the perfect option. There were plenty of job opportunities, apartments in Madrid were easy to find before we even arrived and it was a short and cheap flight to any where in Europe.
Most importantly for us, we wanted somewhere that family or friends from the UK could easily visit. Since Madrid is the capital city and the aiport is a short train ride away, it could not have been more ideal.
Of course, when family or friends visit you want to show off your new city. Naturally we want our visitors to see as many iconic sights as possible, but we also want to make sure they have a chance to relax and just spend time together.
Recently we had family visit us for a few days. Here is our short guide on how to fill 3 days in Madrid when family comes to visit.
1) Spend a Day in and around El Retiro Park
El Retiro Park is a stunning oasis known as the green heart of Madrid. At over 125 hectares, it is home to beautiful gardens, sculptures, monuments, and fountains.
The park boasts a huge artificial lake, where for just €6 you can hire a rowing boat for 45 minutes, which was the perfect relaxing way to spend the morning.
Dotted around the lake are plenty of cafes and other eateries. However, we chose to do what a lot of the locals do and take a picnic. We settled on a patch of grass in the sun, enjoyed food and sangria and watched the Madrileños strolling about, playing various sports, and going about their business.
The easiest way to access the park is to take the Metro to the nearest station, also named Retiro. Alternatively, from a central location such as Sol, Lavapies, Chueca etc, you can walk to the park in less than 20 minutes.
If you feel like you have had enough sun for the day, pack up and head to the nearby Atocha RENFE station. Grab a coffee, and wander around the beautiful botanical gardens inside the station itself.
Or for something a little more cultural, head to Prado Museum. This is the main Spanish art museum, offering one of the widest collections of European art. Between Tuesdays - Sundays, from 6pm - 8pm entry is free!
2) Create your own Walking Tour
There are countless free walking tours on offer in Madrid. If you head to any of the major squares or plazas such as Plaza Major, Plaza de Callao or Puerta de Sol you will see the tour guides with their umbrellas advertising "Free Tours".
Alternatively, there are some tours that you can reserve online in advance. These will often follow a pretty similar pattern, taking you to the iconic sights of Madrid, such as the Royal Palace, the Cathedral, Plaza Major, Prado Museum etc. Most tours are approximately 2 hours in duration. We would use the term 'free' loosely as there is the expectation that you will tip what you think the tours are worth. Given most of the free tour guides volunteer, this is essentially their pay for the day.
However, what we love about Madrid is that it is super easy to navigate around yourself. Plus, it is a really beautiful city. So rather than join a tour showing only a few landmarks for a set time, we chose to just meander around ourselves, at our own leisurely pace.
In one day this is what we did with our family:
- Starting at Sol walk up to Gran Via and check out the shops
- From Gran Via, head west towards the Palace. You can either pay €30 to enter the palace and spend hours exploring, or admire it from outside. Given we wanted to fit a lot in to the day we admired it from the outside.
- Take a walk around the entire perimeter of the palace which will take you down to the riverbank. There are a few beer gardens along by the river so its the perfect place to stop, relax and rehydrate before moving on.
- From the river bank work your way back the the palace and head south. Within a couple of minutes you will be at the La Almudena Cathedral. You can pay a small donation to go inside and explore.
- By this time you are probably getting peckish. We had heard that San Miguel Market was the place to eat. From the Cathedral it took about ten minutes to walk. San Miguel Market has every kind of tapas you can think of. The atmosphere was great, but during the middle of the day it was crazy busy. We opted instead to walk another ten minutes to see another barrio, La Latina.
- La Latina is known for its tapas bars and traditional restaurants. We stumbled upon Pez Tortilla. This place serves all kinds of Spanish omelettes and croquettes. For a huge slice of tortilla, a croquette and a beer the cost per person was about €6 which was a bargain!
- From La Latina, another 15 minute walk takes you into Lavapies. Here you will find lots of Indian restaurants and a diverse mix of people.
- From Lavapies, to finish off the afternoon we headed 20 minutes up to Chueca. This is the very popular gay district where we sat in Chueca Square and enjoyed a bottle of wine.
This was a great, albeit tiring day. We felt like we saw a lot of Madrid city centre and got to see lots of different barrios. For those who are not such big walkers, you can take a Metro between all of the places mentioned above.
3) Cable Cars, Casa De Campo and Piscina de Lago
With the temperature reaching upto 36 degrees most days, we all agreed that it would be great to head to one of the many communal pools that Madrid has to offer. But which one to pick?
After a bit of research online, we realised if we went to Piscina de Lago, we could actually combine this with another 2 activities, and make a whole day of it.
Piscina Lago is easily reached by Metro to Lago station, but an alternative way to get there is to take the Madrid cable car, locally known as "el teleférico". The cable car starts at Paseo del Pintor Rosales, (nearest Metro station is Arguelles), and finishes at Casa de Campo.
The journey to Casa de Campo is a little over 10 minutes. Travelling at a height of 40 metres, the journey provides some stunning, panoramic views over the city and the surrounding area. We would definitely recommend this!
Prices are just €4.50 each way (giving you the option of taking the Metro back to avoid some walking!) or €6 for a round trip.
Once you have arrived at Casa de Campo, you are actually inside one of Madrids most important public parks - as this used to be the hunting grounds for the Spanish Royal Family! Nowadays the park houses an attraction park and the Madrid Zoo, but is also very popular with locals due to the mountain biking and running trails. The cable car station itself also has a restaurant with a look-out platform, and a few playgrounds for children.
We chose to have a slow wander through the park, as we made our towards the pool, exploring a few of the trails and keeping an eye out for the local wildlife such as deer, rabbits and various birds. The park itself is huge - you could easily spend a whole day just here!
Shortly before lunch we made our way to Piscina de Lago, again equipped with a picnic. This is one of the most popular outdoor communal pools in Madrid, and offers an Olympic sized swimming pool, plenty of grass areas to lounge on, and picnic areas all around. It was the perfect way to cool off and relax after our walk through the park in the heat.
Prices are just €4.50 for the day, with the option of buying sessions in bulk at a reduced rate.
After an afternoon spent eating, drinking, swimming and snoozing we made our way back through Casa de Campo for our return cable car journey.
We hope you found our guide useful, and it helps you plan an itinerary next time your family visits!
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