Last Thursday, I flew to Madrid.
It was kind of surreal going from working in a shop to being on a city break over a thousand miles away in less than a week, and it really felt like a big proof to myself that quitting my job was the best decision for me. It was so nice to go somewhere that was actually slightly WARM too.
Madrid is a honestly one of the ideal city break destinations. It has anything and everything you could possibility want from a place: architecture, galleries, amazing food, markets, bars, palaces, gardens, beer crawls, LGBTQ+ communities and a ZOO. A ZOO WITH PANDAS.
First things first – where I stayed. Honestly, I adore hostels. They’re so much more comfortable (and cheaper) than hotels, and the people you can meet there are amazing; ours had guests visiting from South Africa, Wisconsin, Rio, Korea and more. We stayed at SunGate One, which was honestly perfect. The whole ethos and atmosphere of the place was brilliant – when we left we were told we’d always be welcome to come back to visit our “SunGate family”. It was private rooms at decent prices right in the centre of the city, and a two minute walk away from Puerta de Sol. And the best part – amazing showers. No joke.
Puerta de Alcalá is one of the most iconic landmarks of Madrid. It’s really only a very beautiful gate that welcomes you into the city centre, but it is very picturesque and sad to see in the window behind you in the taxi on the way back to the airport home.
Hidden away in Parque de Retiro is the Palacio de Cristal. It’s free entry and almost feels like an abandoned greenhouse you stumble into but it’s absolutely gorgeous. It used to hold exotic plants but now holds temporary exhibitions – the one I visited featured hundreds of huge bones strung from the ceiling at different lengths, with a carved figure of Jesus hung in the middle. Sounds weird, but amazing to walk through.
The Arts Club is a five minute taxi ride from the city centre. It’s a restaurant that transforms into a bar and club as the night progresses by taking away the tables once each guest has finished their meals to create a dance floor. Our meal here was paid for by a friend, so we were lucky to go as it can be a pricey place. It’s the little touches that make this place great, from the live DJ and the mega-enthusiastic staff to the menus – which are all children’s books with the food and drink choices glued in over the front pages. We got quite drunk on a very nice 1.5l bottle of champagne here, that we shared between the two of us over the course of three hours. Stumbling home is actually an enjoyable event too, as everyone in the streets is there to have fun. One of the few nights out where I didn’t feel threatened once all evening, which I’m certain is down to the way the Spanish treat a night out. The drinking culture there is totally refreshing – there are rarely any rowdy drunkards, because drinking is steady and fun instead of the British way of doing it, which mainly consists of doing four shots and passing out. Rule Britannia.
Zoo Aquarium Madrid was perhaps the best decision we made of the trip. It’s an incredible zoo with just about every kind of animal you could wish for, with interactive activities like animal talks and shows running every half hour. I ticked two items off my bucket list here: 1. see a giant panda in real life 2. get a photo with a ring tailed lemur. Its beautifully designed so that you feel so close to the animals, and also has an amazing aquarium with a brute of a shark that swims around snapping his jaws. My absolute favourite part was feeding the flamingos – only €1.50 for a bag of pellets, and only four attempts of getting them to eat out of my hand. Highlight of my life.
We visited Palacio Real de Madrid on the morning of our last day there, in glorious eighteen degree sunshine, which was ace for a perpetually cold person like me. This palace is just completely awe inspiring, and no photos are allowed inside but you can tell the level of extravagance just from the foyer:
The FOYER. The rest of the palace follows the same level of decoration, from a massive dining room to a throne room and a porcelain room – literally a room entirely made up of porcelain, decorations and walls. Crazy man.
This is only a teeny sample of what we managed to do in our short short time in Madrid, but it really is a perfect place for very short trips. Everything is accessible, decently priced and fun so it’s a perfect location for a city break. Can’t wait to go back.
PLACES TO VISIT IN MADRID:
- Palacio Real de Madrid
The Royal Palace of Madrid is one of the most elaborate and insane places you will ever visit. Cost wise, entry is €6 for students, €11 for regular.
- Puerta de Sol
Kind of the Leicester Square of Madrid. It’s teaming with people 24/7, and as well as featuring the famous Madrid coat of arms statue, hosts multiple people dressed as characters like Olaf the Snowman, Dora the Explorer, the Simpsons and Minions asking for €1 per photo. Lovely.
- Zoo Aquarium Madrid
Honestly one of the best zoos I’ve ever been to. World famous for being the breeders of the first giant panda born in Europe, and features such an impressive load of animals. It’s €22.85 for entry but worth EVERY SINGLE CENT.
- The Arts Club
This restaurant/ bar/ club is one of those places that’s really special. It’s pricey, and booking way in advance if you’re eating is a must but it’s completely worth it. It starts as a restaurant, then slowly progresses into a club by removing the tables once each guest has finished their meal until the area is a dance floor. The service is amazing and all the bartenders are so fun! (ps. don’t be put off by the shoddy website, it really is worth it)
- Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza
One of the most impressive art collections I’ve ever seen. Hosts art from the 1200s right up to modern day in a chronological order, featuring artists such as Picasso, Canaletto, Dali, Hopper, Lichtenstein and more. You will get lost though, despite all the maps. Right old panic trying to get out to the cafe. €7 for students.
- Parque de Retiro (and Palacio de Cristal)
This park is HUGE. Really, really huge. It’s beautiful though, and free entry for the park and the palace.
- Pans & Company
This is a Spanish sandwich shop chain but trust me. You have to go.