What to see in Madrid

I once already had a chance to see Madrid, but it was only a chance, as due to delayed luggage my only free hour I spent shopping for new clothes! This time around, when an opportunity presented itself for me to go to Madrid for a short business trip, I agreed without any delay! If you are visiting Madrid for just a few days or only have free time between your business meetings, this article is for you!

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Practical Tips

Flight: depending on where you live, there might be direct flights available to Madrid. You can find the best flight deals on Kiwi or WayAway.

Hotel: Eurostars Madrid Tower – it is a five star skyscraper hotel in the business district, with modern design and quite good breakfast.

Pros: every room had a steam iron, full size bathroom amenities, AC, window that opens. The room was very spacious and mine had both a bathtub anf a shower.

Cons: the design for my taste was too dimly lit, there are not too many restaurants in the area. It will take about 20 min to get to the city center.

You can look for hotels on Booking or Agoda.

Transportation: I used Uber everywhere.

Tours: Don’t want to plan your own sightseeing? Use GetYourGuide that will have plenty of tours available for every taste!

The Road to Madrid

When I had a call with my colleagues prior to the trip, they warned me right away – a NATO summit is taking place in Madrid during the same days, so additional security and armed guards are to be expected! I wasn’t too worried about that as I am a law abiding citizen, but I could have never imagined this many policemen as I saw in Madrid!

I arrived to Madrid on Sunday afternoon, a bit tired after the flight, as one of my connecting flights was delayed. This was during the horrible summer travel of 2022, when some airlines had to cancel flights at the request of the airports. I flew through one of the worst, Amsterdam, on the way to Madrid, and another busy hub, Frankfurt, on the way back. The flights did indeed get delayed, and I wouldn’t have risked checking in my luggage, but I made it to where I needed to be in the end without any significant delays! The flight was pretty bumpy, though, and the Nigerian man sitting next to me on the airplane sweared quite profoundly a few times.

During my trip, masks were mandatory in the airplanes and any form of public transportation, I also saw many people wearing a mask in public spaces such as parks.

As my trip was planned really very last minute, I didn’t have too much time to prepare, only mark a few spots on Google Maps. Luckily, I follow Brian Kelly, The Points Guy, who visited Madrid just the week before me, so I got a chance to borrow some ideas from his trip!

Dick waffles at La Pollería

In 2019 in Chueca district of Madrid a café opened that would become a true viral sensation! The name La Pollería, uses a slang world for penis and a suffix “-ería”, that describes a store, sells… dicks on a stick! You can order waffle dicks in chocolate (or ice cream ones in summer!). And in 2020 a nearby café opened up with the name of La Coñería. Equality!

la polleria in madrid

To eat your waffle in the cafe or outdoors, is completely up to you, but noone will be surprised if you opt for the outside, as Chueca is a well known LGBQT area! I visited just before the Madrid Pride, which is one of the largest and most impressive ones in Europe!

madrid gay district

Puerta del Sol, shopping, Plaza Mayor, Mercado de San Miguel

After finishing my waffle, I headed to the next sightseeing location, Puerta del Sol, highly recommended by the guidebooks. During my visit, however, the square was completely blocked out by fences, as restoration work was ongoing. This becomes somewhat of a theme of my stay in Madrid, as later, wherever I go, it seems things are under construction!

What is Puerta del Sol famous for? It is the so called kilometer zero place, and from here the distance of all of the Spanish roads get measured. It is also a famous New Year’s celebration spot, as the clock marking midnight is here.

ABefore heading further out, I stop at the department store El Corte Inglés, which on my previous Madrid trip was a lifesaver! This time around it is the semi annual sale time, so I managed to snag a few nice things for really good prices, and can only compliment the size variety of this store!

shopping in madrid

Next, I am off to Plaza Mayor. The streets are full and I am really not so used to the crowds after the few years of the pandemic! So many young people! Cute shorts, people laughing, groups of friends walking together, locals and tourists alike. I hear French, Russian and a lot of American English, as Europe seems to be the top destination for Americans this year!

As I walk around, I start to notice how many policemen are in the streets. There are also plenty of police cars, but not the regular type, the ones you can use for surpressing riots!

plaza mayor madrid

I am glad that despite feeling tired, I pushed myself and visited Plaza Mayor in the first day! Later I learned that this famous, beautiful square was used as a parking lot for the NATO summit and was off limits to tourists! But on a Sunday before that, nothing indicates trouble. The outdoor terraces are full of people and Star Wars characters pose for money. The statue of Philip III is in it’s place and the clouds are just so incredibly beautiful that I couldn’t have wished for better weather!

Previously, during 15th century, this square used to be the market place and is a central Old Madrid location. Now, the place of Christmas market during winter and always full of visitors otherwise!

Next I head to the market under the roof – Mercado de San Miguel. I am starting to feel really hungry, and even wonder if I should stop by on the way, but I am glad that I didn’t! The market is the perfect place for hungry people, as in the many small shops you can buy various bite sized delicacies! Mini sandwiches and other appetizers, olives, cheese, fish and many traditional Spanish treats!

empanadas in spain

First, I walk around the market to see what is what. I notice more places that I want to eat at, but finally, when I see “Empanadas” stand, it is all clear, I must eat here! These are traiditional Spanish pastries, and I choose one with caramelized onion and goat cheese. While comes at a hefty 4.50 eur a piece, it is delicious and really filling. I also order a virgin sangria at the nearby stand and enjoy the bustle around. If I lived next to this market, I would probably come by every day! As it is simply impossible to try everything it offers in one visit!

mercado san miguel madrid

A classical sunset – Almudenas cathedral and Royal Palace, Sabatini gardens, Plaza de España

After having finished my meal, I head off in the direction of the Amudena cathedral, which I have marked as a must-see in my map. This is the seat of the Madrid’s catholic church, and actually is a pretty recent build – consecrated in 1993 by Jean Paul II!

As it is quite late in the evening, the cathedral is already closed for visitors, so I head further, to the Royal Palace. But first, I must get to the sightseeing spot nearby that offers magnificent sunset views over the city! I end up waiting a bit for a coveted spot near the rail, as there are many people enjoying the view.

Then, I return back to the square between the palace and the cathedral, snap a few pictures and press on further. I wish I could have visited inside both of these magnificent buildings!

royal palace madrid

As the buildings are illuminated by the evening sun, I reach the Sabatini garden next to the palace. Magnolia grandiflora blooms are filling the air with wonderful, light scent, and the palace is beautifully reflected in the fountain at the front. I am also amazed how I am yet to see a single fly on mosquito! How come there are none?

sunset spots in madrid

I am about to call an Uber, when I see that another location is just nearby Plaza de España. The square is also full of life, so I walk around a bit in the park and opposite the tall skyscraper hotel, which supposedly now is a famous bar with the best roof terrace in all of Madrid!

Finally, it is time to head to my hotel! As I am heading inside the building, I notice how many more policemen there are here now! Bag scanners have been placed, same as at the airport. I enter without any issues, but there are armed guards at every corner of the hotel. Bathrooms. Restaurant. The elevators. On the next day I end up having to order by Uber to the other side of the street, as I simply cannot exit through the regular door. I also notice how the conference center rooms now have new names. The Syndeys of the floor have been renamed to various Canadian cities. It looks like we are sharing this space with the Canadian delegation!

Gran Vía, Plaza de Cibeles, Puerta de Alcalá, El Retiro park, Crystal palace

My next free evening I start by driving to the Gran Vía, a popular street corner. Again, it is all covered in fences and plastic – massive renovation ongoing! And more police. If the armed guards in the hotel are wearing suites, these are in full armor.

I slowly head to Plaza de Cibeles, a place that seems to be the “illustrative photo” of Madrid for any article these days. Turns out that at this exact crossing, Real Madrid celebrates their victories. Today, it is all deserted, half the street is closed off by police, the other half has a few cars driving through. The sight makes me wonder if there are always so few cars in Madrid? I pass by Puerta de Alcalá, and finally reach the main place that I wanted to see – El Retiro park. If I am being completely honest, the place I most wanted to see was the Prado museum, but thart, unfortunately, is closed because an official function is taking place there for the summit. I will just have to go back to Madrid to see all the places I couldn’t the first time around!

I start my visit of the El Retiro with having a quick bite. I would have liked to have a substantial meal by now, but instead I settle for a ball or pineapple sorbet. For 2.50 eur it doesn’t seem like a lot, but later I see even more expensive places inside the park (4 euros for a simple ice cream on a stick!).

The massive park has more than 15 thousand trees and is the green heart of Madrid. I slowly walk through the park, enjoying the sun and the places in shade. Some people are lounging on grass, others, biking, families enjoying boat trips on the pond. There are a lot of people here for a weekday afternoon, but there is plenty of space for everyone.

My key sightseeing spot in the park is the Crystal palace, a exposition hall build in 1887 for the Philippine expo, unique UNESCO heritage site. I pass by green parrots and street musicians, and head indoors.

crystal palace el retiro park madrid

I am surprised to discover there are no lines to enter and the entrance is free! All they ask is where am I from, enter me in the system and I can head inside! It is difficult to leave this place, as “just one more picture” seems to be appropriate, as the location is spectacular!

crystal palace el retiro park madrid

After exploring the glass building, I find a bench opposite it, observe the turtles and birds in the pond and then head to the rose garden. It looks like the garden has suffered a bit during the heatwave, as there are barely any blooms. But I do notice police… again. Inside the park! This almost seems excessive now!

Prado being closed because of the summit, botanical gardens already closed for the day, I decide to call it a day as well, just need to grab a bite before heading back to my hotel. So I find a restaurant in the nearby area with the highest ranking (El Barril de las Letras) and head there! I get stuck at a crossing opposite the Prado for a while, as multiple groups of cars with important people drive by and even the pedestrian traffic has been stopped.

best restaurants in madrid

Most of the other patrons at the restaurant seem to be tourists as well. There is an Italian speaking lady on her phone, an American couple right next to her and more Americans on the other side. Around nine thirty, when I am ready to leave, finally, Spanish people start to appear. Right, they enjoy their dinners really late! With my last battery on the phone, I explore a bit of the de las Huerta street, walking by little cafes, a Comedy club, and finally, call my Uber to head back.

At the Hotel with the Prime Minister 

My driver gets stuck. An again. Wherever he drives, a policeman appears, and closes the road. At first I am frustrated – doesn’t he see this in Waze? But then I notice, that roads get blocked as we try to pass through, and then it is updated in the GPS as well. So, freshly closed then! Finally, after numerous extra circles, we reach the hotel.

The driver lets me out at the sidewalk, I crawl under the police tape and head to the hotel, crossing the little circle for turn arounds at the hotel. I pass about 30 armed guards and two police riot vans. As I approach the hotel, a policeman is waving at me, saying I shouldn’t walk here. I really get upset – how else am I supposed to enter the hotel, then?! There is also a whole delegation of armed guards, and as I finally get inside the hotel, there are more there too. I scan by bags and proceed to the reception to inquire about the checkout time. The moment I turn around I see Boris Johnson entering the hotel.

I bolt for the elevator, and four of the six of those have guards in them, blocking them. I ask if I am allowed to use the elevators? Yes. I press the button, and a door opens, with another employee inside. Am I allowed to use this one? As I enter the elevator and turn around, Boris Johnson walks by, I see him get a binder of documents, he thanks the person and the doors close. I didn’t dare to ask for a selfie in these conditions!

Final glimpse of Madrid – Casa De Campo park, Deboda temple

The final morning of my stay starts with a hearty breakfast at the hotel, a beautiful sight from the 30th floor. My main dilemma is where to go? Most places open up at around 10 am, but I already need to head to the airport at noon. So I decide in favor of Casa De Campo park. I do make an unexpected stop at the hotel garden, when I realize lavanders grow here! It takes me a good hour to be able to leave, as the place smells just too good!

lavenders in madrid

Soon, I am on my way to the park. The driver is really talkative. He is a Moroccan living in Spain for most of his life, and shares the best places to visit in Spain with me (his favorite one is Marbelja). Soon, I am at the park. It is one of the biggest urban parks in Europe. Historically, this was build for the royal family, but in 1930-ties opened up to the public.

The park is quite empty. It is a Wednesday morning, just a few runners and a daycare group. I enjoy the views all to myself. There is also a clean bathroom on site and I notice a few really cute cafes.

I listen to the cycadas and parrots, and I am completely satisfied with my choice today! One final bucket list item remains, the Deboda Egyptian temple in the city center. It was built 2 BC, and its location was flooded during building of a dam, so Egyptian government gave it as a present to Spain. Having seen the temples of Luxor I am not particularly impressed, but the city views are nice.

best view points in Madrid deboda temple

The Long Way Home

It is time to head home! Surprisingly, I still get a bit of time til my checkout to get a quick shower, and then I am off to the airport. I don’t experience any road closures, or issues at the security, so I am way too early at my gate. There is one last effect of the summit on my travel plans – the airspace is closed and my flight gets delayed for almost an hour. My connecting time is less than that! Luckily, the next flight gets delayed as well, and the gates are next to each other, so I manage.

So my second trip to Madrid has come to an end. Around 10 000 policemen, closed museums and streets, stunning architecture and many impressions to want to come back to beautiful Madrid again!

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