Airport to Atocha Renfe
Express Bus (Yellow) One-Way: €5
Travel Time: 40 minutes
One of my friends and I arrived to Madrid early in the morning (we took the evening flight from JFK). Our other friend was planning on joining us on our last day in Madrid so we were on our own for the first two days. I found an Airbnb fairly close to the Atocha Renfe train station since we were planning to take the train to Sevilla from Madrid and it just so happened to work out that it was also a bus stop for the Express bus from the airport!
3 Nights in Madrid
Travesía Téllez, 7
Madrid, Comunidad de Madrid 28007 Spain
Total per person: $111
Our Airbnb host was incredibly kind and accommodating – since our other friend was only joining us for the final night, he set up an extra mattress for her in our room for only €20 more. He also let us drop our things off early prior to check-in so we could explore the city unencumbered.
Palacio de Cristal, which was our first stop of the day, is located inside Parque de El Retiro. El Retiro is one of the largest parks in Madrid. Before we reached Palacio de Cristal, we stumbled upon a rose garden (Jardines del Buen Retiro) and saw that all of these roses were in bloom! We spent a good half hour just walking around taking photos of the flowers and enjoying the warm weather. It’s also a great location to just grab some pastries and coffee and relax on some of the benches or sit by the fountain and people-watch or read a book.
The best time to visit Palacio de Cristal is at 10am, as soon as it opens, to beat the crowds and see the sunlight shine through the glass, creating a prism effect
After frolicking with the roses, we headed over to Palacio de Cristal. The Crystal Palace is a large glass structure that was originally a place to display flowers – like a greenhouse – but over time, it’s been used to house art installations and exhibits. Unfortunately, when we got there, they were in the middle of putting together an installation so it was closed for the weekend. One thing to note: Entrance is free but no food or drinks allowed.
El Retiro is such a large park – like Central Park, there is also a huge lake called El Estanque Grande del Buen Retiro, where people can rent boats to paddle around or rent a solar-powered boat, for those who don’t care much for rowing. I love that this park that is hundreds of years old, is surrounded by the present-day city filled with modern and more contemporary buildings. That juxtaposition of architecture has always been one of the facets of Europe I found most appealing.
After the park, we headed to El Oso y el Madroño, the famous statue of the Bear and the Strawberry Tree. It is pretty much the quintessential symbol of Madrid and a popular meeting point for lost tourists and friends heading out on the town. On our walk over to the statue, we passed by Palacio de Cibeles, which is now the seat of the City Council (formerly the headquarters of the postal service Correos). It’s a lovely building and they have a terrace in which visitors can view the city.
While we were at El Oso y el Madroño, we saw a butcher shop called Viandas de Salamanca and stopped by for some cheese and charcuterie. Spain is known for their jamón ibérico (“Iberian ham”), which are generally made by black Iberian pigs (Spanish food rules only require Iberian ham to be at least 50% ibérico). One of the most expensive hams in the world is called Jamón Ibérico de Bellota. This ham is incredibly fatty and nutty in flavor because the black Iberian pigs have a steady diet of acorn (about 11lbs of acorns a day). It’s really delicious and I highly recommend this as one of the must-eats of Spain.
Despite the mid-day snack, we decided to head over to one of the more popular markets for lunch: Mercado de San Miguel. Mercado de San Miguel is a great market that offers a nice place to see, order, taste and enjoy a wide variety of tapas, drinks, and desserts. It’s easy to walk around and buy single items and collect them on your plate, stand at one of the central tables or side bars and enjoy the food. You can get oysters and tapas are only €1-2! I also found a small ice cream shop that sold tiny ice cream cones for €1,50. I ordered the violet flavor and it was the cutest ice cream cone ever! I’m not usually one for floral flavors since they usually taste like soap but the violet flavor wasn’t too bad. One other thing to try in Spain is also the blue wine that is made only in Spain.
Circulo de Bellas Artes Entrance Fee: €4
Best to get there around 17:00 to avoid queues and crowds
One solid recommendation for Madrid is to visit Circulo de Bellas Artes. It’s an art center that has a rooftop bar where you can get a great view of the city. Wine is very cheap and it’s a great spot for watching the sun set. We went there early in the evening to avoid crowds so it was easy enough to get a table. We ordered white wine and sangria to just unwind from the long day. The entrance to the building is down the side off Calle de Alcalá.
We didn’t stick around for the sunset because the sun sets at 21:00 in Spain during the springtime. I actually wanted to see the sun set at Templo de Debod, in el Parque de la Montaña. The Temple of Debod is a 4th-century BC Egyptian temple that was moved from the Nile Valley to Spain as thank you. It is the best place to watch the sunset. Be wary of your surroundings, however, as it is easy to get pickpocketed! My friend’s backpack was opened and some of her money was stolen while we were watching the sun set so please be careful.
Be aware of your surroundings at the Temple of Debod! It is easy to become a target of pickpocketers!
The Temple of Debod is right next to Palacio Real, also known as the Royal Palace. The Royal Palace also has a garden called Jardines de Sabatini, where you can actually get a better view of the palace (it looks much nicer because of the pool in the front). The Sabatini Gardens is designed in the Neoclassical style with symmetric and geometrical patterns and there are statues and fountains and a nice pool adorning the gardens throughout.
Despite the long, eventful day, there was one final stop that we absolutely had to make before we ended the night. You cannot come to Madrid and not have churros. Churros originated from Spain and Portugal and these are so different from what I grew up eating. I was used to eating large fried dough covered in cinnamon sugar but the traditional churros are actually quite different! You can either eat churros or porras (which are not cut and folded) and you actually dip them in hot chocolate (otherwise they just taste like fried dough). The best place to go is Chocolateria San Gines, which has been serving chocolate con churros since 1894. Even though they take card, if your purchase is under €10, just pay with cash because sometimes the queue gets long and it’s more considerate to pay in cash as to not hold up the line.
CHOCOLATERIA SAN GINES:
Chocolate con 6 churros: €4
Open 24 hours
Cash and credit card both accepted