After exploring some of the provinces in Andalucía I thought it was time to travel up north, so naturally the capital city of Madrid was first on my list. I organised the trip with a friend to visit our other friends who were either staying in Madrid for the year or who had travelled from else where. With a limited amount of money and time I wanted to make the most of the trip as possible. So here’s what we got up to in Madrid.
The bus turned out to be the cheapest mode of transport so we booked an early bus on the Friday to get us into Madrid late afternoon. We booked the bus through the company Alsa, who charged us 40 euro for a return ticket. The bus takes around 5 hours which sounds pretty awful but I think that the landscape in Spain is too interesting to get bored. Also, about 2 hours into the trip there is a stop at a gas station and restaurant. In classic Spanish style I opted for an empanada – a savoury pastry with tuna and tomato – which kept me going for the next couple of hours.
Just as a heads up, make sure to sit in the seat that you have been allocated on your ticket as there were several angry people who found that someone was already sitting in their seats and so the whole bus had to shuffle round. In terms of packing I took a small hand luggage case which was more than enough and easy to get on and off the buses and metro.
So after the bus journey we took the metro to the centre of Madrid. From the bus station the subway is located about a 10 minute walk away. If your phone doesn’t have any battery or you have run out of data then have no fear because there is a map right outside the station that clearly marks the nearest metro station. Now, I’m not going to lie, at first I had no idea where to go and which line to take in the subway station. Coming from a small sized city like Granada which doesn’t have a metro – but soon to have one – and being accustomed to the easiest subway line the world has ever seen in Glasgow, we definitely looked like a couple of rabbits caught in the headlights to begin with. However, after five minutes of mapping our route we were confident that we were on the right track – if you’ll pardon the pun. We also asked a metro worker just to be on the safe side which was an experience in itself. I nearly fell over in shock when he replied to me in THE CLEAREST SPANISH ACCENT EVER. This clear and beautiful accent is just not a thing in Andalusia so it was music to my ears when he told us that we were going the right way. In no way do I dislike that Andalusian accent. I love it and I have picked it up as well. It was just such a shock to hear every word pronounced entirely.
But the surprises didn’t stop there. As I pushed my way through the crowds, clumsily dragging my case behind me, I was prepared to squeeze myself and my beaten case into a cramped and boiling metro with an abundance of sweat patches and smelly feet. But I was greeted with the complete opposite. Heavenly air conditioning, huge carriages, loads of space and most importantly no sweaty armpits. I nearly shed a tear I was so overcome with joy. After a blissful ride we eventually made it to the stop where we had planned to meet the others and were embraced with lots of hugs and Scottish accents.
Next stop was the hostel. Located in the middle of the historic centre of Madrid called Barrio La Latina, OK Madrid was the perfect place to get around the city easily. With many sights in walking distance such as Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor and the metro situated literally across the street, we were able to save a lot of money and time. I had very good first impressions of OK Madrid when we first walked in. Greeted by one of the friendliest receptionists ever we were made to feel very comfortable. He even went out his way to share some of the best spots in the city and his favourite restaurants. The room was 35 euro for 2 nights per person, which I think is a good deal considering breakfast is included, the location is ideal and the hostel is modern and clean.
After a day of travelling it was very tempting to chill in our room but we were determined to see as much of the city as we could. The first thing on our minds was food so we walked about the Barrio La Latina area. There are a lot of cool restaurants in this area and I wanted to try all of them but we ended up passing one of the receptionist’s recommendations so went in there. The interior of El Imparcial is very contemporary. The downstairs reception almost looks like an art gallery as there is a giant geometric sculpture hanging from the roof. We climbed the stairs to the restaurant but were told that all the tables were filled and it would be a 45 minute wait. As we trudged back down the stairs with out heads held low and stomachs grumbling, one of the waiters called us back and said that we could sit at the table in the reception/bar area. Perfect! The table was being used as a display for art books that were on sale but once we had dismantled it we were sitting comfortably down to eat. It wasn’t the cheapest of places but I was expecting that from Madrid. The food was great though and the waiters were friendly so I would definitely go back there again.
It hit 12 and we were all tired from travelling so we headed back, stopping off at a shop to get water and snacks for the room. Day 1 – done.
I woke the next day feeling ready to go after a good nights sleep in a comfy bed. First on the agenda was breakfast at the hostel. We were not disappointed. A big continental breakfast, that in my opinion was pretty good considering we were in a hostel, filled us up for the day. However, the best part about the breakfast was the make-your-own pancake station with toppings like jam, peanut butter and most importantly Nutella.
First stop was to head to one of the main squares in Madrid – Plaza Mayor. Lined with beautiful old buildings, restaurants and cafes the entire way round, this square it is definitely a hot spot for tourists to grab a bite to eat but it’s therefore a little pricy. As well as busy restaurants there are street acts and people selling balloons around the statue of King Phillip III on a horse. We didn’t really do anything there but we took in the atmosphere and enjoyed the beautiful surroundings.
Next stop was another of Madrid’s famous squares, Puerta del Sol, located in the in the heart of the major shopping area. This square is seriously busy with tourists everywhere. El Oso y el Madroño, a bronze statue of a bear and a strawberry tree, lies to the east of the plaza and represents the coat of arms of the city. After walking through the plaza it was time to do a spot of shopping. We didn’t go to many but had a browse in some Spanish independent shops and others shops that you can’t get in Britain like Sephora.
After a short while it was time to go to the Reina Sofia National Art Museum. This is what I had been looking forward to the most. Not only do I really enjoy going art galleries in general but Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica” is there. After studying the painting in my Spanish Culture class I HAD to see it. So we strolled through the gallery, finding inspiration as we went, until we reached the ultimate room. The painting is HUGE. It was so great to see it, especially with people who had taken the same class. We started discussing all its features that we had learned in class, which was a great feeling because we looked like professional artists who do this sort of thing all the time. It cost 8 euro to get in and I think it is definitely worth it if art is up your street.
All that intellectual talk about art really got us hungry so we headed to one of the restaurants just outside the museum. We could have found a more traditional and cheaper restaurant for the finest tapas, but the hunger was too much so we just opted for an easy burger. This was a great time to give our feet a rest as we had walked everywhere that day and we were all needing to recharge. The best part about this restaurant was we got a free bottle of wine!
We then hopped on the metro to take us to the Temple of Debod, another of Madrid’s tourist attractions. The temple was originally from Egypt but was disassembled and reconstructed in Madrid. You get a great view from the city here and there was a very relaxed atmosphere as everyone was strolling round the fountain. You can go inside the temple but we opted not to because there was a long queue and we wanted to save money. We met up with more of our friends here as well and then proceeded to go for a drink on Gran Vía which was a nice relaxing way to end the day.
Walking back to the hostel was very exciting for me. Coming from a small, laid back city like Granada, walking along Gran Vía was a complete change for me. The place was buzzing. I actually had forgotten what is was like to walk in huge crowds. There were lights everywhere you looked, it was loud, it was colourful and it was very very exciting. And I will say again, a complete contrast to Granada.
We got back to the hostel and decided to stay there for dinner. The hostel offers 3 courses for 10 euro and when the food came you realised it was fantastic value for money. For starters there was a huge salad, main was a spicy jerk chicken dish or vegetable chilli for the vegetarian option and a chocolate brownie with raspberries for desert. De-lish. Not only was eating at the hostel great for taste and value for money but it was also a great way to meet people. I met a Swedish woman and we got along so well that she invited me out to party! Overall the vibe at dinner time was great; good food, good music, good people.
For an extra 5 euro you could go along on their pub crawl which got you a free drink every time you entered a new bar and free entry into every bar, so it was not an opportunity I was willing to pass by. And I am super glad I didn’t. We met loads of new people and got to see a bit more of Madrid as well. And surprisingly I didn’t get too drunk for the amount of free drink I had.
I woke up on the second morning not ready to go home yet. There was still so much that I wanted to do and see but university beckoned so I had to go back. However, our bus wasn’t until 5 pm so there was plenty of time to explore some more. So we packed, had as many Nutella pancakes as we could and said bye to the people we had met. I would definitely recommend this hostel to anyone who is staying in Madrid and I hope to be back soon.
One thing we hadn’t ticked off the list was Buen Retiro Park so we took the metro there. The weather was better that day so it made the park look even more stunning than it already was. We decided to go on the rowing boats, bringing along our suitcases for the ride. I was surprised how inexpensive this was due to it being a major tourist attraction. The boats were incredibly fun and I was very pleased with myself that I was managing to steer it with ease and not fall in. After that we went for a drink at one of the cafes in the park and chilled.
It was time to say our goodbyes and hop back on the metro to the bus station. There are loads of cafes and food shops at the bus station so we got some snacks there to take on the bus home. As we travelled home I felt sad about leaving because I wanted to explore more of the city but at least I was going back to Granada. I had such a fantastic trip in Madrid and I think we got the balance of sightseeing and relaxing with friends just right. Also, I didn’t spend too much money to that was another added bonus.
As an Andalusian enthusiast, this was a hard experience for me but your year abroad is all about taking big scary leaps of faith, right? Obviously I am joking and travelling to another part of Spain was in no way scary or challenging however my heart sunk ever so slightly when we waved good bye to Granada bus station at the beginning of our trip. But Madrid outdid my expectations and I will definitely go back in the future for a longer period of time. Thanks for the memories Madrid!