Visiting one of the world’s premier cities, one of the world’s most visited cities, within budget expenses, is always a challenge. Most of us have dreams of visiting Madrid one day. And yet many of us are deterred by various fear factors. Can I afford it? Is it a safe city? Is it worth it? Should I opt for a group tour? Will I get vegetarian/halal food there? Will I need to stay in a pigeon-hole hostel in a shady colony? Will I be mugged/pickpocketed there? Will taxis rip me off? How complicated is the train ticketing and network there? etc etc.
Frankly, some of these factors worried me as much while planning for a Madrid stay with my bachelor friends – all of whom were visiting Europe for the first time. So I planned to cover each of the parameters below and now sharing with you. To cover Madrid:
– the safest way
– the cheapest way (short stay and only seeing highlights)
– imagine how I would have planned if my family was there (no hostel type accommodation)
– keep a relaxed itinerary so that the holiday is not turned in to a war – ie try to do 40 things in two days and risk falling unwell, tired or get inadequate sleep, especially with kids.
– stress-free (minimal travel time, no time wasting figuring buses, train network and routes etc)
– spend most of the time in parks, museums with free entry, admiring the architecture
– finding a point from where a majority of the sites can be visited by foot.
– Good tasty local food.
– Stay for 3 days, 2 nights
– Stay in the central area from where in 1-1.5km radius you can cover everything Madrid by foot.
– Do a day trip to Segovia or Toledo. I would recommend Segovia as the cathedral, Alcazar & the Roman Aqua duct buildings are amazing. But if you are staying for four days & three nights, do Toledo on the third day.
Strong tip: Take overnight Renfe Trainhotel to Lisbon. You save on a hotel night’s fare, you enter another country (Portugal), get to admire a capital city and get to see the extreme west point of Europe mainland. The Trainhotel is a very comfortable ride and family of four get a closed-door cabin.
Stay & Eat
Stay at Hotel Catalonia Atocha (strongly recommended) or any place on that street/around that area. This is a location from where every main tourist attraction is 1-1.5km away. You are at the centre of the “centre”. Take the Renfe train from the airport, straight to the Atocha station (Ticket cost 2.5 Euro). Change to the blue line and get down at the next station – Anton Martin. There you are at the doorstep of the Hotel Catalonia Atocha. It is not your budget priced place and costs roughly 200 SGD = 130 Euro = 10000 INR per night. But at that price, in the centre of the city, it is luxurious stuff! And with exemplary staff, comfort and location, it works! There are supermarkets, Indian and Lebanese restaurants around this hotel too. Restaurant La Sanabresa 50mts away is strongly recommended. It has delicious Spanish buffet meals for around 10 Euros. Can’t get better and cheaper.
Walk 1km to Mercado De San Miguel, soak in their markets, have a drink, a tart and have local Spanish delicacies at cheap rates. I got to treat my friends to authentic Paella there – the vegetarian version. It stands one of the proud moments of my trip. This place has beer and wine that is cheap and also a multitude of other food items to choose.
Day 0: Walk up Sol square area – This would be around 700m from the hotel recommended above – and just sit and soak in Madrid. It’s one of the most happening squares of Europe with acrobats, gymnasts, cartoon characters roaming around. You could spend an entire day sitting there! Kids would not want to leave the place.
Day 1: Start the day with a walk to Retiro Park…it is free.. it is around 1.5km from the recommended hotel and do a picnic there. Once done, walk up to Prado museum and or Reina Sofia museum. Both are roughly 800mts in between the hotel and Retiro Park. For free admission to the Prado Museum, visit Tuesday to Sunday from 6pm to 8pm, or Sundays from 5pm to 8pm. For free admission to the Reina Sofia Museum, visit Monday to Friday from 7pm to 9pm, Saturday from 2.30pm to 9pm, or Sunday from 10am to 2.30pm. Do note, by now you have not spent a single cent on entry fees. In the evening, walk up to Gran Via Street – a very happening street – and shop at the massive Primark departmental store. It is a shop you get clothes starting 2€.. mostly made in Bangladesh, Turkey, Italy, China and India. The stuff is good, choices are plenty and crowds are teeming in this large store.
Day 2: Walk up to Cathedral Santa Maria and then the Royal Palace. I find the Temple De Bod overhyped, so will not recommend, but it is free, so if you can, then walk along. The Cathedral and the Palace will take up two hours to four hours depending on if you want to enter the Palace insides. Later, walk back to Mercado San Miguel for a meal or walk to Gran Via or Sol. In case you need to travel by train, buy only the T10 ticket… i.e. one plastic travel card which stores ten tickets..and can be used by multiple people. You get the T10 ticket from any ticketing machine at train stations and costs around 50% lesser than buying 10 individual tickets. A T10 ticket will cost you roughly 12.5 Euros and is valid for ten train or bus trips within main city Madrid. Do note, the T10 ticket is not eligible for train journeys to Toledo or Segovia, for which you need to buy separate train or bus tickets.
Day 3: Take a day trip to either Segovia or Toledo. Book a train or bus trip for the same day return from the site www.goeuro.com. The train is faster but costs more. Also for Segovia, the bus takes you to the centre of the city, so for Segovia, I would recommend a bus trip. For Toledo, I would recommend a train trip from Atocha station – very close to your hotel. Both day trips are worth your time and money. Bus return fares are normally around 20€ per person. That is a steal. I would strongly recommend Segovia day tour for the Roman Aqua Duct and for its uniqueness.
What next: Either proceed to Lisbon by overnight train on Day 3 night or proceed to Barcelona or Sevilla on Day 4.
Shop only at Primark on Gran Via Street, as mentioned above. Nowhere in Europe, in any capital, in the main street of the city, would you get a branded shopping outlet, extremely popular and yet buy stuff at throw away budget prices. Yes, it’s a statement on the state of the Spanish economy. But why should you bother? You shop hard! Each of us shopped bag full of stuff from this outlet and one month later, each of us wish, we shopped even more!
Four of us feature in the pictures above. We had a dream bachelor trip with many more to come.
P = Pungliya Dilip
A = Avinash Nayak
J = Jhunjhunwala Neeraj
A = Avijit Das Patnaik
M = Manoj Burad
A = Adarsh Kansal.