I have been lucky enough to spend a fabulous few days in this enchanting Spanish city. As a capital city, of course Madrid has a certain hustle and bustle about it but it somehow manages to keep its small-town Spanish charm too!
In this trip to Spain I am combining hostel stays and hotel stays. In Madrid I opted to stay in a hostel - "OK Hostel" which is far more than OK... A wonderful, clean hostel with an amazing atmosphere accompanied by friendly, helpful staff and great facilities.
On arrival, I wandered around, navigating my way around Plaza Mayor which is impressive in itself. I visited the Mercado de San Miguel for a spot of late lunch where I chose the Vegetarian Paella (highly recommended!) the slight let down with this was that it looked freshly cooked and delicious but then it was taken from its large paella dish, transferred into a bowl then ushered into the microwave. No compromise on the taste though!
Next, I wandered down to The Almundena Cathedral which caught my eye from several metres away. An imposing and stunning exterior and an interior to match, colourful stained glass windows and echoing spaces. Leading from the Cathedral I checked out the Royal Palace, I couldn't be bothered to join the queue for tickets to go inside so I simply marvelled from afar. I returned to the Cathedral to go into the Crypt, it's beautiful to visit, smells a bit like chlorine and is probably one of the colder places in Madrid. (Trust me, I was grateful for the refuge from the 38 degrees blistering Spanish sun!)
Wandering down the little side streets and spotting statues here and there is what adds to this small-town-big-city atmosphere. And of course, if you happen to 'accidentally' fall into Chocolateria San Gines, nobody would blame you as their famous Churros are well known throughout the city! Quite a bizarre ordering system as I didn't see any menu or prices, so I ordered 'one portion with chocolate' which was easy enough (€4) and then you sit down, give your receipt to the waiter and they swiftly deliver piping hot, suitably oily churros with a teacup full of rich, dark melted chocolate for dipping or sipping (or both.)
Needing desperately to walk off the calories from the churros, I headed to Gran Via, where as much as I tried to avoid the familiar shops, I found myself in H&M, a rather swanky one at that. The shops, it appeared had been built into old buildings, H&M specifically with an impressive staircase, chandeliers, stained glass windows... Very posh!
I swung via the statue of The Bear and The Strawberry Tree in Puerta Del Sol which was surrounded by a huddle of tourists and seemed somewhat anticlimactic but then again it is a Bear and a Strawberry Tree.
On the following days, I explored the city in greater depth, taking lesser known paths through curved streets of colourful houses. I spent a large chunk of my time meandering through the Parque del Retiro, it's the "Central Park of Madrid" and covers a large expanse. It has statues, monuments, the crystal palace, waterfalls, lakes, turtles, ducks, black swans, cafes, an outdoor gym, rose garden, botanical gardens and there are rowing boats available to hire. Definitely worth a visit, if only to see the crystal palace!
I visited the Cathedral from the more majestic angle, from the side, as the front was made to look less impressive so as not to upstage the Royal Palace.
I took the Metro to "Ventas" to see the Bull Fighting Ring, only from the outside - it is an impressive building but I personally didn't find much to do in the surrounding area...
Also the Temple of Debod (Egyptian Ruins) is worth the trip too, specifically at sunset - if you can stay awake, it was at 9:30pm!! The ruins themselves are stunning, with reflections in the water and the sunset in the background surrounded by a beautiful park, it's well worth the wander.
On the way home we stopped to have dinner and drinks at Terraza Rooftop Jardines de Sabatini, not too far from the Temple of Debod. Incredible tapas food with Asian influences and a view which cannot be rivalled - the Royal Palace lit up at night!
Getting lost in the city is the best way to see things and I recommend that you visit Madrid predominantly by foot as much of the charm lies through narrow, pedestrianised streets