Meandering around Madrid…part 1

Having arrived at Madrid following a great flight with British Airways (read about that here), I headed through the terminal to make my way into the city itself. Alongside an express bus link, Madrid airport is also connected to the city via Metro Line 8 and the Cercanías (commuter rail) lines C-1 and C-10. The Metro connects to all terminals, whilst the Cercanías only runs to Terminal 4.

Cercanías train at Madrid Airport

I opted to purchase a multi-day ticket covering ‘Zone A’ which cost 22.60 Euros for four days. This ticket covers the Metro, Cercanías and buses within the city and also includes the 3 euro ‘airport supplement’ for the journeys to and from the airport. At the end of my time in Madrid I sat down to see whether this had actually been worth it and it actually cost me more (by about 2 euros) than if I’d bought actual tickets as I walked about the city a lot more than I had initially thought I would. The ticket did save me some time though as I was able to head straight through the ticket gates each time rather than have to buy a ticket.

My first ‘adventure’ of the trip was on the Cercanías from the airport as due to engineering works the trains on lines C-1 and C-10 were terminating at Chamartín station in the north of the city rather than continuing through to Atocha station where I had planned to change onto the Metro. Luckily, after a relatively simple change at Chamartín, I was able to jump onto another of the Cercanías lines that went via Sol which was walking distance to my accommodation and so avoided the need to get the Metro.

The street on which my AirBnB was located

My accommodation for the trip was an AirBnB which was in an absolutely brilliant location just north of Puerta de Callo and Callo Metro station. As their entry onto AirBnB says the accommodation is ‘walking distance to everywhere’ and I certainly found this true throughout my stay with it being just 10 minutes to Sol and 15 to Plaza Mayor, both major areas within Madrid that I’ll cover later. The other place I discovered it was close to was my restaurant of choice for two evenings of my stay, Casa Julio.

Casa Julio is a tiny little bar on Calle de la Madera which serves what a reportedly the best croquettas in all of Madrid. It serves seven different flavours including black pudding, mushroom & leek and blue cheese. You’re able to order either a portion of six or 12 and your portion has to be a mix of two flavours. On my first visit I chose a mix of the black pudding and spinach, raisin and gorgonzola flavours, both of which were absolutely delicious. Alongside the croquettas I chose to have some fried potato and a glass of wine (when in Rome!) and all together it came to just 12.50euros!

My meal on my first visit to Casa Julio

After a wonderful meal and a good nights sleep, I woke really early on my first full day in Madrid and rather than sit in my room decided to head out and watch the city wake up. Unfortunately as most Madrid coffee shops don’t open until 9 at the earliest, I headed to the Starbucks in Puerta de Callo and found a table seat near a window to work for an hour and watch the city come alive. Once the city, and myself, were slightly more awake, I took the five minute walk south to Puerta de Sol, commonly known just as Sol, the square which is both the centre of Madrid and the centre of Spain. Sol has these joint honours as it is home to the Madrid City Council and ‘Kilometro Cero’ the point from which all distances in Spain are measured from.

The main reason for me heading to Sol at this point was to join the free walking tour I had signed up to prior to leaving the UK. As I’ve said before in various blogs, I always find a free walking tour a great first thing to do in a new city as you’ll see the main sights, find out some history and usually be shown a hidden gem or two, all within a few hours. As the guides of these tours are either locals or people who have lived in the city for a number of years, they’re also a great way to get tips on where to eat and what to do as well as where to avoid! My walking tour was organised by Madride Travel and led by a Czech lady called Nicole who had lived in Madrid for four years.

The city government building on Puerta de Sol

The tour started from the statue of ‘The Bear and The Strawberry Tree’, which represents the Madrid coat of arms is real form, in Puerta de Sol and we were told a brief history of the city and the square. The square originated as one of the gates in the 15th century city wall and is named after rising sun which decorated the entry due to the gate having face east. Due it’s role as the ‘centre of Madrid’ Sol is a hub for both locals and tourists and has been the location of many demonstrations, rallies and protests throughout the years. From Sol we headed west down Calle de Arenal to the church of San Ginés which was originally built in the 9th century, however was destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1645. Next to the church is also the extremely popular Chocolateria San Ginés which has served hot chocolate and churros since 1894 and is open 24 hours a day!

From San Ginés we continued to Plaza de Isabel II, also known as Ópera due to it being the home of the Madrid opera house, Teatro Real, and Ópera metro station. The Teatro Real was started in 1818 under the orders of King Ferdinand VII, however it took 32 years to complete and was finally finished in 1850 during the reign of Isabel II, who the square is now named after. Isabel II became queen in 1833 after the death of her father when she was just three years old, after King Ferdinand had changed the law to allow for a female successor. Through the early years of her reign Isabel’s mother, Queen Maria Christina acted as her regent with Isabel ruling directly from 1843. She was eventually deposed in 1868 during the Glorious Revolution before abdicating in 1870. Her son, Alfonso XII became king four years after her abdication.

Teatro Real

Opposite the other end of the Teatro Real is the Plaza de Oriente, home to a statue of Felipe IV, known as the statue of four geniuses due to the collaboration during it’s construction and design. Although the monument the statue stands on and the square itself only date from 1843, the statue itself was produced by Pietro Tacca during the 17th century in collaboration with Galileo Galilei, Diego Velázquez and Juan Martínez Montañés. The Plaza de Oriente lies between the Teatro Real and the Royal Palace which was constructed during the reigns of King Felipe V and Ferdinand VI on the site of the city’s 9th century Alcázar (Muslim-era fortress).

Supposedly, since his accesnsion to the throne in 1700, King Felipe V had wanted to knock the Alcázar down and replace it with a Versailles style palace built to his own specification but this had been declined by the city. Suspiciously on Christmas Eve 1734, just a few days after important paintings had been moved from the Alcázar and the first Christmas Eve the royal family had not spent there, the Alcázar caught fire and burned for four days before it was put out. This total destruction of the Alcázar allowed Felipe to have a new palace built on the site designed to his requirements. Neither Felipe nor, his immediate successor, Ferdinand got to stay in the new palace with Carlos III being the first monarch to move in in 1764. Although the palace remains the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family, the current King, Felipe VI and his family do not reside in the palace.

The Royal Palace and statue of Felipe IV

After observing the palace from the Plaza de Oriente we moved onto the Plaza de la Armería located between the palace and Catedral de Santa Maria, Madrid’s cathedral. We took a 15 minute break at the cathedral allowing me to take a quick look inside. Despite having only been consecrated in 1993, by Pope John Paul II, the cathedral has a traditional feel about it but with modern touches. After the short break we crossed the Viaducto de Segovia to a spot on the other side which provided an amazing view of the cathedral across the gorge.

The next main stop on our tour was the Plaza Mayor, however en route to this our guide showed us ‘El Jardín del Príncipe de Anglona’ or The Garden of the Prince of Anglona. This walled garden is definitely a hidden gem and seems to be fairly unknown even amongst the locals. Containing a ‘Strawberry Tree’ similar to the one shown in the city’s coat of arms, we saw the fruit growing however unfortunately it isn’t ripe until December. Leaving the garden, we also passed the world’s ‘oldest’ restaurant, a claim supported by the Guinness Book of World Records and proudly displayed in the window.

The view of the cathedral from the other side of Viaducto de Segovia

Plaza Mayor is another important square in Madrid and was once the centre of Old Madrid. The square is now mainly a place to socialise and is surrounded on all sides by restaurants for tourists and locals to enjoy. The square is also home to the annual Christmas market and on Sunday and holidays hosts a stamp and coin collecting market. After leaving Plaza Mayor we continued to Plaza de Santa Ana where our guide explained one of the stories of the origins of Tapas (slightly odd involving a King, an impatient waiter, a glass of wine and a slice of ham!) before we headed to our final stop, Plaza de las Cortes.

The Plaza de las Cortes is outside of the Spanish Congress and close to the various museums and the Neptune Fountain, the location of celebrations by fans of Athletico Madrid when they win games. Similar celebrations by fans of the rival Real Madrid are held at the nearby Fuente de Cibeles and can get so rowdy that the statue in the fountain is now covered during celebrations to prevent damage. Although the tour finished here, I decided to head back to Plaza Mayor, and Bar Ideal, to take advantage of one of the local tips our guide provided. Supposedly this is one of the best places in Madrid to get a Bocadillos Calamares, or Calamari sandwich, and a just 3 euros I thought it was worth a try!

Plaza Mayor

After trying what was an odd but delicious culinary choice I decided to head back to my room for a late siesta before heading  back out a couple of hours later for Churros and to watch the sunset at an Egyptian temple. The obvious choice for churros was the Chocolateria San Ginés that had been pointed out during the walking tour and this turned out to be just a 10 minute direct walk from my room. Deciding to enjoy my time at the chocolateria, I order a beer to accompany by churros and chocolate and spent half an hour people watching within the small square.

As the day began to draw to a close I headed to the northwest of the city centre to Plaza de España (which was unfortunately a giant building site) and the nearby Templo de Debod. This ancient Egyptian temple was originally erected south of Aswan in Upper Egypt in the early 2nd century BC. Unfortunately due to the construction of the Aswan High Dam in 1960, numerous monuments and archaeological sites were threatened and after a plea for help from UNESCO, Spain helped save the Abu Simbel temples. In 1968, to thank Spain for their help in saving these temples, Egypt donated the temple of Debod to Spain and it was subsequently moved to Parque del Oeste and opened to the public four years later.

Templo de Debod

The temple looked absolutely stunning in the setting sun, and after enjoying a very relaxing hour sitting nearby, I headed back to my room before getting some dinner at Casa Julio (again). My first 24 hours in Madrid had been amazing and I’d certainly recommend the walking tour to anyone. Also if you’re in Madrid for multiple evenings, make sure to head up to Temple de Debod to watch the sunset, however if you’re only their for one night there is a spectacular alternative I’ll cover in the next blog.

If you know of any hidden gems like the Garden of the Prince of Anglona let me know as I’d love to visit them!

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