Road Trip Adventures 5: Go Mad around Madrid
This is the fifth post in our series of Adventure Ideas for European family road trips, brought to you in conjunction with Avis Car Hire. And this time we’d like to suggest a 24 hour spin through the capital of Spain. We’ll give you some ideas but it’s your foot on the accelerator so you get to choose the pace you take Madrid, by day and by night…
The heart of Spain
Madrid is Spain’s beating heart; its political and geographical centre. Like any historic European capital, it’s a popular tourist destination with a unique energy, appearance and feel. But this city is also something of a split personality; if Madrid were a person, by day it would be a sophisticated culture vulture, and by night a twirling, bar hopping party animal. But this diversity means there is something for everyone.
So buckle up and let’s go take a ride
Wait! Before you head off, here’s one piece of advice. Do yourself a favour and avoid the rush hour. Have a good breakfast and start your road trip when everyone else has gone to work. After all you are on holiday. So where to begin? Well, take a look at this map and then read on for our suggested itinerary…
Madrid by day: city of culture
Madrid is easily done in a weekend, although if you have a week you’ll get to know it better. There are no big distances on this road trip of the capital. A brief 11 mile drive from Barajas airport takes you directly to the east of Spain’s largest city. The magnificent Alcala gate leads you into Madrid’s Royal Park. But you won’t need your car there, that’s for sure. The Parque Del Retiro was built in 1632 as a retreat for the royal family and these days it’s a countryside escape for all city dwellers and visitors. It’s quieter on a weekday, but even at a weekend it’s a tranquil start to your trip. Do what the locals do; take a stroll, have a picnic or hire a rowing boat on the lake.
A world class gallery in 1,2 and 3 hours
Staying with the Royal theme it’s just a short hop to Museo Nacional del Prado where you can view a collection of more than 2,300 paintings including masterpieces by Goya, Rubens and Bosch. This is a great way to introduce your children to art and if it’s hot (as it often is in Madrid) it’s a good way to keep everyone cool. The museum began as the royal collection in 1819 to show off the works of art owned by the Spanish crown and to prove to Europe that Spain had some world class home grown artists.
But 2,300 paintings in one go may be a bit too much for your kids. Indeed it’s a bit too much for everyone, so the museum has helped out. On their website there are pages highlighting what you really must see in a one hour, two hour or three hour visit. Print off the pages and get the children to tick off the paintings as they view them. Perhaps you could provide a prize for the one who spots the most.
Relaxing in the square
The next day-time must see is Plaza Mayor, just a short drive away. This square is a stunner. 237 balconies and nine entrances give it grandeur and the shops and cafes give it a chill out feel. It’s not always been a relaxing experience for all though as bullfights, football matches, public executions and ‘autos de fe’ against alleged heretics in the Spanish Inquisition have been held here in the past. Have fun relating some of the history to the children. And before leaving check out the impressive bronze statue of King Philip III in the middle of the square.
There are plenty of great squares in Madrid, so if you’ve time why not hop around some others including the nearby Puerta Del Sol (with the iconic clock that counts in New Year to millions on TV) and the Plaza De Espana, which has the Royal Palace just a short walk away. Then it’s time to take in one of Madrid’s liveliest streets.
An Architects dream
Gran Via really is a Grand Road and is unmissable on a trip around the city. It is one of the city’s most important shopping areas but it’s ultimately all about architecture. It is a showcase for architects who specialised in designing large buildings. Park up nearby and walk this crowded street looking up at the ornate edifices. The first building starting from the Calle de Alcalá is the most famous; the Edificio Metropolis; built between 1907 and 1911.
Madrid by night: the party place
By day, Madrid is all about style and culture, but as the sun sets it really comes to life. No road trip through this city is complete without putting your headlights on for a spin through its night-life. Unlike some cities, families aren’t excluded from night time city fun. In summer children often play out late with their parents, snacking from street stalls, eating in the fashionable restaurants, drinking in the chocolate houses and playing in the parks. The late hour is partly driven by practicalities – in the summer it’s too hot to enjoy partying before sunset, and partly by atmosphere – it’s all that bit more intense in the dark. And the night-life here is intense. So make sure you and the kids have a siesta if you’ve rushed around like loonies all day.
Eating and dancing
Every good road trip needs refreshment and Madrid knows just how to refresh its visitors. Restaurants and bars specialise in tapas and you could plan your own tapas tour. Or do a tour of the city’s famed flamenco restaurants.
The fountain square
One of the city’s main attractions is even more fabulous by night than in the daytime, and as there are no traffic restrictions you can even see it in your car. The Plaza de Cibeles sits at the intersection of Calle de Alcala, Paseo de Recoletos and Paseo del Prado. And at the centre is the easily recognisable Cibeles fountain. If you have football loving teenagers, they might be interested to hear it’s where Real Madrid fans traditionally drink from the cup of success when their team wins. You will also pass the cathedral like landmark that is City Hall, as well as Spain’s central bank headquarters and the Baroque Palacio de Linares.
On the subject of football loving teenagers, they’ll probably love you forever if you take them to see Real Madrid. Home games are played at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium.Tickets are difficult to come by but you may be lucky, and VIP packages are available which include hospitality and a guided tour of the facilities. If you don’t manage to buy a golden ticket then your teenagers may enjoy a bullfight, held on Sunday evenings at 7pm between March and October at the Las Ventas bullring.
There is so much to see in Madrid, by day and night, that you’re sure to run out of time, no matter how fast you drive. If you like it, you can always come back again.
Have you been to Madrid? Got an idea or suggestion for a place to eat or visit, something interesting to see or do? Why not share it with us as a comment.
Disclosure Note: This post was brought to you thanks to the support of Avis Car Hire. All the research, ideas and opinions remain, as ever, entirely our own.