Madrid hadn’t always been my favorite place to visit. In fact, I had a lackluster experience the first time I went nearly four years ago, during my first year working in France. I found that there wasn’t too much to do, and the people rather cold and unfriendly, that I’d written it off as a “one-time destination” I wouldn’t choose to return to some day. Little did I knew, though, that I would return two more times, and that slowly, I would fall in love with the Spanish capital.
I’d gone a second time with my family a few months after my initial trip, and I actually had a good time. Fast-forward two-and-a-half years later, and I went once more following the end of my teaching contract in France. Visiting (or rather, re-visiting) Madrid was part of my general intention to see Spain, as flights from Lyon conveniently head there (and inexpensively so– go, Easyjet!).
Essentially, I would be using Madrid as one of my bases during my week-and-a-half jaunt through central and northern Spain, as a place for day trips to other Spanish cities I hadn’t gone to before. Plus, I didn’t mind revisiting the capital, as I had fun the last time I’d gone– if anything, it was to go back to eat the good food (as I’d discovered during my first trip)!
With that said, I booked my flight and accommodation. I admit that arrangements were somewhat last-minute (three weeks prior), as I hadn’t been sure if I was needed at work to invigilate the rattrapages. But once my responsable told me I didn’t have to help out, I went ahead and reserved everything. I would also be leaving 48 hours after returning from a 10-day whirlwind trip in Turkey, so it was a matter of hastily doing laundry and running errands back in France before taking off again.
Flights to Madrid from Lyon last no more than two hours, so I was back in the Spanish capital as quickly as you could say, “churros con chocolate.” I caught the metro into the city center, and from there proceeded to my hostel, located in the Sol neighborhood (i.e. ground-zero of Madrid).
Dusk was just beginning to fall when I arrived around 20:00, which was a first for me: I’d previously gone to Madrid in the winter months (February and December), during when the days were shorter, so returning in June when the day was longer and warmer weather was a new experience! I stayed in a different hostel than the one I’d done during my first visit in 2016. I found this one to be pretty good, as I was blessed with air-conditioning in the dorm I was staying in. Bathrooms were exceptionally-tiny and always wet, which kind of unsettled me, but otherwise, it was a conveniently-located hostel for four nights in town.
I really only had two nights and a day to see Madrid, as the rest of the time would be dedicated to day trips. Then again, I’d already seen so much of the capital on my previous trips that I didn’t feel the need to go crazy with sightseeing. Much of my time, then, was revisiting old haunts and eating my weight in good food. I took my time, and all was well.
My first night in was tranquil, as I was tired from traveling. I happened to arrive for Sangria Night, in which my hostel offered unlimited sangria for 5€. I helped myself to a glass (or five) while playing drinking games with some of the hostel-goers before heading to the dorms to shower and knock out for the rest of the night. I would be sightseeing the next day, and I wasn’t in the mood to go out and stay out late.
I headed out relatively-early the next day for breakfast at Chocolatería San Ginés, a historic establishment known for its inexpensive churros con chocolate. It’s been a staple treat whenever I go, and I went back the third time for a heavy, but filling start to my day. Still greasy and rich, but I love it all the same.
It was then a hop-over to Plaza Mayor. Touristy as it is, the square is stunning on a blue-sky day, with the red buildings encasing you in all of its vibrant splendor. It’s almost dizzying to stand there and experience the crowds and noise from tourists, locals, and buskers alike, and you feel quite insignificant among the city rush. Wandering and admiring the architecture (including a couple of rainbow flags draped above for Pride Month then) was a way to slow down and be reminded of the capital’s history before its tourism hype today.
From Plaza Mayor, I took Calle Mayor all the way down towards Palacio Royal. I didn’t visit the palace itself (in fact, I’ve never done despite visiting Madrid three times already), but rather made a left and headed south towards the Basílica de San Francisco El Grande, which was what I wanted to see. My family and I hadn’t been able to get to it when we’d gone in December 2016, so I took the opportunity to go this time around.
The interior did not disappoint. It was a 3€ fee to get in, but it was well-worth it. Decked with gold from wall-to-wall, even the ceiling, the basilica was breathtaking. Its humble roots as a chapel from St. Francis of Assisi in the 13th century gave the place even greater meaning, as its interior is considered one of the greatest in Spain today. The sheer architectural design is sure to make even a non-believer like myself believe!
Following that, I headed back towards Palacio Royal, as means of stopping by my old haunt at the Almudena Cathedral. Despite it having opened only in 1993, its altar is a lovely homage to the Virgin Mary, alongside being mixed with some contemporary sacred art throughout the cathedral. It’s a blend of the old and new in this ever-progressive society.
I had a brief jaunt through the jardines de Sabatini, with its well-curated flowers and hedges as part of the Palacio Royal, before heading northwest to the Templo de Debod, a series of temples taken from Egypt and rebuilt in Spain. It was a place I’d wanted to check out the last time, but couldn’t get around to, so I went this time around. To be frank, they proved underwhelming, as they were quite small and nothing else much to it.
The next 40 minutes were spent walking all the way east of Madrid to the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. Although I’m not much of a museum-goer, I was interested in checking out contemporary art, and admission happened to be free when I went. I spent an hour or two just wandering the massive museum, where I saw plenty of quirky pieces from the 20th century to today.
The afternoon slump was getting to me, so I bought myself a bocadillo de calamares and returned to my hostel to enjoy it. I got into a conversation with a fellow hostel-goer for a couple of hours at the commons, and I otherwise rested up in my dorm before heading out for dinner close to 20:00.
I’d made reservations at a restaurant my family and I’d gone to last time we were in Madrid; the restaurant was so good that I wanted to return– so I did! Food still remained tasty, but what I’d forgotten to account for was just how HUGE the portions were. I got too ambitious by ordering too many plates, from the chorizo to tortilla espanola to the callos a la madrileña (plus sangria to boot). I did my best to finish them all, but I think the food won in the end!
That dinner concluded my visit of Madrid, as I would spend the rest of my stay out on day trips to nearby cities. Although I didn’t do so much in the Spanish capital third-time around, I still got to enjoy myself with the familiarity and food. I’m really glad that I gave it another chance following my lackluster first time: Madrid is a city with so much potential, and being able to uncover bits and pieces of it with each visit makes it all the more enriching. Otherwise, go for the food!
Thanks for reading, and more of my Spain trip to come soon!