We drove to Madrid from the south-west of France which was a beautiful drive through the Basque Country. Definitely an area we will explore more with its rolling hills and seaside towns.
The landscape from the road into Madrid is quite arid and rocky, but there is always so much to look at when coming into a city for the first time.
We booked an Airbnb with 2 bedrooms, which conveniently was right off the ring road around Madrid. It was situated in a quiet, non-touristy part of town and our host Nacho was so so nice. We traveled through Spain in the hottest month of the year, August. We looked for Airbnbs that had pools, which were such a welcome treat after walking around a hot city all day. Our 2 bedroom Airbnb can be booked here:https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/16335316?s=51. The other things that seem obvious but have been missing from some rentals are washing machines and even an oven, which are handy if you have grubby & hungry kids! This one had both and lots of little extras, including soap, shampoo, coffee and he left us a loaf of bread which was a godsend after a long car journey.
With 3 young boys (2, 6, 9), it’s hard to do the historical tour of towns so we aim to get a feel of the city and hit most of the highlights. We also follow our nose and look for markets and places to eat, like the locals do.
On Day 1, we were pointed in the direction of the Metro, which after some very rough translating, we managed to get to the Puerto del Sol. Quite a few of the metro stations have lifts which makes it easier with a stroller but definitely not all of them. It’s an old system that is being modernised so there are still lots of stairs and lifting the stroller up and down. Not for anyone not able to lift or carry little people.
From the Puerto del Sol, we meandered through the small streets and inadvertently walked through the Plaza Mayor. One of the main squares in the city, its surrounded by small streets, cafes and restaurants. It can be quite touristy but there are cheap places to eat bocadillos (rolls with ham and various fillings) for €1. Some of these cafes call themselves the Museum of Jamon, and in fact are not museums but are great, cheap places to grab a bite to eat. They are usually stand-up only, noisy and have tissues on the floor from customers. A fun, no fuss place to go with kids.
Not far from Plaza Mayor was the Mercado San Miguel which is what we set out to find. This somewhat touristy market is full of beautiful food, tapas, drinks, ice cream (helados) and it would be easy to overspend here!
We found a few water taps around the city which were perfect to refill water bottles and soak our hats to keep us cool. It was 38C so we call it a day at 2-3pm everyday.
On Day 2, we went the Parque Santa Maria, on the metro again (a 10 pack of tickets was the best way to tour around). In the park we hired a row boat where I rowed around with Spencer and Oliver. It’s not a huge lake but the boys needed something active to do that didn’t involve looking at old buildings and scenery.
I went back early to the apartment and the older boys & Rob went to the Santiago Bernabeau, one of the biggest soccer stadiums in Europe and the home of the infamous Real Madrid. The boys did a tour which takes you through the museum of trophies 🏆, the changerooms and onto the pitch. Definitely worth it for any sports lovers as Real Madrid fans are synonymous with Spain and the most successful soccer club in the world.
Day 3 started at a famous churros spot, just below our apartment. This famous Spanish breakfast was quite greasy for us, but is a must do. They came in 2 sizes and are dipped in a mug of thick chocolate. We shared 3 servings which was more than enough!
We still had some main areas that we hadn’t visited which included Gran Via, a beautiful big street with all the major stores. We walked past the royal palace but didn’t go in.
We were very lucky to have some friends who took us out on our last night and arranged a babysitter for the night. We explored the La Latina district, ate tortilla (amazing) in the oldest pub in Madrid (La Ardosa), discovered my new daily drink, Tinto de Verano (summer red, which is a combination of red wine and fizzy water or sprite combo & ice) and felt like locals for a night. So much fun and highly recommended if you can walk the streets late at night. The Spanish certainly come out to play at night!
Overall, this first stop on our journey was an adjustment to the Spanish way of life and their love of the night. We ventured out on our first night around 730pm (late for us when our kids normally go to bed then) and left our quiet neighbourhood in search of some food. Quite a long walk later, we settled on something mediocre as it looked modern and we were starving. On our return to our neighbourhood, the restaurants were spilling out onto the terraces, kids were playing and the area seemed positively vibrant! Our premature departure at 730pm was well before the Spanish eat, which is normally around 930-10pm.
On following nights, we aimed to feed Charlie and Oliver (Charlie because he’s 2 and Oliver because he’s so picky) before we went out. This took the pressure off to find a restaurant that would suit everyone. A bowl of french fries and the iPad were heavily relied upon so we could eat in relative peace and not chase Charlie around too much.
We found Madrid to be clean, friendly and easy to get around.
Highlights for us:
– walking around and nibbling on food at the San Miguel market
– tour of the Santiago Bernabeau
– an evening in La Latina with no kids or with if you need to. Lots of little cool places down the small streets.
Top Tips with Kids
– feed little people early before you go out if they can’t wait until late
– use the metro and walk the city, it’s quite easy to get around. If it’s not too hot, the hop on, hop off bus is also handy.
– pack a Tupperware container with snacks because as soon as you leave the house someone will say ‘I’m hungry’.
– Airbnb with kids works so much better than a hotel as you can get at least 1 additional room and if everyone sleeps well, it makes for much more pleasant traveling.
– don’t overpack ‘things to do’ as just seeing the new city, walking around and eating new foods will keep you and them busy. Keep playing cards and games for downtime at home.
– collect an extra map for each child to give them an opportunity to follow where you’re going and be in charge sometimes.
– if you forget water, it’s cheap to buy everywhere at about €1 for a big bottle.
We hope you enjoy your trip to Madrid and if you want to follow along on our trips around Europe and our life in SW France, you can sign up to our newsletter here.
You can read more about our Why and how this journey is changing our lives in so many positive ways. You can also read more about me & my business Habitots here.
Until next time,