Long story short –this past July I went on an archaeological dig in Spain. I made some lifelong amazing friends – and a few of us decided to spend our last night of the trip in Madrid. As a hustling and bustling international city – famous, indeed – I was super stoked I would finally get to check this European destination off my bucket list. Although…24 hours to explore this place…seems daunting, doesn’t it? Well, I can say my crew and I did it justice…on a student budget!
Here’s a list of the places we went…it certainly gave us a taste of Madrid!
Plaza Mayor was built during Philip III’s reign around the 17th century. It’s one of the only open spacious areas in the city center – rich in architecture and history. As this is one of the most central tourist locations, Plaza Mayor was the perfect area to stay in on a short schedule. This spot wasn’t expensive either; two of my friends and I split the cost of a tiny apartment right on one of the main streets. This area is also excellent for restaurants, coffee shops, and getting some souvenirs.
Museo Nacional Del Prado
One of the greatest art museums in the world, the Prado, is definitely a must see in Madrid. I am a big fan of European artwork, and one of my friends on this trip was an intern at the Smithsonian…so I can honestly say we were excited for it. Even if you are not a huge fan of museums and walking around glancing at paintings, I would still recommend stopping by while in Madrid – especially if you are a student. When I went up to the booth to buy my entrance ticket to the Prado, I was surprised to find out students get in for FREE. All you have to do is show your student card or a transcript or document with your student number. Nothing better than getting into a world-renowned art museum free of charge! Also, I actually bought some of my only souvenirs from Spain at the Prado’s gift shop. The postcards are small, light, unique (so they won’t add to your baggage weight), and a good deal.
As we didn’t have the entire day to explore every gallery, we visited some of the most famous works so we could honestly say we’ve been to the Prado. Some of my favourites were “The Garden of Earthly Delights” by Hieronymus Bosch (along with the rest of his works) and “El Perro” by Francisco Goya.
Buen Retiro Park
It’s one of Madrid’s largest parks and biggest attractions! Not only is it lovely to walk around, but taking a rowboat out to paddle around the pond was definitely the most fun. It’s an inexpensive activity: about an hour rental for a rowboat and definitely worth trying. I think the best part was watching everyone else in their rowboats – some were pro rowers while others were super confused and clumsy. My friends and I were quite amused watching some of the couples out on the pond – the boyfriends would take the gentleman lead in rowing – some succeeding to create the perfect Tumblr picturesque moment, while others failed miserably accidentally splashing pond water on the girl’s dress. Can’t say our group were ones to be judging though…my two American friends travelling with us weren’t familiar with rowing so my Canadian friend and I took charge. This eventually resulted in the two of us dismantling the oars and paddling the boat to the dock like true canoeing Canadians.
Palacio Real (Royal Palace of Madrid)/ Sabatini Gardens
We spent the early evening in the Sabatini Garden – as beautiful as any palace gardens should be, and even prettier as the sun began to set. The views of the palace from these gardens is really quite spectacular! We spent a lot of time chatting and admiring the view sitting on a bench in the gardens, and took advantage of the great photo op! If you have more than 24 hours in Madrid, I heard doing the tour of the Royal Palace is worth it. Here’s a fact: The Palace burned down on Christmas Eve of 1734, which is why the present standing was built to be fireproof – there was no wood used in its construction.
Although, if you don’t have long in Madrid, I’d say admiring the view from the gardens is worth it (plus, it’s free).
La Latina District
It was a Friday…how perfect! One of the best places for nightlife in Madrid would have to be in the La Latina district. There’s an abundance of bars, and tapas of course! The main street where you will find the most authentic Spanish cuisine would have to be Calle Cava Baja. You’ll definitely get a taste of Spanish nightlife and tapas bar hopping throughout La Latina. One of the coolest bars we went to was El Viajero. There are multiple levels and it even has a beautiful rooftop! Oh, and a travel tip: it’s not common to tip at restaurants/bars in Spain.
I was super excited to have churros while in Spain, and you would be happy to know a 24-hour churro shop exists. Churros are strips of deep-fried dough, often dusted with sugar or cinnamon…they taste even better dipped in chocolate! After our bar crawl through La Latina, we ended the night off at Chocolateria San Gines. The churros are well priced, and they give you a giant cup of melted chocolate, so it’s unlikely you will run out!
We definitely squeezed a lot of sightseeing into one day. Madrid is an exciting place, and I’m glad I got to explore it with some amazing friends! I think we may have slept for 3 hours at most that night before rolling out of bed, running out the door in 20 minutes to catch a taxi to the airport for our 9 am flights home. But hey, you never know when you’ll be back, so it’s best to seize the day (especially if you only have ONE day).