***This is going to be my Madrid, “running blog.” That just means I’ll keep adding to it as I discover more of Madrid during the next several months. Keep up to date with my updates of this post by following Wanderlust With Will on Facebook and Twitter.***
Do yourself a huge service and download an app called "Citymapper". The symbol is green with a white dot, white arrow pointing right and another white dot. This app will hook you up with metro train times and routes, bus times and routes, and Cercanías times and routes. Not only that it tells you where the electric scooters are located throughout the city and what their battery level is, if that's the way you want to travel.
As with most cities, taxis are the easy way to get around. Here in Madrid they are very abundant. They’re clearly marked in small white sedans with red stripes and a taxi sign on the roof.
The rate works as follows: Every fare starts with a €2,50 basic fare. Every kilometer is charged another €1,10. From Monday-Friday 9:00pm-7:00am and Saturday and Sunday the basic fare is €3,10 and €1,30 every kilometer.
If the “Libre” light on the passenger side of the windshield is lit, then the cab is free and you can get the drivers attention.
As is the case around most of the world, taxis are the most expensive form of transportation.
The need for taxis in Madrid is minimal if you take the time to learn the metro system. It’s a very expansive system that covers anywhere you could possibly ever want to go, combined with some walking.
The Madrid metro is split up into, “zones.” From what I have gathered so far the, “A” zone is the city center where you’ll be doing the vast majority of your use of the system. Zone B3, for example, is the largest zone in the system and serves the very southeast of the city of Madrid. Purchasing the use of more zones increases the cost of a metro card.
The trip cards can be purchased at the entrances to each station. There is a single trip card that is only valid for the metro (€4), a 10 trip card that is valid for the metro, city busses and intercity busses, a 7 day card and a 30 day card (called a seasonal card that locals renew every 30 days).
The metro system consists of 16 different lines and runs everyday from 6:00am to 1:30am.
The best way to avoid confusion is to download the, “Transporte Madrid“ app which has service maps, service times and also has bus route and time information. Bikes
Madrid has a great bike system where you can rent bikes with a small motor on them for a few Euros and then park them at another station where you are commuting to. The app gives you an account for a year for €15 and then you scan the QR code on your phone through the app and pay a small fee for each use. The bikes appear to be popular with locals. I will add more information if I find out more.
Similar to the bikes there is an app where you create an account involving QR codes. You can rent the scooters throughout the city. You can gps track where the scooters are placed and pick one up, scan in, use it and then when you are done scan out and just leave it on the sidewalk. I will add more information if I find out more.
Like the bikes and scooters the same applies to the mopeds you see on the sidewalks throughout Madrid. I will add more information if I find out more.
Electric Mini Cars
I have only seen one such case by Plaza Mayor but through an app you can rent these two seat mini electric cars. Same deal with a QR code and all that. I will add more information if I find our more.
What To Do In Madrid
The Golden Triangle of Art
To say you have completed the "Golden Triangle of Art" you'll need to visit the three most famous art museums in Madrid. The Prado, The Reina Sofia, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza. The bad news is each museum is large in size. The good news is they're all in close proximity to each other.
It's practically impossible to complete all three museums, because of their sheer size, in one day. That's unless you're some superhuman with endless amounts of walking energy and an ability to go half day without a meal. So basically, it's not worth trying. If you're in Madrid for a couple of days, just plan to do one museum a day. I'd suggest start your days at one of these three museums throughout the week, or, if you're in Madrid for three days, do one each morning.
So far I've made it through the Prado (some sections are closed due to COVID-19 restrictions) and one floor of the Reina Sofia (There are four floors). I have also completed all of the Thyssen-Bornemisza.
The Prado - contains a lot of religious based art. Lots of graphic paintings of Jesus. My favorite painting was in the main hallway of what appeared the be the later hours of the Last Supper. The subjects appeared to be depicted as drunk (the wine to water thing might have helped). Most were speaking to Jesus but off to the left you'll notice a guy sitting upright on the stone ground near the dinner table. He appeared to be fighting off a guy trying to take his pants? I stared at it in amusement trying to figure if that's what I was seeing. As best I can tell my interpretation wasn't wrong? *Pictures are not allowed*
The Reina Sofia - At The Reina Sofia you get a lot of bang for your buck. €5 to get in and you get access to four full floors of art exhibits. All different styles depicting different messages. So far I've only been on the second floor and the ones I liked the most were Salvador Dali's and Pablo Picasso's work. On the second floor you'll get an up close and personal look at Picasso's famous, "Guernica" painting. Be sure to check out the photo progression of how the Guernica progressed over time. It's in the same room and you can't miss it! Take your time looking at the pictures and then looking at the Guernica in real time to see how it progressed in stages. It's really fascinating.
There were also some drawings that depicted the "enigma" that was Nazism during the 1930's & 1940's in Spanish history. Drawings depicted Nazism as a nightmare and other things and drawing comparisons to Spains most infamous fascist leader Francisco Franco.
The Reina Sofia has free wifi with a quick and easy sign in form. *Pictures are not allowed*
Thyssen-Bornemisza - The Thyssen-Bornemisza museum is a private museum that houses approximately 1,600 paintings from the collection of German-Hungarian entrepreneur Heinrich Freiherr Thyssen-Bornemisza. Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza was a big art collector.
The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum consists of three floors. It's recommended that you start on the second floor (in Spain it's the ground floor, first floor, then the second floor) and work your way down. If you follow these directions it's easy to see why they recommend this route. The first paintings you'll see are from the mid 1300's. As you make your way around the second floor and down to the ground floor the paintings get younger (and less religious). The final display halls before the museum shop (the end of the museum) are modern art and not too old, at least considering how old the ones on the second floor are.
You'll see paintings that are nearly 700 years old, tapestries from the late 1400's, Pablo Picasso, and Vincent Van Gogh. The collection is an extremely wide range of art that definitely has something for everyone.
Expect to spend at least two hours here. It's a pretty large collection of paintings. There are plenty of benches to stop for rest and free wifi. *pictures ARE allowed here*
Of all the museums in, "The Golden Triangle of Art" the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum was my favorite.
Plaza de Cibeles
Plaza de Cibeles features the famous Palacio de Cibeles building, which is guaranteed to blow you away with its beauty. In the foreground you'll be able to admire the Fuente de Cibeles statue which is located on a beautiful fountain which is also surrounded by several Spanish flags.
The Botero exhibit is inside the famous Palacio de Cibeles. One of the most beautiful buildings I have been lucky enough to lay my eyes on.
This exhibit features the work of world famous Colombian artist, Fernando Botero. I wont ruin it for you but I guarantee you've seen some of his work. His art is a bit abstract but it is worth seeing. Maybe you'll be surprised to know some of the paintings are very recent even though he's 88 years old!
The Botero exhibit was temporary as of 2021 and is no longer in Madrid.
Walk Around Retiro Park
Retiro park is Madrid's most famous park. That's saying a lot considering Madrid is known as a walkable city and known for it's outdoor activities. Retiro is quite large so if you're looking to explore most the park at one time or in one day, expect to walk a lot. Or you could rent a scooter as mentioned above in the getting around section.
When exploring Retiro, don't forget to take in the atmosphere. It's a popular hangout spot for local Madrileños (someone from Madrid). There is no shortage of cafe's to grab a coffee or a beer. A must visit inside the park is the Monumento a Alfonso XII which is surrounded by a large pond where you can even rent a rowboat.
Palacio Real de Madrid
What's not to love about a huge royal palace in the heart of one of Europes best cities? Due to the COVID-19 pandemic there are no guided tours but simply just walking through the halls with a friend or two or by yourself (no judgement here) is totally worth it. It's €8 to get in but if you have an EU work visa, it's free from Monday-Thursday 4-6pm. Our friend was a little behind us and said she couldn't get in at 5pm so it's best to be safe and show up at 4pm.
It's no longer the residence of the royal family in Spain but the palace still hosts events when prominent international guests come to town. Other important events are also held at the palace.
Once you're in the palace you can only take photos in the entrance hallway. Once you get to the extra special rooms, you can no longer take photos. This is an absolute MUST DO when in Madrid.
Cathedral de la Almudena
The cathedral is situated across from the royal palace which means it's pretty easy to package both sites into one single activity. The cathedral will take substantially less time to get through than the royal palace. The entrance to the cathedral is the gated area on the side street (NOT in the plaza across from the royal palace).
Start your experience in the cathedral where there is no official entrance fee. They do ask that you donate a Euro at the entrance. There is, what appeared to be, a more religion oriented museum that costs six Euros (I opted against it).
No visit to the Cathedral de la Almudena is complete without walking around inside the main cathedral, going up the marble steps to see the Virgen, and walking around the crypt beneath the main cathedral. The entrance to the crypt is around the corner and down the hill from the main entrance to the main cathedral OR around back from the side of the cathedral facing the royal palace.
A sunset at Templo de Debod
This temple dates all the way back to 200 BC. It was donated to the city of Madrid in the early 1970's by the Egyptian government as a nearby dam was being built and there were concerns it would be ruined in flooding. It was taken apart, shipped to Madrid, and rebuilt stone by stone.
The temple is not open to the public but you can walk around the temple. The surrounding park, Cuartel de la Montaña Park, in which the temple rests is easy to enjoy.
The best time is at sunset as the sun sets over the hills west of Madrid. If you have a high quality camera, I suggest brining it. If you're traveling with friends or family, make a night of it and picnic in the back and watch the sunset unfold. You'll notice it's a popular activity with native Madrileños who enjoy the sunset with some popular libations.
Day Trips Outside The City
This beautiful, quaint, and historic small Spanish countryside town has so far (December 28th update) been my favorite town outside Madrid.
A stunning central town plaza, a beautiful church on top of the hill overlooking the plaza, a castle ruins, and narrow winding streets lined with classic Spanish styled apartment buildings. What's not to love about this town?
A trip to Chinchón isn't complete without checking out the:
1. Meson Cuevas Del Vino
2. Lunch or coffee in Plaza Mayor
3. Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción
4. Castillo de Chinchón
Meson Cuevas Del Vino is a wine cave. A trip down the staircase will open a portal into the world of these massive wine vats. Lunch or coffee in Plaza Mayor is just to take a break and take in the atmosphere and views of this historic town plaza that features several different cafes, restaurants and shops. Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción is the church at the top of the hill overlooking Plaza Mayor. You can't miss it! When you reach the church via the steep winding roads of Chinchón, you can walk around it, read about, and enjoy the views of the plaza below, but you cannot go inside. Castillo de Chinchón can't be missed when on the bus into town. It's also impossible to miss from #3. When walking up to the castle ruins you'll notice it is fenced off. If you follow along the fence you'll notice there is a break in the fence on the side of the hill that leaves town and back into the Spanish countryside. If you dare, you can walk up to the castle ruins and take pictures. I wasn't the only one there that did this, so, it seems like it's not a priority of the authorities. It's worth it for the pictures and to say you did it.
To get to Chinchón from Madrid city center, just take the 337 bus from Conde de Casal metro and bus stop towards Chinchón - Valdelaguna. Conde de Casal is located on Line 6, also known as the grey line, also known as the circular line. I'm not entirely sure of the cost there and back but the best way to pay is with Euro coins so make sure you have a handful. On your way back to Madrid make sure it's the 337 bus to Madrid - Conde de Casal. The bus trip takes 70 minutes each way.
**I feel like it's important to also note that this town doesn't open up until 12pm Monday-Friday. This includes tourist sites and cafe's and shops in the city plaza**
Patones de Arriba
This historic town is located in the northeast of the of the Comunidad de Madrid. It's a bit of a trip from the city center. While it can be accessed by public bus, it is much more worth spending the extra money and renting a car. With a car, the trip isn't so burdensome since you will have the freedom to go where you want, on your own timeline.
Taking the bus is a long trip on its own, taking upwards of an hour each way. Then you have to factor in the walk up to Patones de Arriba from Patones de Abajo. Each trip will cost more than €5 of the bus.
Patones de Arriba is believed to date back to the stone age. There have been cave paintings discovered in the area. There are also artifacts from the time of the Romans leading many to believe there were people in the area at the time.
The town itself consists of well preserved classic stone houses near the entrance to the town. Beyond the town in the hills, are what will appear to be older stone structures along the hillsides that didn't survive the test of time. It features several places to eat but to get a place to eat in town, you're going to want to reserve a place in advance. It is popular with locals and tourists. There are towns nearby in which you can eat if nothing is available in Patones.
Aside from the town itself, Patones features some of the best hiking in the Comunidad. Just make sure you follow the right paths if you want to avoid getting onto a path that is beyond your capabilities. Lets just say that mistake was made and my hiking partner and I were pushed to our limits. It would be highly encouraged to bring ample water and hiking snacks. High quality hiking boots and even walking sticks would help greatly. Please don't attempt hiking in Patones without the appropriate gear, which includes sun lotion. There are likely to be many fellow hikers in the area but the hike does get steep and rocky.
In terms of the hiking, you're going to want to hike to a location along the hiking loop path called, Cancho de la Cabeza. The views of the reservoir once you get to Cancho de la Cabeza are stunning on a clear day. Some hikers even bring a light picnic along and sit on the point and eat with a friend.
For the lovers of history, and if you rent a car as previously suggested, no trip to the area is complete without visiting the Watchtower of El Berrueco. It's a watchtower that was built sometime between the 9th and 10th centuries by the Islamic armies in the area. As you'll see if you pay the watchtower a visit, it gives stunning, unimpeded, views of the entirety of the area as far as the eye can see through the mountain range which allowed for the spotting of would-be attacking armies.
If you want a hiking day trip that will provide you stunning views, Patones de Arriba is the place for you. If you appreciate history, then visiting Patones de Arriba should be on your itinerary. If you are a hiking and history enthusiast, Patones de Arriba is an absolute must when spending a few days in Madrid.
Castillo nuevo de Manzanares el Real & the Guadarrama Mountain Range
No trip to Madrid is complete without seeing the Castillo Nuevo de Manzanares el Real in Manzanares el Real, Comunidad de Madrid and hiking its surrounding mountain range, the Guadarrama Mountains.
This 15th century castle is in pristine condition and for just €5 you too can wind through its several hundred year old corridors and go back in time. The views of the surrounding areas from the castle are stunning.
Personally, I took my time in the castle so I'd estimate I spent just over an hour there. With something so historically significant, I'd urge you to take your time as well. Expect at least an hour spent exploring the castle.
**It's important to note that to get to the upper portions of Castillo nuevo de Manzanares el Real requires climbing, and then descending though, very narrow staircases. If you're a high level claustrophobic, this part of the castle may not be your cup of tea. Anyone with mobility issues due to age or overall health may also want to think about avoiding the tower staircases as well.**
Going to Manzanares el Real and not hiking its neighboring Guadarrama mountain range is a wasted opportunity.
After the castle, to find the hiking trails (they're well marked and highly trafficked), start out walking west away from the lake. Passing the church through the town and crossing the river (over the bridge) you can see a path along the main road that will eventually lead you to a parking lot and into the national park. From there, there are several well marked routes to choose from. Some are more difficult than others.
My hike to the famous Cantocochino rock formation was, round trip, 7.1 miles. The whole trip took me three hours including stopping for photos and to take in the spectacular views. There is lots of ascending and descending. **Do not attempt hiking to Cantocochino without the proper gear ESPECIALLY if this is done during the winter time. Quality hiking boots are necessary. I found my hiking poles particularly helpful as well**
This is a full day trip if you want to do the castle and hike the surrounding mountain range. Leaving my door in city center to returning to my door took over nine hours. It's not something you can combine with something else. I was utterly exhausted when I returned home.
To get to Manzanares el Real from Madrid, head to the Plaza de Castilla metro stop. There you will find a large bus terminal. From there take bus 724 to Manzanares el Real. The bus trip takes pretty much exactly one hour. The bus will cost you €4.20 each way. The Citymapper app mentioned at the top of this post will show you where you can get off for the castle and back on to return back to Madrid.
Buitrago del Lozoya
This historical walled town in the north of the Comunidad de Madrid makes for a wonderful day trip outside the city. Buitrago del Lozoya is both historical and charming with friendly locals.
The main attraction is walking along the wall that once protected the town. The entrance fee for the Muralla Alta y Torre del Reloj is just €2. After walking along the wall it's worthwhile to do a lap inside the church that dates back to the mid 16th century. There is no entrance fee but they ask for a €1 donation. You can even go up the tower for another €1.
After the wall and the church it might be worthwhile to stroll down the hill and past the castle in the town that dates back to 1430. After admiring the castle you'll find the Río Lozoya (Lozoya River) where you can hangout and relax for a few minutes as you wish. You'll likely find some locals or explorers doing the same if the weather is nice. Just be aware that the river itself does have a slight stench.
Before leaving you must visit the Pablo Picasso collection in the main town square. There is no entrance fee. The Picasso collection mostly consists of his ceramics which is totally different from the Picasso museum in Barcelona and the painting collections in the art museums in Madrid.
If you have time there is also a hike to an overlook where you can get great pictures of the walled town. Another activity that's worth your time, if you have the time, is sitting in the town square outside where the Picasso collection is housed. There is a bar called. "Ya" (pronounced "Jah") that has Estrella Galicia (my favorite Spanish beer) for €1.10. It's the cheapest Estrella Galicia I have come across in Madrid.
The locals here are extremely friendly, but be aware their English is much more limited than in Madrid. Smaller Spanish towns generally have less access and opportunity to learning English. I found even if there was a language barrier they still went out of their way to try and help you.
To get the Buitrago del Lozoya from Madrid, head to the bus terminal at Plaza de Castilla. Lines 1, 9, and 10 (light blue, purple, and dark blue) all meet here. You'll want to take Bus 191 which is at terminal door 37. The bus trip will cost you €5.10 each way. It is a two hour bus trip each way and busses run every 90 minutes (Saturday).
This quaint town can be visited via a one hour train ride directly south of Madrid on the C-3 Madrid Cercanías line from the Sol or Atocha stations in central Madrid. The Cercanías line will cost you extra but it's not anything to stress over. Well worth the price when you get to experience the Palacio Real de Aranjuez.
This palace was a former residence for the Kings and Queens of Spain. It dates back to King Philip II in 1523.
The entrance fee is €4.50. It is located just a short 10 minute walk from the Aranjuez Cercanías stop. After the palace, be sure to take some time to explore the garden and then take a walk around this cute, historic town. The restaurants around the palace have a great vibe, but they're expensive. If you're hungry and willing to pay for the experience of eating near a royal palace, you'll enjoy the places nearby. *photos are NOT allowed inside the palace* *palace staff will ask you to carry your bag around your shoulders on your front side*
San Lorenzo de El Escorial
This famous monastery is located just over an hour northwest of Madrid. It is still located in the Comunidad de Madrid but it's just minutes from the Castilla y León province border. To get there head to Moncloa on Line 3 (the yellow line) and take busses 661 or 664.
It's a large Monastery so plan to spend a few hours there. It is also abundant with good hiking trails nearby so if you want to make a full day of it, bring your hiking boots. The best photo spot is hiking to the Silla de Fillipe II overlook. From there you can see the surrounding miles of mountainous Spanish countryside. To get to the Silla de Filipe II overlook you will have to walk to the parks behind the El Escorial Monastery; You can get there easily by following the road but if you're feeling more adventurous, the more difficult hikes can be found in the paths in the area.
My favorite rooms in the monastery were the room of tombs in the basement, the Hall of Battles and the library. *photos are NOT allowed inside the monastery* *monastery staff will ask you to carry your bag around your shoulders on your front side*
For Sports Lovers
Estadio Wanda Metropolitano
More commonly referred to as Wanda Metropolitano, this brand new 68,000 seat stadium is home to one of Madrid's two professional football teams, Athletico Madrid. It's one of the newest stadiums in Europe having only been completed in 2017. Even so, it already hosted a Champions League Final between the Tottenham Hotspurs and Liverpool Football Club (both from England).
Tours of the stadium are available to the general public. You can do so online through the Atletico Madrid teams website. Tickets for the museum and self guided tour cost €23.
The tour gives you access to the museum which shows the history of the historic Athletico Madrid team compete with artifacts and memorabilia. There are video experiences in the museum. All the clubs trophies are on display. The tour takes you though the VIP/Presidential Box area of the stadium, down onto the pitch (the field) and the teams bench, as well as into the teams locker room.
After going through the museum and tour, you can shop at the official team store before exiting the experience.
When walking around the city of Madrid, just be cognizant of the fact that there aren't many green areas for peoples pets to do their business. Almost all of Madrid is cement streets and sidewalks or cobblestone roads. Pets have no choice but to go on the sidewalks so keep an eye out for where you are stepping. If there is liquid on the side of a building running down the sidewalk, I suggest stepping around it because it could also be from a human.
Every morning a street crew will come through the streets of Madrid and wash down the roads and sidewalks to help keep things clean!
When crossing the streets, if the two green people crossing light is blinking it is about to abruptly change to red. After it changes to red the traffic light turns green almost immediately. So be aware that when the two green people are blinking you only have a few seconds left to cross.