(Above: Puerta del Sol (nighttime))
After waking up early Friday morning in Seville we reversed our trek through time as we left our beautiful Airbnb in Barrio Santa Cruz, and walked back to the train station located in the more modern part of town. With our whirlwind of a trip starting to catch up with us we napped on our ride to Madrid, causing us to arrive at our destination in a surprisingly short amount of time. Most of Madrid’s main sights are located within walking distance of Puerta del Sol, so we found an adorable attic Airbnb a few blocks from this popular square and the Royal Palace. Due to the distance from Puerta del Sol to the Atocha Train Station we couldn’t rely on our proven method of walking. Based on a suggestion by Rick Steves after exiting our train from Seville, we found our way to the cercanias train kiosks (13 minute ride), which we chose to travel over the Metro (40 minutes) due to the extended time of travel. Plus with the cercanias trains we were able to scan our train ticket from Seville to Matrid to get a free transfer to Puerta del Sol. That being said, the kiosks were by no means user friendly. I can’t praise Google Translate enough for getting us through that particular experience. Once we found, what was our best guess as to our right train, we were relieved to arrive shortly at our Puerta del Sol stop. As we exited the underground train stop, our footsore tiredness evaporated as we emerged upon a breathtaking plaza that was dripping with an overabundance of character. We didn’t quite know what to expect from Madrid, but it wasn’t the charm that was exuberated throughout this downtown area. With renewed energy, we found our way to our Airbnb with growing excitement about the day of exploring ahead of us.
(Below: Puerta del Sol (daytime))
Puerta del Sol to Royal Palace Loop
After checking into our adorable attic Airbnb we quickly set out to take Steves’ recommended tour through old Madrid. Starting in Puerta del Sol we then found our way to Plaza Mayor where it was hard to imagine the horrors that took place by the Spanish Inquisition in this sunny, cheerful square.
Eventually we made our way to the Almudena Cathedral and Royal Palace. We didn’t end up touring this enormous cathedral after finding out it was constructed in 1993, however this structure dominated the small square facing the Royal Palace. Although the sun was bright, the wind was most cutting as this was the coldest day of our trip. We didn’t linger long outside, as we were more than eager to escape the brisk day during our palace tour.
Once inside, giddy from being out of the cold, we got out tickets for our Royal Palace tour. For obvious reasons we couldn’t take photos inside this beautiful, massive palace, however we loved every unique room we traversed through. The lack of greenery outside of the palace and in the inner courtyard contrasted sharply with the palaces and churches we’d toured previously in our trip. Especially calling forth our adoration was the Stradivarius Room filled with musical treasures.
Calle del Arenal
After exiting the Royal Palace we walked through Plaza de Oriente and Plaza Isabel II to reach the busy Calle del Arenal. Despite the cold day, Sarah and I loved exploring this delightful street full of quaint shops.
As we perused Calle del Arenal my attention was of course drawn to the bookshop tucked into the side of the St. Gine’s Church that’s been there since 1650! The titles were all in Spanish however that didn’t stop me from perusing the colorful collections.
Uphill from the St. Gines Church is tucked the Chocolateria San Gines that Rick Steves touts as the best chocolateria in town. We were initially a bit reluctant to jump in the long line due to the cold, but the wait was well worth it. We thawed out with the delicious chocolate and churros that more than lived up to the expectations.
Before we headed back to the apartment for a mini break, we stopped by the Ferpal deli to buy some Spanish saffron that is significantly cheaper than you’ll find in the States.
Gran Via Walk
After a short break Sarah and I headed back out to take Rick Steves’ second suggested tour of Madrid. Gran Via was a bustling street full of stores that were both familiar and novel. During Steves’ tour he breaks the walk into three sections highlighting the time period in which that area was built. The sidewalks were packed with locals taking part in the nightly paseo, allowing us to get lost in the crowds and forget we were tourists for a while.
Within Rick Steve’s tour he recommended that we go up to the rooftop restaurant of the Dear Hotel along Gran Via to see beautiful city views. As you can see, the excursion was well worth it as you can see in lovely photo of downtown Madrid below. Can you spot the Royal Palace in the background?
Eventually after a detour to see the palace at night time and get a delicious late dinner we made our way back to our Airbnb and Puerta del Sol. The plaza had such a different atmosphere at night that bordered on a carnival as tourists congregated and there were performers in costume in every corner. Overall, we loved our jam packed day in Madrid but didn’t want to spend our last day in Spain within the walls of a museum, even if it is as world renowned as the Prado. Stay tuned as we venture out for a half day excursion to Segovia for one last adventure.