Hear It From Locals

JOIN ME IN AN INTERVIEW WITH KIMBERLY GONZALEZ FROM MADRID, SPAIN !

 

Although Kimberly can’t honestly be called a local of Madrid, she has hung her hat here for over 18 years. She and her husband are the curious types who like to explore their surroundings. They have been known to have their Madrileno friends (locals) exclaim “we have lived here our entire lives and never knew this was here!” This applies to all of Spain which is why Kimberly writes a blog: travellingaroundspain.com.  Other than when she is scratching her itchy travelling foot, Kimberly will be filling up on the local coffee for a good caffeine buzz to try to keep up with the Spanish lifestyle or cooking a meal from the fresh local market food for friends and family.

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Which is the best month to visit Madrid and why?

August is considered off season in Madrid as this is when all the locals traditionally are on vacation and the city shuts down. In the past it wasn’t worth coming as everything was closed—from shops, to restaurants to theatres.  But things are changing and it is now actually one of my favourite months to be in Madrid. The streets aren’t crowded, hotels are ⅓ or ½ the regular price, there are almost no line ups in the usual tourist attractions (museums etc). Although you will still find some of the mom and pop shops closed, most of the restaurants, theatres and main attractions are open.

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Aerial View of Madrid

 

 

What are the different modes of transport available from airport to city?

There is excellent transportation between the airport and the city centre. Options are Metro (subway), and buses. Public transportation (Metro/bus) in Madrid is among the cheapest in Europe. Getting to the airport from almost anywhere in Madrid costs close between 3-5€.

If travelling by Metro, from Terminal 2 at the airport the subway takes about 15 minutes to get to the Nuevos Ministerios Station which is very central. (It takes 5 minutes longer from Terminal 4 as it two stops further along the same line)

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Metro Madrid

An express bus which only makes 3 stops in the city centre leaves from Terminal 1.

There are numerous other buses that leave from all the terminals. For information of where they all go, see: Airport-Madrid transportation

Taxis have a flat rate from the inner city of 30€, so if you are travelling on your own it is obviously much cheaper to take public transportation.  The Metro system is also quick, efficient and easy to use even as someone not familiar with the language or the city.

If you decide to take a taxi you may want to be aware of a few things:

  • Taxi drivers are not allowed to charge you for your luggage as long as it fits in the trunk or on the roof rack.
  • The flat rate to take a taxi from the city centre to the airport is 30€, no extra charge can be added to this fare.
  • If you are outside of the M30 (centre ring of the city) you will be charged 5.50€ airport departure fee and 20€ for the first 10 km. After that the meter will keep running until you reach your destination. You may be charged extra at night or on bank holidays.

 

 

Which is the best area to stay in Madrid for easy access to tourist sites without putting a dent in one’s budget?

Madrid has many faces, so it really depends what you want when you come to the city. If you want an energetic vibe with plenty of night-life where you can mix with the hip locals but don’t want to pay the exorbitant tourist prices along Gran Via or the Castellano stay in areas of MalasanaChueca or Lavapies.

 

 

Which are the top 3 places in Madrid, which tourists generally overlook but should be visited? 

Most visitors hit the “big three” museums: Museo del PradoThyssen Museum and La Reina Sofia. While all three obviously are important and impressive and have extraordinary works of art, there are a couple of smaller museums that I feel would be a shame to be overlooked especially if you have an appreciation for art.

My first choice is the Sorolla museum which is actually not just a museum of Sorolla’s art, but it is the house where Joaquin Sorolla lived and worked in Madrid so you get a glimpse into his personal life and see the man behind the art. Joaquin Sorolla started out in photography as his father-in-law was one of the 1st photographers in Spain. When Sorolla started painting he used the concepts he learned about lighting from photography in his paintings and changed the world of painting of his time. Address: Paseo del General Martínez Campos, 37

My Second choice is another private home is Museo Cerralbo. The Marquis Cerralbo was an eccentric figure who travelled extensively and bought things from around the world to add to his private collection. Every corner of this mansion is packed with impressive pieces that interested the Marquis. This again is a museum/house and you see not only the collection but the home decoration, furniture and what life was like in the 19th century for a Marquis in Madrid. Address: C/ Ventura Rodriguez, 17

My third choice of an often overlooked spot by visitors isn’t a museum, but a park—Parque Capricho. This park is tucked on the edge of Madrid, near the airport. Walking through the gates of this park you feel like you are heading into a secret garden, and not much wonder as that is exactly what it was for years. The name “capricho” means whim and the Dutchess who originally had the park created followed every hearts desire or whim. It has a palace at one end, a pond with a small waterfall, a small river that would take guests by boat to a pavilion which would hold an orchestra for dances. The Duchess was fascinated by bees and even had a apiary which looked like a small palace built for the bees. The apiary had one entire wall built of glass so that people could watch the bees as they built their hives. 

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Capricho Park

 

 

What are the best day trips for nature, culture and history from Madrid? 

Madrid is an amazing city, but if you are looking for history on the Iberian Peninsula, it falls a little short as it has only been a city for the past 300 years.  But not to worry, in less than an hour you have numerous historic treasures that will give you a cultural fill if that is what you are looking for. There are probably no less than 50 towns in less than an hour that have something worth seeing close to Madrid, I will pick my top three from the historical or cultural point of view to impress:

Toledo: Toledo was actually the capital long before Madrid and has a long rich history. Toledo whisks you back in time as very little has changed over the 1000 some years that it has been perched on the banks of the Tajo river. Going to Toledo is like stepping into a fairyland kingdom from a far away time. Castles, a river surrounding the walled city, 3 cultures intertwined and very little evidence of modern city structure. There are Cathedrals. Mosques, Synagogues, palaces, churches, monasteries and hospitals that dot Toledo’s landscape; each and every one worth a visit on its own right.

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Cathedral in Toledo

Segovia: Segovia is yet another delightful town tucked away in a forest about an hour from Madrid. The first and most obvious thing you will see is the 2000-year-old Roman aqueduct which is a massive structure spanning over the valley. It is a masterpiece in workmanship and design, each giant block was fitted perfectly and continues to be held together through the force of the pressure of arches. That would be more than enough to make a visit to Segovia worth while, but there is so much more. At the opposite end of the town from the aqueduct perched precariously on a cliff stands a Walt Disney style castle surrounded by a moat and drawbridge. You can visit the castle and walk through and even climb to the towers for the dizzying view of the valley below.  But there is still so much more to Segovia. There is also a massive gothic cathedral, numerous other churches that were built during various times of the 2000 years of history, a Jewish section, quaint pedestrian streets filled with artisan shops and some of the best gastronomic delights from the region.

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Palace of Segovia

El Escorial: El Escorial is an immense palace complex built between 1563-1584 by King Felipe II.  At that time Europe was in the midst of a power struggle between the Catholics and the Protestants. Felipe II, a staunch Catholic, wanted to prove that size matters and that his monumental palace was a sign of divine approval.

Walking through this structure is like walking through a Ken Follet book as you can’t help but think about the people who were needed to work on this massive building.  One thing that always strikes me as I tour this palace is the austerity of the interior—but then I have to realize once again the year it was built. In 1584 luxuries that were common in later centuries hadn’t yet been introduced into palaces and although the structure was large, the royal family lived rather simply inside.  (much better than the peasants outside no doubt, but much simpler than in the 18th century for example) The other fascinating aspect of the palace is that part of the tour includes a museum which explains how such a construction could be done in a time with no modern machinery or electrical equipment. I found that part of the tour as riveting as the actual palace itself.

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San Lorenzo de El Escorial

 

 

Which are the best bars and restaurants in Madrid?

As Spain has more bars and restaurants per capita than anywhere in the world it is very difficult to pick out only one or two that stand out above the crowd. However, I will recommend that you try some food that is local to Madrid—or at least to Spain. Start with tapas, pick a place that is packed to the rafters with locals, the kind of place that has standing room only where you have to elbow your way up to the bar and shout to catch the bartender’s attention. Point to whatever happens to look interesting either on someone else’s plate or something that is displayed on the counter at the bar.

 

 

Which is the most loved local food of Madrid?

Two dishes that are from Madrid that you must try:

Bocadillo de Calimari (Calamar sandwich): I wasn’t convinced I would like this before I tried it, but I have to say it is one of my favourite treats from Madrid. You will find this sandwich on almost every menú of simple bars throughout Madrid, but especially in the city centre.

Patatas Bravas:  Fried potato wedges with a slightly spicy tomato sauce on top.  

 

 

Where to head for coffee in Madrid?

You can get a fantastic cup of coffee almost anywhere in Spain, so I will recommend an even better experience—a chocolate shop. This is not an American hot chocolate. This is a “I can die happy now” kind of experience. This thick, creamy, tasty, pure chocolate deliciousness just has to be tasted. My favourite is the Aztec chocolate which has the thick dark chocolate, but with cinamonnon and a few other spices added. There are other things to eat or drink in Cacao Sampaka , but I always go straight for the chocolate. Address: c/ Orellana 4

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Chocolate shop Sampka

 

 

Is your city vegetarian/vegan friendly?

Madrid is more open to vegetarian/vegan options than the rest of Spain. Most restaurants will offer vegetarian options on the menú now, and there are a handful of full-fledged vegetarian/vegan restaurants peppered throughout the city.

My top 3 choices are:

Reineta Vegetariano—their motto is to eat healthy, but so tasty that you are sure to come back for another meal. Address: c/ Infante 5

Viva Burger—As the name says, vegetarian burgers, but they also offer wraps and salads. They also change have a “flavour of the week” based on a country from around the world. The burgers change accordingly. Address: Costanilla de San Andrés, 16

The Hummuseria:  Hummus is obviously the star of this place, but they serve also salads and other vegetarian tapas. Address:  C/ Hernan Cortes, 8

 

Which is the favorite sport of Madrid? Which are the best places to watch it Live?

Football (soccer) is the biggest and almost exclusive sport to Madrid. The two major teams of Madrid are: Real Madrid who play in the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium. If you happen to be in Madrid when there isn’t a game or the team is playing out of town you can get a tour of the stadium. If you do want to go to a game, buy your tickets as far in advance as possible as they sell out quickly: Tickets

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Santiago Bernabeu Stadium

 

The second major team in Madrid is: Atletico Madrid.  Atletico plays in a brand new stadium, just finished last summer, called Wanda Metropolitano. If you want to go to a game, event or get a tour of this stadium check here for tickets.

 

For both short-term and long-term visitors how easy it is to survive in Madrid without speaking the local language?

In the tourist areas of the city such as hotels, museums, city tours, tourist shops downtown etc most people will have some knowledge of English. If you get out of that inner circle don’t expect to find a lot of English.  The younger generation usually has some English, but not a high level of fluency.

 

How safe is Madrid?

Madrid is a very safe city with the exception of petty pickpockets.  You can walk through the centre streets at almost any time day or night and feel completely safe. Up until very late hours—midnight and sometimes later—you will see families with young children or elderly people out for their evening stroll. If you are in the centre of Madrid at 1, 2 or 3 a.m. it is often packed with people, especially on weekends.  Do keep your wallet well out of sight and your credit cards well protected as the pickpockets are artists in Madrid. While violence is never used, they are very sharp and can spot a tourist from miles away. If you are going to be walking in the downtown area keep only a small amount of cash in your purse or convenient place. Keep your credit cards and phone tucked within inside secure pockets. Never hang your purse on the back of your chair while you are in a restaurant or especially in an an open air terrace as it most likely won’t be there when it is time to leave.

 

 

What time does the city sleep?

Madrid doesn’t sleep. Or perhaps it sleeps in the morning between 5 a.m. and 9 a.m. Spain is about the most sleep deprived country I have ever been in. If you are a night owl, this is the place for you.

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Night and traffic in Madrid

 

Do you want to give any helpful tips to the visitors coming to Madrid?

Take your time, explore on foot all the little windy back streets. This is where you will find treasures that you weren’t expecting—either shops with unique items, restaurants or just photogenic corners.

Be adaptable to the schedules. Meals are later than what you are used to. Go with the flow. Have a coffee and snack to tide you over until lunch and then eat your late lunch, have a tapa to tide you over until supper.

 

 

FOLLOW KIMBERLY’S BLOG TO KNOW MORE ABOUT MADRID. YOU CAN ALSO FIND TRAVELLING AROUND SPAIN ON INSTAGRAM/PINTEREST

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