Medicareful Travel: Senior Trip to the Madrid
We love traveling at Medicareful Living. It can expand your perspective, keep you learning and active, and create memories that last a lifetime. However, a big journey can be daunting without help. We want to be that help, making sure you don’t miss a thing while you’re exploring this wide world we call home. Throughout this series, we’ll offer you tips on where to stay, what to see, and what to try, as well as answer some important questions. All opinions and facts in this article are through extensive research and personal experience. We have not received sponsorships or remuneration for our support or opinions.
Madrid is the capital of Spain. Though its Catalan rival of Barcelona sometimes overshadows it as a tourist destination, Madrid is starting to get the recognition it deserves. It’s a vibrant, living city exploding with personality. Whether you’re looking for nightlife, history, museums, food, sports, or just a place to relax, Madrid has it all and is begging to be explored.
Why Seniors Should Try Madrid
One of the unique aspects of visiting Spain is just how different each region is. Madrid is the one place where you can find elements of each region. It’s central location in the country also makes it an excellent jumping-off point to explore the rest of the country. The city itself is incredibly worthwhile, as well, and if you only have a short time in Spain, visiting it is a great way to experience as much as possible.
The city of Madrid is massive but doesn’t feel that way. Even though it’s technically 233.3 square miles, many of the tourist destinations are within walking distance of the city center. For anything that isn’t, there is a robust metro system that can get you to most places that are too far to easily walk.
Spanish being the local language is a bit of a bonus. Many Americans are somewhat familiar with or speak Spanish, possibly helping you to feel more comfortable speaking and navigating. Speaking of comfort, it’s a city that you can be relatively comfortable in throughout the year. While the locals may think it’s cold, January (the coldest month) averages around 41°F, while the summer averages in the high 80s. Finally, Madrid is also affordable when compared with other European tourist destinations like Paris or London.
Where to Stay
With over 200 square miles of city, there are many areas to find accommodations in Madrid. We’ll focus on three areas of Madrid that are among the most popular and are good places to start your search.
Literally translating to “center” in Spanish, the Centro area of Madrid is the historic and tourist hub of the city. A combination of the historic barrios (neighborhoods) of Austrais, La Latina, Lavapiés, Barrio de las Letras, and Sol-Gran Vía, you can find many of the postcard sites of Madrid like Plaza Mayor, the Gran Vía, the Royal Palace, the Prado Museum, and more. This also means it’s where you’ll find many of the restaurants and hotels. For the convenience and centrality of the Centro, it’s a great starting point when looking for a place to stay.
Looking for a more glamorous, quieter area of the city? Maybe an area famous for its high-end shopping and restaurants? Then, the posh Salamanca district is calling you. One of the first districts to be expanded, Salamanca was planned as the home of Madrid’s upper crust. While you don’t have to be an aristocrat to stay there anymore, you’ll certainly feel like one as you walk down Madrid’s Golden Mile or dine at the barrio’s many high-end restaurants.
The barrio named for the park it surrounds, Retiro is filled with museums, restaurants, and cultural attractions. Sometimes lumped together with the Paseo del Prado neighborhood, Retiro is a beautiful, walkable neighborhood with wide boulevards. It’s certainly more residential than the nearby Centro, giving your visit a more natural and authentic feel. Of course, you can’t stay in Retiro without visiting El Retiro Park and its beautiful fountains, lake, and Crystal Palace.
What to Do
Throughout your time in Madrid, you’ll have plenty to do, see, and experience. With a city like Madrid, it can be easy to over plan, to do too much. Instead, get a good idea of the things you want to do, and give yourself lots of free time.
History and Museums
As a European capitol, Madrid has its fair share of cultural sites that you’ll want to check out. The Royal Palace of the Spanish monarchy dominates many Madrid to-do lists and for good reason. Nestled at the edge of a cliff in the western edge of the Centro district, the palace is a massive structure with hundreds of rooms and museums that you could spend an entire day in. If interested in classical music, you may even be able to catch a glimpse of the palace’s collection of Stradivarius instruments. If you’re really lucky, the palace may even be hosting one of the chamber music cycles in the Hall of Columns, where extremely talented musicians will play the Stradivariuses for the public. Beyond the walls of the palace, Madrid offers any number of historic or beautiful churches, world-class art museums like the Prado, and other art and history museums.
Catch a Fútbol Match
Whether it’s a banner hanging from the door of a bar or a stall selling jerseys on the Gran Vía, you’ll find something fútbol (soccer) everywhere. Why not dive in headfirst and go to a match, especially if one of the teams is arguably the sport’s most successful, Real Madrid? That’s not to say Atlético de Madrid (sometimes called Atleti or Atlético Madrid) is any worse, having won its fair share of trophies. Both sets of fans are fiercely proud of their teams and can create an incredible atmosphere that can convert even the most soccer-skeptical tourists out there.
Enjoy the Nightlife
Madrid is a city that comes alive at night. This doesn’t have to mean clubs and loud music, though it certainly has that if it’s what you’re looking for. You’ll have many different options of late-night hangouts to suit you. Madrid is a place where you can enjoy a drink outside and people watch at Plaza Mayor or watch a late-night flamenco show. There are many outdoor and roof bars for a drink with a view. Wherever you end up, your day doesn’t have to end when the sun goes down.
Unlike some cities and destinations that we’ve covered, Madrid is one that you really should just walk the streets. You may end up in an alley where you’ll find a secret back door to a nun convent that sells cookies, or a park with a giant glass palace, or the remnants of the ancient Moorish wall from the city’s origins. As you stroll, stop at a nice-looking tapas bar. Go shopping. Relax in one of the many parks. Check out the San Miguel Market or the El Rastro Flea Market on Sundays. Madrid is a city rich for discovery and experiencing.
Where to Eat
You’ll find food elements from every part of the country in Madrid — seafood, meats, tapas, stews, and more! So, how should you go about picking spots to eat?
Eating in Spain
When it comes to eating in Spain, there are a few things that it pays to know. First, you may be aware that Europeans tend to eat dinner later. That’s especially true for the Spanish. Dinner is usually 9 PM or later! While you can eat earlier than that, many restaurants open for dinner service later. If you’re a particularly early eater, you’ll want to adjust your plans and eat a later lunch or find places that open earlier.
Now, let’s talk about what you’ll be eating. If you’re traveling with a picky eater, Madrid’s food can even be surprisingly accessible. Common dishes like patatas bravas or gambas (shrimp) or Iberico ham are foods you should be familiar with. Tapas, small plates of food you can share, allow you to try little bits of food without committing to something large you may not like. Madrid also has many non-tapas restaurants that are worth checking out.
Spotting a Great Restaurant
Keep in mind, if you see a restaurant with pictures of paella out front or advertising a paella for one person, it’s likely a tourist trap. This traditional Valencian dish takes a long time and isn’t easy to make every day. To save time, these restaurants may pre-make their rice or paella and reheat it. Restaurants in or around the Plaza Mayor or Puerta del Sol are also a bit like eating in Times Square, New York. You may enjoy your meal, but you’ll be paying extra at a restaurant that may rely more on the location than the quality of the food.
So, how can you spot a good restaurant in Madrid? Handwritten signs indicate mostly fresh food on the menu. If you mostly hear Spanish-speaking patrons, that means it’s more popular with locals than tourists. More specifically to Madrid, if you’re walking by a restaurant and see a lot of napkins or picks on the floor, stop and go in. Really. Traditional and local-friendly bars often have standing tables and allow you to toss trash on the floor. The more napkins you see, the more it’s likely authentic and popular with locals.
A Few of Our Recommendations
What specific places to eat should you try while you’re in Madrid? While it may look like a bit of a tourist trap, go to La Casa del Abuelo to try their Gambas al Ajillo (garlic shrimp). There are several taverns scattered throughout the city, but the original is on Calle Victoria. While you’re at it, don’t miss out on classic tapas like croquetas, patatas bravas, or tortilla de patatas.
Want to feed your sweet tooth? Try some churros con chocolate from Chocolatería San Gínes, where they’re world famous. Tired of sangria? Beat the heat with a delicious tinto de verano, a mixed drink of red wine and sparkling lemonade. It’s surprisingly refreshing. Best of all, with the smaller plates of tapas, don’t be afraid to try everything. Be brave, and you won’t regret it.
Madrid Day Trips for Seniors
While you could spend all your time in Madrid, you’re close to some excellent day trips.
Nearby Major Cities
Depending on how far you’re willing to travel, you can utilize Spain’s train network to go as far as Seville, in the south of Spain, in under three hours. You could also get to the extreme north of Spain, to Bilbao, in under four hours.
Want to hit the beach and see Spain’s other major city? Barcelona is only two and a half hours away by train (our travel guide is coming). Or, you could head to Valencia for authentic paella in under two hours. These are just the major cities, but it illustrates how central Madrid is, making it a great travel hub to explore the rest of the country.
Additional Places to See
You don’t have to go to another major city on a day trip, though. Toledo is only a 30-minute train ride from Madrid and is a must-visit if you have the time. This ancient city was traditionally the capital of Spain until it was moved to Madrid in the 1500s and still carries much of the grandeur from its long history. Its history and cultural importance were recognized in 1986, when it was made a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Also a half hour away is Segovia, another UNESCO site, complete with medieval charm and a well-preserved Roman aqueduct. A bit further is the town of Ávila. Surrounded by a massive stone wall, Ávila is the place to experience medieval Spain. It also happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage site. These are only three nearby examples, but Madrid has many other day trips if you want to get out of the city for a day or two.
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Whatever you’re looking for in a vacation — whether that’s food, exploration, fun, relaxation, nightlife, history, art, museums, shopping — Madrid has it. The only question is how you’re going to fit everything into a single trip. When you remember that Madrid also tends to be less expensive than many other European destinations, it’s easy to justify returning, just so you can experience Madrid all over again!
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