Madrid was part of my 2 weeks trip to Spain and Portugal in 2017. If you’re looking to surround yourself with more locals than tourists, then Madrid is your city. Another one of the best features about Madrid is that it is less than an hour away from some of Spain’s most beautiful cities in Spain. On this trip, I visited Salamanca, Avila, and Segovia. From speaking with the locals, many recommended Toledo as one of the top cities to visit. However, it really depends on what you want to see in these cities (see below for my reasons).
Triposo helped me planned my own walking plan within Madrid, so I can avoid bouncing across town randomly to see the attraction sites. Another app I learned on my trip is Couch Surfing. Couch Surfing has helped me locate other solo female travelers to hangout with. *** Use CS on your own terms, I hold no responsibility for your safety for using the app.
Day 1: I arrived in Madrid from Barcelona at around 1:30pm by train, so I had a few hours to rest before I head out to see the city. I recommend checking the train ticket price before buying it. For me, the price difference between the 11:00am and 4:00pm train was 40.00 euro. In Madrid, the train/metro/bus systems are a lot more complicated than in Barcelona. On the flip side, Madrid is more consolidated than Barcelona, so the attraction sites are all within 10 minutes walk of each other; hence I didn’t buy a train pass.
I began my Madrid city walk at the Puerta de Alcalá (in the Independence plaza) and worked my way to Cybele Palace. The Gothic Revival architecture of the palace was extremely detailed and beautiful. You can go inside the palace for 2.00 euro or for free on the first Wednesday of each month. Then, I met-up with a girlfriend that I met on Girls LOVE Travel and we walked around to around the whole city sightseeing the different small parks and plazas.
For dinner, we ate at El Sur, a popular local tapa restaurant. The restaurant doesn’t take reservation and sits only about 25 people, so be patient when waiting for your table. I ordered the garlic shrimp, which was fresh, garlicky, and delicious; a must order dish. I also got their shredded short rib with potato chips, which was good, but not great.
Day 2: I took a day trip to visit Salamanca and Avila. I wanted to see Salamanca because I love being on university grounds and feeling as if I was still a student. As for Avila, I wanted to see one of the last complete medieval walls left in the world. When I visited the cities, I felt as if I was dropped into a time capsule and transported into another century. It was incredible to see and to be surrounded by these architectures that were built many centuries ago.
To get to these two cities, you can either take the train or join a tour group. For me, I joined a tour group because Salamanca was a little bit more difficult to get to by train. Additionally, Avila was on the same route as Salamanca, so it made more sense for me to visit 2 cities in one day instead of breaking it up into two days. Tour groups are helpful when you’re trying to get to the main attractions faster and understand the histories behind the cities. I recommend using either Viator or Get Your Guide to book your tour depending on which company has cheaper price.
Day 3: When I was planning my schedule, I knew I planned an extremely packed schedule, so I needed a day to breath, digest and absorb everything I have seen. I do recommend penciling in a ‘break’ day when you are planning your schedule, so can really enjoy the city you are in and maybe try to meet-up with some of the locals.
Since I had been traveling solo for week, I was craving for another person to walk around the city with; hence, I gave Couch Surfing a try. I met-up with a Spanish local man who took me around the ‘old’ Madrid on a motorcycle after I walked around the Buen Retiro Park myself. Buen Retrio Park is equivalent to the Center Park in New York City; however, I think Buen Retrio Park is much more impressive.
On my ‘old’ Madrid tour, I visited the El Escorial, which is the historical residency of the Spanish king. I love the grayish purple color and, of course, it’s grand like any other royal sites. If you are looking to capture a shot of the whole palace, then you will need to go to the park where the Temple of Debod is located. The park is filled mostly with locals, so you will get an opportunity to check out what the locals are up to (and maybe join them on a yoga session).
Day 4: I was told by the locals Toledo has a lot more to see, but I couldn’t give up wanting to take a picture right next to one of the ancient walls left in the world (yes, I traveled there just to get that shot you saw at the beginning of the post!), so I went to Segovia. Segovia is about 30 minute train ride northwest of Madrid and it’s most well known for it’s ancient Roman aqueduct.
Segovia is a small town, so about half a day (5 hours) to a day will be sufficient. If you want to get a glimpse of the whole Segovia, then you can climb up either the Segovia Cathedral or Alcazar de Segovia. I decided to climb only the Alcazar because I wanted a picture of the church in the center of the city. I loved walking around Segovia because the town is so quant and still sort of untouched from the tourists.
How to get to Segovia? Take the Ave train (30 euro depending on the time) from Chamartin station. The train runs about every 30 minutes non-stop to Segovia station. Once you arrived at the Segovia station, take bus 11 straight into the center of the town (2 euro). I thought getting to Segovia was going to be more difficult than it is, but it was actually really easy; hence, I wouldn’t recommend booking a tour for Segovia.
Day 5: I was exhausted at this point and my body was fighting to get off the bed. Instead of going to Toledo, I decided to shop in Madrid and have nice dinner with a few friends I met on Couch Surfing. I highly recommend staying in Madrid to rest in between visiting these cities on the outskirts, so you don’t get burn out.
Day 6: I couldn’t I was leaving Madrid; time, literally, flew by! Before heading to the airport, I went to Cafelito to get the expresso with condense milk and some tuna on bread. The expresso with condense milk is out of this world, so definitely give it a try if you have an opportunity.
Madrid airport has 4 terminals and each of the metro/train will take you to different terminals. I recommend setting aside at least an hour and half to get to the check-in gate.If you take the ‘fast’ train (30 minutes) to get to the airport, you will get dropped-off at terminal 4. There are buses that connect terminal 4 to terminal 1, 2 and 3, which takes about 10 minutes. Once you are in the terminal, you will need walk a few level-up to the check-in counters. I was glad that I got to the airport early because I underestimated the amount of time required to get to the gate. And… this marks the end of the tour of Spain. Portugal was up next!