Once upon a time, on a bit of a whim, I ended up in Madrid. I went with a group of total strangers through an art trip offered by a local college. I was pretty desperate to get out of town and I wanted to go somewhere refreshingly far away. I am so glad I took the chance on that trip! Not only did I see and learn a lot, but I made some great long term friendships.
Because I was working on my Bachelor’s degree in Humanities and Fine Arts at the time, it was right up my alley and I actually earned college credit for the trip. It was also the closest to studying abroad that I ever got too. Madrid has wonderful so many wonderful things to see and do! I was able to tour great museums, seeing the works of art I’d only ever read about in my art history classes. Seeing some of these most important works of art history in person was amazing; I was in a state of art-lover induced bliss as we toured museum after museum. We spent a day in the Reina Sofia, marveling at the works of Dali and Picasso. As I worked my way through the massive building towards what I consider Picasso’s most impressive piece, I could literally feel myself getting closer to its presence. The light changed, and there was an electricity in the air, which was accompanied by throngs of on-lookers, until rounding that last corner, and there it was: Guernica. This piece of art is so massive and so moving, I could have spent the day soaking it in. This piece was guarded and photography was strictly forbidden. But having studied its history and meaning, the state of Spanish civil unrest, and seeing it in person, has allowed it to forever be etched in my memory. I am still obsessed with this piece. During my trip, I was able to do a presentation on Dali, a favorite artist of mine, on a busy street corner in front of the Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales.
If you’re interested in taking in the museums, gardens, and culture of this great city, be sure to plan plenty of time to stroll through the museums, wander the bustling city streets, and of course, to enjoy a good tapas crawl!
Plan a whole day to explore the Museo Nacional del Prado, which includes some of my favorite works – Goya’s 03 de Maio 1808 and Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. This museum is an art lover’s heaven which I happen to think it rivals the Louvre! Several other great art spots include the Lazaro, the Thyssen-Bornemisza, and the Museo Arqueologio Nacional.
A spontaneous train ride to Toledo allows for viewing some of Velasquez’s work and touring their beautiful cathedral and charming city streets. Strolling down the cobbled streets under a canopy of fabric shades and lanterns, passing by churches and cafes is a quintessential Spanish experience.
Also in close proximity to Madrid is the Castillo de Manzanares el Real which gives you a nice break from the city and is very cool to tour, complete with an impressive wood spiral staircase.
The great thing about Madrid is that there is so much to see and do. My favorite spots where the Palacio Real de Madrid which is so beautiful in its full Rococo style, and it has a great armory. Plaza Mayor is the hub of the city. I spent tons of time here eating, strolling, and people-watching, and bought a beautiful painting from a local artist. Other spots not to miss are the Royal Botanical Gardens and El Retiro Park where you can see the Crystal Palace, Napolean monument, and Forest of Remembrance. This stoic portion of the park has 192 olive and cypress trees planted for each victim of the train bombing at the nearby Atocha station.
An evening at Casa Patas for authentic flamenco dancing is a must, but you may not want to sit in the front row. The rapid and sharp turns of the dancers caused sweat to go flying into the crowd.
So whether you love art, history, culture, food, or anything in between, Madrid has something great for you!