Saturday, January 11, 2014

Weekend Getaways: Explore Madrid

The capital city of Madrid is filled with an abundance of culture, making it one of the most vibrant and exciting places in all of the world. Formally a court of Phillip II, once the city received its New World wealth it was changed forever. A center of Spanish literature and art, Madrid has been the epitome of Spanish culture since the 17th century. It's definitely a must-see European city, and even if you only have a weekend to spend, there's much to see to get the most out of your mini-vacation. It's easy to attempt to do too much, but to truly appreciate all that Madrid has to offer, it's best to focus on just a few items and plan another weekend trip for the future. The capital city is also not as expensive as other European cities, making it possible for visitors on a budget to fully enjoy the attractions, as well. The key to fully experiencing the best of Madrid without feeling rushed is to plan on top choices for sites and restaurants, in order to feel the flow of the weekend.

Travel and Accommodations
The most important part of planning any trip is to think of ways to save money on transportation and accommodations that allow you to spend your funds on the sites. There are an abundance of low-cost hotels in the city that don't sacrifice amenities with the price. Research those in your price range to find a hotel close to some of the locations you hope to visit to save time on travel. Additionally, you need to purchase a two-day metrocard to help you get where you want in a timely fashion, without spending too much money.

City Center
The core of the city is the historic architecture found in the center that can be appreciated just by walking around the city. Plan your walk-through accordingly in order to highlight some of the key monuments, historical highlights and must-see gardens. A visit to the Puerta de Sol and Plaza Mayor should be high up on your list. Visit one of the local markets to purchase some Spanish-style sandwiches called bocadillos and cava, which is sparkling wine, and walk over to El Retiro Park for an early picnic. Located just right of the city center, the gardens are home to a paddle boat lake and fountains, amongst many beautiful attractions. The area right in front of the Prado Museum will allow you to take it all in as you enjoy a traditional Spanish-style lunch. You also want to walk over to Puera De Alcala and Palacio de Comunicaciones, breathtaking sites with plenty of photo opportunities.

Royal Palace
During the summer this historic attraction doesn't close until 6PM, which allows you to fit in a visit to this site no matter your schedule. Located a short walk from Puerta de Sol, across from the Royal Theater, it's the official residence of the Spanish King. Not only does the building have an intricate facade, the palace houses classic artwork from Mengs, Caravaggio, Goya and Velasquez.

Dining
An online search before your trip can give you the names of some of the most popular tourist restaurants in the area, but you can find an abundance of traditional, small restaurants by simply walking around Puerta de Sol. If you must eat at the more well-known institutions, Mingos is known for their roast chicken and apple cider, while Casa Lucio is famous for huevos estellados. Finish your night by sipping sangria in one of the outdoor cafes to take in the sunset.

Emma A. Johnson is a contributing author and travel writer. She recently spent her summer exploring Europe on the weekends. After a search for cheap hotels in Madrid, she found top accommodations at a low cost, which allowed her to get the most out of her trip.