PRE/POST CRUISE DESTINATIONS: Madrid is a three-hour, high-speed train ride from the popular cruise port of Barcelona and well worth a pre- or post-cruise stay. The city is so elegant, stylish and clean, with wide, tree-shaded boulevards, that walking around it is a pleasure even if you don’t step into a single museum, gallery, palace or cathedral – of which there are many to explore.
Almost every major crossroads has a photo-worthy fountain or monument, and if not, an artistic sculpture probably graces the sidewalk – such as a giant, two-storey brass frog or a black marble, voluptuous, naked woman lying on her stomach. Selfies galore are taken with her!
There’s an immense attention to streetscape detail in this capital – even the public drinking fountains are a work of art. The parks are manicured and there are shady spots along boulevards to rest on a bench and people-watch.
To quickly familiarize yourself with all the magic Madrid has to offer before you start on foot, take a Hop On/Hop Off double-decker bus tour for about 21 Euro to get an overview. There are two routes that each take about 90 minutes and are well worth the time to see what suits your closer attention – from history and cultural sites, to shops and cafes.
One route explores the more modern part of the city including chic designer stores and major museums and art galleries. The other route winds around the Old Town including the heart of the area – Plaza Mayor – which is surrounded by souvenir shops, quaint cafes, bars and restaurants. For fun, have your photo taken here as a fully dressed matador or seniorita – just stand behind the costume and say Hola!
For a quick lunch in Old Town, head to Mercado de San Miguel, a busy food marketplace, for huge stuffed olives and a pitcher of sangria. The historic wrought-iron and glass building is one of the liveliest culinary spots in the city. More than 30 stalls and tapas bars tempt you with fresh produce ranging from garlic prawns and skewers of olives, cucumbers, peppers and pickled onions, to oysters, caviar, stuffed sea urchins, baby eel and all kinds of sweets.
Near here is the Royal Armoury of Madrid which houses artifacts dating from medieval times, ranging from fascinating metal armour for horses displayed in the stables, to tapestries and paintings in the main building.
If you only visit one art museum, go to the Prado National Museum as it has one of the most impressive collections of Spanish art, from the 12th to the 19th century, in the world. There are more than 7,000 paintings including works from Francisco de Goya, and about 1,000 sculptures.
No matter where you go in Madrid, the shopping is tempting. Start at the sidewalk brass plaque labelled “Origin of the Radial Roads” a few blocks from the Plaza Mayor. It gives you an easy understanding that this is the central point where roads fan out like bicycle-wheel spokes. So put your map away and just walk up and down each spoke. You’ll find the prices of clothes and shoes so affordable you’ll hope your suitcase has space.
With so much to see and do in Madrid, you’ll quickly understand why this city, with a population of three million, was rated number 16 as one of the “World’s Most Liveable Cities” by Monocle magazine, trumping Barcelona which ranks at number 24.
Madrid is a three hour high-speed train ride from the popular cruise port of Barcelona.