With a city as huge as Madrid there are so many reasons to visit the Spanish capital. But there are two big questions to ask - "where do I start?", and "how do I get around?"
With so much to see and do in Madrid, it's difficult to know where to start. Should you take a stroll to the historical Royal Palace? Or jump in a taxi to the impressive Bernabeu Stadium? Will you take a trip on the reliable city metro to the wonderful Museo del Prado? Or perhaps, you should play safe and opt for the inexpensive open top bus ride that services Madrid? All are good choices but surely none can compare to the fabulous and thoroughly entertaining Segway tour.
What is a Segway Tour?
For anyone with a pulse, a Segway tour is simply the best and the only way to see the hot spots of Madrid. Even the Grinch wouldn't be able to help but enjoy such a laugh-out-loud sightseeing adventure. Basically, a Segway is a sort of two-wheeled electric scooter with its movements dictated by the balance of the person on it. Lean forward, it goes forward, lean back...well, you get the idea.
As the organiser of a 14 strong stag party (a group that had already participated on a few stag weekends earlier in the year), I felt under pressure to deliver a daytime activity that offered something different. I booked directly with www.madsegs.com and although 60 euros per person might seem expensive for a city tour, it's worth every cent. The stag was no doubt expecting to face a multitude of horrors during the weekend trip, so it was a pleasant and unique surprise for him to be treated to a Segway glide.
Meeting at Plaza de España we were immediately introduced to our new toys and given 10 to 15 minutes of informative explanation and gentle guidance on how to manoeuvre through the streets of Madrid. Soon enough, most of the group were zooming around the plaza with relative ease, although one lad did take a little longer than the rest to figure out the left and right steering system. In the end a small shock worked a treat to rectify his problem. As he was heading towards some steep steps, the penny finally dropped and he successfully managed to spin around and spare his blushes from a bumpy ride down into a heavily populated metro station!
What followed next was a superb three hour city tour that showcased the best parts Madrid has to offer. Our experienced "gliders" were Antony and Marta, and they provided us with expert knowledge not only about Segways, but also about Madrid itself. Within minutes we stopped at the tour's first tourist attraction - the Templo de Debod (Egyptian Temple). Antony and Marta gave us some historical background about the temple and guarded our machines whilst the group popped inside for photos and a quick look around. We were soon back on board our Segways and shot off in convoy through the streets of Madrid, much to the bemusement of all the other tourists.
A Segway glide is an unusual but exhilarating way to witness the city. We paused at many of the capital's star attractions including Plaza Mayor, the Royal Opera House and the awe-inspiring Royal Palace, among many others. However, after five minutes or so of sightseeing at each attraction I must admit that the group reaction was always the same: "Is it time to get back on the Segways yet?"
The tour price also included refreshments and tapas at a superb local eatery (the chicken and cider are exceptional) and you also get a photo CD of your tour highlights as a keepsake to show friends and family back home. The city bus tour does provide a cheaper and efficient alternative, but I simply can't describe the difference in enjoyment levels. A Segway tour really does put the "mad" in Madrid!
Just about the only place we didn't get chance to visit on our Segways was Real Madrid's famous Estadio Santiago Bernabéu Stadium. The tour costs 15 euros for adults and you can buy tickets at the stadium ticket office (next to gate seven on the Paseo de la Castellana side of the ground). However, you may wish to purchase them in advance at www.realmadrid.com, where group discounts are available.
Access to the tour is located at gate 20 and starts off with a swift ride in one of the stadium lifts giving you spectacular panoramic views of the surrounding area and making you realise just how big the stadium is. Real Madrid's club nickname "Los Merengues" (apparently the name of a delicious cake that only the wealthy can afford) is reflected in the Trophy Room where past glories of European Cup victories and league title celebrations are shown on screen.
There is also a fantastic range of photographs and footballing memorabilia but this is eclipsed by the opportunity to pose for a photograph whilst holding aloft a replica of the European Cup (this is an optional extra cost and you buy the photo in the gift shop at the end of the tour). If that's not enough to get the snap-happy photographers out there excited then wait until you feast your eyes on the pitch and stadium itself!
Sit in the Bernabeu's West Stand, take a stroll around the pitch and then live the dream as you emerge from the players' tunnel before taking your turn to take a seat in the dug-out. Next, the tour takes you through the visitors' dressing room and then into the Press Room (another good picture opportunity) before winding up, inevitably, in the stadium's shop. Here you can purchase a whole range or merchandise, including your earlier photo with the European Cup. This tour really is a must for any football enthusiast.
For cheap and central hostel accommodation (dorm style rooms) try Metropol Hostel (c/ Montera 47, 28013). The hostel is just in front of the user friendly metro station Gran Via. A three night stay for our group of 14 worked out around £50 per person.
In general, entrance fees and dress codes do apply to most clubs in Madrid so it's wise to pack with a smart or trendy look in mind. Two of the more famous and easier to find clubs that we frequented:
Joy Eslava (C/ Arenal 8, 28290; www.joy-eslava.com) is large, good fun and plays a variety of music to a mostly youthful crowd. As long as you go after 1am then it's packed. There didn't appear to be an official dress code, but a few larger groups were turned away. Watch out for expensive drinks at the bar but you should be able to claim one free drink with your entry ticket.
Palacio Gaviria (C/ Arenal, 9 28013; www.palaciogaviria.com) is open from 11pm. Sunday to Thursdays it costs 10 euros, Friday and Saturday 15 euros. This place has loads of different rooms catering for the majority of clubbing tastes. Tip: Wear something thin! When packed it's like a sauna!
We also had a great night listening to live jazz bands in Café Central (Plaza del Angel 10, 28012; www.cafecentralmadrid.com), one of central Madrid's late night cafés. I think there was a small entry fee and it opens around 10pm.
Finally, we came across a surprising amount of Irish bars in Madrid, such as Dubliners (next door to O'Connell's), an ideal spot for if you can't go abroad without keeping tabs on the latest football. The address is Calle Espoz y Mina, 7; take the Metro: Sol (Red Line, L2), plus two minutes' walk.