A rollercoaster ride through the Spanish city's best offerings - strap yourself in for a tour of Madrid
Parque Warner is a little known theme park twenty-five kilometres southwest of the Spanish capital – competing with its Spanish rivals at PortAventura on the Costa Dorada and Terra Mitica on the Costa Blanca. Created by the same people who own the highly successful Americas Six Flags theme park chain, it has the unenviable task of drawing in customers to this fairly remote location in central Spain without the advantage of an abundance of people walking straight off the beaches. Highly rated by theme park enthusiasts the world over, I had to give Parque Warner a try.
A short hop on Madrid’s efficient Metro system to Atocha station we boarded the first of two trains to get us to Parque Warner. A total of 90 minutes had passed from leaving the hotel to cover the 25 kilometres. Slow going for any coaster aficionado.
Arriving at it’s own dedicated train station - Parque de Ocio, it appeared, standing there before us like some kind of lost cartoon world in a barren, desert-like landscape.
The park is open... unusually quiet though... a bit strange this!
The picture becomes clearer... we're welcome to come into the park, “no problem” say the Gate Greeters. They'll even accept the 37-euro entrance fee. BUT, due to high winds none of the main rides are open. Four infant rides are reported to be open... yes four - that’s over nine euros a ride.
Needless to say we about-turned and headed our way back to tapas and cervezas in central Madrid. Not a bad second option.
Anyway, lesson learned – no matter how much planning you put into something the weather is going to get you and you just can’t plan for that, not even in central Spain. But along the way I’ve picked up some great travel tips when visiting Madrid, especially if you’re travelling on a budget but wanting a little luxury. It can be done, a 90-minute spa session, cocktails on a trendy rooftop bar and tapas overlooking a moonlit plaza.
The Metro is the most efficient and by far the cheapest option for travelling around Madrid. It's clean, it has modern trains and it's safe.
For a tourist the best option is to purchase a tourist pass (Abonos Tousticos) - these come in the option of 1, 2, 3, 5, or 7 day passes. A 3-day costs 11.60 euro. This can be used for travel from Bajaras Airport too. The ticket also allows for travel on buses and the local train network (within zone 1).
My previous trip to Madrid I used a taxi from the airport to “Sol” and this was about 28 euros, one-way! And it took 35mins, whereas the Metro took one hour for the same trip - a fair compromise I think... more money for Tapas.
Where to stay
Madrid has a great variety of hotels from the cheap to 5* luxury hotels.
My previous visit I opted for the mid-price 3* Hotel Ingles, a smart 58-room hotel in a great location just one block from the trendy Plaza De Santa Ana. Doubles from 75 euro or try the hotel direct for occasional special offers.
The cheapo option took me to the Hostel Cruz Sol (www.hostalcruzsol.com) a very basic hotel right next to the magnificent Plaza Mayor – it’s clean, cheap and in a great location. Our double room had en-suite and TV, but the décor and bed comfort left something to be desired – balcony windows opened onto a very noise plaza too. Doubles from 56 euros per night.
Currently "the" place to be seen in Madrid. The former Reina Victoria Hotel (basically a hip re-branding by Sol Melia Hotels) now known as ME By Melia (www.memadrid.com). This hotel dominates Plaza De Santa Ana and features a fantastic rooftop bar and restaurant. The rooftop restaurant Midnight Rose is very exclusive and booking is advised. Doubles from 187 euros per night.
Things to do
A great tip and an excellent way of saving on your euros is to go when the museum has free entry - Tuesday to Saturday 6 to 8pm and every Sunday 5 to 8 pm.
It's usually 9 euros when pre-booked or 6 euros on the day from the ticket office, so a great saving if you can be flexible with your time. A word of warning though… It’s extremely busy when visiting in the free-entry period.
Don't forget it's free for under 18s and for the over 65s at all times anyway. There are loads more who can get free admission too, just check the website for details. www.museodelprado.es/
After a busy day trawling the museums and sights of Madrid what better way to unwind and relax than a spa session. Open to non-residents the “Acquaplaya Urban Spa” (http://www.hotelsenatorbarcelona.com/spa.english.html) in the basement of the Hotel Spa Senator España is a haven of steam, sauna, swimming and relaxation. Sundays are often half price at 9 euros for a 90-minute session too. Check with the hotel for offers. Booking is advised.
(Hotel Spa Senator España, Gran Vía, 91-522-82-65).
Retiro Park or to give it it's full name Parque del Buen Retiro is a beautiful park to the east of the Prado museum. Once a private back garden to a royal palace now it's where Madrileños come to relax and chill and maybe hire a rowing boat. The park is dominated by a large lake and monument dedicated to AlfonsoXII. Around the lake you can grab a drink or a snack at the cafes and then sit and watch the world go by.
When I was there a local Madrileño was practicing Spanish guitar... I lay, eyes closed in the sun listening to the guitar... bliss!
Formerly known as Warner Bros. Movie World, now re-branded after new ownership. The park is managed by Parques Reunidos who also manage Parque de Atracciones (http://www.parquedeatracciones.es/) in the Casa Campo area of Madrid.
The location is very exposed, so be sure to confirm the park is open or rides are operating fully before your visit.
Entrance is 37 euros per adult, 28 euro per child and under 5s free.
It’s 25km southwest of Madrid and the park has it's own train station "Parque de Ocio" this is on line C-3A and it's on the line for the town of San Vincent de La Vega.
From Madrid Atocha station purchase a ticket (about 7 euros.) Board the train on Line C-3 (direction Aranjuez) and change at Pinto for line C-3A (as above). It takes about 45 mins in total and trains run every hour. www.parquewarner.com/
El Rastro – Market
Held every Sunday (and a smaller market Monday to Saturday) along the Ribera de Curtidores is the weekly Flea Market in Madrid. A huge market and shopping fest, the whole population of Madrid seemed to be there when I visited, more “choc-o bloc” than bric-a brac.
Replica football shirts, jewellery, clothing and even furniture, El Rastro has it all. Just off the Ribera de Curtidores is Plaza General Vara del Rey and it's here you'll find the true flea market - second hand clothes and general odds and ends.
Things to do…and eat
Churros and chocolate
A visit to Madrid wouldn’t be complete without experiencing the delights of Chocolateria San Gines. An institution in Madrid, churros are fingers size portions of deep fried batter that are dunked into cups of hot chocolate – yummy! The place is full to capacity in the early hours when nighttime revellers embark on the this little café tucked away in a side street just off Calle Arenal.
"Tapas Bar" (http://www.tapasbar.es/) Madrid is part of a national chain in Spain. I don't really like doing chains... especially the burger and fries variety. However, this is a tapas chain and we don't tend to get them back in the UK.
The Tapas Bar I used was on the Plaza De Santa Ana (well actually Calle Prado, but it overlooks the plaza). It has very reasonably priced and great food. Try the montaditos, 6 for 9.95e... well worth the money. One of the cheapest tapas bars I found too.